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Touring a virtual classroom

Written by Joe Dillon
April 18, 2012

Touring a virtual classroom

I’ll be blogging in response to a webinar series offered by at the invitation of the National Writing Project’s Digital Is .

Last night I had an interesting, 21st Century choice to make: read my newest e-book, Net Smart, by Howard Rheingold , or watch Rheingold’s webinar on .

I stopped and thought about how I wanted to learn about technology and education.

As a lifelong bookworm, I have always enjoyed the reading I choose outside of school over assigned reading at an assigned pace. The choice I make to hoard books and binge on texts is constructive personal foible that leaves me in a house with an overflowing bookshelf or book basket in every room. When I choose to grab a book and settle in, I make a familiar choice.

Increasingly, I have a new, less familiar option. With the time that I used to devote to personal reading, I can choose to join, observe or facilitate online learning conversations, reminiscent of class discussions. And I do. More and more, I log in to webinars and find myself using a different implement to scratch a personal learning itch.

So, I might have settled in with a good book and read Rheingold’s latest. Instead, I watched a webinar recording and found the author, the regular host of these sessions, in the role of the subject, talking with a panel of educators, with Mimi Ito facilitating the conversation. He shared the work he is doing in his Social Media Classroom , explaining the way he facilitates cooperative learning.

Watching from the comfort of my workstation at home, I toured his virtual classroom, detailing how these learners collaboratively construct mind maps during their online sessions, sometimes refining these maps individually after the session. Each part of the virtual space has a thoughtful, experimental purpose. The group uses a wiki to define terms and develop a common language. Discussion forums house the questions the group values, while blogs are spaces of personal reflection for the learners, and all the spaces invite participation. In this virtual space, Rheingold experiments online with cooperation and learning. He calls it “peeragogy.”

Watching Rheingold’s tour of his virtual classroom and hearing his discussion with the panel, I was reminded of the 21st Century choices I have when I leave the comforts of my personal space and go to work in schools. I get to decide about how to approach learning with colleagues and students. I, too, might engage with learners in some of the ways he modelled. My colleagues and I might construct our own mind maps, engage in asynchronous discussions and publish our reflective writing online for a larger, global audience.

As these 21st Century choices start to add up, I think about another affirming choice I have: How will I frame my own experiments in rapidly-evolving contexts like the Internet? (And school.)

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