A reflection on what teachers need to solve the “open learning” challenges

@BarbaraUlroan shared an article by The Digital Promise that profiled inspiring teachers who were innovating in their classrooms and schools and played an important role in implementing technology integration in learning.  Not unlike implementing new teaching strategies or content areas, in order for teachers to be empowered to take on this role, administrators have to be supportive and provide the tools and resources needed for teachers to be successful.  @teacherak14’s statement that “It [open learning] is open to anyone” is where I think the potential exists for teachers to begin exploring what that means and how it looks in a learning environment.  What exactly should be open (student work, dialogue, process, etc.) and how does that positively impact the learning of students.  Some of us suggested that we might also need to consider how much “open” is appropriate at various grade levels and how different learning styles would benefit from open learning.

A couple of years ago, I had participants (high school girls) in my Technology and Leadership Program each start a blog to share their learning about a social issue affecting young women in their communities.  Being an avid reader of blogs but not a blogger, I had to figure out to what degree the girls should share their own stories, in establishing a context and their personal motivation to select a particular issue.  In the beginning, I had them keep their blogs private as they wrote introductions and shared their ideas for an issue of interest.  They were assigned specific blogs of their peers to read and write comments, and then to find public blogs relating to their topic.  As they read the public blogs, they started to gain an understanding of the blogging etiquette we had discussed and established and their writing dramatically improved.  We selected a week midway through the program to make their blogs “public”, and to invite friends and family to read and follow their blogs.  For the remainder of the program, the girls began to embrace their identities as bloggers.  They were very conscious of their audience and began looking for resources to share and even interviewing and polling their friends to share their thoughts about their chosen social issue.  They began posting more than the weekly minimum that was expected and spent a lot of their own time not only reading and following blogs related to their issue but finding other blogs that were interesting to them on a wide range of topics.  The reading of blogs, led them to news articles, research papers, documentaries, videos, interviews, and for some, recognition among their friends and at school for becoming somewhat of an “expert” on the particular issue being explored.

As I reflect back on this experience, I distinctly remember the anxiety I felt just imagining the “worst” thing that could happen – no one would read their blogs, others would make rude comments, girls would “overshare”, etc.  I felt it was my responsibility to protect them from the unknown and I initially had planned that they would just rotate giving feedback.  As the girls became more engaged and suggested more ways to explore content and integrate their writing with their research both online and in their communities, I realized that the risk came with the responsibility within an open environment, exactly what the program was designed to explore – building leadership through technology.

Reading some of the blogs (of my peers) about the challenges that teachers would face in implementing open learning, I still think teachers play an important role in determining the what and how of open learning in their schools.  While I understand that the school infrastructure and district policies make it near impossible for many teachers to innovate and try open learning with their students, I believe teachers are in the best position to figure out where the possibilities exist, which students would benefit, how open learning could enhance the content being explored, and what types of open learning enviornments are appropriate.  Teachers navigate challenges everyday and find ways to innovate with what they have; with the training, tools, resources, and other support they need, teachers would be able to explore the potential for open learning, and help determine what policies would need to be in place for students to be successful.

Any thoughts, feelings, opinions, suggestions?

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