A Web 2.0 Class: Students Learn 21st Century Skills, Collaboration, and Digital Citizenship | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Christopher Columbus was wrong when he reported to the King and Queen that the world is round. In fact, the world is flat and so are many of our classrooms in this great nation.

For years, students learned within the parameters of a building, which then separated them into rooms. Students would attend class daily and the teacher would present the daily lesson. This is how a school day has progressed for years. And in many US classrooms, it still does. However, this not the case in three high schools in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Students in Van Meter, Iowa, Burlington, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are experiencing education in a new room. Yes, they still go to class in a building, with walls, doors, and windows, but there is something different about these three classrooms. They are all connected. The classroom is flat.

A Flat Classroom

Led by the efforts and collaboration of Patrick Larkin, Principal of Burlington High School, Shannon Miller, Librarian at Van Meter High School, and William Brannick, Principal of Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School these three schools are collaborating weekly through various technology mediums.

Last year Mrs. Miller taught a personal learning network and social media class at Van Meter High School on a smaller scale. "I told Bill [Brannick] about it when he visited with his Superintendent and Technology Director last spring to Van Meter." Says Miller "Lets do this together. Let's connect our two schools!" So over the summer, Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller worked on designing this class together using a Google Doc. Closer to the school year in #edchat one night, Mr. Larkin decided to jump on board with his Burlington High School PLN class.

The Virtual Classroom

The class is designed to teach Web 2.0 skills, digital citizenship, personal network building, and social media responsibility and practice. The students in all three of these classes have never met in person; however, they have all connected via Skype and their class blogs. They have also had many professionals come and speak to them via Skype. This type of learning is limitless and allows students to broaden their scope of the world. "Since I have started using Skype and blogging," notes Jesse Hasenwinkel, junior at Van Meter High School, "I have been able to virtually meet the people that can help me get the answers I need for what I am searching for in school and one day, in my career."

Each week students write a blog post on topics such as defining a personal learning network, using Skype in the classroom, and how to promote blog traffic. Students subscribe to each other's blogs using Google Reader and leave comments for each other. Some students in these three high schools have made great connections and found common interests. They are expanding their learning opportunities and through the efforts of the teachers and principals, engaging with vast community of learners.

The critic in all of us may say this is simply using the tools and distracting from learning. This is a statement each student in each of these three classes would eagerly contest. Reanne Maskart, a junior at MBAPCHS states, "You have to adapt to the world around you or progress can never happen. That is the ultimate goal of education, right? Progress. Continuous progress." The ability to adapt to a world in constant motion is a key skill that all of the students involved in this project clearly realize.

There are plenty of new skill sets at work and one of them is necessary in every facet of life: Being an effective communicator. These students are speaking, writing, and collaborating with people they have never met. "Everything that I have learned in class," says David Loomis, junior at MBAPCHS, "will help me use technology in a responsible way that can promote my creative ideas." In higher education and the work force, this skill is necessary. Michelle Morgan, a senior at Burlington High School states, "For example, I would create my personal learning network or PLN on ideas for college, tips and such, on swimming and diving, and other miscellaneous subjects that interest me." This type of learning is allowing students to create learning communities in which they have the ability to share common interests. Students must learn not only to be an effective communicator, but an efficient, responsible one. This class is accomplishing both. Principal Patrick Larkin comments, "I am amazed at how little the students actually know about connecting with others for educational purposes. They use social networking solely for socializing. It has been great to see the lightbulb start to go on in regards to them seeing these tools as a resource."

The Role of the Teacher

Mr. Larkin, Mrs. Miller, and Mr. Brannick are not just letting their students venture out into this brave new world of social media alone. They are providing them with the essential skills of what it means to be a digital citizen. They are teaching responsible use of social media and removing the taboo from Facebook and Twitter. These tools can open many doors and provide opportunities for students if used in a responsible manner. Brianna Perry, a junior at Van Meter High School says, "This class is teaching me how to shift through information, how to find the information, experts, etc. that will be beneficial to me. [It's} teaching me how to be a responsible, digital learner." The fact that some schools simply block these tools and never teach responsible use is like placing locks on a fence surrounding a pool but neglecting to teach kids how to swim.

Critical thinking via technology

The students in these three classes are learning in an environment that is familiar to their generation and exciting. These students are learning how to be critical readers and thinkers, while opening up rich, academic conversations via blogs, Twitter, and Skype. Mrs. Miller says, "My students cannot stop talking about our connected classroom. They have made so many new connections and realize that their classroom is not simply limited to a room, but is an expansive canvas."

This is the where the excitement in education begins. All of these students are learning beyond the classroom walls. Many of them correspond via their blogs after school or update each other on common interests via Twitter. They realize that what they put on the Web will be effectively permanent and that responsible digital citizenship is necessary in all facets of social media.

What these students are learning is invaluable and should be integrated into more of our classrooms. The opportunity for teachers to bring in authors and speakers to their classroom is out there. We simply need to make this happen and give our students the best opportunities to learn. At the end of the day we, as educators, hope students can walk away from class saying what Amy Ly a junior at MBAPCHS says:

I have enjoyed learning with people from different environments and experiencing learning outside of a single classroom. Though we may all seem the same, each and every student has different opinions and ways of learning; therefore, with the sharing of ideas through classrooms via blogs and Skype, we, all, as students are given greater opportunities for success.

*All of the Student PLN Connect Blogs can be found at The Student PLN Connect and BHS Web 2.0 Class

Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Alice's picture

This is awesome! I took a class in college that was like this. The teacher was not in my classroom, but she was long distance in another classroom but taught to both of us at the same time. It was actually engaging to me to be in this type of classroom. I was more motivated to participate in discussions. This is a very beneficial thing for schools to do especially since technology has increased over the years!

Joann Horn's picture

I found this blog to very eye opening and allowed me to see how far the field of education has come in the past few years. Just looking back to a few years ago I would not have thought about connecting multiple classrooms together as mentioned in this blog. What a wonderful experience for high school students to be able to communicate and learn from each other through the most current forms of technology. I am currently completing my master's degree through Walden University, which is an online campus in Minnesota. I am able to complete my degree through an online program, and I too have learned from my classmates who I have never met. Each week we have to complete a discussion and it is very interesting to see how different school systems use different strategies to address their individual student population.
As a special education teacher I found the quote "you have to adapt to the world around you or progress can never happen. That is the ultimate goal of education right? Progress. Continuous progress." to be extremely important to the field of education. As teachers it is our responsibility to prepare our students for the future and to provide our students will the necessary skills to be successful citizens. We constantly need to adjust our lessons to meet the needs of our students. Teaching and instruction does come in a one size fits all format. What may work one year for a particular group of students may not work the next year with a different group of students. Just like technology is constantly changing, we as teachers need to make changes in the best interest of our students.

Rose's picture

I am amazed at the opportunities for learning that are taking place among these schools. As a teacher, I understand the need for education to follow the changes in technology and the learning needs of today's students. Great job! I hope that my district will follow your footsteps in the future.

Rose's picture

I am amazed by the learning opportunities that are available to students at these schools. I have realized recently that education needs to follow the changing needs of our students and accomodate the advances in technology. I am thrilled to read the student comments and hope that my district can follow your footsteps in the future.

Adam James's picture

Looking over the blogs of the students, I see some amazing and authentic education happening. Seems to me like the connections and collaborations between these schools is inspiring. More weight is given to what each learner writes, as opposed to writing in a personal journal or for a traditional teacher-graded response.
I have two questions for the students or teachers.
1)Is the only objective of the class to talk about the experience of learning or is there another goal for the program?
2)How can we set the stage for a similar experience in core academic subjects? I'm a high school science teacher for example, my first thought is to have my students blog on science articles, similar to the list of links which I saw as one assignment. Anyone have an idea about a few other good avenues to explore?

Lisa J. Cooley's picture
Lisa J. Cooley
School Board member, parent of 2 public school students.

Kids have learned about the medium itself, but how has the learning branched out into subject matter? Learning how to network is important and exciting, but could I hear more about projects these classes worked on together that delved deeply into some pressing issue or concept.

D Darby's picture

I think the online classes are very interesting! Yes they are of a "new age" and I think students are learning a great deal. I like the idea that different classrooms are connecting with each other and meeting new people. These students are actually still in the classroom. Along the same lines what about the students who are learning virtually exclusively? Are there certain students these kinds of courses would benefit more? I'm just curious what students think about them?

D Darby's picture

I think the online classes are very interesting! Yes they are of a "new age" and I think students are learning a great deal. I like the idea that different classrooms are connecting with each other and meeting new people. These students are actually still in the classroom. Along the same lines what about the students who are learning virtually exclusively? Are there certain students these kinds of courses would benefit more? I'm just curious what students think about them?

Michelle Kearney's picture

What an amazing educational experience these teachers have created for their students! The world students live in today is vastly different than the way most teachers grew up. I applaud these teachers for embracing technology and the emerging multi-media trends to capture their students' interest and ultimately enhance their learning. As educators, we know that learning should be meaningful to students and connect with real life situations; this is a clever way to teach and challenge students in a forum that it in sync with today's culture.
My mind is reeling with the possibilities of how I can modify this idea for 5th grade students. While I am currently at stay at home mother, I plan to return to teaching next fall and I look forward to putting my own spin on such a brilliant use of technology. Thank you for sharing ~ this website was a great find!! Professional Learning Communities are so important for educators; through this type of venue, we can learn so much from one another and enhance our performance in the classroom!

Holly Potter's picture

A former colleague of mine uses skype at her new school to connect her Spanish 1 class with native speakers around the world. Unfortunatley skype is blocked at my school. Suggestions?

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