Blended classrooms and innovations in education technology are changing the way students learn. As educators, we can teach our students how to utilize online connectivity in ways that support individual interests and passions, and help students meet their own academic and personal goals.
Let’s pause and reflect on why connectivity matters.
- Connectivity supports students’ passions.
Maya, a senior, has always wanted to create anime art. She has been a member of the deviantART community for years, and because of her supportive advisor at the school, she’s been able to bring this interest into her school work, combining her passion with academic work through projects such as creating her own thriving online art business, where she is paid to draw anime characters. Maya, and students like Maya that have niche interests, can find others with similar interests and connect with them in meaningful ways.
- Connectivity means your work is accessible and mobile.
This year, the seniors at the school where I work all received Google Chromebooks, which are great for word processing. Students are also able to share documents for group projects with one another, and they share documents with teachers for feedback and assessment. All academic and personal work (resumes, autobiographical writing) is stored in Google Drive. The cloud business in the United States is growing significantly each year. The cloud allows students to access their work from anywhere. This is increasingly important in a mobile world. A student can find his/her work on any device, from anywhere, at anytime. If he/she forgets to save, it doesn’t matter (Google does that automatically). And even if the computer gets a virus or has a hardwire malfunction, the work is accessible.
- Connectivity supports learning about your interests (or studying for the SAT).
My 66 year-old mother recently watched Khan Academy videos so she could brush up on chemistry, a course she had not taken since she was in college in the 1960s! Similarly, my students use Khan Academy to help them with their math work or to study for the SAT. We need great educators who can help students learn how to discern what content is relevant (and what is not) and how to interpret that content. Educators help students master the key critical thinking skills and provide opportunities for students to explore the online world and use and apply the content to their interests and work.
- Connectivity allows for collaboration and contribution to create meaningful work.
An educator friend of mine in Seattle works with I-EARN, an organization dedicated to connecting young people across the world. She recently helped with a project that brought together students from five countries to design solar cookers for use in refugee camps. Other organizations, including Global Nomads Group and Taking It Global, bring together students to work on projects, collaborate and take on leadership roles. Increasingly, these types of connections are becoming more customizable to create opportunities for increased student engagement, leadership and valuable contributions in online communities.
- Connectivity equals community.
I was recently leading a discussion with a group of high school seniors. We talked about the communities we hope to be a part of after graduating. We talked about the book The Great Good Place and how sociologist Ray Oldenburg said that many of us have a home and either work or school, but we also all need a “third place,” an informal gathering space where we are connected with others. Oldenburg defines “third places” as:
- Open and welcoming
- Accessible (no waiting lines and easy to get to)
- New people are accepted but regulars are there too
- Free or inexpensive
- Conversation is the main activity
I asked high school seniors what their “third place” was.
Many students cited church, sports teams, or other interest-based clubs or organizations as their “third place.” What surprised me was how many students responded that an online community was their “third place.” Some even said these online communities provided a sense of home and connection more so than their physical home or school.
This is why online connectivity matters. Students can find others that share their interests in an online community. Most importantly, students can express themselves, be themselves, and find themselves, anytime and anywhere.
Bonnie Lathram is a Big Picture Learning school design coach and education consultant and is passionate about the design and development of engagement-driven schools. Connect with her on Twitter: @belathram.