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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Web 2.0 Class: Students Learn 21st Century Skills, Collaboration, and Digital Citizenship

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

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Nick's picture

I am a student at BHS high school taking the web 2.0 class. This class is different from any other class I have taken. The class is 50/50 self directed and taught by a teacher, which is very interesting and very new to me. Having a self directed class is something that I am having a hard time with because I have never done it before and it takes some time to get used to. This class had been very difficult because I have had to direct myself and keep myself on task. This class is a new way of thinking that I think will become very popular in coming years.

Jason Tarpey's picture

My name is Jason Tarpey I am a student at Burlington high school and I would just like to reflect back on what was said by Brianna Perry. "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." I find this to be a very interesting point. Why do some schools decide to block these sites? Is it in hopes that their students will focus more or pass in better work? If they really want their kids to pass in better work they need to teach them how to use these sites instead of banning them.

Kerry's picture

I think that it's important for students to connecet. High schoolers meeting new high schoolers online can be very helpful. They can meet through blogging, twitter, skype, and other ways. Students can find others who are interested in the same things as they are and it would be a great connection. They can help out eachother and give eachother advice. This will help them start a PLN and put them in the right direction for a future career.

james walsh's picture

i really enjoyed this blog. i am part of the class from burlington high school and i can relate to what every student said. i reall liked reanne 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." i know excatly what she means. when i go thoughout my day in school and i dont make any progress or learn anything new its a day lost. i will never get that day back. live every day to the fullest because it could be your last. this class is teaching me a lot of new things. i thought i knew a lot about the internet and technology but i was wrong. every day when i come into this class i know im gonna learn something new.

Amanda Brooks's picture

I really think that this whole system is working out great. Being able to connect with other students in the same position I myself am in, is just refreshing. We are all putting in our best efforts to create each and every one of our PLN's. And together, I really think that we can start something new here.

Michael Sweeney's picture

really enjoyed this blog. i am part of the class from burlington high school and i can relate to what every student said. i reall liked reanne 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." i know excatly what she means. when i go thoughout my day in school and i dont make any progress or learn anything new its a day lost. i will never get that day back its a day of learning wasted. live every day to the fullest because it could be your last. this class is teaching me a lot of new things. i thought i knew a lot about the internet and technology but i was wrong. i feel like every day when i come into this class i know im gonna learn something new.

Julia's picture

Great article Andy! I am a high school student at Van Meter High School. I think what Mrs. Miller, Mr. Bannick, and Mr. Larkin are doing is great! They are so ahead of the curve with their PLN classes. From a students perspective I think this class will help me so much in the future. I am learning so many great tools on the internet. We are also connecting with so many people, it is great connecting with others and learning from them. Thanks for Skyping with us on Friday and talking to us about our personal learning networks.

susan price's picture

Way to go, BHS. Keep up the great work. You are the classroom of the future!! It's neat seeing some of my former students taking classes which I haven't even taken as of yet. We're following you!!!! Thanks for leading us in the right direction.

Samantha's picture

I agree with Susan, way to go! These students are learning invaluable skills. I hope more schools follow implement a program like this one.

Alisa's picture

Wow!! I thought the school here I teach is high tech but you are a head of the game by helping to teach useful strategies to the students. I would like to present this idea to our principal and superintendent. This is a positive reinforcement for interaction with other students. I can see a lot of good coming from this lesson. Thank you for sharing.

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