Recently, the Learning Technology Action Group [LTAG], held what we affectionately called a ‘braindump’ day to focus our thinking around the impact of technology on learning. In Computing lessons that week, I shared the reflective thinking process with students as an example of collaborative learning. Here are my reflections on why I chose to do so.
The team day together was highly productive, a worthwhile investment of time to reflect on our edtech vision by exploring our practice, key questions and challenges.
In the lesson, I showed my Twitter feed and RTs of the LTAG day. Why? I felt it was important to use them as an example to demonstrate :
- as teachers we use the thinking strategies we teach them, in real-life.
- no one person knows everything.
- the value of collective thinking in establishing a broader understanding of familiar, as well as new areas.
Another vitally important aspect to collaboration in this example, is how this process enabled us to begin to make connections. Here, I highlighted an example of where (a) linked to (b) [see green dots in image] and so on:
What Happened Next?
“Why do you think I’m telling you about this?” was my next question. Students gave a range of answers e.g. to tell us where you were, because you have decided on a new project for us to do, and to show handwriting can be messy!
I explained that each of us on the LTAG are tech advocates who at the start of the day were using different devices, online shared documents, etc. to set up the task. I have to admit that while tweeting our images I envisaged a rumble of twitterati commentary “Paper? For techies, in 2016 !?”
However, in practice, we found the area of ideas was extensive, as was our thinking, which required more space to capture our thoughts than an online document could offer.
Therefore we changed tack and chose the right tool for the job – in this case, paper!
For this particular task, where each of us began with one of 5 key areas to annotate and then rotated, the thinking process needed to be both fluid and transparent. As people, we needed the interaction this brought in order to question and clarify some of our annotations. Above all, we needed to have a bird’s eye view of the whole thinkspace in order to make connections between different topics.
As I explained to students, handwriting, layout or design didn’t matter, what did matter was the content. Capturing all of our ideas on paper was the priority – literally a ‘braindump’, which we could later digitize as required.
Explaining our process to students affirms why we ask certain things of them, e.g. to carefully select the right tool for the job, to collaborate, allow sufficient time for reflection and to capture our ideas. When creating student digital texts we always advocate getting ideas down first, editing and layout comes later.
This reinforces a positive model that being an adult does not equal ‘know all’. Fresh perspective can come in many shapes and sizes. I’m sure that many of us have encountered a situation where the unbiased wisdom of children can sometimes floor you with a fresh perspective of a challenge!
Our students were curious to know how long all the work shown in the tweet took, and if we made any mistakes. I told them that when we (adults) are in the process of formulating ideas there are no right, or wrong answers.
They seemed surprised that “Things look a little messy”, “…each of you laid out your ideas in a different way, some have squares, some wiggly, some lines.”
I explained that just like them, teachers are all individuals who may choose different styles and ways to lay out their ideas.
I feel there is sometimes a resistance in education to show that as adults, and/or educators, we are all learners. ‘Not knowing’ is not a weakness, but an opportunity to engage with others to learn and explore new things. Sometimes learning is naturally scaffolded from the moment we ask ourselves, or others, a question.
In my role, it’s become teaching strategy to create learning projects such as computational thinking, blogging and design that encourage an openness to not know every detail individually. The benefits to forming collective knowledge through establishing a community of practice1 are considerable, including opportunities for ZPD2, peer coaching and experiences tailored to learning preferences.
In my experience it raises aspirations when young people see the adults in their environment, articulate and question the world around them. This demonstrates a positive learning behaviour and a reciprocal opportunity for individuals at whatever age or stage to learn from each other.
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1 Wenger, Etienne (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.
2 Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. P.79-91.