I’m at the BC Digital Learning Conference in Burnaby BC. Yesterday I went to the pre-conference session ‘Beyond DL (Part 1) Emerging Models Integrating Distributed Learning in BC Schools’, a panel discussion with: Verena Roberts, Jeff Stewart, Brad Hutchinson, Dean Coder, Bruce Weitzel, Karen Flello, moderated by Randy LaBonte. A common theme inspired by Verena was the ideas that even with online learning… relationships are the most important thing that we need to focus on with students.

The session ended and I was thinking about the fact that although I fully agree with Verena, the conversation in the room was about the teacher-student relationship and that this needs to be extended beyond that relationship to both the classroom community, our local community, and the world as a greater community.

I shared this thought in a discussion with our keynote speaker, Dave Cormier. We talked about a couple students at Inquiry Hub. One of them is in an Entrepreneurship 12 course run by Y.E.L.L through Coquitlam Open Learning. It is a blended learning course where students meet once a week. The program runs students through 3 components, a Business Accelerator, Idea Incubator, and Venture Challenge, with local community business leaders presenting to students and with some of them becoming their mentors.

I also shared with Dave the story of a student working on an IDS – Independent Directed Study at Inquiry Hub. Lyle is studying different elements found in different music genres and then using his learning to create his own music. Lyle, (hear his music on SoundCloud) has recently connected with a neighbour who is a drummer, who is replacing a repetitive digitally created drum track that Lyle added to his own music with a ‘live’ drum mix (coming soon to SoundCloud). Lyle has also connected with a local recording professional who is acting as a mentor. (As a fun aside, Dave added this to his presentation).

Dave Cormier Slide - Mentor Learning

This connects to what I was saying earlier about relationships extending beyond that of the teacher and student, or even students within a class.

Dave’s Keynote was designed in 3 sections with 10 minute discussions at our tables, inspired by key questions:

1. “Is learning something we should even try to measure?” – Discussion at our table included the balance between competencies related to hard skills (knowing the math needed to design a structurally sound bridge) vs soft skills (knowing how to be a contributing, positive member of society). Another way to think of these are measurable vs hard to measure skills. Afterwards, Dave was asked, “Should the learner be the one that measures learning?” And he responded that they should reflect, but may not be best to measure learning.

2. “Do we need to be teaching the right answer?” – Discussion at our table included the idea that more than right answer we want students to figure out: “I know this is the wrong answer, where/how do I find the right answer?” ~ How do you get to the right answer is very often more important than the right answer.

Dave shared the idea of having a learning contract with advice that it should:
a) Be flexible
b) Have a focus on responsibility
c) Be student driven

Here is one of the Learning Contracts he uses.

3. “What literacies (skills) are developed when the community is the curriculum? What do we want schools to be FOR?” – Discussion at our table included the idea that classes are often too small for real community to be built around some of the topics students are interested in, and so how do we meaningfully connect them beyond the classroom?

Classroom and school community are important to develop, but learning should not be limited by these confines. The metaphor Dave Cormier uses is ‘Rhizomatic Learning‘:

“Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in a thousand plateaus. A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by D&G to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-relicating. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process.

…Sounds a bit like networked learning…? The rhizome is, in a manner of speaking, a kind of network. It’s just a very messy, unpredictable network that isn’t bounded and grows and spreads in strange ways.”

I can’t know in advance that Lyle’s neighbour is a drummer? I still haven’t met his neighbour or his mentor (whom Lyle has not yet face-to-face yet either). But given that I’m Lyle’s IDS teacher, and that I am not musically inclined (more like musically declined), these relationships in his community are key to his learning. I can direct him to SoundClound to share his music, I can help him design his approach and create a plan, but his experience becomes meaningfully rich from his experiences that extend beyond the school.

Learning is messy, learning is messy, learning is messy. Our job isn’t to clean up learning and put in into compartmentalized, easy to measure boxes. Instead, it is our job to let the learning organically extend to relationships beyond our classrooms and schools, and also to help students find these new places for learning to set roots and grow… interconnected, and extended to wherever their learning takes them.


My tweets from Dave Cormier’s Keynote: