About 6 months ago, I discovered connected learning, and it changed the way I think about education. CL benefits students as well as classroom culture because it is interest-driven, collaborative, technological, and production-centered. As a result, it promotes intrinsic motivation and authentic learning. Perhaps you’re wondering, “What is CL?” It’s a rather abstract model of learning characterized by meaningful, technological, social, and interest-based discovery. Typically, it is used in middle elementary and up. Could it be relevant to and benefit our early childhood learners? I think so. But here’s the problem: it’s challenging to find examples of CL in ECE. After all, I certainly won’t have my Pre-Kers connecting via social media to expand agency in the classroom.
As a result, I devoted my Master’s thesis to building a working concept of how CL might look, sound, and feel in my EC classroom. I realized that not only will I need to have a solid understanding of the hows and whys of CL in my classroom, but I will also need to communicate this information to EC stakeholders who may not understand CL or its benefit to young learners. So, my research question evolved into: How can I increase awareness and support of connected learning in early childhood education? I began the process by gathering data from EC administrators, teachers, and families to help me understand current knowledge of and attitudes toward CL. I administered a specific survey tailored to each group of stakeholders. Although my response rate was lower than I hoped, I received enough surveys from the different stakeholder categories to notice several patterns in the data.
First, all participants reported having little to no understanding of CL. Most indicated that connected learning is not used in their schools, and a few said they did not know if it is used in their schools. After viewing a definition of CL and several EC examples, all participants were fairly to very open to the use of connected learning in EC classrooms. Those who were fairly open indicated concerns about time, planning, and resources. One teacher explained that his/her school intentionally minimizes technology use with young learners because “it takes away from play and outdoor time which is central to our curriculum.” Although parents and administrators ranged from fairly to very open to the use of CL, a majority expressed varying levels of concern about its effect on academics. One administrator wrote, “The bulk of [the kindergarten] schedule is language arts and math. If connected learning does not take away from [academics], then it sounds great!” The bottom line: survey results reflect a need to increase knowledge of CL and help stakeholders understand how it seamlessly meshes with “academic” work.
The data directly inform the “action” piece of my research project. I developed a family presentation, which will be a portion of my Back-to-School Night slideshow in September. It will help families learn about CL, including how their children may be engaged in it and why it is beneficial to them. I also wrote a professional statement to organize my thoughts and ideas on CL in ECE. This piece is intended to reflect the points I might cover if I were speaking with a teacher or administrator about CL in my EC classroom. Here is my annotated reference list. Please feel free to download any of the documents. Use them as-is or make them your own. But if you make changes, please consider sharing them. After all, connected learning is openly networked.
I posted the following 3 months ago, and it couldn’t be more appropriate as I wrap up my studies and look toward my new teaching job:
The practice of teaching and learning would be stronger and more united if we approached it like a garden co-op: we all get our hands dirty in the garden, and then we share a bountiful harvest.