The Connected Classroom as Conduit to Global Community

September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Only Connect …”  — E.M. Forster, Howard’s End 

For years, the assessment I conducted in my English classroom was, in essence, a single-channel dialogue between teacher and student.  The student considers the prompt and puts thoughts to the page.  The teacher responds with commentary.  The student rewrites, perhaps making meaningful use of the teacher’s feedback in a way that promotes enduring understanding. Repeat until June. 

Over time, and with the benefit of wisdom that trial and error makes possible, I have refined my thinking about the essential nature of the transaction that takes place each day in the classroom.   As technology becomes more ubiquitous and affordable in schools — both institutionally deployed, and carried in our students’ bookbags each day —  our classrooms now can become platforms for networks and conversations, with the scope of assessment broadening to include all participants in the room.  My aim in planning both the formative and cumulative assessments in my classes is now to promote conversational and connected interactions with the material, and a responsive feedback process that increases the accountability not only on both sides of the traditional channel of teacher and student, but also through the additional channels of peer interaction.

This year, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to tackle a number of new challenges.  Beyond the work I am doing as a part of my school’s academics office, I am also teaching our “Third Form Seminar” course — an introduction to global studies and essential academic skills for 9th graders.  As in other Third Form Seminar classes, my students are connecting with the global community by reading from a list of newspapers published outside of the United States.  They are also connecting with each other through a course group on the social bookmarking service, Diigo. By sharing their bookmarks and annotations each week, they are gaining a broader view of issues of global consequence than they would if the course simply hewed to the traditional, single-channel dialogue between teacher and student. Our discussions of globalization and trade are now richer for our collective awareness of the issues of consequence to citizens in other parts of the world. 

While technology’s capacity to transform classrooms in this way is appropriately labelled disruptive to the status quo in education, in reality, these tools are allowing us to become more faithful to the connectedness that is intrinsic to human nature.  Some bemoan the loss of the human element in the digital world of MOOC’s and asynchronous delivery of course content online, but it is worth considering the ways to optimize the connective power of our schools and classrooms. 


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