Connected Learning: Grade School vs. College

I love the idea of connected learning. I think that too much of our education from grade school to college is kept completely separate from the rest of our lives. Students put in their time with classes and homework, but are rarely excited enough about the material to explore it outside of that. Especially at the grade and high school level, the emphasis on standardized testing is a big part of that. The “facts that all students should know” are taught, but they never really get to engage with the subject and delve deep into it. I would love to see a system where a second grade class spends an entire period talking about the sun, or raptors, or pandas, just because someone asked an interesting question and started a discussion.

On the college level, at least in some subjects, I think connected learning would be more difficult to implement. In a philosophy class or an English class, a student might blog about an interesting book they read and invite comments from their classmates. In a class about database management, no one is going to blog about the interesting database they saw or tweet out the exciting article they read about databasing. Even for those students who want to delve deeper, they won’t have the requisite skills to do so until they’ve completed the course. I just don’t know how the students could engage with the material outside of class while they’re still taking it. If anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

8 thoughts on “Connected Learning: Grade School vs. College”

  1. So what are some things you might do to engage the students past all of these standardized testing? Think of some ideas that might incorporate topics that don’t seem to go together or make interesting projects and experiences. Think past what makes sense initially and try to discover what might be. We often are concerned with what is rather, we should look to what ought to be (normative theory).

  2. I think there is more to the connected learning environment than just blogging. After our previous discussions and readings, my thought on connected learning is that it could also be called creative learning or engaged learning. The point is to connect the materials in classes to the world around us. For some that might mean accessing the information in a variety of ways such as through online resources (u-tube videos – one of my favorite sites is Big Think http://bigthink.com/, government access sites, web sites, electronic data banks such as census.gov, etc). However, it is also much more than that; connected learning can also occur through museums, corporations, conversations with professionals in the field of study, or working with members of the community. The key is to think creatively about the subject matter, how it interacts with our lives and the lives of those around us and do something meaningful to build knowledge for the students, the local and global community, the institutions and ourselves as the professor.

    1. I think part of the problem with engaging the students is that most of them think, “I’ll never need this,” so they don’t make an effort to be engaged. I can tell them that they will need it until I’m blue in the face (and I tried), but until they get into industry and get thrown into it, they won’t see it. If I teach it again, I may try to give more assignments that show them how ubiquitous databases are in real life (ever search for something on Amazon?) and maybe get an industry professional in to talk.

      I did do a real world-type project (the 6-week summer session is too short for an actual real-world database project) that seemed to go pretty well. Next time (if there is one), I want to expand that to give them more of a “working with a client” experience. I think it could help them get interested, if they feel like they have more control over the whole process.

  3. I really like how you compared grade school and college and discussed what connected learning might look like in those environments. And I think Noel made some great points about connected learning being broader than blogging. Other aspects of connected learning include actively creating and designing and working towards a common goal. My background is in mechanical engineering, and there are several different classes that could/do incorporate aspects of connected learning. Students in engineering have to take design classes where they work in groups on a project of their choice designing or testing something. However, there are also several classes in the engineering curriculum where it is harder to incorporate connected learning, such as calculus. But I think that there are still ways to incorporate connected learning into these environments too. We can often think of ways to encourage students to engage with the material. One way to potentially spark a student’s interest in the material is to give examples of how the concepts being covered relate to the real world. So when covering topics in calculus, it can be really beneficial to give students simple, real world examples that they can relate to.

    1. Agreed. Real world examples were sorely lacking in my calculus (and even physics) classes, and it left me wondering why I should bother learning the material at all. (Actually, I’m still wondering that about some classes – I’ve never used most of the material again.)

    2. Absolutely. Real world examples provide us with context, something that is tragically overlooked in most classes, especially STEM. Engineers love to teach in a vacuum, relaying just the facts and procedures while leaving out the context and practical applications of said knowledge.

  4. I completely agree. I do think there tends to be a growing isolation between class work and practical application. Some students do reach out volunteering at hospitals or applying what they learn in the community. However, I think budget cuts especially to grade school programs have really hurt connective learning. Field trips and other active learning activities within many of the programs have been cut. I definitely agree with Noel in that connective learning goes far beyond blogging. I was a part of this organization called the Collaboratory during my undergraduate degree which involved incorporating disciplines such as engineering, pre-health, and education to solve real life problems. This program lead me to West Africa were I learned more than I ever would in the classroom. Working with the engineering group we were able to build systems to help purify water. Then we were able to educate local villages about water quality and provide medical care to regions that were in need. I think the major problem with certain aspects of connective learning and diving in deeper to the material is sadly cost.

    1. Collaboratory sounds like a fascinating program! I agree that cost is a big factor. I think that for connected learning to really work in grade school, it would need to involve not just the teacher and the school, but also the parents (which, of course, brings up its own issues of cost and time).

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