Last week I received an email with the following question:

Do we have any model schools in Norway that could inspire ministers of education and help them promote the use of ICT in their own countries? The examples given are expected to be “world class.”

My answer is, regretfully, no. It is actually quite annoying to have to acknowledge the fact that although Norway has world class equipment, both hardware and software, the way we use what we have is not world class. It isn’t even close. Traditional classrooms with traditional teachers and students are the norm.

Even though we are using Wikis, Blogs, Nings, Etherpad and so on, it is all still pretty low scale. Mostly it is old pedagogy wrapped in some fancy new paper. And many Norwegian teachers are still even happy to continue with the old wrapping!

That said . . .

I accept the challenge! I would like to give my school one year to prove that Norway has examples of world class use of technology in the classroom. It seems achievable. I’ll certainly give it a try.

What kind of use of technology would be considered world class? I think the answer ties in nicely with my current favorite read, Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli. The goal is to create globally connected schools that empower students to learn in modern ways. These real time global connections will help you deliver real world context in your classroom.

My goal for this school year is to follow the advice given in this book and to see how I can get our teachers onboard. I hope this post will be the first in a series about our progress.

Personal Learning Networks offers easy steps to follow and as a school we are given a timescale of a year to achieve them. There are 3 phases in the change process described by Richardson and Mancabelli: (1) the compelling case; (2) building the change team; and (3) the pilot. We should spend a few weeks on the compelling case, a few months to bond and prepare the change team, and the remaining time to design and develop the pilot.

The change team can number anywhere from a few people to as many as 25. They should meet at least twice a month for about an hour to 90 minutes. I have already asked around and I hope to start with a group of 10, counting school leaders and teachers.

Since this change is confined to the classroom, you might ask why we’ll include school leaders in the Change Team? There are definite implications for administrators in this transition in becoming a networked school.  According to ISTE standards (2009), school leaders should promote and participate in local, national and global learning communities that stimulate innovation, creativity and digital-age collaboration. And both school leaders and teachers are needed to guide and aid our students in answering three important questions about personal learning networks identified by Mancabelli and Richardson:

What can I believe, who can I trust, and how do I connect?

We hear lots of talk about digital natives and the “natural” technology skills of young people today. But the truth is they need help seeing the connections offered by technology and the internet from a learner’s perspective. Participation in learning networks can help prepare students for life and work in the 21st century by giving them the opportunity to practice critical thinking; access and analyze information; collaborate; gain agility and adaptability as connected learners; show initiative; sharpen their oral and written communication; and, most important, feed their curiosity and imagination. All of these are 21st century survival skills identified by Tony Wagner and others.

First I’ll explain why . . .

Before we meet for the first time, I would like the members of the change team to read more about what the experts believe students need to know and be able to do in the future — and to take time to consider the implications for them as teachers and leaders. How can we make this happen? Why would we want to? What can we gain? Is this emphasis on ICT and connected learning another time consuming process that takes the focus away from learning? Or can it enhance the learning process? And how will this tie into our curriculum goals?

The 2010 Horizon Report states that

Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed. Information technologies impact how people work, play, learn, socialize, and collaborate. Increasingly, technology skills are also critical to success in almost every arena, and those who are more facile with technology will advance while those without access or skills will not.

The digital divide, once seen as a factor of wealth, is now seen as a factor of education: those who have the opportunity to learn technology skills are in a better position to obtain and make use of technology than those who do not. Evolving occupations, multiple careers, and an increasingly mobile workforce contribute to this trend. The value placed on collaboration in the workplace is high, and professionals of all kinds are expected to work across geographic and cultural boundaries more and more frequently.

Teachers increasingly recognize the importance of collaboration skills and are finding that online tools to support collaboration provide them and their students with opportunities to work creatively, develop teamwork skills, and tap into the perspectives of people around the world with a wide range of experience and expertise that differs from their own.

These points might help convince educators to see why we should devote our time and resources to becoming a networked school. Other ways to explain how learning networks change the educational landscape might be to offer some examples from existing personal networks. I will start by using my own network to connect with others who have already started this journey.

In addition, the book offers many examples of the impact of professional and student networking and points to web resources where you can learn more. I’ll also use examples from my own teaching and how I believe real world context enhances learning. I have listed four examples below. Some of these examples are easy to start using; some require a network to tap into — like skyping in class. To find other educators on Skype, I’d urge you to follow @skypeclassroom on Twitter!

Some practical examples . . .

  1. Writing real job applications that include an online CV vs. writing one for your teacher
  2. Writing a public blog with 2000 page views vs. writing essays or reports for your teacher. Also see: tips for blogging in class.
  3. Creating a radio show and posting it on Facebook vs. presenting in front of class or for your teacher.
  4. Skyping with students in other countries to discuss specific topics vs. discussions in class.

In their “guideposts” for Learning in Networks, Mancabelli and Richardson stress the fact that to connect you have to share! As we seek out those who add value to our own learning, we need to be mindful that succeeding in these networked spaces requires that we give back as much if not more than we receive.

I’ll assign the following homework to those who would like to join our change team: To connect your students you need to be connected! Start with Twitter, Facebook and Skype. See here for pointers. Start following educators who are interested in the same topics as you and see who they are following! Make connections and soon we will start sharing with our students! Get to it!

About the author
Ann S. Michaelsen is a teacher and administrator at Sandvika High School in Oslo, Norway. A promoter of computers in schools since 2002, Ann is working at the country level to implement the Skillsoft LMS in 24 schools. Ann presented at the global Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Education Forums in 2010, a year after Sandvika was named Norway’s 2009 Pathfinder school. She regularly offers advice and insights to fellow educators at the blog Teaching English Using Web 2.0 and on Twitter at @annmic.