This has been composing itself in my head for nearly ten days, but, when her very life hung in the balance, as it did until today, it felt too soon to write about  Malala Yousafzai as a hero and role model.  As I tweeted and facebooked last week, I found myself so moved and affected by her shooting, but writing a full blog entry was hard for me to do– in part because I was still too emotional and too concerned.     But today the New York Times reports, “she is now able to stand with assistance and communicate in writing,” and it is impossible not to note the particular good news that she is able to communicate in writing now– because that is so central to her place and contribution to the world.

The past ten days, following Malala’s story, I felt particularly sorry not to be currently a school-leader, or part of a school community, which I have been for nearly every year of my life previous and which I expect to be again before too long.   Because if I were, I would take some extended time with students to view the video telling her story, to hear her voice and read her writing, to have moments of silence to hold her in our thoughts, and to share with students why I think they should view her as an icon of their generation.

This blog is intended to celebrate 21st century K-12 learning, and my particular vision of 21st century learning includes as a central element an empowerment of students to develop their voice and strengthen their skills and  problem-solving creativity to address real-world problems, using technology in every way possible to amplify these things.

Malala represents this so exactly, so brilliantly, so movingly, and all that much more because her particular cause is itself education and learning.   She is a young person, still only 15, but she has been an activist for girls education in Pakistan for four years or more, and a blogger since 2009, when she was in 7th grade.   Oh to be a seventh grade Social Studies teacher right now, (I’ve been one before), and take some time to read her blog, see the world through her eyes, seek to understand her motivation and world view, and then evaluate her as a role model.

Hear her blogging voice:

Do not wear colourful dresses – 5 January 2009

“I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead.

“So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it.”

Several times this summer I wrote and spoke about Martha Payne, another awesome model of a justice-seeking young person using a blog Never Seconds to extend her voice and impact, changing the conversation and the meal plan in Scottish schools.

Malala Yousafzai But clearly Malala now has a profile of vastly greater significance.  With the entire world hoping and praying for her, she may have the full recovery she and the world deserves her to have, and thereupon, she’ll take draw upon her strengths and her resilience to become a global leader for peace and justice.

This possible future global leadership role, this possible future Nobel Peace Prize award, began with a girl who wanted to go to school, who was supported by families and teachers to advocate for her cause, who was enabled to seek this justice as part of her schooling and part of her learning, and who used technology and the web to broadcast her voice and share her vision and change the world.

It is increasingly clear that the future of learning, K-12 and post-secondary, will entail a significant online dimension; I’m especially drawn to the concepts of “networked learning,” “connectivism” and “blended learning,” as regular readers surely have noticed the past few months.

At the same time, I am well aware I have a lot to learn about effective practices in online learning of whatever kind, and I need to step up my learning and practice of networked, connected learning.

Accordingly, this month I have stepped into (in various capacities) no fewer than five FREE  online learning experiences, four of them MOOCs of one kind or another.   For each of these five there is some expectation that I reflect and share my thoughts on my blog, so this post is in part a preview (and a warning) to regular readers of what may be coming soon to this site.

What is a MOOC?  I know some readers will ask this, though fewer today than would have four or five months ago, as the term has vaulted forwards and upwards into our consciousness this summer and fall with all the publicity nationally about Coursera and EdX.    To quote Wikipedia,

massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education, and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources.

Though the design of and participation in a MOOC may be similar to college or university courses, MOOCs typically do not offer credits awarded to paying students at schools. However, assessment of learning may be done for certification.

Taking on five different programs this fall is a lot, and perhaps too much, (I reserve the right to drop-out of one or more, though the very act of posting this post increases the odds I will persevere) but I happen to have some time on my hands, and I really want to work toward strengthening my understanding about our fast-changing world of education.   As it happens, and perhaps I ought to mix it up a bit, all five are in a sense meta-MOOCs: they are all online and in various ways digitally enhanced learning courses about digitally enhanced learning (though the last, the fifth, isn’t really a MOOC.)

All five of them are open to you too, readers: join me!

The Five:

1.  The Current and Future State of Higher Education (CFHE12).  This MOOC, organized in part by Stephen Downes, the Canadian scholar, famed newsletter writer, and co-creator of connectivism, is explained as follow:

University leaders are struggling to make sense of how internationalization, the current economic conditions, and new technologies will impact their systems. Educators are uncertain of the impact of open educational resources, alternative accreditation models, de-professionalization of academic positions, and increased grant competitiveness. What is role of the academy in increasing national economic competitiveness while preserving the “vital combat for lucidity” that defines an open democratic society?

I’m enrolled not because of an interest in higher ed but because I want a better view to the changing world of education, and those in higher ed are, at least some of them in some ways, ahead of the curve of K-12, and trends in post-secondary surely will be coming to K-12 soon.  This works in reverse, too:  on a discussion forum for this course, there were interesting points made about the pressures coming to bear on higher ed providers by incoming students who have become accustomed to the flipped classroom, the use of Khan Academy and other online delivery of course content, and hence are demanding their college professors come into line with their expectations.   But for my purposes, I’m seeking to draw from this forecasting of higher ed insights about the future of K-12 learning.

2.  Designing a New Learning Environment.   This is a MOOC from Stanford and its Associate Dean of Education, Paul Kim.  It is explained here:

What constitutes learning in the 21st century? Should reading, watching, memorizing facts, and then taking exams be the only way to learn? Or could technology (used effectively) make learning more interactive, collaborative, and constructive? Could learning be more engaging and fun?

We construct, access, visualize, and share information and knowledge in very different ways than we did decades ago. The amount and types of information created, shared, and critiqued every day is growing exponentially, and many skills required in today’s working environment are not taught in formal school systems.

In this more complex and highly-connected world, we need new training and competency development—we need to design a new learning environment.   The ultimate goal of this project-based course is to promote systematic design thinking that will cause a paradigm shift in the learning environments of today and tomorrow.

(more…)

[Cross -posted from original posting at Connected Principals.]

Sometimes we feel we are living on a pre-apocalyptic brink, and post-apocalyptic themes and memes are abundant in the media, such as the new TV show Revolution,  the Hunger Games, and the fear-mongering that happens around individual incidents in the Middle East presaging a coming Clash of Civilizations.    Clearly the continuing economic woes aren’t helping.   I fear our students sometimes absorb this: they are saturated in much of this media, and they have their own angst to reckon with regarding college/university admissions and, even more stress-fully, financing post-secondary education.

But there is reason for optimism, and Steven Johnson’s latest book, Future Perfect,  is a very fine tonic for our fears and road map toward a far more promising future.  The future may not be perfect, but there is, as his subtitle explains, a “Strong Case for Progress in a Networked Age,”  and we owe it to our own mentality and attitude, and for that of our students, to share this vision and to work toward it.

We have Wikipedia because the Internet and the Web have made it easy and cheap to share information, and because they allowed people to experiment with new models of collaboration while minimizing the risks of failure.

To be a peer progressive, then, is to live with the conviction that Wikipedia is just the beginning, that we can learn from its success to build new systems that solve problems in education, governance, health, local communities, and countless other regions of human experience.

That is why we are optimistic: because we know it can be done.  We know a whole world of pressing social problems can be improved by peer networks, digital or analog, local or global, animated by those core values of participation, equality and diversity. That is a future worth looking forward to.  Now is the time to invent it. 

I should make clear I am a Steven Johnson fan, and have been for a long time.   Reading his 2005 book Everything Bad is Good For You greatly influenced me, sharply revising my view about the potential positive effects of video and computer games (a revision for which my sons are very grateful, and I tell them they owe a great debt of gratitude to Johnson.)   I enjoyed his Ghost Map, and those who know me know that his Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation has been hugely influential and inspirational to me.   Click here to read my suggested “take-aways” from that book for educators. 

This new book sets out to establish the principles of a what Johnson believes is a political and world-view, “peer progressivism,” which is built upon the power and opportunity of “peer networks.”   One important clarification he regularly reiterates here is that peer progressivism can occur without technology, and did do so brilliantly, but it is greatly amplified by the effects of networking technology.

To be a peer progressive is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.  When a need arises in society that goes unmet, our first impulse should be to build a peer network to solve the problem. (more…)

From the book:
“None of these technologies are isolated, or isolating, systems.   People are not hooked on gadgets– they are hooked on each other
.

The new media is the new neighborhood. 

This is the era of free agents and the spirit of personal agency. But it is not the World According to Me– it not a world autonomous and increasingly isolated individualists.  Rather, it is the World According to the Connected Me. 

The more people use the internet, the more friends they have, the more they see their friends, and the more socially diverse their networks.  

People’s lives offline and online are now integrated– it no longer makes sense to make a distinction.”

This new book, Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie (of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (of the University of Toronto’s NetLab),  to which I was directed by Howard Rheingold’s terrific Net Smart, is a refreshingly no-holds-barred,  full-throated advocacy for the power of the network to improve lives, learning, and society.

The book, sadly, is not a complete success;  at times its narrative flattens into research-report data drudgery, and sometimes its voice  speaks about contemporary digital lives to its readers as if we lived on Mars or in the 19th century:  much of what is explained requires little explanation.   And the two “interludes”- intended as richly described “days in the life” of a networked, wired young person– simply fail, I believe, to illuminate, inform or influence minds (more about this at bottom).

But, if you are caught up in the current intellectual debate about the value of online networking– if you are looking for helpful argumentation versus the Turkles and Carrs— this is a valuable book, collecting and sharing research based evidence and an idealistic vision for where we are headed as a society of increasingly networked individuals.  And if you are looking for guidance on how to be a more effective online citizen, or netizen, this book offers good guidance.

The title is Networked, but the argument is something a bit different: many of us are living now not in a networked society but lives of “networked individualism.”  Because it is as individuals we are networked– at the very same time that we are more connected, we are less group-defined, less tied to tight networks such as churches and small town communities.

This new world of networked individualism is oriented around looser, more fragmented networks that provide succor.

Small densely knit groups like families, villages, and small organizations have receded in recent generations.  A different social order has emerged around social networks that are more diverse and less overlapping than those previous groups.

The networked operating system offers new ways to solve problems and meet needs. It offers more freedom to individuals than people experienced in the past because now they have more room to manuevre and more capacity to act on their own. (more…)

“There’s a seventh C too, you know” my neighboring seat-mate, the excellent educator Larry Kahn,  leaned over to whisper to me.   “Really,” I said, “what?”  “Connectivism.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was painfully behind the times, not already knowing about this seventh C, or alternatively that I’d been let into a secret club, the club of connectivism, but I was hooked.

Pat Bassett, the NAIS President, was presenting, and he shared with us his vision of the 6 C’s, be they 21st century skills or the essential capacities for success today: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity (the big 4 emphasized by P-21, edleader21, and Ken Kay), Character and Cosmopolitanism (Cross-Cultural Communication and Collaboration).

The elusive 7th C, though, I’m increasingly becoming convinced, is key: essential, exciting, empowering, elevating.   It captures something about learning today and tomorrow, and the way I understand it, it taps into, draws upon, and expresses (with its helpful first letter C), the power of networks and all that they can do to advance each of us individually and as groups.

This 7th C is just as important, I’m coming to believe, for ourselves to learn and develop and for us to faciliate our student learning, as any of other 6 C’s, even if, conceptually, it is still relatively more elusive than the first six.

Connectivism is defined on Wikipedia this way:

Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual. Connectivism proposes a perspective similar to the Activity theory of Vygotsky as it regards knowledge to exist within systems which are accessed through people participating in activities. (more…)

In the spirit of the NMC Horizon reports, a group of scholars at the Open University has prepared a thorough and thoughtful analysis of what is coming in pedagogy.     The 36 report is available here, and though its attention is focused upon post-secondary teaching and learning, there is much here that is highly applicable to those of us seeking to be more informed about coming trends in K-12 pedagogy.

The authors pay deference to the NMC Horizon reports, but explain they have a slightly different goal:

We acknowledge inspiration from the NMC Horizon Reports as well as other future-gazing reports on education. Those explore how innovations in technology might influence education; we examine how innovations in pedagogy might be enacted in an age of personal and networked technology.

In a short commentary on the report, an educational blogger who identifies himself only as “Derek” orders this reports coming innovations by immediacy:

  1. Personal inquiry learning  – Learning through collaborative inquiry and active investigation
  2. Seamless learning  – Connecting learning across settings, technologies and activities
  3. MOOCs – Massive open online courses
  4. Assessment for learning  – Assessment that supports the learning process through diagnostic feedback
  5. New pedagogy for e-books – Innovative ways of teaching and learning with next-generation e-books
  6. Publisher-led short courses – Publishers producing commercial short courses for leisure and professional development
  7. Badges to accredit learning  – Open framework for gaining recognition of skills and achievements
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing  – New forms of open scholarly publishing
  9. Learning analytics – Data-driven analysis of learning activities and environments
  10. Rhizomatic learning – Knowledge constructed by self-aware communities adapting to environmental conditions

Setting aside numbers six and eight from the list atop, which simply don’t interest me very much, and deferring four and nine to a separate discussion at bottom, focus upon the remaining six (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10), which lead me to draw out what I think is the single most important unifying theme and takeaway from this report:

the future of learning lies in a student-centered, web 2.0 empowered, networked connectivism.   This is the New Culture of Learningand we owe it to our own life-long learning and to our students to study this mode closely and exploit every opportunity to advance it. 

Note that in nearly all of these six, technology is essential, particularly the power of the internet.   Personal inquiry learning and badges, of course, are ancient, but are both accelerated dramatically by learning online.

Below let me share some key quotes from the document, with comments, to draw out this unifying theme: (more…)

Choosing what I believe is the Book of the Year is always a fun task —what new book each year most informs, illuminates, and influences me?     2008 the nod went to Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap (Godin’s Tribes the close runner-up), 2009 Perkins’ Making Learning Whole,  and 2010 was the year of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From (with Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus close behind.)  In 2011 John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning took my prize.  (Christensen’s Innovators DNA and McGonigal’s Reality is Broken were also contenders.)

2012 is only half over, and it isn’t impossible that my current nominee will be toppled, but I don’t think it likely.   Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is terrific: ambitious in scope but humble in tone; enthusiastic about opportunities but tempered by the recognition of the risks and downsides;  sweeping in its broad-brushed depiction of our new era of empowerment and participation while specific in its suggestions of precise techniques and initiatives we can take to best leverage our staggeringly new connectivity.

It should be said that this valuable book is a bit more work than most of the other titles mentioned above.   Johnson’s book was popular in airports, published by mainstream presses and written in a very general non-fiction manner, intended for wider audiences and reasonably easily read on a cross-country flight.   Brown’s book is breezy and accessible, with large font and charming anecdotes, easily able to be read over a 90 minute flight.   Rheingold, by contrast, is published by MIT press, with smaller font size and a greater seriousness— it isn’t an academic monograph, but will take more concentrated and extended attention than the others.

As I noted already in my previous post, Rheingold deserves great credit for his carefully nuanced balance of enthusiasm and sobriety about digital engagement and connected-ness, for which I am so appreciative.    Digital media is (or are, if you prefer) a great gift to us and to our abilities to form community, to collaborate and create, and to gather information and to contribute information, to participate and contribute to the wider world in ways we never had before.

Used mindfully, how can digital media help us grow smarter?  My years of study and experience have led me to conclude that humans are humans because we invent thinking and communicating tools that enable us to do bigger, more powerful things together. (more…)