Once again I am headed on a education technology journey with the likes of Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay of Flat Classroom Project fame. Last spring was my first foray into the multinational, collaborative, project that promotes digital literacy and skills and conceived by these two ladies. I took a grade nine English honors section through the NetGenEd Project, a spin-off of its original Flat Classroom cousin. Using the same methodology, my group investigated how digital technologies, outlined in the Horizon Report intersected with the Net Generation norms outlined by Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital and how all of these factors can be used to improve education.
Without question it was a mildly harrowing but ultimately rewarding experience. I believe it was the most ambitious project Davis and Lindsay had attempted at that point. As one of eighteen classrooms from six different countries, my students dove into an experience that had them producing their own short videos on how their selections of technology and norm could impact education, as well as worked with a group of peers from other schools to collaboratively research and write a wiki page that provided an in-depth examination of the same. All of this work was adjudicated by panels of educators, as well as relevant experts.
I had very little preparation for the experience, consequently compromising some of my ability to alleviate some of the confusion that my students had. Yet, as Vicki Davis quipped at the beginning of the project, “The thing about working on the bleeding edge is sometimes you bleed.” In that spirit, I preached that they all needed to grow a bit more comfortable with chaos. That project unfolded so fast and was really in an always emerging state. This was not all bad at all. Yet, not having ever been part of something with quite the degree of ambition or scale had me feeling like I was constantly playing catch-up, a feeling the students also felt. Our feelings were often a little stronger than the was necessary for the reality of the situation. However, the students all were remarkable. They turned their seeming confusion into stunning results. During the awards show, they ended up with more individual mentions in the final awards tally than any other participating school, despite placing no higher than third place.
In retrospect, the most significant challenge proved to be managing the student’s expectations. At first the prospect of working with students from around the globe filled them with excitement. The notion of video chats with students in Australia, for example, was floated with gleeful enthusiasm. Yet, they soon discovered that hoped for inevitability was not really possible with the time difference. The reality of asynchronous communication that is at times messy and requires patience was not quite as exciting as they were hoping. Still, the experience was a great for me and the students. Admittedly, despite the difference of expectations, never before had the students used more tools and been able to identify more specific skills that they learned. Thus, the whole project proved to be a great success.
Now I begin again with a new set of students, but this time it is in a new cycle of the original Davis and Lindsay collaboration. Already, the combination of my experience, having already completed a similar project, as well as the degree of preparation and maturity of this project is a great advantage. It all makes me even more excited to see what this group of students will ultimately produce.