Tuesday, October 15, 2013

5 Ways To Open Up Learning & Engage Students

Guest post by David Price

“Dave Price casts a penetrating light on how the new dynamics of digital culture are transforming not only on how we work and play but how we think, feel and learn.” -Sir Ken Robinson
When my eldest son was 13, I used to drag him out of bed each morning to go to school. Eventually I learned the reason for his excessive tiredness. He was taking part in internet chat shows on his (then) interest in libertarian politics. Not listening  to, but taking part. I wanted to say ‘but school is more important’ but all I could think was ‘how cool is that?’. Four years later he taught himself Tuvan Throat Singing (you have to hear it to believe it) from some very early open education resources. Neither Tuvan Singing, nor Ayn Rand were on the curriculum at school. Mainly, he was just copying down whatever the teacher wrote on the board.

Inspired by what I observed with my son, I wrote OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live & Learn In The Future in which I argue that formal education is struggling to keep up with the ways we now learn socially. The book sets out to help educators to  bridge the gap between the informal and formal. The driving metaphor for the book is that of the ‘global learning commons’, typified by the desire shown by Creative Commons, and other open source organisations  to ‘share all that we know’. Sadly many offices, colleges and classrooms (though not all) have become  ‘learning enclosures’, and sharing = cheating.

What then can the concerned educator do to stave off the rising tide of disengagement which is being seen in classrooms and training rooms?

Here are five strategies:
  1. Think ‘Outside-In’. My son’s experiences were nearly 10 years ago - students now find passion and purpose in their learning in many locations, and guided by many people. Why should they have to leave their interests and mentors at the school gate? Opening up (physically and virtually) our classrooms isn’t easy, but it will be the key to keeping them engaged. Do we even know what they learn when they’re not in school? How often do we tap into the abundant expertise found in our parents and communities? Through Skype, we can bring experts into the classroom whenever we need to and wherever they are.
  2. Think ‘Inside Out’. The best way to prepare our students for the world beyond school is to get them to spend as much time as possible in the world beyond school. I highlight what I call the ‘Six Imperatives of Social learning’ in the book. One of them is ‘Do It for The World To See’. Check out ‘This Is Brighton’ by 13 yr-old Caleb Yule, and look at the comments and the job offers - are they any less important than the grade he got? Or check out Martha Payne’s  Never Seconds Blog and the incredible journey it’s taken her on: Jamie Oliver, Heads of State, collaborating with students from all over the world. Check out her very first blog entry - this isn’t a ‘gifted’, exceptional, student. And then reflect that her School District banned her blog, until 9m tweets later, they conceded they should maybe concentrate on improving school lunches instead.
  3. Disintermediate Learning. Disintermediation - cutting out the middlemen, and women - is changing the world. It’s going to make it harder for our kids to get work (due to what economists call the ‘jobless recovery’) since so many of the roles intermediaries used to do - think travel agents, or record stores - have been ‘digi-mediated’. But, since we want to be more in control of our lives, disintermediation is inevitable. We can at least recognise that we’re intermediaries too. We are placed between our students and the knowledge they need. Don’t react like the record companies did when people started getting their musical experiences elsewhere. Be the signposter, not the gatekeeper, of knowledge. And enjoy the fact that they can learn as much from each other, as they can from you.
  4. Hack Your Curriculum. There’s a remarkable communications school in South London. They have a ‘curriculum wiki’: advertising executives, industry experts, and students, can all nominate new learning modules - the academic’s job is to turn those nominations into designed programmes with learning outcomes. It works - they have a 100% employment record, and student’s knowledge is bang up-to-date. If we want students to be engaged in their learning, curriculum (and pedagogy) need to be ‘co-created’. Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo put it better: ‘The mind must be consulted on its own growth’.
  5. Tap Into Their Moral Purpose. Martha Payne’s blog became a book, the proceeds from which now provide a school lunch for Malawian children.  Students from High tech High, in San Diego are seeing bushmeat smugglers in Tanzania being arrested, because of the work they did on DNA bar-coding to preserve endangered species. However one viewed the Invisible Children campaign, there’s no denying the catalyzing effect it had on young people’s desire to know more. When there’s so much that our kids are passionate about, why not start there when designing learning?

Our organisations and institutions are facing the inevitability of ‘going open’. The way we want to live our lives socially is driving these inevitable shifts. The trust we see in every eBay purchase, or every bed offered on Couchsurfing.com, would have been ridiculed 15 years ago. But we like being open, we’re not going to give it up, and our kids will increasingly want our schools to be more open, too.


OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn In The Future is published by Crux Publishing, and available on Amazon. The schools OPEN Video Challenge will be launched in November . Educators can register their interest HERE.

David Price is an author, speaker and Senior Consultant at the Innovation Unit, England

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