Sunday, December 31, 2006

Collective Intelligence

I really love this term, "collective intelligence" that keeps coming up over and over in Don Tapscott's Wikinomics. The knowledge that comes from groups of people communicating and collaborating together can be really powerful as illustrated in this book.

Many years ago - really before we had much technology in my school district - I attended a conference at which one of the presenters said something like, "Our kids live in an interactive world for the first five years of their lives before coming to school. And then, when they come to school, they come to a place that is everything but interactive." That had to be about 8 years ago and it's still true today in some cases. One of our goals must be to make our classrooms places that are more interactive - not just within our own four walls but within the world outside our classrooms. We know that learning is a social process, we know that the brain actively seeks connections between new information and existing knowledge. Our own professional practices can reflect this. As 2007 begins I'm looking forward to seeing how this happens in my own school district in a number of ways: a teacher who is going to begin creating podcasts with his class, a teacher who wants to start a classroom blog to give students opportunities for writing to a wider audience, modeling the use of collaborative tools such as PageFlakes,, a wiki and other tools to help teachers understand how those tools help to develop their "collective knowledge" and improve their own professional practice. The possibilities are exciting!

Reflections on reading...

One of the greatest advantages to blogging and reading what others are writing about is that I've found out about a number of books that I might not have known about or paid attention to otherwise. This is how I found out about Wikinomics by Don Tapscott. I thought it was being released later in December but just happened to see it on the shelf one day in Barnes and Noble and picked it up to start reading during the holiday break from school.

In Chapter 1, the principles of Wikinomics are discussed---the first one being openness or transparency. This took me back to when I first began to teach 18 years ago - back in the days when there were no standards, state assessments or even a well defined curriculum. The teacher's manual and the guidance of veteran teachers were what drove my teaching early on. "Close the door and teach" was the norm and there weren't very many conversations about professional practice. We were isolationists I suppose - we had our textbooks, our worksheets, and our captive audience. 18 years later we have standards, state assessments and curriculum documents to guide our teaching - how many of our teachers are still isolated in their teaching practices and how many are transparent or open to discussing, examining and changing their teaching?

In the Introduction, Tapscott notes, "Leaders must think differently about how to compete and be profitable, and embrace a new art and science of collaboration we call wikinomics." To bring that thought into the realm of education, I would amend that to say: "Teachers must think differently about how to help students learn to learn and embrace a new art and science of education." Our tools demand it, our world demands it and our students demand it for their own future success.

Teaching and Learning

Chris Walsh at EpochLearning has a great post titled, Teaching to the Long Tail of the Flat World. In it, he points out that, "21st century students will define “school” as any place that they can learn more than they could on their own." Through the use of RSS feeds, we can have access to any number of resources for learning and for teaching others. Blogging has the potential to be a "school" for many of us who blog as educators. We learn more from each other by reading what others are writing about. Sometimes we learn that we're all in the same situation and trying to think our way through to a solution. Many times I read a blog and discover that someone else's point of view matches my own. Other times, I read something and write a comment back to the author. It's through the variety of subjects addressed in blogs and through the comments that we make to each other that provides our "school" and our ongoing professional development. If I hadn't gotten involved in blogging I don't think my own professional development would have been as rich and rewarding as it has been over the past several months. We are all 21st century students if we just take advantage of the tools that help us to learn and to teach others more effectively.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


With a few teachers interested in podcasting, I've been thinking about the ways that its use connects directly to instruction, information literacy skills, thinking skills and so forth. Using podcasting could just be an electronic book report or it could be a mechanism for taking kids beyond just writing it down and saying it in an audio file. The diagram here reflects some of my thinking. (click on the diagram to make it larger)

The student as a reporter could report on classroom events during the past week or events planned and yet to come.

The student as an historian could tell his/her audience about a particular event from a particular point of view. For instance, as an American historian he/she could tell the audience about the successes of the colonists in winning the Revolutionary War or as an English historian he/she could tell about the challenges that face the British army as they try to quell the revolutionary colonists.

The student as a scientist who has just completed an experiment could discuss the hypothesis, the process and the results including an idea of how or why he/she was successful or not in the experiment.

By placing students in a role, we help them to take off the "student" hat and put on the "expert" hat in ordered to deepen the learning experience. I'm looking forward to seeing how we can make these learning experiences a reality in my school district.