Building a learning community can be a difficult task and is one that involves some skill and understanding. Too often, we simply believe (like Kevin Costner) that “if we build it, they will come.”
We would like to believe that simply helping the students in our class to sign up for accounts on blogging and wiki sites will change their learning and the culture of our classrooms. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. Signing up for accounts will not make the students in your classroom more connected or globally aware. There’s more to it than that. They need to join together in a community.
For students to form a learning community takes time, and is a process. As teachers, we would like to jump in as quickly as possible, thinking that we are saving time and effort later if we move on to what we consider activities for learning as soon as we can; early in the school year or class.
For students to work and learn together, they need to have a level of comfort and trust with each other. Setting people together into a learning community and expecting them to open up and be willing to make mistakes in a public space without first spending some time together is not realistic. This is why one of the first steps of establishing an online learning community in your classroom is to have some simple fun together. This is what we’re doing in the Idea Hive to begin our school year.
The students in our two classrooms are 2 700 kilometres apart. We wanted them to be able to see each other, to be able to put names with faces. As well, we wanted the students in each location to be able to see the geography of each place and get comfortable with each other. This is why we’re starting the year off with a photo contest. This is the blog post written on the Idea Hive blog:
“Be a part of the hive!
Put those creative skills to work.
We are having a photo contest to start off the year. Take your idea hive badge and yourself (and some friends too if you really want to). Head someplace with your camera. Take as many pictures as you want. Make sure you’re in them (at least part of you!). Make sure your idea hive badge is there too. Post them up onto flickr using the email address that you get from your teacher. Scroll down this page and look on the right hand side to see a few of the pictures that are already up there. Click on the widget to head to flickr to see them all.
Let’s see how creative and innovative you can be. Who’s got the best imagination out there?
The deadline for the contest is September 23rd so let’s see what you’ve got!”
A simple idea that we are hoping will begin to develop some sense of location and trust between the two classes. Combined with other start of year activities such as a skype call with questions, an introductory survey and a “comment swap,” our two classes will begin to take the first steps into developing an online learning community which will take us all deeper into unknown territory.
Here are two of the pictures we’ve received at the half way point of the contest. See the entire set of them here.