Open, Connected Learning

[George Couros in this Edsurge article visits an exemplary teacher’s classroom and uses the experience to highlight how Jeff Unruh is tapping into social media and digital opportunities to remake learning for his students.]

George Couros
Oct 14, 2015


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Editors’ Note: The following excerpt is from The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, which will be published this month by DBC, Inc.

I walked into the room and could tell right away.

I had never met the teacher, Jeff Unruh, before and knew very little about him, but the atmosphere in his classroom spoke of his commitment and passion. Turning to the colleague who was with me, I asked, “Do you think he is on Twitter?” I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine: definitely.

How did we know? Everywhere we looked, we could see the marks of connection, collaboration, and, yes, innovation.

Unique seating spaces, and an environment that encouraged students to take risks and think differently gave clues of this teacher’s values. Notices about “Genius Hour” and the school’s recent “Maker Faire” were prominently displayed. And his class was learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent of one of the students.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about technology in this classroom. While students had access to computers, it was the learning environment that was different. It offered multiple, amazing opportunities for learning tailored to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

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Community Corps Brings Digital Education to County Kids

[This is an article written on May 7, 2015 by Natalie Orenstein and published by the Remake Learning project in Pittsburgh.]

Photo by Norton Gusky

Photo by Norton Gusky

How local organizations in Pittsburgh are teaching digital literacy with help from community members.

El Círculo Juvenil de Cultura, a bilingual after-school program that teaches Latino kids about their heritage, was looking to add a digital literacy component to its curriculum. The students it serves are part of a population that is less likely to have access to digital literacy education, said Felipe Gómez, co-founder of El Círculo.

Hispanic youth actually use the Internet more than their white peers, according to the Pew Research Center. But language barriers and cash-strapped schools often mean they cannot get the guidance and scaffolding they need from adults to learn from their technology use.

Gómez said many of his students have used computers and have access to cell phones. “But beyond being users, what we’re interested in is giving them some idea of how to create the tech,” he said.

“Beyond being users, what we’re interested in is giving them some idea of how to create the tech.”

Enter the Remake Learning Digital Corps.

Like El Círculo, organizations across the educational spectrum are recognizing the urgency of digital literacy education. But many of them lack the bandwidth, knowledge, or equipment to provide it. The Digital Corps aims to meet some of this need by recruiting, training, and deploying digital learning experts to after-school programs throughout Allegheny County. The program is now wrapping up its fourth series of workshops.

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Why Connected Learning is Catching On

A Digital Corps session at The Maker's Place / Photo: Ben Filio

A Digital Corps session at The Maker’s Place / Photo: Ben Filio

Digital networks are indispensable when educating young minds.

Young people today grow up fused to their digital worlds. And yes, being a screen zombie has its downsides. But instructors who harness students’ passion for social media can open their minds to a dynamic theory of education called “connected learning.”

At its core, connected learning capitalizes on a young person’s immersion in digital technology and online networks to encourage curiosity, deeper study, and self-education. With good guidance, learners tap into a vibrant network of teachers, like-minded peers, mentors, and role models. Before they know it they are absorbing crucial academic knowledge while engaged in enjoyable discussions, experiments, and accomplishments.

Take Patrick, a teen participant at YOUmedia’s ARTLAB+ program in Washington, D.C. Patrick was always passionate about art, but he saw his creative pursuits as a personal hobby unrelated to his future. His introduction to the digital tools at YOUmedia (a network of connected learning spaces with a presence in Pittsburgh), and his contact with digitally attuned educators who took his work seriously, gave him a fresh career outlook.

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