Friday, October 1, 2010

The Networked Student

"Networked Student Model that promotes inquiry-based learning and digital literacy, empowers the learner, and offers flexibility as new technologies emerge."

The above quote, shared from an article written by Wendy Drexler, and published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (2010), suggests the types of learning engagements students should experience in the classroom. Teachers should occasion inquiry driven endeavors that also, take into consideration the expanding definition of literacy in the 21st century. As students explore challenging classroom initiatives in a connected environment, they assume greater ownership over learning and bring to the surface unique processes for constructing knowledge.

The latter part of Drexler's statement reveals another reality educators and students must face. Considerable attention has been placed on the development of 21st century skills and the need to either embed in existing classes or create stand alone courses that foster effective and ethical ways students can produce and share information. Infused into discussions about literacy has to be the development of personal learning networks. Ultimately, there is a need for students to develop their own personal learning network and access this network to meet challenges faced in the classroom.

At the high school where I am an administrator, we have encouraged teachers to develop Moodle pages for their classes. Moodle is our school's personal digital community where students, teachers and administrators can post and exchange information. The use of Moodle has grown over the past year. Each day more and more teachers are developing class pages. Whereas at first Moodle was a site used to post classroom resources, now classroom participants are engaging one another in forum discussions, chat sessions and collaborating to complete academic tasks. Meaningful exchanges are allowed to develop as the traditional notion of class time has been altered to where learning occurs 24/7.

While the use of Moodle is encouraging, in a sense, it is limited. Moodle is an internal system. Access to Moodle is restricted to only building/district educators and students. Another piece needs to be added to the sharing witnessed on Moodle. Students need to develop personal learning networks that not only includes exchanges on Moodle, but also relies on relationships established outside of the school community. Our students have to begin to develop extensive social networks. These networks can be accessed to assist with academic related tasks or be tapped in relation to a personal interest or passion.

Part of developing the global classroom rests within the efforts of learners. Without prompting from a teacher, students should activate social networks to conduct inquiry-based initiatives. Educators have a responsibility to model the process of how they access a personal network to learn and grow both professionally and personally. Through this apprenticeship students will begin to expand personal networks. The end result is a classroom where students are constructing knowledge and not relying on a single source or the person sitting next to them to address a problem.

Virtual learning communities are valuable and have helped make some significant changes to instruction. However, there is a need to broaden the sources of information and perspectives students can reflect upon. Encouraging students to develop personal learning networks is critical and has enduring value. Personal learning networks are not restricted to a single class or school year. It exists for a lifetime and constantly evolves to meet the constant changes we all face.