I am lucky in some ways to work at an affluent inner city school. The upper middle class parents at my school tend to see more value in their children’s participation with media technology. Our principal has been eager with monetary support to purchase any equipment needed to support teaching at my school. “What is clear from the existing literature is that currently it is generally educationally privileged youth with effective learning supports at home who are able to take full advantage of the new learning opportunities that the online world has to offer and to translate these opportunities to their academic and career success” (Ito et al., 2013, p. 25). Many of my students create, upload, post content and join participatory communities as opposed to being passive users of less complex, social or creative activities online. In my class we go so far as to connect new media engagements toward more academic, civic and production oriented activities. Unlike disadvantaged youth from schools who do not have unlimited funds, our students want for nothing. “Privileged families also support tailored learning opportunities through clubs, camps, sports, and other programs where their children get recognition, gain skills, and make meaningful contributions” (p. 14). Connected learning is already happening in our school as our students are able to pursue personal interests or passions with the support of caring adult teachers/parents, and are therefore, able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success and civic engagement.
Civic engagement is one of our school’s main goals. Most activities undertaken stresses the importance of civic engagement, connecting our school with the wider world, and the value of social learning. I was impressed when I read in the article about the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA). I was so impressed with what the chapters of the organization bring to students in and out of the classroom. Academically oriented, openly networked, production centered and with a shared civic purpose, the HPA not only is fun and social in nature but pushes young people to connect recreational interests to social and political issues that they might not be familiar with. I would join this organization! I can see how students at my school would love to be involved, not only as Harry Potter fans but wanting to be involved in social issues. We have a Pathfinder club after school that reminds me of similar connected learning. The two staff members are diehard fans of adventure games and hold meetings for students to playout their fantasies. But the club also talks about social issues and participates in expanding awareness of others plights. It demonstrates that the connected learning model can support civically-oriented outcomes.
The other impressive connected learning in a public school initiative is the Boss Level at Quest to Learn. I love that every semester ends with a special two-week period where regular classes are suspended, classrooms are rearranged into workspaces, and teachers take a back seat while students work in small teams to work on a learning challenge that culminates in a showcase for parents, in school and out of school community. This student driven activity demonstrates that students can take the lead in designing, discovering and evaluating possible solutions to address the challenge presented to them. There are so many great things about this kind of school-wide activity. Team building, negotiation, collaboration, feedback, successes and failures, all are so very important as students have extensive opportunities for connecting Boss Level projects to their own interests. “Connected learning seeks to integrate three spheres of learning that are often disconnected and at war with each other in young people’s lives: peer culture, interests and academic content” (Ito et al., 2013, p. 63). The goal is build connections in order to reach more young people. At my school, examples of learning environments that currently integrate the spheres of peers, interests, and academic pursuits include interest-driven academic programs such as math, science, chess and robotics competitions, athletics programs that are tied to in-school recognition, some arts and civic learning programs.
Some questions from the article: What would it mean to consider an educational agenda that includes more flexible, informal, diverse, and interest-driven learning environments? Can we do this in a way that elevates all youth rather than serving the privileged minority? How can we capitalize on today’s new media to expand these forms of learning opportunity? Can we support literacy in common core standards, as well as new media literacies, production and design? (p. 15) Addressing these questions begins with an assessment of education’s role in today’s economic, social, and technological landscape.