Reflections on Summer 2008

This has been an extremely eventful summer for me.  Spending eight weeks participating in the RET program at Notre Dame proved to be challenging and stimulating.  A week-long jaunt to Boston for Alan November’s wonderful Building Learning Communities dropped me head-first into the education 2.0 world.  As school is now starting soon, I think that some reflection on this summer’s experiences is in order.

I must say that the greatest tool that I have gained this summer is my human network.  Research was something that I had never attempted.  Not only was I intimidated (though I was excited to learn something new), but I was working with a group of researchers in the cutting edge nanotechnology sector of the Electrical Engineering department at Notre Dame.  I had no experience with engineering.  I came in as a chemistry and physics instructor who was unsure about the experience.  I soon realized that research at it’s core is fundamentally dependant upon the formation of a human learning collaborative.  Collaboration played a vital role in weekly group meetings.  Feedback and open constructive criticism serve as invaluable tools in research. If I didn’t know quite where to go next with my experiment, I relied on graducate students and my supervising professor to point me in the right direction.  No one expected me to have all of the answers…and no one presumed to have them all either.

The power of the learning network was also amplified through the many sessions of the Builiding Learning Communities conference.  Although many of the seminars that I attended dealt with specific tools or web-based products, the common thread between the tools and products discussed was that of building connections between other humans and facilitating the transfer of thoughts, opinions and advice in an efficient medium.  Whether you use twitter, blippr, pownce, jaiku, or the myriad of other web 2.0 tools out there, the strength of the tool lies in the connectivity of the humans using the tech.

I realized that signing up for twitter will get you no where, unless you make some initial connections.  Once you have established a base of people to connect with, be it three, five or more persons, you set the connectivity ball in motion.  With a bit of patience and a dedication to become familiar with using the tool, your network grows and expands as you are exposed to new people through your connections.

As an educator, this is tremendously powerful.  You become part of a collective intelligence.  No longer do you have to be an expert on everything.  You have a learning network to support you.  Need help with a lesson or just brainstorming?  Fire off a tweet.  Want a second opinion on the lab activity you are trying for the first time?  Post it to the classroom 2.0 group on ning.  The evolution of education is well on its way.  Where educators were once sequestered and secluded, ideas can flow seamlessly across borders.  Teachers can connect with professors as well as other classes hundreds of miles away.  Collaboration is fostered and can flourish.  Student work can be assessed by a multiple persons with different vantage points.

Howard Rheingold predicted much of what I have now experienced more than three years ago.  Check out his talk on TED:

Want someone to collaborate with?  I would be happy to join in on the discussion.

TwitterID: cookp

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