All teachers want their students to be engaged while they are instructing. It comes with the territory of being a teacher. Plus it helps while you’re teaching to not have a bunch of blank faces staring back at you. This is why teachers need to explore connected learning. It is built upon a humble premise: that we should invest in the interests of students and engage them in educational discourse through those interests. It seems simple enough, but then why haven’t we done this in the past?
Connected learning, a relatively new endeavor in the public school system, does come with its complications. Implementation comes with obstacles surrounding assessment, standardization, community engagement, resources, funding, getting students into formal settings that explore their interests, and how to track their progress and success. So what would connected learning look like in an ideal world?
I believe that connected learning could be a very integrative and useful tool for imparting necessary skills upon students that don’t necessarily effectively engage in the current school system. Connected learning acknowledges the multiple intelligences that we now know exist. Students today believe that they are failures if they don’t fit the stereotypical school setting and aren’t proficient in an arbitrary skill set defined by tests. With connected learning, however, we can use students’ proficiencies in other forms to help them learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.
Currently testing is based surrounding a model where we are attempting to have every student succeed. But this means something different to every student, so we should address their individual strengths. With connected learning we could engage the community, including adults with authority on the different student interests, to integrate a variety of skillsets into the classroom.
With this expansive view, though, we need to proceed cautiously. If we separate students by their interests too early, sending them on one path based on their identified propensities, we will be just as, if not more limiting to their educations in the current model. What this means is that we need to integrate interests into the classroom, while still maintaining the skill sets that our society values, and depends on for success. We must find a balance in which students can feel genuinely interested in what they’re learning, finding value in the material we provide, but also that they are meeting some standard which assures that each student is receiving an equal education.
Connected learning, despite not having a set form which we could entirely remodel education with, is an incredible resource for teachers on an individual basis. They can start using connected learning within their classrooms, taking surveys of what students are interested in at the beginning of their class, then creating programs accordingly which will engage the students and foster their strengths. They could group students with peers who have similar goals and interests, and focus their content around these ideas. The public school system currently does not acknowledge aptitudes that don’t fit into the typical school settings. All skills can have their benefit to society and every student has something to contribute to this world. I know that when I entered college I was absolutely overwhelmed by the decision of what major to choose, and what occupation I wanted for the rest of my life. It would be amazing if we could introduce an interest based curriculum in high school so that by college time students have enough experience to make an informed decision about the rest of their lives.