Authentic Applied Learning using Ning

The power of working in a Web2.0 discourse community to me, is the speed at which students adapt to it’s technical processes – which leads to almost a ‘fast forward’ in terms of their writing skills. These shots are from our Geography and English project, Green Up 2145.

But we don’t mark it!.

For example, a teacher might ask students to ‘define’ Spatial Inequality. In this project, that is indeed one of the concepts that students need to know about. Their findings however are not 4/10 or 9/10, they are stepping stones to much deeper application and justification in a wider discourse.

In this project, the aim is to teach students about geography, environment and writing for an audience. The first image shows the first reflective writing by a student, when they are first introduced to the project. Notice that title of the post – it’s just how kids are used to answering questions for teachers. They write 1,2,3,4,5 etc., as they see that the requirement to answer is based on a prediction of sequential tasks to come.

By writing and modelling in a discourse community, the student learns not just content, but how to write reflectively incorporating that content into the wider ‘driving question’.

The students are preparing to write a comment on the Australian Green Party’s blog. To do this, they need to have a solid vocabulary and be able to interpret the language of the Green Party, to their learning, and the local issues.

This is of course is quite different to using a text book – as the Green’s constantly blog about issues – so our students are in a shifting conversation not a static one. In just a few weeks the students have moved from recounts to some very reflective and targeted writing. They are starting to voice – and justify – their opinions.

One thing I have noticed is how they are referencing the project itself as a framework for developing personal views. The language they use is more technical.

They also start discussions. These have included: ‘Should we start a wiki‘ – as a few identified that Ning is not the best ‘organiser’ of information; can we create an interactive presentation using Second Life? – as they are thinking about what a presentation could be. They are thinking about how best to represent their learning.

We are also seeing students working from a central idea suggested by the teacher – and working out into related concepts and issues, such as the one above. They are now far less interested in trying to used Google to define:term – but to research the term, then apply it from a personal perspective.

This is my ‘thing’ right now – how to create frameworks for learning – using ICTs – in which students can’t Google the solution. The idea of applying knowledge as opposed to gathering information. I’m also trying to expose the ‘copy and paste’ approach as the wrong approach.

By developing a framework for students to work in such as Ning, and focusing on this as more than ‘blogging’, I really thing (and see) how quickly students who develop as writers and learners – both in school – but more importantly after school.To do this you have to surprise them, in ways in which you give them information and also give them simple sub-frameworks to move them along when they are ready.

Its also interesting to see how getting comments from teachers outside our school (who ironically out number the teachers who are actively commenting online in our school) – has pushed the students to appreciate their audience – which is a key consideration – as they are about to post a 400 word (ish) comment on the Green Party site – in which they discuss the issues raised in the blog post – using the content of their own learning using thier own local area.

Students are well aware that what they say is ‘public’ – as they are reading comments from ‘outside’ people in their own community – whch in turn is making them think about their ‘public’ comment on the Green’s blog. I am really happy with this project’s design so far. It’s exposed areas that we need to do more work in, and given me lots of ideas on how to better scaffold the use of Web2.0 discourse communities next time.

So designing a project, using Ning – needs to be more than blogging. Its a window on student learning, which I think can’t be achieved in a conventional classroom project. 600+ posts, 1500+ comments in a few weeks – and we get to see it all.

3 thoughts on “Authentic Applied Learning using Ning

  1. Congratulations on opening these students minds to a world beyond Parramatta, as an observer of this project I am amazed at the students growth in terms of understanding, writing and audience over such a short time. One must ask the question what would happen if this type of collaboration happened earlier in their schooling where would they be now?

  2. I was looking at the progression students have made as well. It is amazing to see the growth they have made. They have gone from one sentence chat lines to thorough descriptions, evaluations, and suggestions. Lucy and you have done an excellent job of implementation.

    Is there a page on the ning that I missed that gives a description of the greenup project, the problem you are addressing, and the instructions that students are given? I apologize if I am missing it, or perhaps the instructions are given in class during school hours?

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