I learned about Esther Wojcicki’s high school journalism program and learning community from my personal learning network – the people I sought out on Twitter because they seemed to know something about the topics that interest me, including digital journalism and digital media and learning. When I want to learn about a topic, I look for people who know what they are talking about, find out who THEY pay attention to, add them to my RSS or Twitter network, subtract them if I’m not learning what I want to learn, follow the links they provide and evaluate them, reciprocate when I come across something that would be useful to them. Especially in regard to Twitter, but to personal learning networks in general, knowing how to tune and feed the network becomes an important literacy.
When I started tuning and feeding my personal network of active practitioners of digital media and learning, one of my new acquaintances tweeted to me one day: “If you and @heywoj don’t know each other, you should. You both teach digital journalism in Palo Alto.” So I contacted Ms. Wojcicki, who I originally knew as @heywoj, and started having “walkie talkies,” as I’ve come to call them, talking about what we’re doing in our classrooms as we walk along Palm Drive. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to understand that what Wojcicki was doing with high school students had a lot to teach me about the course I teach to Stanford graduate students.
Just as describing how I came to meet Woj is probably the best way to convey the meaning of “personal learning network,” her program at Palo Alto High School is probably the best way to understand what is meant by Project Based Learning. She’s been perfecting the program at Paly High for 25 years, and now includes 400 students, four instructors and four (award winning) project-based electives — a newspaper (The Campanile), a news magazine, (Verde), an online site , daily television (InFocus), a sports magazine (Viking) and blogs for the Huffington Post.
In 2009, together with Ahrash Bissell, Wojcicki’s Student Journalism 2.0 project was a winner of the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning award.
I caught up with Woj at the Googleplex on Oct. 28, 2009, during the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age conference co-sponsored by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, Google, Common Sense Media, andthe MacArthur Foundation. A conference panelist, she was kind enough to take a few moments to be interviewed about her innovative approaches by video.