Students and Skype as Catalysts for Learning: Ms. Salas’s Students Skype and Learn @ The Unquiet Library

We’ve started off 2012 on an energizing and positive note at The Unquiet Library with two Skype interviews of experts related to architectural design.  What is super cool is that both of these Skype sessions were born out of students reaching out to experts about topics they’re curious and passionate about in Ms. Melanie Salas’s Architectural Drawing and Design II course.

Our first interview was Thursday, January 12 with Lisa Roth of Montgomery Roth Architecture & Interior Design, L.L.C.   Meet the brainchild behind this Skype session and her insights on the value of Skype in the classroom:

Other student insights included:

  • learning about how to select a college and qualities to look for in program related to the field of architecture
  • pathways to careers in architecture
  • what kinds of learning experiences to expect in a program of study for architecture
  • the field of interior design and how study in this area might enhance or shape a career as an architect
  • the importance of learning the culture of a geographic area before embarking on a design
  • Ms. Roth’s approach to the process of architectural design
  • details about specific design projects Ms. Roth’s firm has completed (a student favorite)
  • the cost and security of structures have a diverse range depending on the needs of the client
  • the importance of designing an effective sales pitch or sales presentation for a project
  • applications of what has been learned in class to “real world” architecture

Our second interview was with Danny Abshire of Newton Running.   Students got to ask questions about the design process and learned not only about the logistics of shoe design and Abshire’s story of co-founding his business, but they also received sound advice on dealing with the highs and lows of following one’s passions and dreams.  Students were truly impressed and engaged with Abshire’s energy and love for what he does; many commented it was a valuable and memorable learning experience.

Like last week’s Skype session, the catalyst for this conversation was learning was rooted in a student’s desire to connect with an expert.  Duncan shares how his study in Ms. Salas’s class intersected with his Senior Project and his reflections on how today’s learning experiences have impacted him as a student.  His joy and delight are infectious!

I’d like to thank our students, Ms. Salas, and our experts for their time and willingness to engage in a conversation for learning through Skype and our library.   I’m especially happy that students have not only gained new content related knowledge, but that they have also felt the power of interviewing an expert and that the Skype experience has fueled their passion and curiosity for learning!

Video: The Librarian as a Catalyst and Learning Specialist in K12

English teacher Lisa Kennedy and librarian Buffy Hamilton discuss partnerships for learning between the librarian and classroom teacher; they also share how this partnership between librarian and teacher influences Lisa’s evolution as a teacher and her instructional design and in turn, Buffy’s practice as a librarian.

References:

Harada, V. H., & Zmuda, A. (2008, April). Reframing the library media specialist as a learning specialist. School Library Monthly, 24(8). Retrieved from http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/‌articles/‌Zmuda&Harada2008v24nn8p42.html

The Possibilities and Challenges of a Participatory Learning Environment: Students and Teachers Speak

I’d like to share with you a conversation for learning I had this morning with fellow teacher Lisa Kennedy and two of her students.   Lisa and I have been contemplating the aspects of the inquiry driven, participatory learning classroom that students embrace as well as the pushback we’re seeing from students (which includes some Media 21 alum).   The backdrop of prior student learning experiences, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation, pressures of standardized testing and choices students make about using class time are layers of this learning ecology that we’re trying to negotiate as Lisa and fellow 1:1 netbook pilot program teacher Cleve Ard work through the tensions of shifting from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered focus.   The range of reactions to this model of learning from Lisa’s students mirror what Susan Lester and I have observed for the last two years:  a continuum of responses ranging from pure jubilation and a sense of feeling empowered and liberated to intense resistance.  In terms of student responses that are a pushback to this model of learning,  Lisa sees similar themes or motifs of student response that Susan and I witnessed, particularly during the 2010-11 academic year:

  • some students desire to be “spoon fed” knowledge rather than actively constructing it
  • some students expect  the classroom is the only site of learning and do not desire to engage in learning outside of the school day
  • some students privilege  classic literature over nonfiction texts (online and in print—memoirs, biography, journals, magazines, newspapers) as what counts as “real” reading and are concerned they aren’t reading “what we’re supposed to be reading” in an Honors or AP course.

For the last two years in my work with teachers like Lisa Kennedy and Susan Lester (Media21), I’ve been immersing myself in the discourse of a participatory learning ecology (and by default, the library as a site of participatory culture). In the last year or so, I’ve really started thinking critically about some of the pushback we’ve seen from students who are struggling with this model of learning and the reasons for that pushback—what are the stories behind this and what do they tell us about the bigger picture of the dynamics of education and learning in an educational culture driven by standardized testing and standards? Consequently, I’m wondering how do we effectively think about the challenges inherent in these narratives and the complexity of the layers we’re trying to peel back.  In the next couple of months, I’m hoping to look more closely at this challenges through the theoretical lens of scholars like Bakhtin as well as other critical theorists to hopefully have a better understanding of what I’m observing and to be a better teacher and practitioner; I also hope to draw on this to more thoughtfully contemplate how a model of participatory learning informs my conceptualization of “library.”  All of these wonderings reflect how I’ve become increasingly immersed in my role as learning specialist at my school.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to watch this 18 minute video and listen closely to the ideas, concerns, and reflections, especially as they relate to matching learning tasks and assessments, the importance of failure, trust (or lack thereof) in a learning community, social/collaborative building of knowledge and meaning, ownership of learning, and inquiry.  A heartfelt thank you to Ms. Lisa Kennedy and her students for their honesty, constructive feedback, and willingness to share their thinking in such a public way and to help push our thinking.

References:

Fontichiaro, K. (2009). Nudging toward Inquiry: Re-envisioning Existing Research Projects. School Library     Monthly26(1), 17-19.

Remixing Writing: A Digital Essay

In late February, English teacher Jim Burke posted a discussion thread on the English Companion Ning sharing his initial thoughts on a new digital essay assignment he planned to try with his students this spring.  Today, Burke Tweeted one of the student digital essays created in Prezi; you can read the digital essay, which utilizes text, graphics, and videos, to remix and create a new kind of essay.  What other kinds of literacies do you see embedded in this work?  I think it would be insightful if somehow the student could share her thoughts on how this medium worked for her and if she felt her Prezi creation captured the voice and ideas she wanted to convey to her audience; it would also be interesting to know if she prefers writing and composing in this way to traditional writing and how this medium may have impacted her writing and thinking processes.

Ultimately, Burke let students decide what mediums they wanted to use for creating the digital essay; I’m looking forward to seeing what directions his other students take as they complete their projects.  I would really love to hear students (either through blog postings or video interviews) share their decision-making processes and how they went about crafting their digital essays.  I admire and respect Burke for giving his students creative latitude and being willing to work with a diverse range of learning products the students, which can be challenging the first time you pilot a new project.

I am currently collaborating with two of our English teachers to co-design and co-teach research and content creation for digital research projects.   Susan Lester (10th Honors World American Literature/Composition) and I began our project about three weeks ago (read more in this blog post), and I’ll be working with John Bradford (11th Honors American Literature/Composition) as of Tuesday for the next month or so on his twist on the project (more details coming soon).  In both of our collaborative projects, we felt our students were not quite ready  in terms of skill sets or prior learning experiences to completely open up the possibilities for a digital research “paper” or project although students do have creative latitude in choosing and designing their multigenre elements that will be integrated into the wiki based “text”; students also have the option to integrate multimedia into each section of their wikified “papers”.

In both of these learning partnerships, the three of us  felt torn in wanting to open up the options and not setting up students for utter frustration (to the point many would completely shut down) in terms of combining two advanced skill sets (new research skills and content are being introduced); for many of our students in these sections, previous negative encounters with technology as a learning tool have left them a little tentative, so we wanted to find a happy medium of challenging them without completely overwhelming them.  We are all looking forward to seeing what kind of creativity and depth the students infuse into their projects, and hopefully, this group will be ready come August to take the next leap and embrace more freedom in choosing their mediums!