Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action

 In the recently released Who Owns the Learning, Alan November uses the metaphor of the Digital Learning Farm to articulate a compelling vision of learning and teaching.

He writes,
Not too many generations ago young people were expected to engage in work with purpose—caring for farm animals, repairing equipment, selling food at local markets, and helping to care for younger children in the family. . . Today we rarely expect young people to be contributors.
Alan issues a four-part call to action with the Digital Learning Farm model:
·         Engage students in work that has meaning to themselves and others;
·         Shift more control and responsibility to students by redefining the role of the learner as a contributor, collaborator, and leader; and
·         Leverage the powerful motivators of student ownership and purposeful contribution; and
·         Enlist inexpensive and easy-to-use technology to support students’ active participation and contribution to community.
Purpose-Driven Work
Who Owns the Learning is full of rich examples of students doing work that they and others value.
·         Students contribute as tutorial designers. Students create and post math tutorials for a global audience via their class’ Math Train web site.
·         Students who contribute as scribes: they collaborate to create a detailed set of notes for use by the entire class as well as by others around the world.
·         Students who contribute as researchers and authors of an online digital textbook.
Shift of Control
Alan observes, “we have inherited an organizational structure in which the teacher owns and manages the learning.” He further explains, “the questions (1) Who owns the learning? and (2) Who works harder in the classroom?” drive the thinking of the Digital Learning Farm model. Teachers still play a key role: “One of the most important tasks for educators . . . is finding the right beginning. Often that means identifying a single project the teacher can work through with the class, one that spawns new ideas for learning experiences.”

Leveraging Motivation of Student Ownership
This shift of control can be incredibly engaging. As Alan states, “students will work harder to achieve a purpose . . . than they will for a grade.” In his book, Alan quotes me in elaborating: These tutorial designers “were determined to get it right because they knew their video tutorials would be viewed by peers, both in their school and outside it. . . So you talk about who owns the learning. Those kids owned that.”
Enlisting Technology
Technology both connects students with resources to do meaningful work and a global audience. The Digital Learning Farm model taps into students’ interest in digital tools. As Alan puts it, “What if we could use the allure of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other similar tools to empower students to be autonomous, masterful, and purposeful in their academic work?”
As Alan November welcomes educators from around the globe for the Building Learning Communities 2012 conference, his latest book constitutes a call to action. He explains,
When students are given the opportunity to have purpose and ownership in their work, we see amazing things happen with the quality of their learning experiences and outcomes. We need more educational leaders and frontline teachers who are willing to empower students to co-create curriculum, own their learning, and make contributions to the collaborative process of learning.

Let us heed his call to action!

Two related blog posts by other authors via @jcoreyatzeck:



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