Connections-based Learning: The Right Way To Go

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by Barbara Anna Zielonka

Following an interview in our May 2018 newsletter, Global Teacher Prize 2018 finalist and winner of the Outstanding Pole Award, Barbara Anna Zielonka, writes for us about an approach that she has been using for the past 5 years. She would love other language teachers to do the same in their classrooms. She works at Nannestad High School in Norway.  She blogs at https://barbaraannaprojects.wordpress.com/

Here is her exclusive piece for the LTSIG.

 

For the past 5 years, I have been fascinated by connections-based learning. It is a pedagogical approach where teachers connect their students to experts, communities and organizations so that they can learn from each other. We live in the 21st century, and connections play a very important role in our lives. We need to take advantage of this connected world we live in. Connections-based learning gives my students real-world experience that cannot be recreated in any other way.

At the beginning of my journey with connections-based learning, I talked to my friends and asked whether they knew someone who could present a short talk about topics we have discussed in class. These days I tend to reach out to speakers via social media networking sites – usually it is either Twitter or LinkedIn. Most of the people I contact are willing to be our guest speaker and it doesn’t take long to arrange an online session during which they give insight into their field and answer my students’ questions.

Technologies like Skype and social media mean that our world is more connected than ever and can present amazing opportunities for education. By connecting students with experts from different fields, we can create a network around students which helps them to understand how the world works and how to pursue meaningful careers and experiences. As a teacher of English, my first aim is to improve my students’ written and oral skills, but it is also important for me to focus on the development of global competence and to prepare students for the real world. I feel that this way of working enables us, teachers, to achieve it.

So how does a typical lesson involving CBL look like? During the first part of my lesson, I would usually present our guest speaker to my students. Sometimes, I would show the person’s LinkedIn account so that my students know something about speaker’s professional background, spoken languages and experience.  I then ask my students to do a quick google search to find some information about our speaker which is a fun and engaging way for my students to get actively involved in the 90-minute session and to incorporate elements of digital citizenship. Students then sum up their findings and present them in pairs to the class. They may also be asked to create a short video using mysimpleshow or biteable. These two tools enable students to create short videos within 10-20 minutes max. After this introductory part, I test Skype/ Google Hangouts to make sure we do not experience any technical issues during our session. And then the most important part of our class starts. After the talk, students will have the chance to ask questions and connect with the speaker.

If you are a newbie in the field of connections-based learning, you may first invite guest speakers from other schools or your local community. By doing that, you will make your lessons more fun and challenging for your students who usually love when someone new appears in their classrooms. Over the years, I have noticed that teachers who have feared inviting guests from other countries have had no trouble calling students’ parents or their friends. Not only is it a great way of building relations with the whole community, but also of showing the world what is going on in our schools.

I have also experienced that some of my students have decided to reach out to unknown people when they were working on their Genius Hour projects or when we were creating online questionnaires which focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. This has shown me that it is important to model the behaviours and skills I want to see in my classroom.

Connections-based learning has taught my students how easy it is to reach out to others using social media networking sites effectively and consciously. They have also noticed that social media networking sites can be used for something more than just pleasure. Learning in 2018 is no longer limited to the four walls of our classrooms. So let’s make the best use of all the connections and digital tools that are at our fingertips.

 

Bio: Barbara Anna Zielonka is an English teacher at Nannestad High School (Norway). She is co-author of Skills; instructional coach; FlipGrid Certified Educator, Buncee Ambassador; Certified Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert; Digital Citizenship Champion; #TeachSDGs Ambassador; HundrED Ambassador; The Great Global Project Challenge Grantee; winner of the Gullepleprisen 2017; winner of the Outstanding Pole in Norway (Science) 2018; Top 10 shortlist for the $1million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2018.

Below is the Varkey Foundation video about Barbara. The actual winner was Andria Zafirakou.

Applications for the GTP 2019 are already open and the winner will be announced at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March 2019.

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Photo credits: The Digital Artist (Pixabay) reproduced under a CCO licence.

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