In the fall of 2010, I heard that my friend Karen Hamelin, an R.C.M.P. officer and instructor at Depot, was accepted with the U.N. to go to Sudan and be part of a peacekeeping mission during the historic referendum and the formation of new country. I believed that this once-in-a-lifetime mission was one that Karen could not keep to herself, so I approached her about blogging with my grade 7/8 students. Initially Corporal Karen was not interested in "blogging with a bunch of Canadian kids". However, through some convincing, she came around to agree that it would be a rewarding collaborative learning experience for the students. After months of blogging, she grew to enjoy their amusing observations, comments and questions. She was also quite touched by their reflections and insights. At the conclusion of her mission, it was evident that the experience was one that touched the hearts of not only the students but also our U. N. Peacekeeper.
Our project gave the grade eights the opportunity to use technology for more than just checking Facebook updates and texting. It gave them the opportunity to see more about life in Southern Sudan than what they would with just television or Internet news feeds. By blogging with Karen, they were able to see beyond the "polished" lens of the news. Without sounding overly cliche, it seemed as though blogging and connecting with Corporal Karen, the students were able to truly connect with life vastly different than their own, and appreciate many of the opportunities we take for granted as Canadians. Blogging gave the students the chance to connect in an asynchronous way. On the other hand, the tools available through Google, could allow students to share in a synchronous way, making learning feel all the more immediate, and even more connected.
So, what does all this have to do with the fast-paced trip through Google on Tuesday? Well it makes me realize how these tools make communication and collaboration feel "real". Working on a live document with a comments/conversation side-bar, allowed for a large group of people to communicate even more than in a face-to-face class. Although there will always be different degrees of comfort when sharing in class, I believe that there was far more discussion via the comments area, than one would have in a f2f class. Now when you think of the classroom, and all students being able to collaborate via any device with Google, you can't help but wonder how many more voices are being "heard".
After our discussion, many of us were thinking, "This is sooooo awesome! Now how I begin?" and "Why didn't I start this months ago?" Seriously though, how does one begin? How do we get collaborative classrooms organized seamlessly? How do we take collaboration to that epic level? How do we get everyone up to speed so that we can have more inter-school peer to peer collaboration? Where to begin... Hmmm...
I really like Kelly Christopherson's comment in his blog post, "Drinking From the Fire Hydrant", on why it's important to focus on how the tools fit the learning at hand. As a matter of fact, Kelly states it so well, it's definitely worthy a repeat in my post...
Kelly's comments remind me that it's about crawling before you can run. In order to get everyone there, we need to make sure that everyone is moving at their own pace on that proverbial digital highway. It's all about looking at how the technology will take learning further than before. Looking first at the students' needs, then the outcomes, then looking at the tools that will help learning. Whether it's collaborating with peers or with a person across an ocean. It's about looking at where the tools can take learning for students and make it more engaging and meaningful... whatever that tool may be.
|Cpl. Karen Hamelin on left|