According to Andrew Marcinek, connecting is now extremely simple and easy, which is true… at least in our schools, but not necessarily everywhere on the globe. Our students connect obviously in many ways, using various apps and multiple devices. So the real challenge has shifted from the need to connect to the purpose and the benefit of doing it. Why do you connect, to whom and do you connect in the same manner depending on your audience?
In “Help Students Use Social Media to Empower, Not Just Connect”, Andrew Marcinek states that students should use social media to empower, otherwise, they only “scratch the surface”. In our school, we try to have students think about their online presence and digital footprint as early as grade 5.
We also have them search on the web and analyse the online presence of a few people. Andrew Marcinek’s point is that just like teachers, students should create their own PLN and we should encourage them
to find ways to improve the work they post and share. Part of being in a PLN is having that constant drive to provoke thought, accept constrictive criticism, and debate freely. Simply allowing students to connect is only the beginning.
Andrew Marcinek focuses on upper school students and global connections. I would just add to this that there are many different levels of connection: connecting to your classmates, to parents, to the class next door, to the whole school community, to other schools, to experts or even to the big vast online world.. Younger students rely more on their teachers to set up the conditions for meaningful connections, especially when they are global.
However, at any grade level, many teachers are designing rich learning opportunities which allow students to connect to each others and to the World. For instance, in our school, many students are blogging for an audience that could either be their classmates, their parents or other students living on another continent.
By giving them an audience, we also give them a voice and an intrinsic motivation to share their thinking, feeling and ideas in a deeper way. Cathy N. Davidson explains that:
Research indicates that, at every age level, people take their writing more seriously when it will be evaluated by peers than when it is to be judged by teachers. Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.
So because writers want their posts to be valuable pieces of writing, reading them and commenting on them is also a worthwhile exercise. All together, the collective thinking presented in a blog is significantly more than the sum of the blog posts. That is precisely the idea conveyed by Cathy N.Davidson:
“Cognitive surplus” is another used in the digital world for that “more than the sum of the parts” form of collaborative thinking that happens when groups think together online.
I reminded me a French author named Bernard Werber who stated in his book “L’encyclopédie du savoir relatif et absolu” (not available in English) that 1+1=3. Everyday in our classrooms and beyond the school walls, we instinctively know what it means.
Collaborative thinking in the real world and online is the most powerful learning experience. Kim Cofino’s step-by-step guide to global collaborations is a really good starting point for teachers who would like to head in this direction.
This time, I will not quote my side-kick, but one innovative teacher from my school -also a coetailer- who has designed an “inquiry into collaboration through the use of Minecraft” project in which students collaborate and then eventually blog about it for a wide audience (from their parents to students in Kuwait). One of @ramsdensuzy project’s goals is to :
develop an enduring understanding of what collaborative learning is and a increased desire and ability to be a contributor and creator both online and offline.
Both online and offline, 1+1 always equals… at least 3 to me!