No matter how much I read, study, annotate, blog… I will never fully grasp what Connected Learning really is (without actually practicing it in my own classroom, that is) until I have heard the experience of another. I can list theory after theory all day, post links to lesson plans, and spout facts until I turn blue, but all these numbers mean nothing without the practice. Since I myself will not be practicing Connected Learning in my own classroom for quite a while yet, I have done the next best thing-I interviewed an expert.
The beautiful thing about the internet is that we can find the answer to literally any question. No matter how obscure, someone else has more than likely posted the answer somewhere on the great wide Web. Our world is also so intertwined. With a click, a few lines of text, and another click, I can communicate with someone on the other side of the globe without ever having to change out of my Minnie Mouse onesie. Suddenly, not only our personal communication spheres but also our educational spheres have exploded to a size only described in Sci-Fi movies.
I took advantage of this and interviewed a woman by the name of Christina Cantrill. Christina wrote the closing thoughts for the National Writing Project’s e-book Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. To have the final say for such an influential book shows that she must have a fairly strong understanding of the subject. I took to the Interwebs to find out as much about Christina as I could in true college-level research fashion-I Googled her. It was not long before I found her on the Digital Is website. This site is completely dedicated to using technology to further education and broaden literacy, one of the main points on which Connected Learning is based. I was fairly confident Christina would be a good resource if she was involved so deeply with this topic. I did a little more digging and found her Twitter page.
I was nervous as I sent out that first tweet. What if she didn’t want to talk? What if she found my questions to basic or too irritating? What if she didn’t have time to talk to me? Well, I sent that first tweet, and what followed was one of the best interviews I have ever had the pleasure of conducting.
Aside from learning leaps and bounds about Connected Learning, I also learned a little about the expert herself. Christina graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with her Bachelors of Science in History and Urban Studies in 1992. The following year, she joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project, one of the oldest branches of the the National Writing Project. They work with local schools to promote literacy in all its forms, whether that be through books, writing, technology, or whatever other forms learning may take. They focus quite a bit on the principles that make up Connected Learning, such as student interest combined with curriculum, resource- and network-based teaching, and production-centered learning. Christina worked in this form of teaching and learning for many years, giving her a hands-on, front-lines, down-in-the-trenches perspective on how Connected Learning and the ideas it embodies can be used in the classroom. Christina’s education did not end there, as she went back to school in 2012 at Arcadia University and graduated in 2014 with her Masters Degree in Education, specializing in Curriculum Studies. She now teaches a Connected Learning certified course at Arcadia University and is the current Associate Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. Needless to say, she clearly knows what she is doing!
However, Connected Learning is not all Christina does. Since 1998, she has been actively involved with Spiral Q, a puppet show that helps build community, promote creativity, and provide an equitable environment for all those it encounters. She also loves gardening, yoga, teaching, and writing. She has had multiple publications over the years and is now working on several projects with the National Writing Project.
Talk about an awesome person to interview! I loved talking to her and I will share with you, my lovely readers, all she had to say. So here is what we covered:
What advice do you have for teachers who want to learn more about Connected Learning?
- Start with reading Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. You can read either the PDF or the e-book (I think it’s only about a dollar for the e-book). This is a great place to start off. I think it’s a good resource for thinking with other educators about the ways connected learning might be incorporated into more traditional classrooms.
Where can I find additional resources for Connected Learning?
- I would start with Digital Is. It is a branch of the National Writing Project that really focuses on using technology in the classroom. There are a lot of case studies and teacher inquiry projects that you can look over. It’s a lot of real-life examples that can really help take it off the page an into the classroom.
- Another great place to look is Educator Innovator. There are also a lot of real-life examples of how teachers are using Connected Learning in their classrooms. A lot of great ideas here!
I have not heard of Connected Learning before starting this research project. How new is it?
- Teachers have been looking for a way to implement technology and resources students use outside the classroom for a while now. It isn’t easy, but the results are worth it. A lot of teachers have been doing this, and school-wide examples are still emerging. It’s only been in the past ten years or so that there has been a real push for learning that includes technology, although teachers have been trying to get students excited about learning for a long time. The National Writing Project has done a lot with Connected Learning, as well as Digital Is and Educator Innovator. It’s a challenge, but we’re seeing pretty amazing results.
Can this be implemented on a large scale?
- Over time, I think. It will take some time, because not everyone is open to change, but I think over time it will take a greater hold. The thing is that technology is not going anywhere and it is becoming necessary to integrate tech into our classrooms in new ways. Students use it everyday voluntarily, so it only makes sense that we as educators would try to reach out to our students through the media they already use.
Any final advice to teachers who want to try Connected Learning?
- Don’t be afraid to just try it! That’s part of the process. Do your research, talk with experts, and then try it in your classrooms. You might be surprised at how well it goes over.
That should give you a taste, dear readers, of what Connected Learning is really like, straight from the pros! I hope this cleared at least a little bit up for those of you who may have had some questions. If you have any other questions, follow the links listed above, and follow Christina at @Seecantrill. Good luck!