A Web of Connections: Why the Read/Write Web Changes Everything

Will Richardson

Powerful Learning Practice Network (Co-Founder)

Contact: weblogged@gmail.com
Author: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms ( Corwin Press, 2nd Ed, July 2008)
Latest Article: "Footprints in a Digital Age" (Educational Leadership, November, 2008)

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external image ms2126B-thumb.jpgSome Quotes to Think About:

"It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change" – Charles Darwin

"The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." -- Alvin Toffler

"Sometimes traveling to a new place leads to great transformation" --Fortune Cookie from PF Chang's, Austin, TX

“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists” — Eric Hoffer

"The kind of questioning, collaborative, active, lateral rather than hierarchical pedagogy that participatory media both forces and enables is not the kind of change that takes place quickly or at all in public schools." -- Howard Rheingold

The Big Premise: We Need to Feel Uncomfortable Right Now...

This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.

A Story:

An 11-year old outside of Buffalo who is doing good work in her community and learning the power of online networks in the process.

My Lens:

This is about preparing our kids for a future of learning that is decidedly different from the present.

The "Tectonic Shift"

The Read/Write Web makes it easy to publish to the world, and because of that, we now live in a learning world this is powered by "ridiculously easy group forming" around the interests that we share. That capability to easily connect to others who share our passions changes everything. Here Comes Everybody

external image cartoon200.jpgThis Shift is Already Playing Out All Around Us

Take a look at what easy group forming has done to politics in the case of the Obama Campaign and this Kansas State Senate candidate.

Or what it's doing to media when we can easily publish and connect around events like the terror bombings in India.

Or what happens to business when products are now conversations and we can tap into the wisdom of the groupwho shares our passion.

There are Huge Implications for Educators in These Shifts

A recently released three year study of digital media and youth shows that our kids (with access) are already forming their own groups. These groups are either friendship-driven or interest-driven, and both are important.

external image e72d8.jpgStories:

Sarah, a junior in high school routinely reads and sends over 600 text messages a day, all to and from friends she knows in her physical world. And these friendship-driven networks are played out very publicly and transparently in "Networked Publics" at MySpace or Facebook (to grieve) or others. Are we teaching them how to leverage friendship-driven spaces for learning?

Problem: We're Not Shifting, Instead Using "Blunt Instruments" to Keep Change at Bay

Rather than embrace these shifts, we are attempting to ward them off. We block, filter, and restrict the use of these group-forming tools in schools. In New York City, kids check their cell phones in for the day at a significant cost. In Australia, we spend $84 million on a filter for schools that is hacked in under 30 minutes by a 16-year old.

According to the MacArthur study, we are creating a "digital divide" between in-school and out-of school use of social networking technologies. And it is hurting our kids. We are "Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning" and using filters and blocks as "blunt instruments" that are seen as "Ill-informed exercises of power."

Problem 2: We're Not Encouraging the Formation of Interest-Driven Groups

This is a time of self-directed, peer-based, passion-based learning. And it is creating the need for a huge head-shift in our thinking. As MacArthur says: "Youth using new media often learn from their peers, not teachers or adults, and notions of expertise and authority have been turned on their heads." And the reality is that the future of learning resides in these personal learning groups or networks that we form, manage, and participate in.

external image del.icio.us_network_explorer-20071017-072045.jpgStory:

My weblog has been (aside from my kids) the most transformative event in my life, and it has changed the way I think about learning, schools, and classrooms. It has helped me understand what it is to be a part of a network of learners, a global community of passionate thinkers with whom I create curriculum, classrooms and conversations every day.

Our Kids Are Not Waiting For Us...

Our students are forming these interest-based groups in any number of ways already, with little or no instruction or modeling from us. We need to help them understand the potentials for learning in our own classrooms. We have to create Thinwalls and show them ways to use groups to change the world.

Shift 2: Information is Not Scarce, So, Groups Form

Between MIT OpenCourseWare and ITunesU and countless others, we now have the ability to create groups to learn whatever it is we need or want to learn. The truth is that learning can be anywhere.

Story: Learning is "Anywhere, Anytime"

We "supplement" our kids' education, and we want to model for them the idea that providing you can make good decisions around group forming, you can learn anything you like anytime you like in the context of your networks. Teachers come in all shapes and sizes from anywhere in the world. It requires us to think deeply about what it means to prepare our kids for their futures, that we show them how to "create, grow and navigate personal learning networks in safe, effective and ethical ways."

How do We Begin Changing Our Model of Learning in Schools?

We have to begin to rethink what we do in the context of these seismic shifts around learning on the web. We have to start with the teachers. Day-long, drive-by professional development simply will not work when what's required is a change in practice, not just enhanced skills. How can we provide job-embedded, long-term professional development that immerses teachers in social learning environments.

There are Many Reasons Why This is Difficult

But change starts with ourselves. What are we doing to add dots to our maps? To model this for our teachers and our students? To bring the powerful learning opportunities that the Read/Write Web provides into our schools and our curriculum?