Monday, 13 June 2016

How to design a Connections-based Learning experience

The Google Hangout hasn't even happened yet but it has been amazing to see the learning that has taken place. Taking the time to co-construct learning goals with students has allowed the ownership of the learning to change hands.  It has been wonderful to see students take ownership of the connection and use it for their purposes, teasing out what they want from it and how they know they got what they wanted.  Here I outline the who, why and how of the learning design in a Connections-based Learning activity.

Designing Learning - Who?

Our class' Connections-based Learning is around the solar system and I have set up a Google Hangout with Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist who has worked extensively on exploring Mars.  From working on the Mars Curiosity Mastcam to working on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera and the Mars Color Imager at Malin Space Science Systems, she has been contributing greatly to amassing a wealth of information about Mars.


After giving my students a short bio and directing them to her website, I asked students to do their own searching about who Tanya is and what she is all about. I wanted them to follow their own rabbit trails as they first touch on this connection.

What does she blog about?
What Youtube videos has she done?
How does she describe herself?
What are her hobbies?
What does she share on social media?

It is important for students to get a feel for the person with whom they will be connecting.  It is not just about being able to ask the right questions but more so, to start forming their own connections to the expert.  What do they have in common? What is surprising about this person?  What do they like about her?  What might be places of disagreement?

Designing Learning - Why?

Connections-based Learning is all about the why.  My desire is for my students to get out of this interaction not only the most possible, but the most meaningfulness possible: to own the conversation, to get their questions answered, to create their own goals for the interaction.  When students have been given a voice about what they will learn, their engagement rises, their attention is strategic, their excitement increases.  Eventually I am going to ask them to create a response for their interaction.  I want that response to be true to who they are and what they can offer the expert.

Designing Learning - How?

After they began to "know" Tanya (from her own presence online), I asked my students to write learning goals in response to what they know about Tanya.

Here are some of the goals:
- "I'd like to learn and have a better understanding of Mars and the Curiosity mission"
- "I want to know the difference between the Mars Rover and the Curiosity"
- I want to know "how she chose the camera she did"
- I would like to "discover what space photography is and to learn about it"
- "My goal is to successfully understand the concept of how big everything in outer space is"
"Hoping to discover what new technology has been innovated in space photography."
"Hoping to discover how Mars rovers work and function"
"To have Tanya comment on my blog post."

These are their words, not mine: learn, understand, discover.

I also asked students for a sign that they have achieved their goal.
"If I can list 3 differences. . ."
"When I can explain it to others"
"If I learn something new that fascinates me"
"When I can describe how it looks"
When "I am able to understand the difference in physical appearance and function and share it on my Edublog"
"That there is a comment from Tanya on my Edublog post"

One student said: "I would like to learn what it was like to be in the environment of making everything happen."  I asked her to explain further as I knew she was getting at something but it needed clarification.  She ended up with wanting to know, "what it was like working on the rover process and describe the environment -  and how it made you feel." That is the co-construction piece.  I need a chance to have a voice into their goals, to help them extract, refine, clarify, polish.

Once learning goals are co-created, the questions flow easily.  They are meaningful and they are not the teacher's.  They connect with the students own personal goals.  The conversation revolves around the students own curiosity and wonderings. 

Now we are ready.