Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Learning through conversation

Open Education Week, Day 3...

I've come to realize that online conversation plays a vital role in the learning process. Take this recent discussion post written by a student of mine. If you've got the time, read through the thoughtful post and comments.

photo by sloanpix
The first few comments come from other students who are in Andrew's physical classroom in Utah, but next come comments from students in New York City schools – from a classroom whose teacher I've never met, and from students whom Andrew will most likely never meet. In my pre-Internet classroom, Andrew's "essay" would have perhaps been read by the other 20 students in the room, and maybe a few of them would have given him some substantive comments. But unless the piece were published elsewhere, that would have been the end of it. The gestalt of the group composition is what strikes me, the conversation becomes richer by the various perspectives; there's even a comment where another student disagrees in a productive way.

Productive disagreement. Isn't that an interesting concept? Wouldn't we benefit more as a society if the adults in charge learned to disagree productively? Imagine where we'd be if U.S. Democrats and Republicans' disagreements were productive discussions that led to real problem solving, instead of character assaults. I'm not holding out much hope for our current batch of elected officials, but maybe when the next generation comes of age....

We don't come by the habits of good online conversation naturally. My colleague Paul Allison has numerous guides to help students learn the comment genre. Here's a case study of a productive disagreement that took place via online conversation and a subsequent podcast, described in detail on Digital Is.

And finally, some of the most powerful learning I've done as a teacher has been as a result of the open conversations that take place every Wednesday on Teachers Teaching Teachers. Here's an idea and an open invitation to join us. Let's talk!

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