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Deborah Super: Networked Learning for System-Wide Change

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January 23, 2012 03:58 pm

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The following article is provided by Deb Super, the Director of Partnerships and Operations at the World Wide Workshop. Deb works with over 60 schools in five states to implement the Globaloria social learning network through game design with excellence. Deb has been an educator for over 35 years, teaching English at elementary, middle, high school, and college levels across West Virginia, and is credited with bringing innovation to every classroom she has facilitated.

After more than a decade in this century, educators and policy makers are still talking about 21st Century Skills as though they are a vision for the future. Mastery of the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) remain the recognized standard in many classrooms, with few innovators bringing in the 4Cs (critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity), and even fewer finding a way to transform their classrooms into the kind of dynamic learning lab that can prepare global citizens of the Digital Age. The result is unprepared, disinterested and disengaged students.

So, how can we motivate and engage students AND prepare them for college and career success in the 21st century?  Why not appeal to the universal instinct to play games?  Add game design to the curriculum.

Moving forward requires moving outward, opening the walls of local classrooms to the world. The walls are expanding in rural West Virginia as schools incorporate digital and networked learning through game design into the curriculum with Globaloria. The result is system changing.

Take the story of Randy Revels and his student Jarod.

Revels, a WV high school math teacher and self-described “educator, motivator, and innovator” was looking for a way to “to move my classroom to a 21st century learning model.”  But how do students react to a math course taught digitally through game design?   When a student blogs “It should be a requirement to take this class,” the game is on!

After Jarod’s experience in the math/game design course, he is a changed individual. Having struggled to muster a “D” in math throughout his school career, Jarod enrolled late in the course.  He tangled with the law, missing 43 days in his previous math class, ironically taught by the same instructor he faced this year. His first progress report in the math/game design class read “F.”

Using blogs, vlogs, wikis, and other industry-standard tools to network with teachers, peers, and experts in the field all engaged Jarod.  He was a gamer, so analyzing games sparked his interest. Revels described him as the leader of his four-person game-design team. This student who had failed English started blogging, earning extra credit almost weekly for “best blog.”  A digital learning opportunity spawned a team leader ready to create a game on personal finance, incorporating math and literacy skills. And social networking gave Jarod an extended audience and the motivation he needed to do his best. By the end of the term, Jarod had missed only four days for illness and had put only the second “A” on his transcript in his academic history.

“Writing a blog is different from writing for an assigned topic,” Jarod explained. “It made me think more about what I was learning. And other people besides the teacher were reading my thoughts and adding their comments. It was more than just handing in a paper for a grade. ”

With 35 years of classroom experience, I have taught generations X, Y, and Z.  I have survived three decades of trends:  open classrooms, back to basics, collaborative learning, to name but a few.  My digital learning curve is steeper than the teenager who craves byte-sized lessons.  But clearly, digital learning, especially when it uses models like game design, turns a trend into a long lasting norm. Digital learning encompasses all the past trends that seemingly have come and gone: virtual instruction provides open classrooms; digital content is now a basic necessity; and networking defines collaborative learning.

So, the system changes, one student, one principal, one educator at a time, expanding the network scope.  In the new decade, let “global” be inherent in the definition of “citizen,” “digital” be obvious in the discussion of “learning,” and “media (game) construction” be standard in “education.” That will be a game changer.

Learn more about Digital Learning Day at http://www.digitallearningday.org.

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