Small Moves in Connected Learning & Teaching

Anna was a student in my Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching course last spring at Arcadia University – she is an Arabic teacher at a local University and teaches intermediate and advanced Arabic to students, some of whom will also go on to teaching. My class is open to both inservice as well as pre-service teaches, both in and out of school. It is organized as an opportunity to learn connected learning by being a connected learner; we follow our interests and work to connect our learning along the way both on and offline. This makes the  course very open to the interests that the participants bring. I encourage us to dig into our interests through an inquiry lens and share and reflect on our work in public spaces online such as blogs and twitter. There are two opportunities for self-reflection on progress in a formal way – mid year and as part of their final work. Anna reached out to me very early on and wanted to more consistent feedback on her work, letting me know that she had been burnt in the past by not knowing how the professor saw her work. She also told me how she worked as an instructor herself and this was how she did it with her students. While it was helpful to hear from her how she organized her classroom, I was also reluctant to set up a situation where she was only getting feedback from me. Instead I wanted her to interact with the whole class while building a body of work and related reflections that she could use for her own self-assessment. We continued to talk as things progressed in the early semester and she did a great job all around, increasingly posting more and more while sharing interesting reflections about her work and engaging with others along the way. By the mid-course self-reflection she reported that she felt much more confident in her work. Up to think point we had been mostly working on our inquiry questions and thinking about equity in our contexts. We then shifted into engaging explicitly with the CL principles and spent a week on on each one. During the Openly Networked Learning week, I wrote  … “this week we’ll dive into what it means to be ‘openly networked.’ We’ll look at this from a few angles — human as well as technological, the possibilities as well as the challenges.” And then I asked them to start by reading Bud Hunt’s section in Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. In that section, Bud writes:
Embracing the connected learning principle of openly networked learning is manageable. It does require, however, that teachers and other facilitators of learning make small moves toward openness and connectivity.
I then prompted folks to think about “small moves” they could make to to be more openly networked. This idea of small moves seemed to be very freeing for Anna – she referred to that idea frequently in her writing that week and the weeks ahead as she explored CL further and started an inquiry project of her own in her own teaching. She mentioned a couple times that as a University professor she couldn’t change the syllabus mid-course but needed to shift things in small ways instead. Even in her final self-assessment, she enthusiastically described the moves she made and the impact they had for her and her students.
Before and after ED 677: When I assigned projects to my students last semester and the years prior, they were  individual pieces of work. I gave them some freedom to choose what they want to learn about, but not completely. There were some rules and constraints to follow in completing their work. Every student worked privately on their project and they had their own presentation in the classroom. The only audience for those pieces of work were my students and I. The students reflections were done orally after every presentation. This semester, by implementing the connected learning principles and making small changes every week, I prepared my students to be more flexible with collaboration inside and outside the classroom. It became evident they were responsible and curious about the subjects at hands, more able to do their research, and more open to share their work with peers and other interested people out of the classroom. The final projects were examples of their improvement, and the  results came out phenomenal.
For me the take-away was around the power of small moves .. and the domino-impact they can have when working in connected ways.