Connected Learning in Teacher Education: Come Make With Us

A couple of years ago, I worked in the summer to build Connected Courses with some amazing colleagues. I dabbled in the work of connected learning prior to this invitation, but this was my first real attempt to put the principles into practice. Our goal with Connected Courses was, and remains, to support faculty who are “developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.” At some point in the middle of our week of building, Mimi Ito made a comment, an aside, that stuck with me. She wondered: “Why can’t adolescents who are interested in college classes participate in those courses?” Since I teach a course called Reading Literature for Future Teachers, which focuses on chapter books, graphic novels, young adult novels, and the teaching of reading, her question sort of haunted me. I really had the right course for this question.

That fall, I paired with a local 7th- and 8th-grade teacher, Wendy Fairon, and we invited her students to blog with us about young adult novels they chose for my class to read. My future teachers and her middle school students talked, shared, critiqued, and blogged their way through a semester of books. A small move on my part, turned into an impactful experience for my future teachers and the middle schoolers: both communities had access to people with a shared interest in books and ways of talking about books that made them feel a little taller.

My courses have always been open — other people can see the course online — but this kind of participation from people outside our class was more intentional. I sat with this experience, sharing anecdotes with the colleagues on my campus, for a couple of years and I continued to find purposeful ways to connect my students to the communities of practice they hoped to join. As I moved through the circles of DML and the National Writing Project, I started to hear similar stories, other educators who worked to frame their educational designs using connected learning principles.

Last fall, following the DML Conference, more intentional networking began to emerge between educators working in teacher education settings. At first, we simply made a Slack Channel (which you can request to join) and began to talk to each other about what we needed to support our work. Thanks in no small part to Kira Baker-Doyle at Arcadia University, this July, 20 educators were able to gather face to face to imagine more intentional structures of support for teacher educators interested in connected learning. Kira recently blogged about our gathering, explaining our goals moving forward:

“What has emerged is a kind of hybrid structure. At the core of the structure is a true organization in a sense — people with specific roles, dedicated to take on tasks that keep the network running. Yet, layered on this structure is an interest-based network of nodes, which invites membership from anyone and everyone who is interested in transforming teacher education to reflect the principles of connected learning.”

We had a packed two days at Arcadia: we worked through “ventures and vexations,” in some ways code for the hopes and fears of connected learning. We talked with a panel of K-12 educators who had completed the Certificate in Connected Learning & Technology offered at Arcadia. And, we spent a day imagining a future network full of Twitter chats, annotated bibliographies, open courses, shared research, and continued co-learning and teaching.

Many of us were both inspired and challenged by the panel of educators as they attempt to work with the principles of connected learning in often more constrained educational settings. At one point, the teachers shared these constraints, asking for support in the challenges they face, particularly the constraints around attempting to teach in open and connected ways in closed settings. The teachers asked for fewer firewalls, so that they could connect students to networks and platforms on the web. They asked for space to fail, a willingness on the part of administrators to try innovative ideas, and to let those innovative ideas have time to work out problems that will almost certainly arise. The panel also highlighted the need for all of us to grow our networks, so that no teacher is working in isolation. There is power when you can point to a network of educators doing similar innovative work: an individual teacher is suddenly not just “going rogue.”  

Our goal is to connect and support a network of educators working on Connected Learning in Teacher Education: #CLinTE. We see this work in teacher education as broadly defined: educators in after school programs, educators in more formal settings, and educators and mentors who work in the spaces between formal structures. And, we hope you join us through the links below.

As we worked throughout the weekend, I was struck by how many times I recalled Eli and Bre, the 7th grader and college student in my class, “book buddies” as Eli named them. Eli, 12 at the time, got “in trouble” for reading after bedtime, under the covers with a flashlight. He was so excited to write back to Bre, his college buddy, who was working toward becoming a teacher. He had stayed up late to finish the YA novel Butter. When he got to his classroom the next day, he blogged to Bre: “Hi again book buddy! I already finished Butter in one night and it was by far the best and well written book I have ever read. That book made me think so much that I didn’t sleep. In all I am really glad that it was a ‘happyish’ ending and he was starting to reach his goals. Sorry if I spoiled any of it for you hope you loved this book as much as I did. Write back soon!”

This is why we do the labor required for connected teaching. This is why we invite others into our educational spaces. It’s not fast, it’s not flipped, it’s not tidy or efficient, it’s just necessary.

We invite you to come, too: to lurk, to contribute, to connect. Join us by visiting  our CLinTE website. We will also be convening informally at the Digital Media & Learning Conference at UC Irvine in October. We hope you join us there, too.

Banner image: Kira Baker Doyle leads a conversation with connected educators. Photo by Kim Jaxon