While we were sleeping In his book ‘The World in Flat’ Thomas Friedman observes how the internet revolution

has caught us unawares and changed the way we communicate, share information and do business. The same may well be true of education where 25 years of much heralded change has made us a little cynical about technology but, all of a sudden, we are surrounded by a new vocabulary which become the catch words for seminars and workshops - Web 2.0, Learning 2.0, Social Software, Netgen’ers, Digital Natives even Wikinomics. News Corp buys My Space and Google buys You Tube for record sums and we sit up and take note. In education we have often lagged behind in our use of technology, delayed by agonizing debates about added value and worries about the capacity of our teachers to cope with all the changes. In the meantime a whole new generation of students has appeared who never knew of a world without the internet, where they can search for information, images, graphics or videos at will. There are an estimated 2.7 million searches on Google very month – who was answering those questions BG ( before Google)?. As Rod Paige the US Secretary of Education “Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part, despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks.” The launch of our learning platform in April 2005 is now something we look back to as the moment when we suddenly became aware of what the new technology could do for the way we teach and the way our students learn. Since then it has been a steep learning curve and the purpose of this article is to share some of those experiences and lessons. Learning Platforms and Personal Learning Spaces are about to be mandated in the UK ( 2008), Hong Kong (2009) and Australia ( 2008) and, rightly so , teachers want to know what this all means. I hope this article will shed some light on those questions and also help readers ask the right questions. The English Schools Foundation Learning Platform The Connected Learning Community or CLC as it is more commonly referred by students and teachers, was deployed across all sixteen education centres in the ESF, made up of ten primary, five secondary and one special school, in August 2005. The CLC serves a population of approximately 13,000 students and 2000 teachers and support staff. It draws information about users from a district wide data base and connects all schools and all the learning communities in those schools with each other. See Diagram 1 Diagram 1

Secondary
Special School

Primary

South Island CLC Sarah Roe CLC Sha Tin CLC

Interconnected CLC Hubs

Central Data Base for all ESF schools

Interconnected CLC Hubs

Secondary Primary

Primary

West Island CLC Clearwater Bay CLC

Quarry Bay CLC

A learning community can be anything from a group of students working on a project – a class or a whole year group (including visiting experts). The CLC knows who you are, who you teach and who teaches you, so each user profiles is unique and reflects the communities they are either members of, owners of or editors of – not too different from the way Wiki’s are set up. This gives it a personal touch and means it behaves very differently from a website and more like a Web 2.0 environment. The connectivity of the CLC means that communities can link up and share resources and participate in the same learning activities. For example a Year 3 community in one Primary school used the CLC to link up with a school in Melbourne as part of their inquiry into Water. The students shared Forums for discussion and were able to share their presentations. The CLC supports learning by giving users access to a range of scaffolds – Forums for discussions and knowledge sharing; Surveys for finding out what people know and Home Page ( think of them as Bulletin Boards) for publishing and broadcasting. There are other scaffolds including an e portfolio, but for the purpose of this article, the focus will be on how teachers and students used Forums, Surveys and Home Pages to do creative and imaginative things. For readers who want to take a look for themselves, there is a guest account with username gueste1 and password as guest. The URL for visiting guests is: http://clc.esf.edu.hk/GroupHomepage.asp?GroupId=1 The Primary and Secondary Tours may well be of interest. For more information on Learning Networksi and Social Softwareii read the Futurelab reports

Positioning a Learning Community The CLC is not a Virtual Learning Environment or a Managed Learning Environment; it is not a replacement for classroom teaching. It is best perceived as an open learning platform which extends and distributes the learning zone beyond the physical boundaries of the classroom, and serves as a bridge between the public social and learning networks in which our students actively participate. This concept is illustrated in Diagram 2. Diagram 2

Extended curriculum

Le arning Ne orks tw You Tube skype Furl w ikis C S cond life e L Be bo The Physical Learning environment L Face Book C xanga

The world of Web 2.0 and social networks

The new democracy, where time, place and access is determined by the learner

msm flickr

Garage band

RS S blogs yackpack

Informal curriculum

The CLC provides a bridge between the analogue learning world of the classroom and the digital networks of the digital natives. The Demos reportiii on Their Space gives an excellent overview of how young people are using the new emerging technologies. Unlike Web 2.0 applications where membership is unbounded, membership of the CLC is managed by the teacher but the process are similar. Consequently students have few problems understanding or engaging with the CLC, in fact they are often more fluent and competent than their teachers which can be an issue. In practice the CLC provides teachers and students with scaffolds which extend the learning that begins in the classroom and which also work in reverse by capturing the learning of students when they are not in class eg field trips and homeworks etc. Because the CLC supports Open Source applications it is possible for users ( students especially!) to embed Web 2.0 applications like Flickriv, Del.icio.usv, YouTubevi or Zohovii solutions into the CLC Home Pages. What is learning when it’s on a Learning Platform Learning platforms can mean many different things to different people, so before we discuss the examples it maybe useful to describe the principles which underpin the kind of learning outcomes the CLC supports. One teacher described the CLC as her Digital

Village where students learnt from each other and from invited experts, parents and other useful adults. James Lemkeviii describes a similar concept when he writes about Natural Learning, where the emphasis is on creative collaboration and constructive communication – what some authors refer to c learning. This probably represents much better how the CLC works than any notions about e learning. The evidence from educational research papers is increasingly making the case for a new understanding of the learning process which acknowledges the value of connected learning. The writings of Jim Hewittix, Wim Veen G Salmon and others all comment on the potential of on line communities for not just the co construction of knowledge but also the collectivization of knowledge. Scardamalia and Bereiter’s ( 2003)x work on the Knowledge Forum #2 showed the huge potential of this type of medium to support collaborative learning and creative problem solving. Castells argues that the network is the fundamental underpinning structure of social organization. Oliver and Herrington (2003)xi paper on technology mediated environments stress the ‘importance of planning learning settings based on meaningful and relevant activities and tasks which are supported in deliberate and proactive ways by the tutor’. The paper goes on to explore how pedagogical principles can inform and guide the design of learning platforms namely the selection of learning tasks; the selection of learning supports and the selection of learning resources. Oliver and Herrington’s Design Framework for a Learning Platform

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Examples of Practice. Forums. From Chatting to Thinking Forums were the first of the learning scaffolds to be populated and, much to everyone’s surprise, they were being actively used by Year 2 students. They are popular, easy to use and very accessible. Early concerns about students use of SMS speak and other infringements but these fears soon evaporated once students and staff realised that there was no anonymity on the CLC. Forums can be used at different levels of sophistication from simple posting of a response to high levels of thinking and reflection about the form of communication. Importantly forums extend the learning beyond the classroom. A discussion which starts in class can take on a whole new level of debate and knowledge sharing when it transfers to a forum. This captures the interest of students because they become the creators of the knowledge; no longer are discussions dependent on just what is said in class or what the teacher knows. With forums students are given their own voice and what’s more the voice is captured, to be used for assessment or stored in a portfolio Forums represent the neural pathways of the CLC; the transmitters and receivers through which teachers can extend the learning network. Forums can bridge classes in same year or subject, involve external experts, parents or students and teachers from other schools. By expanding the learning network in this way learning becomes more authentic and realistic and there is a sense of real audience and real purpose to the discussion or enquiry. Examples of Forums in the CLC

Year Three Literacy. The teacher began the Forum with a posting from the Ning Nang Nong and asked the children to add a post in the same style. This proved to be very popular; the children were inspired by each others entries and enjoyed reading each contributions when the teacher showed the Forum on the IWB

Year Six. World War 2 Forum The class have been discussing the causes of the WW2 and the impact on Hong Kong. The teacher created a Forum with 6 topics as an extended Homework. The use of open questions encouraged the students to be reflective rather than just respond with facts

Library Forum. The Librarian has created a Forum for all the students in Year 5 so they can discuss the Paper Bag Princess. The CLC means library activities can now be integrated into whole school learning..

Year 6 Egyptian Topic The year 6 created a Forum where the students could post the question they would like to ask an expert Egyptologist from the British Museum. They selected the best three questions and then invited the expert to hot seat a Forum which all year 6 students could access

Home Page. The Learning Zone of the CLC Home Pages have evolved into common Learning Zones where news and information can be broadcast to students in a year group and, most importantly to parents. Year teams preferred to share a common Home Page rather than run individual communities for their class. This fitted in with their planning because they could easily share resources and promote inter class activities such as Forums, Surveys. Teachers created folders so they could distribute resources to students – students could then work on these at home. The use of Home Pages made a significant impact on home – school relationships and parents quickly came to accept that Home Pages could replace much of the content of newsletters. It quickly became apparent - to the students at least - that the Home Page gave them an audience of their peers and their parents; they were highly motivated by the prospect of being able to publish their stories and presentations and get feedback. For teachers who had previously been using email for this purpose, this saved them a lot of time. At Key Stage 2 some teachers appointed Home Page monitors who had responsibility for managing the Home Page and, as in one example, the students used the Home Page to summarize what they had learnt that week. Year 6 Home Page The main page is being used as a bulletin board to keep students informed about current events. In the right hand panel the Year 6 teachers have created folders so students can access current resources for homework. Students can view each others Power Points and use the shared Forums to share their ideas and suggestions. The teachers are able to share the work load because they both have editor rights to the Home Page

Year 3 Home Page The Year 3 team have created a common home page to support a Unit of Inquiry. The audience is as much parents as it is students. There are web links, Forums and Surveys. All students in Year 3 can access this home page. The year team used the home page to link up with another primary school in Melbourne so students could view and comment on each others presentations about water Year 4 Home Page Another examples of a year group home page. Note the news bar at the top of the Page. Home pages can be used like Wikis because the ownership and editorial rights can be shared among teachers (and students).

Surveys - getting Feedback from Users. Surveys make it possible for teachers to get feedback about what students already know and, for students, they are a way of getting feedback from their peers. In this way the CLC supports the new meritocracy whereby users can rate each others contributions. Surveys can be applied across the school and were used to survey parents about changes to uniform. But it was when Surveys were used to support the learning process that they came into their own. Teachers like Surveys because they could use them for capture and share Prior Learning so ‘What do you already know about the Egyptians?’ is a good example. Surveys were also used to give students feedback from their peers about the stories they had written. Surveys were also very useful as way of setting homework; unlike Forums, students in a survey could not see each others responses – only the

teacher could do this. When the results were displayed the class could then view and access their collective knowledge about a topic.

Day of the Dead The teacher created this survey to find out what the students already knew about Egyptian language for the Day of the Dead. When the teacher displayed the survey results the children could view each others responses

Year 4 Literacy The year four students were asked to create Big Books for the Year 2 children. The teacher worked with her class to create a survey to get feedback from the year 2 children about the design and layout of their Big Books

Year 3 Field Trip to Hong Kong Park The teacher created a survey so the children could record what they had learnt from their visit to the Park. Unlike paper based records the survey results could easily be shared and referred by the whole class. Parents were included in the audience

Rain Forests The class had been discussing threats to the worlds rain forest. The teacher used a Survey to find out the views of the childrens’ parents and this proved to be a powerful discussion point the following day when she shared the results with the class

Conclusion A learning platform makes us all learners. Learning platforms are still very new and what we see today will be very different in a few years time, as the technology develops at a rapid rate. So what are the key lessons after two years working with teachers in the ESF?. The leadership of the CLC came from the classroom; it was classroom leaders who set the agenda rather than school or subject leaders. But if learning platforms are to be sustainable and become part of school culture, then their purpose and outcomes need to be aligned with school reforms – information literacy, assessment for learning, PYP, thinking skills etc. The US Department of Education Survey shows that 35% of children between the ages of two and five spend time online. Just imagine if we were able to tap into this level of participation and knowledge creation and channel it into our education system. As Annika Smallxi chief executive of Futurelab says “ how can we enlist learners to become co-developers in their own learning?.” If Wikipedia can match Encyclopedia Britannica for accuracy then why are we still using text books?xii. How can we harness the collective expertise of our teachers and enthusiasm of our students to drive a culture of genuine innovation and collaboration across our schools?. Finally technology is not value free and how teachers adopt technology reflects the values they attribute to teaching and learning. Teachers who value student centred learning – who set enquiries rather than tasks and who believe in students learning from each other, will see a learning platform as a natural extension of their practice. Our students do value this type of technology ( as do big companies like News Corp and Google) this is where they are spending their time – 50,000 hours by the time they leave school compared to the 15,000 hours they will have spent in school. We cannot afford to ignore what is happening as the Tsunami approaches our classrooms and changes forever the way our children will learn. Peter Woodhead ICT Adviser English Schools Foundation Hong Kong
Connected Learning Communities @ http://clc.esf.edu.hk/ woodheadp@esfcentre.edu.hk

References

xi xii

i

Towards New Learning Networks by Tim Rudd, Dan Sutch and Keri Facer published by Futurelab 2006 Social Software and Learning by Martin Owen, Lyndsay Grant, Steve Sayers, Keri Facer published by Futurelab 2006 iii Their Space – Education for a Digital Generation by Hannah Green and Celia Hannon published by Demos 2007 iv Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/ v Del.icio.us - http://del.icio.us/ vi YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/ vii Zoho - http://www.zoho.com/ viii Lemke, J (2002). Becoming the village: education across lives. In G Wells and G Claxton (eds) Learning for Life in the 21st Century: Sociocultural Perspectives on the Future of Education (pp34-45). London: Blackwell ix Jim Hewitt From a Focus on Tasks to a Focus on Understanding: The cultural transformation of a Toronto classroom x Scardamalia, M and Bereiter, C (1994) Computer support for knowledge building communities. xi Oliver, R. & Herrington, J. (2003). Exploring technology-mediated learning from a pedagogical perspective. Journal of Interactive Learning Environments, 11(2), 111-126. Futurelab issue 04 of Vision 2007
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