George Lucas Educational Foundation
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"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time."
-- Tagore, Bengali poet

About 20 years ago, I received my first email account. It was awesome -- not many college students had one. Of course, I quickly realized that I only knew five friends with email and I lived with four of them.

Today, almost every teenager in our schools has the opportunity to access email, but many choose not to. It is much easier to send a message via texting or through Facebook. In fact, a growing number of my college students only use email to correspond with "old people."

Over the past 20 years, advances in our technological landscape have fundamentally changed the way that we access and interact with information and with each other. YouTube just turned six in May. Today, 48 hours of video gets uploaded to YouTube every minute -- twice as much as was uploaded at this time last year. Every minute, nearly 35,000 videos are viewed. Facebook is seven years old and has twice as many active user accounts as the population of the United States.

The participatory nature of the web has made it possible to redefine the culture of learning for our students and for ourselves. And professionally, we can participate in collectives to actively engage in professional learning and we can create similar experiences for our students.

The Web Tools Collective

As part of Edutopia's summer professional development experiences, we are starting a Web Tools Collective to explore and learn with other teachers from around the world. We plan to "study" a variety of web tools and resources, and identify ways that they can be used in the classroom. The Web Tools Collective is a flexible, open-learning experience. We will provide a learning space (Edutopia blogs and groups) and a loose structure for exploration. You are welcome to jump in and out as your schedule and interest allows. You can post daily, weekly, just once or twice, or you can even just lurk.

In their book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe a collective as:

. . . a collection of people, skills, and talent that produces a result greater than the sum of its parts. For our purposes, collectives are not solely defined by shared intention, action, or purpose (though these elements may exist and often do). Rather, they are defined by an active engagement with the process of learning. . . . In the new culture of learning, collectives, as we define them, become the medium in which participation takes shape.

The Web Tools Collective Series Schedule

  • Getting Started
  • Collecting: Web tools and resources for collecting and assessing information.
  • Creating: Web tools for expressing, sharing, and celebrating ideas.
  • Connecting: Web tools for breaking down the classroom walls.
  • The Networked Student

    What does a "collective" look like in the classroom? Perhaps this. . .

    Get Started

    In the comments below, let me know what you think about The Networked Student.

    • What can we do to move in that direction?
    • What obstacles do we face? And, most importantly, what questions do you have?
    • What do YOU want to get out of the Web Tools Collective?

    Eric Brunsell will be teaching a course called, "Current Trends in Curriculum and Instruction: Learning in a Connected World" at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh this summer. The course will be taught entirely online and will feature Edutopia -- and our community -- as a resource.

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Sandy Jensen's picture

I couldn't tell if we were supposed to register at U or Wisconsin or if something is going to be happening on this blog?

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

You only have to register with UW Oshkosh if you are interested in the graduate course ( However, the Web Tools Collective will take place via Edutopia Blogs (sharing via the comment area). I will make a "getting started" post next week and then a series of posts with suggestions for exploration (see the timeline in this post).

Sandy Jensen's picture

What can we do to move in that direction? Integrate technology into our classrooms as best we can with the tools provided.

What obstacles do we face? And, most importantly, what questions do you have?
That students are not even remotely as connected and technologically savvy as the media hypes they are. A lifetime of living in an e-environment hasn't trained them to productivity or educational web tools. know that we have to train them.
What do YOU want to get out of the Web Tools Collective?
New ideas!
New contacts!
Some organized way of sorting and filing my ideas!

Trina Dralus's picture

What can we do to move in that direction? Share, share, share! Share what has worked in our classrooms. Discuss obstacles and how they can be overcome. Discuss what to do next. Collaboration with others leads to great ideas and powerful instruction.

What obstacles do we face? And, most importantly, what questions do you have?
The obstacles we face are the lack of equipment in the classroom or if we have it, it doesn't work properly. Learning curves is another barrier. Some don't have the patience or the drive to figure it out if it doesn't come easily the first time. So maintaining motivation for the teachers is also important.

What do YOU want to get out of the Web Tools Collective?
I just want to be sure that I am utilizing every tool that I can to be the most effective.

Jason Dillon's picture

What can we do?
We need to engage teachers in this type of connected learning. It's essential for them to experience this process as a learner in order for them to direct it for their students. At this point, teachers' inexperience with these tools creates a roadblock to their use in educational settings.

Patti Grayson's picture
Patti Grayson
4th grade teacher from Newport News, VA

I watched this video as part of the Powerful Learning Practice "pre-game" activities. The PLN I developed as part of that program has become vital to my continued learning.

As part of our action research project, we required our faculty to create a Diigo account, bookmark, and follow a member of our Digital Learning Team. They were also required to join and participate in our school Ning.

I think that if we "talk the talk" about becoming a life-long learner, we need to "walk the walk" and model it for our students. We did run into some obstacles with our faculty, but by dividing them up among the 7 members of our team, we were able to work with them one-on-one to help bring them on board.

In my classroom I introduced Diigo to my 3rd grade students and we created a class page where they could bookmark their favorite learning games, and I could bookmark tools such as Glogster, Storybird, and safe search sites, research sites, etc. The students loved being able to go to the Diigo page from home and finding the tools we used at school.

I am looking forward to exploring further and continuing to build my PLN through the Learning in a Connected World course and the Web Tools Collective. See my profile for links to my blog and Twitter!

Judd R. Pittman's picture
Judd R. Pittman
7th and 8th grade science teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The video provides a great reminder of the evolution of the student and teacher in the 21st century. The power of the internet to exponentially increase our connectivity with information has provided a new set of tools for learning. Embracing and implementing these new tools will be the key to keeping students engaged and successful.

Dustin Williams's picture
Dustin Williams
Graduate student and substitute social studies teacher from Oshkosh, WI

We need to become aware of the possibilities that connectivism offers for our students. For too long, teachers have remained within their classrooms teaching their own way with no regard for what others in their own department were doing. We need to collaborate and share with each other our knowledge. I think the greatest asset of connectivism is that it actually helps to foster critical thinking skills. I believe fostering critical thinking skills is one of the most important things we can teach our students but I know I do not do a good enough job of it in my classroom. Helping students to create their personal learning network is a tangible item I can do with students that actually helps to foster and grow their critical thinking skills.

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

To move in this direction, I think we definitely need districts and school leadership to give the green light for teachers to be able to use these tools. This includes providing them with the training necessary to ensure that these tools are used responsibly and with a careful purpose. I agree with Dustin and Jason that teacher inexperience with these resources is holding our students back. However, much of this inexperience comes from district leadership that is fearful of this type of dialogue.

I also think we all need to be willing to make mistakes, fail and try again when it comes to technology integration with 21st century learners. We need to be creative with how we use this technology and how we make meaningful connections to our learners through technology. We can no longer afford to have our education system waylaid by the fear of creativity's potential.

Elicia Cardenas's picture

What can we do to move in that direction?

While I love the idea of a connected student, and while I truly believe part of my job as a teacher is to get students ready for what the real world is looking for in terms of skills and knowledge, I wonder how exactly knowing how to put together a blog and an RSS feed is going to help a kid who is struggling with basic skills? Or getting enough to eat?

On one hand, this kind of learning is intuitive, self-directed, and therefore often self-motivating. That's huge. On the other, I don't know of very many jobs where blogging, even thoughtfully, is considered in a positive light.

What obstacles do we face?
Well, let's start out with the fact that if the technology that is in the classrooms right now doesn't work (the first time), teachers spend hours trying to fix it with very little support. Not to mention the classroom management nightmares that ensue when your lesson that requires technology flops because the tech is kaput, for no obvious reason. One district support person per district, available only by the creation of a help ticket, does not a technology classroom make. 25 laptops on a cart that mostly work, but not dependably, make it hard for teachers who are not comfortable with technology to want to put any time into using them.

Students from low SES absolutely should have technology access; however, low SES schools are often the ones with the least amount of tech, in districts where teachers are hanging on for their dear lives.

And, most importantly, what questions do you have?
How can I teach my students to be discriminating users of information?

What do YOU want to get out of the Web Tools Collective?
Some real discussion about technology, issues of access, and ways to work within districts to get funding and personnel to use these ideas. Perhaps some suggestions from others about how they deal with flaky, underfunded, woefully outdated tech.

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