Creating Learning Experiences

I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about the tools I will use next term with my classes (21classes? Edublogs? Ning? Wikispaces? PBWiki? MindMeister?) only to discover that what I’m really interested in is preparing the ground for learning. I don’t want to structure and pre-define. I do not want to create a community or a social network for my students. Instead, I want to create the conditions necessary for the right kind of environment to emerge. Building an environment for the students is likely to result in failure: environments and communities need to be build with the students, with their full participation, through their work and their interactions with and about texts. It’s not just about choosing a blogging platform and letting the kinds in. We need to move beyond the traditional approach of “pick the tools, add students and stir.” Unfortunately, my curriculum is still to a large extent dominated by units, lessons, assignments. Those are the realities of teaching and learning in North America in the 21st century – it’s not about the process, it’s about the product.

So, as a teacher in the 21st century, I am taking a stand: I want to have a classroom where my students can enjoy learning experiences. Instead of dividing the curriculum into neat chunks, I will try to set the stage for the right kind of environment to emerge – the kind of environment where learning experiences can take shape. The kind of environment that is similar to what Ben Wilkoff has termed, “the ripe environment,” one characterized by “a culture of connection.”

Before I explain what I have in mind, let me take you back to last term. I’d like to tell you about Vanessa. Last term, she chose to research child soldiers. She spent months reading articles, interviews, watching online videos, and documenting her research on her blog. Gradually, she immersed herself in her topic and learned much more than I ever could have taught her. Then, towards the end of the term, after documenting her research, reflecting on it, and sharing it with her classmates, she started writing poetry in response to this gruesome and difficult topic. Take a look:

I am part of the Revolutionary United Forces and I will stop at nothing for victory…

To overthrow the enemy one must not abide by the rules,
Governing ourselves, altering the thoughts of many
Vulnerability in a child is our advantage
Even in the children’s eyes, death is to be taught as the answer
The children have sorrow in their eyes longing for love
They cry,
Scream,
Weep for love,

Defeating the enemy, is of the utmost importance
No sympathy, no traitors, no survivors
The child’s innocence will not affect us,
Risking their lives will lead us closer to victory.
The children have sorrow in their eyes longing for hope,
They cry,
Scream,
Weep for hope

Respect given to the children will conquer any love once given to them
Our training methods constant and cruel
On the front lines of battle, they shed blood for us
We are the R.U.F’s, envisioning only supremacy
The children have sorrow in their eyes longing to defeat the enemy
They cry,
Scream,
Weep for victory.

I realized that this was a genuine personal response, indicative of a lot of personal investment in the topic. It was a kind of personal way of coming to terms with what she had learned. Vanessa wasn’t the only one. Trudy, who’d spent months researching Anne Frank, also posted some poetry:

The book opens
A new piece of information is just being handed to you
But you know at the end something dark awaits
And lets just say its not a happy ending

You read the beginning and then the end
Throughout each day personalities change
Feelings change
It is a new type of life unfolding right in front of your eyes

You witness life in the eyes of a young girl
The way she writes the way she explains,
Its like its happening
To you
Right this very moment
Everyday sounds and voices scare you
But shes just a 13 year old girl what can she do?
Nothing

New laws, new relationships are all so different
Its kind of like beginning a new life
Like a caterpillar growing into a butterfly
A new life unfolds

No fun, no friends
Just your family
With petite spaces and little boundaries
Closed windows make you want to witness nature
But you can’t

A new love,
Someone to share your feelings with
But is it true?
Or have you just gotten to the point you can’t think and you do things that you would never do in you old life

So many rules to follow:
Be Quiet!
Walk Slowly!
Sit Down during the day!
Read, write just be quiet….during the day!

When the sun has gone down and the moon has gone up
There are different rules:
Walk Around
Be Free
But Don’t open the windows
Or go outside!

With every pleasant thing you do,
There will always be a consequence
During this time of your life

All the personalities change so quickly
Funny
Talkative
Sometimes even ignorant
Personal

There is so much time but soon…. Sooner than you think
There will be no more time left.

At first, while certainly very impressed by the creative work of these thirteen-year-olds, I did not think that there was anything out of the ordinary about it. Then, I realized that there was. Having become researchers (one might even say content experts) in their respective fields, Vanessa and Trudy started contributing. Yes, contributing! We don’t often think of students as contributors. Even in the context of Web 2.0, I often talk about collaboration and connections, but rarely about genuine contributions. These poems, it occurred to me one day, are learning objects – they are unique artifacts that I can use next year with another class when discussing child soldiers or Anne Frank. Much like edubloggers around the world who, through my aggregator, contribute to my knowledge of learning in the 21st century, these girls were contributing specific artifacts to the topics they chose to study.

I started thinking about their progress as researchers and it occurred to me that the whole class seemed to follow the same pattern. Once I gave them the freedom to find a topic they were interested in, they began to seek out and immerse themselves in learning experiences. No one really seemed to care about grades or tests. Instead, they were immersed in learning about topics they cared about. Looking back, I realize that the process that the whole class engaged in consisted of four stages. Vanessa and Trudy, however, moved beyond into the fifth stage. The girls, along with their classmates, inspired me to start thinking about the process of creating learning experiences. The five stages described below illustrate my emerging approach based on my classroom practice and the work of my students (be kind – it’s still a work in progress):

Creating Learning Experiences

1. DISCOVER:
First, the students were given the freedom to pick a topic of interest within a specific context that we had entered through our discussions of literature – the context of social justice. I gave all my students sufficient time to think about what they were passionate about, visit some sites, read some articles and uncover that one specific topic that they wanted to learn more about.

At this point, the students were really just surfing and lurking. They were visiting various sites and communities to explore topics that were of interest to them as potential ideas for future research. There were no conversations here, just fleeting interactions.

2. DEFINE:
During this stage, I gave the students time to post some preliminary entries on their blogs, to think out loud about their topics in general terms before they started their research. The point here was to allow them the freedom to start defining their research topics and possible ways of tackling them.

3. IMMERSE:
The next step was the longest and most complex. Having narrowed it down to a specific topic, the students then were given time in class to immerse themselves in the topic, to learn more about it, to start looking for, identifying, and interacting with valuable resources. This was an opportunity to bookmark relevant content and use RSS to start creating a network of valuable and reliable resources (I want to extend it this year to a network of peers and adult experts). I wanted my students to become researchers who locate valuable content, read, interact, and document their learning on the blog by writing entries about the topic and their journey as researchers.

4. BUILD:
The students’ efforts to document their discoveries and their learning contributed to the process of building their own knowledge in this specific area. The entries showed me and their peers – our whole community – how much they were learning. These were thoughts made visible. The students used their blogs to document their research and to build their own knowledge in their respective fields of expertise. There were many connections that emerged among students researching related ideas. The students interacted with each other by posting comments and by sharing and commenting on resources. They were engaged in their own research projects as individual researchers but, at the same time, there emerged many small networks within our class blogosphere of students interested in similar topics. They were all engaged and connected.

And that was where the process ended, or so I thought until I noticed Vanessa’s poem and then Trudy’s. Both girls were contributing unique, personal content to the fields they chose to research. That’s when I realized that in order for the learning experience to be complete, the students needed to go beyond researching, connecting, and network-building to become creators and contributors. Of course, one could argue that their research entries contributed valuable material to our class community, but this – their poetry – was unique and personal. These were artifacts which, despite their personal, literary, and creative nature, could enrich anyone’s understanding of child soldiers or Anne Frank. They emerged because the girls went beyond the process of documenting their research.

So, I realized that there was one more, final stage in this process.

5. CONTRIBUTE:
This final stage happens when, as learners, the students begin to contribute through their own creativity. It happens when, having acquainted themselves with the topic, they begin to rewrite or remix it in their own unique way and thus contribute to and enrich the field they’re researching. This is the stage when the students begin to create unique artifacts that contribute to the existing body of knowledge on a given topic. This final stage is not just about contributing links or resources to a group project or to a community. It is primarily an exercise in creativity. It begins when the students interact with ideas, resources, and people to create or enter a network. Once they can tap into the collective intelligence of their networks, they can begin to learn, and once they begin to learn, they can also begin to create their own resources – podcasts, films, creative writing, or any other artifacts that can then be used by others and can enrich their grasp of the topic.

Why can’t this fifth stage replace my traditional evaluation strategies? Why can’t I replace tests or assignments given to the whole class with the kind of engaging and personally relevant approach to learning that is encapsulated in the five-stage process above?

I think it can certainly be accomplished but, first, I need to foster in my classroom the kind of environment where this five-stage process can take place. This means that I need to think about how to create the kind of environment that fosters and supports learning experiences, not the kind of environment that imposes them on students. Perhaps, what I’m really interested in is what Dave Cormier calls “habitat.” He states that a proper habitat can “make it more likely for community to form and more likely that that community will do the kinds of things that were intended … that prompted the creation of that habitat.” In other words, as Dave argues, “a careful attention to the construction of habitat can increase the chances of a community forming.” I spent the last three years creating communities with my students and I learned that if the right (ripe?) environment is there, the community will emerge. It seems to me that the approach I described above can help create the kind of habitat that will lead to the emergence of networks, correspondences, and – most importantly – contributions.

In order to make all of this happen in a grade seven or eight Language Arts classroom, I need to think about facilitating connections and supporting my students in the process of creating their own networks where their contributions – poems, interviews, chatcasts, blog entries, podcasts, films – will be seen as enriching artifacts.

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33 Responses to Creating Learning Experiences

  1. Clarence Fisher August 16, 2007 at 8:11 am #

    As always Konrad, thanks for sharing your learning with us. As a junior high teacher myself, what you do in your classroom directly affects how I think about my own. I had the same experience last year during the International Teen Life project when a student from Kuala Lumpur wrote a poem from the point of view of a terrorist. This poem was deeply thought-ful and considerate and opened our 4 participating classes around the world to new perspectives we had not considered before. It was a powerful teaching and learning experience to watch students move into new roles. One thing I have learned about trying to move my classroom into these new learning spaces is the concept of time and priority. As you mentioned, our North American curricula are vastly based in product and not process. And yet to get to this type of learning requires time for students to reflect, to consider, to engage in conversation. It is not business as usual and it is worth our time to consider how we work to design learning spaces that break away from a traditional model.

  2. Sherry Crofut August 16, 2007 at 12:09 pm #

    Wow, Konrad! This is my first year teaching 8th grade Language Arts and this is the kind of classroom I aspire to. What are you looking at for a time frame for these five steps? I assume they can work on several projects at once? I am out of my comfort zone (which I consider a good thing) and looking for guidance.

    I have been playing with the tools. My kids are not getting integrated technology in many of their classrooms. I guess I need to worry a little less about that. I have been unsure how to use the RSS feed in class, but this makes it clear.

    Thanks! You can count of the fact that I will stay tuned for your updates!

  3. David McQuillan August 16, 2007 at 2:28 pm #

    I’m not quite sure that this approach would work in many of my classes. I coordinate the massage therapy programme at Otago Polytechnic. Much of our teaching is based around helping the students to develop specific skills which are required by their professional association. In this respect our teaching is largely defined by the product.

    Also, there is often not much quality information available online which they can use to build their knowledge.

    I’m definately interested in developing their passion for self-directed learning, and helping them to build international social and learning networks, so thanks for the food for thought that you’ve offered here. I’m sure that I can find some application for it. :-)

  4. Carolyn Foote August 16, 2007 at 3:57 pm #

    This is a very powerful commentary.

    I like your terminology–the idea of “immersion” and “building” and “contributing” in your model, and your students are a perfect example of that.

    It reminds me of the idea of flow, and how once a student gets that involved in their research, how it becomes so integral to what they do, that it develops a life of its own.

    Have you seen Carol Kuhlthau’s work on the Information Search Process? The reason I ask is that it is circular….She based it on observations of students, and her model also reflects the emotional connections that build as a student moves through a research project.

    Part of her model is that is circular–a student may immerse, build, and then go back to being immersed…when they contribute, they may make more connections and then move back into building–so that it is an ongoing and constant process that becomes more of a life-long interest.

    So I wonder if your model can be more circular than linear? What do you think?

  5. Tom Hoffman August 16, 2007 at 4:19 pm #

    I think the Understanding By Design Facets of Understanding go deeper with this. I was sold on UbD as soon as I saw “Empathy” as one of the six facets.

    What’s striking about the poems is not simply that they’re creative contributions but specifically that they display empathy, a deep form of understanding.

    Please note that UbD is widely known and respected by mainstream educators and (particularly) administrators, if not actually implemented well, so it offers an useful leverage point for discourse about teaching and learning.

  6. Konrad Glogowski August 16, 2007 at 4:51 pm #

    Clarence,

    Thanks for your comment. You are right about the necessity of giving students time for this kind of learning to occur and also about the fact that, as teachers, we often don’t have that time. There are many other pressures, not the least of which is the pressure to grade, to have a list of marks available for inspection by parents and administrators. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I prefer to focus on the really rich and personally-relevant stuff when I grade, not on writing that gets done because it’s been assigned. The process I came up with (or, I should say, that emerged from my practice and the work the students were doing) allows for that. I can assign grades based on the initial stages of the process (discover, define) and then get into rich instructional conversations with my students once they get to the “immerse” stage.

    You are right when you say that “it is worth our time to consider how we work to design learning spaces that break away from a traditional model.” The model I described has some potential, but my work does not stop here. I will continue to explore and experiment with learning spaces, much as we all do. It seems to me that having a model in place that allows for creativity and independence is a good start. It helps ensure that students are seen as individual contributors and when that happens, there are many opportunities for them to engage in the kind of work that the student from Kuala Lumpur engaged in – work that is personally relevant, emotionally charged, and indicative of true personal investment.

  7. Konrad Glogowski August 16, 2007 at 5:06 pm #

    Sherry,

    I am glad that you can benefit from my experiences. Having said that, I don’t think they apply universally, and it is important to keep in mind that every group of students and every teacher will bring something new and different to a blogging classroom. I would love to hear about your experiences with blogging (whether or not you choose to try to use the model I described) and learn with you as we both try to “figure things out.”

    You asked about the time frame for this. Ideally, at least three months. What I described in my entry was done in the context of a big literature study unit on social justice (The Chrysalids, Animal Farm, Diary of Anne Frank as key texts with a lot of supplementary material). I wouldn’t do it in a shorter period of time as that might lead to stress as kids try to “finish” and “get things done.” If we are to treat them as independent researchers and contributors, we need to give them the freedom to read and to think. Unfortunately, that takes time so, in my classroom, this model guides our year-long inquiry which means that assessment and evaluation, grammar, reading comprehension, writing, spelling – all take place in the context of the model. Of course, as you pointed out, the students can work on more than one topic. In my classroom, they would be related somehow or would slightly overlap, but they don’t have to. A student could work on environmental issues and child abuse at the same time, for example. One thing I deem important, though, is that there needs to be some whole-class support for them. In other words, I think it’s helpful with this age group to make sure that what they do independently is based on/related to what we do as a class. That way, there is a common theme/themes that unite everything that happens in the class blogosphere.

    Thank you for your interest in this model.

    Since we’re both grade eight Language Arts teachers, we should definitely brainstorm together and exchange ideas. Email? Skype? Twitter? Let me know what you think.

  8. Konrad Glogowski August 16, 2007 at 7:18 pm #

    David,

    I think we all struggle with the fact that teaching is defined by the product, the end result, whether it’s a piece of paper or a single grade. Perhaps, you are right, this approach might not be as effective in your context. But supporting learners in exploring ideas and practices that are important to them, and especially supporting them as they contribute to existing networks is an important goal of education and I think we can all find opportunities to work towards it as educators.

    Glad that you found my entry to be “food for thought.”

    Thank you for your comment.

  9. Konrad Glogowski August 16, 2007 at 11:05 pm #

    Carolyn,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, this is exactly like Mihály Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow.

    Thank you so much for bringing Carol Kuhlthau’s work to my attention. The name is not unknown to me, but I was under the impression that her work was not characterized by cyclical engagement. This summary of the information process ( Kuhlthau’s Model of the Stages of the Information Process ) includes a stage called, “Search Closure” which is the final stage. Am I missing something/misinterpreting?

    The model I describe here is definitely cyclical in the sense that student engagement does not end when they begin to contribute. The cycle continues through in the following fashion: Immerse – Build – Contribute. Continued immersion in the topic leads to more knowledge and to richer and more frequent contributions. Every contribution, in turn, makes the student increasingly more engaged in the topic.

    If you have any electronic resources on Carol Kuhlthau, please let me know – I would love to learn more. Next time I’m at the library, I will try to find out more. I’m definitely interested in pursuing this because her ideas are very close to my model, especially in terms of what you referred to as “emotional connections that build as a student moves through a research project.” Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment. You have certainly enriched my inquiry.

  10. Eric MacKnight August 17, 2007 at 9:39 am #

    OK Konrad, now you’re really impressing the hell out of me and putting the pressure on those of us out here who think we’re doing a pretty good job.

    Damn you, is what I say, and excuse me—I have to go pull up my socks.

    Eric

  11. Carolyn Foote August 17, 2007 at 10:51 pm #

    When I quit chuckling over Eric’s comment, I started looking for some references for you.

    I had meant in my original post to mention that one thing that drew me to your blog in the first place(other than the great writing!) was the title, because Kuhlthau writes about the zone of proximal development in terms of supporting students in the research process. I believe that is covered in her book Seeking Meaning.

    Quoting her here:

    “The zone of intervention is a concept modeled on Vygotsky’s notion of a zone of proximal development . . . .The zone of intervention in information seeking may be thought of in a similar way. The zone of intervention is that area in which an information user can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with difficulty. Intervention within this zone enables individuals to progress in the accomplishment of their task. Intervention outside this zone is inefficient and unnecessary, experienced by users as intrusive on the one hand and overwhelming on the other.”
    from : http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/information_search_process.htm

    I haven’t found the exact answer to your question about her comments about the cyclical nature of her model, though she talks about it in her books, but I wanted to share the following, where she talks about information searching as a constructivist process…one that students experience nervousness about, and how we need to understand the emotional stages they go through so that we can support them through the parts of the process when they want to “give up” or change topics.
    http://is.gseis.ucla.edu/research/dl/kuhlthau.html

    Glad it was helpful. I did find a site from University of Calgary as well, where they attempted to visualize her process chart in a more recursive manner, here:
    http://webapps2.ucalgary.ca/~commons/servlet/wispr/app?service=page/GENERIC-Home

    Hope that gets you started. . . .

  12. Leigh August 18, 2007 at 6:56 am #

    Another fine post Konrad. I continue to take inspiration from your ideas.

    You started off with a very interesting challenge – to not define the framework for learning. While I continue to practice the art of losing my teacherly voice, this new challenge is something closely related and something I also think about over here.

    But I don’t think you have taken this idea far enough … you seemed to be meaning the technology as framework when you listed off all those possible platforms, although later it appears that you mean the more general curriculum… I am interested in the idea of not defining the technological framework

    In the end it appears that blogging is the technological framework you will continue to use, so I have a practical question for you about that.

    When your students come to you, are they already skilled in blogging and subscribing to blogs? Or do you have to spend time with them, setting up blogs, understanding a blogging ethic appropriate for inquiry learning, using RSS and having the confidence to comment on each others blogs… is this not defining the technological framework? Not that I think there is anything wrong with doing that, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts more about this..

    I teach teachers, and I spend a long long time trying to build up these skills and ethics… but am I overly defining a technological framework, and as a result the learning environment and curriculum?

  13. siobhan curious August 19, 2007 at 9:47 am #

    I love the vision you set out here. For me, no matter what I’m doing in the classroom, my question is whether it is leading to real learning. The steps you’ve defined make the path seem so much more concrete (and yet nebulous and unpredictable, in an exciting way…how interesting…) I’ll be checking back with this paradigm occasionally to see if I can implement it more consciously. Thanks for the inspiration.

    http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/

  14. Konrad Glogowski August 19, 2007 at 1:29 pm #

    Hi Leigh,

    Good to see your thoughts on this … yes, blogging is the framework I will continue to use. In the introduction to my post, I meant that I need to separate the tool from the sense of community I want to foster. In other words, I know that choosing Ning, for example, will not necessarily help me build a community. However, a specific set of practices that I can engage in as a teacher will, I believe, help me put the right conditions in place for the community to emerge. So, I guess you could say that the platform is not as important as what you do with it as an educator.

    This reminds me of the very first photography class that I took years ago while in middle school. The instructor said to us that the most important thing to remember about photography is that the camera does not take photos, people do. As young teenagers we all wanted the best (and most expensive) SLRs possible – we equated good gear with good photos. He made it clear that photography is about what you do with the camera and that you can take an award-wining shot with the most basic camera, as long as you know the technical stuff to make it happen. He taught us about the rule of thirds, depth of field, shutter speed, etc. and thus empowered us to produce technically solid photos with, let’s be honest, fairly modest equipment. He cured us of our gear fetish pretty quickly!

    So, when I select a web 2.0 tool, there are certain attributes that I look for but, on the whole, I am convinced that I need to engage in specific practices in order to create the kind of environment that will help the community emerge. Teachers have been creating supportive and engaging communities for years with only four walls, some desks, and a blackboard at their disposal. It’s what you do with it that counts.

    Let’s get to your questions:

    “When your students come to you, are they already skilled in blogging and subscribing to blogs? Or do you have to spend time with them, setting up blogs, understanding a blogging ethic appropriate for inquiry learning, using RSS and having the confidence to comment on each others blogs”

    Generally speaking, they know what blogs are but do not know anything about RSS and how to subscribe to blogs. I do spend time with them setting everything up, explaining and showing how the environment works, how to add feeds to a reader, etc. We also spend a lot of time discussing interactions in our online environment and what it means to blog and document one’s thoughts. We discuss quoting, linking, and giving credit. In short, a lot of time is spent on this even before we get to using blogs for learning. The first step is to make them comfortable and to give them time to blog as individuals, about things that matter to them, BEFORE we start blogging about school-related ideas.

    “… is this not defining the technological framework?”

    I guess it is. Except that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s blogger or Ning, or edublogs, or 21classes. Yes, depending on what you choose, you will gain or lose some features but, generally speaking, you can use any one of these environments to attempt to build a community.

    Thanks for pushing me to articulate this in more detail, Leigh!

  15. Konrad Glogowski August 19, 2007 at 1:36 pm #

    Siobhan,

    Thank you for your words of support. I was very impressed by your statement that “no matter what I’m doing in the classroom, my question is whether it is leading to real learning.” Web 2.0 tools have a strong appeal but we need to remember that using technology for the sake of using technology is a trap. I always try to remember to ask myself: “What is it that this tool allows me to do/teach that I couldn’t do/teach without it, or couldn’t do as well without it?” The answer will dictate how I will use it, if at all. The one thing that technology makes easier – that blogging makes easier – is the Immerse – Build – Contribute aspect of the model I described. I will definitely post reflections on how this model works this coming term.

  16. Konrad Glogowski August 19, 2007 at 1:42 pm #

    Tom,

    I am so glad that you commented on this aspect of what happened in my classroom. I am actually now reading some stuff by Jay McTighe and am really interested in the two aspects of UbD, “have perspective and empathize.”

    I agree that the poems “display empathy, a deep form of understanding.” In fact, I find that in the model I described in this entry, students continue to immerse themselves in their topics because they have made an emotional connection. The two poems certainly attest to that, but even entries that are not as personal and emotional tend to show that the students are committed to the topic, that they see it as an issue that, when resolved, would make our world a better place.

    Thanks for stopping by to add your thoughts to this.

  17. Konrad Glogowski August 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm #

    Carolyn,

    Thank you so much for supporting my inquiry into this model! I really appreciate your help.

    That last chart does indeed show that this can be/is a recursive process. I guess “search closure” happens when the project is done and handed in :-) . That’s why it makes sense not to fragment and compartmentalize learning into specific courses, so that students do not have to stop learning when the exams are over.

    I will definitely visit my library this week to get a copy of “Seeking Meaning.” I see that Kuhlthau’s work can further enrich my approach to classroom blogging. I will be blogging about this soon.

    Thanks again!

  18. Graham Wegner August 20, 2007 at 7:36 am #

    Konrad, this post connected with my own recent experiences on a few levels as I’ve been detailing my own process with slightly younger students and wrestling with whether I’m on the right track. Probably, the big difference is that I am still pushing a product based end point while I am really interested in the Contribute stage and wonder how younger middle school students might make that happen. Interestingly, Tom Hoffmann points to the UbD model which is the way we are planning our middle school inquiry units – whether we are implementing that well remains to be seen!
    Of interest to you may be the comments left at my own post from Artichoke where she puts forward a lot of inquiry learning food for thought. If you can see past my self-referencing, your reactions, if you were so inclined, would be much appreciated.

  19. Jim Lerman August 20, 2007 at 10:51 pm #

    Konrad,

    Please permit me to commend you on another wonderful piece of thought-provoking writing. When I saw your 5-stage diagram, I was immediately reminded of Eisenberg and Berkowitz’s Big 6 model and then thought of iSearch and then read the posts and was reminded of Kuhlthau. This led to more thinking and searching my memory and I recalled this site called Virtual Information Inquiry from the library school at Indiana University, compiled by Danny Callison, Ed.D, and Annette Lamb, Ph.D.

    Dr. Lamb is, herself, one of the world’s leading thinkers in this area and has developed her own systems and strategies.

    In any event, the site’s url is http://virtualinquiry.com/inquiry/index.htm
    It contains syntheses of 17 information literacy models of differing degrees of sophistication, complexity, and practicality.

    It seems to me that you, like many thoughtful and very intelligent people, have, more or less independently, led yourself to an inquiry that has occupied numerous others for a considerable length of time. I think this website will open up many new avenues to you and your students, and through your blog, to many other teacher/learners.

    I think further exploration of the larger host site of which the page to which I referred you is a part will yield a tremendous amount of food for thought as you examine how to get more of your students into a state of flow more often.

    Keep up the marvelous work. You can’t imagine how many of us there are out here gaining inspiration from what you do!

  20. David Lester August 21, 2007 at 2:24 am #

    First, kudos on a deeply insightful post, Konrad. You nailed two key points that have been nagging me for some time. I enjoy exploring and applying the rich diversity of online technologies at our disposal, but I fear letting the technology define the learning context. Your observation about wanting to “create the conditions necessary for the right kind of environment to emerge” speaks volumes about drawing distinctions between the tools and the task, something those of us who get giddy about the tools can easily forget.

    Your model for Creating Learning Experiences is elegant and profound. Your observation of the fifth stage, “Contribute,” reflects the emergence of genuine creative expression in your students as an outcome of their learning process. Few learning models go beyond acquisition or transference to genuine original creative expression. Creativity is woefully undervalued in education (and the workplace). The joy of our current age is the array of opportunities for creative expression and contribution, which brings us back again to our tools. But I have witnessed many bursts of creativity emerge from students who also become giddy about the tools.

    A final word to commenter David McQuillan. I have been involved in vocational postsecondary education for most of a decade, and I know the challenges involved in ensuring that students graduate with the requisite skills for their field. Technical education focuses heavily on the cognitive and psychomotor domains (as it should), almost to the neglect of the affective dimensions of learning. Including reflective and creative learning activities builds student enthusiasm for learning, and rounds out their academic experience. I focus much of this type of activity toward career development and professionalism, areas students are often sorely lacking as graduates attempt to enter their field. If blogging technology is not available in your massage therapy program, a simple written journal can serve as well. But giving students opportunities to write (or sing, or dance, or draw, or act) their feelings about their education and their career will open many insights for them, and for you.

    Thanks again, Konrad, for bridging my ZPD.

    David

  21. Konrad Glogowski August 23, 2007 at 3:52 pm #

    Graham,

    Thank you for linking to your very engaging post and the ensuing discussion.

    There is a lot to digest there and I do intend to address your thoughts and those of Artichoke in a separate blog entry. However, there is one thing that intrigued me and I would like to comment on now.

    The culminating presentation, in my opinion, is a great idea. You wrote that “adding the final presentation in front of their peers added another layer of purpose to their work.” Does that mean that the children do not have access to the work of their peers as it unfolds? You see, the reason I ask is because I have used an approach that is similar to yours (and described in this entry) but without a final, culminating presentation. Your entry made me realize that I should definitely incorporate it into the process. The reason why I have never had it before as the final part of the research process is because the community that the students built with their individual blogs already added what you referred to as “another layer of purpose.” In other words, there was already so much interaction and feedback happening online during the research process (in the form of comments and even blog entries about the work of their peers) that the final presentation did not seem necessary – the students were encouraging, supporting, and learning from and with each other during their individual research journeys. It seemed to me that the final presentation would be repetitive because most students were very well aware of what their friends were engaged in. It also seemed quite final and definitive, reminiscent of what Carol Kuhlthau refers to as “Search Closure” (Kuhlthau’s Model of the Stages of the Information Process).

    Your entry, however, convinced me that the final presentation is a very valuable component of the inquiry process. You have inspired me to incorporate it into this approach. However, since I see the last three stages of the process I described above – Immerse, Build, Contribute – as a cycle, I am now thinking of asking students to present their work at the end of each IBC cycle, as opposed to at the end of the term/year. That way, they will present more frequently but their presentations will not be as long or definitive – they will present as researchers still very much engaged in the process of researching and learning, not as students who finished their project. (I see it as a kind of conference poster session, where the point is to share what one’s been working on, not necessarily reveal the findings of the research).

    As you can see, I am really interested in the IBC cycle. I see it as a kind of spiral that keeps the students engaged. So, what if I increased the frequency of these presentations, so that the students could present every time they contributed something to their chosen fields? What are your thoughts? Could that work? Should the final presentation still be the final component of this approach? Personally, I think it could be an opportunity to summarize the previous presentations and explore possible future research possibilities.

    Your thoughts?

    Thanks again for sharing your ideas with me!

  22. Konrad Glogowski August 23, 2007 at 4:13 pm #

    David,

    Thank you so much for stopping by to leave a comment.

    It was gratifying to see that you commented on my ideas on learning to differentiate between the tools and the task because it’s something that I’ve been working on ever since I started this blog. It is tempting to use the tools just because they seem collaborative or conducive to knowledge-building. However, learning how to use them to lay the foundation for the right kind of environment is not an easy process. This entry is part of my efforts to create just such an environment. I’m glad that you also found it relevant.

    It was also gratifying to see your comments on the importance of creativity. Only six years ago, when confronted with a creative response from my students, I would have insisted on a more formal “product” to be completed in addition to the poem. Now, I recognize the value of creative expression and its paucity in our classrooms. I believe that this model can help me provide the kind of environment that encourages my students as they move beyond mere acquisition of facts and supports them as they engage as human beings, not mere students.

    Thank you for your comment!

  23. Konrad Glogowski August 23, 2007 at 4:28 pm #

    Jim,

    Thank you so much for your kind words of support. Thank you also for contributing additional resources to my inquiry. I am now exploring and re-acquainting myself with some of the models listed on the virtual inquiry page, namely, the 8Ws and I-Search.

    The one thing that really fascinates me is how many of these models can be enriched by the presence of a supportive community of student-researchers. However, implementing it well or laying the foundation for the kind of environment where these models can be most effective for my students is not always easy – that’s the challenge of bridging theory and practice!

    I’m glad you found my journey interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and resources.

  24. Dave Ferguson August 28, 2007 at 5:46 am #

    Konrad,

    Your chart exemplifies “build” and “contribute,” and clearly has others discovering and defining.

    In the Aug/Sept 07 issue of Scientific American Mind, Mark A. W. Andrews offers thoughts on “a distinction between pleasure and satisfaction” that seems relevant here:

    …MRI brain scans have provided evidence that there is indeed a significant difference between these feelings. Pleasure and happiness are passive emotions that happen to us as the result of outside stimuli. Satisfaction, on the other hand, kinvolves an active pursuit — it is the emotional reward we get after adapting to a new situation or solving a novel problem.

    In the training / performance-improvement field, I sometimes think there’s too much emphasis on “making learning fun” rather than on making its results satisfying. Your efforts with your students don’t seem to have that problem.

  25. Sara Nitschke August 29, 2007 at 3:51 pm #

    This really exemplifies the purpose of our new “creative technologies”. With infinite research tools available these students have become experts in their field and are now teaching the teacher. The poems exemplify real academic contributions brought on by a passion for their subject. The openendedness of this assignment is what makes their creativity possible, not the specific technology platforms. I hope I can foster such a high level of intrigue and creativity in my future students.

  26. Melo Reed September 3, 2007 at 10:27 pm #

    I think that the process you’ve outlined here is very enlightened. It is great that you give your students so much latitude when picking their research topics. Allowing students to research something that genuinely interests them really allows them to engage in the topic, thus prompting contributions. My one concern is that attaching a grade to the students’ contributions might inhibite their spontaneity and make their contributions seem less personal.

  27. Molly Gleason September 17, 2007 at 5:47 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this post, the poems were great and I think that it is wonderful that the students were able to get so involved in their topics that they were willing to share such personal poetry. I agree that, as you mentioned, allowing the students to choose their own topics gave them the freedom to find something that really interested them, something they felt was worthwhile in which to invest their time and effort. I wonder if, when assigning research projects, besides having students turn in the typical research paper, would it be beneficial to also require some other type of non-traditional project that demonstrates what they have learned? Such as the poetry your students submitted. Or should those types of contributions be allowed to just develop on their own? Would making a requirement like that just be one more thing that the student feels they Have to do, and would it stifle learning? Or would it get the student to start thinking out of the box and actually encourage learning? Either way, I hope that when I become a teacher, I can create the same atmosphere that you have been able to accomplish in your classroom, because it is obvious from the contributions of your students, that they are actually enjoying learning.

  28. Pat Carmichael April 17, 2008 at 11:53 pm #

    Hi
    many of the discussions above have hit on the questions and discussions I have been having concerning technology and pedagogy. But all education begins with the child, the student. Without our students we would have no reason to teach. To address teaching and learning in the 21st C, taking into account the vast vat of information literacy processes and technological tools available and experts who are busy studying the infinite information and data that is now available perhaps the child and their interests get a little lost in this maelstrom.
    In terms of satisfying a child’s interest and/or curiosity, or need, enhancing motivation, whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic, or what about simply for the joy of finding out new knowledge, you must begin with the child. Forget the content-what content exactly anyway? Forget the curriculum -just for a short while anyway. Forget achievement levels and instead concentrate on the love of learning-just for a little while anyway.
    That is what we have found. We introduced an Independent Negotiated Learning Unit as part of the unitised curriculum. This gives our students a chanc eto be free of the above. We begin withthe student and find out what kind of learner they are or how they learn best using the VARK and MIMLETICS web sites. These are on line questionnaires. Then we (as in the student teacher and other students) discuss ideas or topics that the student really would love to learn about find out more about, become proficient at, solving the problems becomes part of the learning journey and so begins the info lit process. yes it is cyclic and change is welcomed. Goals are formulated, that is problem solving in itself and relevant technology is decided upon to satisfy the learning needs of the student.
    Isn’t this what we do in life?
    Pat

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