Article review

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and learning 2.0

by: John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler

The concept of social learning has shifted the focus of online learning communities to allow students to participate in the process of collecting, reviewing and vetting information rather than being passive recipients of content. Students in social learning communities are encouraged to give consideration to the content placed there by said experts and do some fact checking of their own. I believe this is a powerful change in the teacher student dynamic as so often students are not encouraged to challenge authority in some classrooms.

The participation and interpersonal connections we make as learners within the open education forum allow us to generate contextual frameworks for which we can then apply the new knowledge. Context and application are more important than memorization as seen through the sharing of ideas via an open source site such as Wikipedia. Even in elementary school we ask our teachers “when am I ever going to use this”, most often the reality of the task is never. It is always critical thinking and the process of finding the solution that is the learning experience.

An unfortunate aspect in times of a recession is education being hit hard resulting in the loss of classroom resources. Teachers who rely on textbooks and other standard paper pencil forms of curricular delivery can find themselves struggling to find activities to use in their classroom. Technology savvy teachers having access to highly advanced technologies via the web can not only enrich classroom experience but can also act as a resource for students involved in projects and research. Learning is not a solitary experience and it is essential that we strive to add community to the content. While visiting the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, NC I signed up for weekly updates of photos taken by several NASA satellites. Every Monday my sixth grade class and I would take just a few minutes to view the satellite photos and discuss aspects of nebula formation in deep space and possible outcomes from theses gases mixing. Several students then utilized this resource while preparing for the Great Space Debate we participate in at the end of the unit. A couple of students even set up accounts to receive their own updates from the satellites and continue to track new discoveries from NASA. Access to published articles and findings from experts is good but to have students engaged in the discovery process and critical analysis of content furthers student’s engagement. Something I am now going to add to my Space unit is a class blog or wiki, which would allow students to engage in discussions outside of the classroom and post their own links for further exploration.

We always knew as educators that real world experience and conversations with experts through field trips was an essential part of the learning process. We are now afforded an opportunity to expand our real world connections on a daily basis through blogs, wikis, discussion forums and a host of other Internet based open source sites. As educators we must work to facilitate the attainment of knowledge and push students to think critically about the information they are presented as these are the long term skills which prove valuable throughout life.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32


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