In the Spotlight: Open Education

What happens before you have to stand on stage with a blinding spotlight trained on you, following your every move? A crowded audience lies before you, the heat of their eyes piercing your skin.

Photo by marfis75 via flickr

You practice. A lot.

This is the effect of asking students to do work in open online spaces like forums, blogs, or Twitter. When I am asked to post a blog it means that I spend extra time trying to perfect syntax to convey appropriate tone; I double-check and cite sources; I try to inform or persuade in a somewhat entertaining way. I also want to write things that are enjoyable, unlike in traditional closed classes where I care about enjoyability less because only the teacher reads what I write. Then, I don’t care quite as much. (But really, I am a bit of an over-achiever regardless.) The process is also more fun for me because I love getting comments on my blog and responding.

But does this really make the process of learning more authentic? How much of what is being said is being said just to get a mark and how much is driven by authentic engagement? Would I be writing this blog post right now if I wasn’t taking this class. Honestly. Or as the kids would say, TBH. No. I wouldn’t. However, it is definitely more authentic than writing just for one teacher.

Blogging also makes me more accountable because I want what I post to the whole world to reflect what I really think and who I am. This is not to say that sometimes I exaggerate just how excited I am about a new app or tech tool in the moment I’m writing the post. I might discover a tool, and think it’s pretty cool after trying it out and will probably use it at some point in my classroom. But I’m not going to write exactly that. Instead I might say, “I just found the most AMAZING tool! It’s free, it’s fun, it’s relevant, it’s intuitive. YOU SHOULD USE IT!”

So, when would I ask students to blog? What would be worthwhile for them to discuss in open spaces? I think that in music, I would still advocate for posting videos of progress on blogs or forums and having students comment on each others’ playing. It takes the pressure off of performing live, and kids have fun sharing and  listening to each other. I did this in EC&I 831, and appreciated the encouragement and feedback from my classmates.

Students could practice using music terms and develop literacy because they would have time to provide feedback in a forum. I think that this would be authentic to an extent. Again, as I mentioned last week, some participation would need to be mandatory, but that also protects people who want to share from being labeled overachievers or nerds, stifling key contributors. And we all know that we music types have enough of a stereotype to overcome already. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve never seen this movie, and I still know this…

I think that we could generate a culture where students would be excited to check in on students’ videos of their bands, ensembles, duets and solos. It would be a great way to generate excitement leading up to live performances.

Once again, as I said last week, we would need to practice skills of posting and commenting and set expectations as a class for the types, length and frequency of comments.

With this buy in from students and moderation of appropriateness by a teacher, I don’t think that my grade 9-12 students’ parents would have any concerns about them participating in an open online environment. They already are exposed to or participating more potentially unsafe spaces.

SO LET’S TRY IT, PEOPLE!

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8 thoughts on “In the Spotlight: Open Education

  1. You’ve got some really great perspective here as per usual, Sarah. I love how you ‘set the scene’ with the opening line about being onstage and practicing. It was the practice that really struck me, and TBH (thanks for that!) it was that line that had me thinking you were writing to promote closed forums!

    My lens is for Elementary, and I think that I am always considering these questions for our ‘youngest’ learners, and therefore I think it is my tendency to ‘start’ smaller. You do make a really good point that many students (really from middle years and up) have access to a lot online. So I can see the case being made to jump right in to an open space. That being said, I know that from where I sit in Elementary, middle years students still seem to be in a space where they are still learning about their digital footprints and the online choices they make… so as devil’s advocate (and because I don’t know much about where students ‘are’ in terms of digital citizenship etc in high school), would ‘practicing’ be better in a closed space before transitioning to open? Is there a way to balance open and closed in high school? Is there a chance that some students would feel more comfortable sharing and practicing in an online space that is closed?

    Thanks for your thoughts this week Sarah, I appreciate learning about this from an older student perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such thoughtful comments, Amy. I hadn’t considered how the line about practicing could come off in favour of closed spaces. I certainly see how it does!

      I also REALLY like your idea about having students, especially the 9s, practice in a closed environment before moving to an open one. (The particular group of 9s I have this year are exceptionally mature, so I felt they would probably be able to handle open forums.) Another year, I might have thought of this. Or I might have been in favour of closed forums, period. Especially if I thought the students would be more comfortable and likely to share. I also maybe didn’t go into this post with a clear enough vision of what “open” means. I was thinking that open could mean viewed by peers, and not necessarily a greater community. Wheras closed, as you suggest, would be a great way to help kids become comfortable with sharing.

      Interesting how this goes to show how teachers might make different decisions from year to year based on the students they are working with.

      Your thoughts have been incredibly helpful to my learning this week! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sarah- I appreciate your comments about the grade 9s and sometimes the forum might look different depending on which grade 9s you’re working with! Additionally, I appreciate the insights you have working with older students and how to most appropriately implement it with them!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the point you make about practice and more practice is so important! When we model and show our students what we are wanting them to accomplish, along with allowing them time to develop those skills, we set them up for success!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post, Sarah! You hit the nail on the head – practice really does make perfect. I know that I always double-check my work, especially when I put it online for everyone to see. I look over every tweet to make sure that I am not saying something that may come across differently than I intend. You also make a good point that we want things to be interesting when we put them online – add a little entertainment to our posts. It leads to good revision skills and important realization of our audience. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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