Posts Tagged communities of practice

The First Five Days of School with BYOT

I recently read an article by Dennis Pierce in eSchool News that discussed Alan November’s “First Five Days” project. November announced this project at his Building Learning Communities conference in Boston in July 2012 with the goal being to make the most out of the beginning of the school year in order to set the stage for nurturing further success.

From my conversations with teachers around the country, many educators are returning to schools with new policies aimed at encouraging students to Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to facilitate learning experiences. In thinking about the first five days in a BYOT classroom, what kinds of things should happen to successfully begin this transformational implementation?

I brainstormed my own list and tried to organize it chronologically according to each of the five days. However, I again realized that in the BYOT classroom, many things have to happen just in time (or simultaneously), and a sequential list of orderly items was impossible (for me). As Anne Collier explained in her blog at NetFamilyNews.Org, all kinds of learning [happens] all at once with BYOT. Instead, I’ve enumerated a simple list of five strategies for the first five days of BYOT and provided links to additional resources whenever possible.

Construct a learning community. You will need an online space to house your learning community. Wenger, White, and Smith referred to this online space as a digital habitat, and the teacher becomes the steward or facilitator of that habitat. That space could be a blog, website, wiki, LMS, etc, and this is the environment where you and your students can learn more about each other, participate in on-going discussions, and practice digital age skills. As you decide what type of space you should use, think about the needs of your students. This may include the accessibility they have to various types of technologies; their ages, interests and capabilities; and your goals for interaction. For more information, review these strategies for designing an online learning community.

Discuss responsible use. Empower your students to talk about the appropriate ways to use their technology tools at home and school. Students need time to share their devices with each other and to demonstrate how they use them. They can also provide scenarios regarding technology use that illustrate the importance of using them responsibly. When is the right time to utilize technology tools, and when should they be put down in order to be “present in the moment” as suggested by Jen LaMaster in her blog of Ed Tech Reflections? Encourage your students to develop these group norms for behavior in your learning community along with your input, and provide them with multiple opportunities to practice and reflect on responsible use during the first five days of school.

Model your expectations. It isn’t sufficient to just say that you have high expectations for every student. Show the students that you trust them to do the right things with their technology devices. For example, every student can participate in a class wiki to develop guidelines for responsible use so that everyone contributes to the body of knowledge of the learning community. Students are actually smarter in the appropriate use of technology, than most people think (see here). A free class wiki can be organized in Wikispaces to ensure the input of all students.

Practice the 4 C’s of Digital Age Learning – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Begin a week long project that supports inquiry and the use of the students’ technology devices. If some students do not bring technology devices, encourage collaboration through sharing and maximize the use of the school’s technology resources. Projects need to engage students in higher level thinking and authentic work. Bernajean Porter explained different uses of technology: Literacy, Adapting, and Transforming in her Grappling’s Technology and Learning Spectrum, and in the first five days, the students will have to participate in some literacy and adapting activities. However, the ultimate goal should be to achieve transforming uses of technology in that students become producers, rather than solely consumers in their learning, and the implementation of BYOT can lead to greater student agency and empowerment within the learning community.

Be patient. Understand that students will occasionally make mistakes with their technology devices, but these mistakes are essential during this learning process. Use these situations to reinforce the appropriate ways to use technology at school as well as to learn new technical skills. Although they may know how to use these for entertainment and communication, they don’t always know how to learn with them as members of a community. If you don’t know how to resolve a situation, be willing to learn alongside and from your student experts. Consistently challenge students to do their best work and look forward to an outstanding school year!

Can you think of some additional strategies for BYOT in the first five days of school?

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10 Strategies for Designing an Online Learning Community

For many of us, the teachers that we remember as being the most effective were those who had an innate understanding of how to help their students develop a sense of belonging in their classrooms while simultaneously maintaining high expectations for learning. I recently worked with a class of fourth grade students and their teacher for six weeks to design an online learning community that supported their face-to-face instructional activities. Based on our experiences, I compiled this list of ten strategies for developing online learning communities.

  1. Teach Netiquette at the Onset of the Implementation.  Teachers and students have to negotiate and establish the rules of communication and etiquette that determine how an online learning community will function.  As students become more comfortable communicating online, they are more likely to form a class community.  With clear expectations about appropriate interaction, teachers can assist their students feel an acceptance that can motivate collaboration.
  2. Incorporate Time for Social Discourse and Conversation.  One of our first online activities was to communicate through discussion forums.  We quickly noted that the students had some initial difficulty participating in online discussions about academic content.  However, when students described their Spring Break activities within an online discussion forum, they were able to relate and connect to each other’s posts in the discussion. According to Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (2002), the sharing of common interests is necessary for operating within a community of practice, and it can lead to collaborative problem-solving and the development of shared understandings.  By incorporating social discussions we were able to establish and nurture communication that led to greater personal understanding, acceptance, and tolerance and eventually supported academic discussions.
  3. Encourage Opportunities for Student Collaboration.  As the students worked with each other to develop original projects and products related to their learning standards, they were able to learn more about the content. From the onset of this design of the online learning community, the students requested opportunities to interact with their peers in collaborative work.   This entailed less risk because they were able to help each other while collectively developing an understanding about a topic.  In turn, these shared learning experiences strengthened the bond among the students within the online learning environment.
  4. Provide the Students with Choices.  The students expressed that they wanted to make choices about the types of activities that they had to complete online.  They also wanted to decide how they should organize their collaborative work on their projects. When we developed activities for the students to complete online, we had to consider that new projects had to be explored, choices had to be incorporated into the design, and the students had to have opportunities for collaboration.  Students were able to use multiple modalities to show what they had learned, and their choices provided additional opportunities for differentiation and success.
  5. Encourage Asynchronous Participation.  A benefit of our online learning community was its asynchronous nature.  The students communicated with each other, worked together on projects, or used links to locate information or complete activities. The asynchronous work had an influence on work within the face-to-face classroom in that the students had large portions of time dedicated to online collaboration.  Whole group lessons became shorter and were usually reserved for providing directions or sharing strategies.  Therefore, the students practiced and developed additional skills in self-directed learning and self-motivation.
  6. Have Teachers Model the Learning.  The role of the teacher began to shift during the design of the online learning community.  She began to assume a more facilitative and less directive role in instruction, as she became a participant in the learning process.  She encouraged student interaction by asking questions and responding to their posts in online discussion. She was a mentor who suggested alternatives and possibilities, and she was an organizer who developed activities that engaged the students.
  7. Practice the Technical Skills.  It was more complicated for the students to complete a new project or product when they had no previous experiences with the skills needed to complete that project. As the online learning community was continually modified and we introduced new opportunities for collaboration, we realized that the students needed practice time in order to utilize the new technology tools effectively.
  8. Utilize Student Experts.  Online learning included some new challenges for the teacher and the students as the focus of instruction began to become more student-centered.  The participants were learning technical skills related to learning online that involved using new tools including features of the learning management system (LMS) as well as personal technology devices that they used to access the online learning community.  We utilized the students and their willingness to help each other as they learned how to work together.  This sharing of expertise helps to shape the online community of practice (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009), and as the members support each other, they develop new social bonds to assist in further collaboration.
  9. Develop Understanding through Discussion Forums.  An important feature of the online learning community that encouraged collaboration and interaction was the purposeful use of discussion. Through online discussion, the students expressed information that they wanted to know more about.  As the students interacted and communicated with each other online, they were able to develop new understandings from these social practices.
  10. Explore Personal Interests.  Throughout the implementation of the online learning community, the teacher and students began exploring and sharing their personal interests.  This communication helped to build the community, as students made meaning from their personal experiences and shared them with others (Wenger et al., 2009).  In addition, the students were enthusiastic about bringing their personal technology tools to school to facilitate their own styles of learning as they accessed the online learning environment.  The students were so knowledgeable about their devices and so willing to share this understanding with others that this small Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative caused the interaction and collaboration among the participants in this community of practice to develop rapidly.

I am astounded by the determination of teachers and students to develop effective learning communities in spite of all of the obstacles that they face each day.  The challenge of maintaining one’s individuality while effectively working as a member of a group is a reality of life and making that connection is a key ingredient of lifelong learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011).  Collaborating and interacting within an online community facilitated support for learning; furthermore, these practices enabled the students to feel satisfaction as they explored their personal passions and interests.


Thomas, D. & Brown, J. (2011). An new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. LaVergne, TN: Createspace.

Wenger, E, McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009) Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.

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