Posted by: Ellie Kutz | March 26, 2012

Overview: Digital Learners and Online Learning Communities

Over ten years ago the innovation guru, John Seely Brown, called our attention to the ways in which learners who were growing up in a digital age were likely to be different from earlier learners with his much-cited and now classic essay: “Growing up Digital. How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn” (Change March/April 2000). In many of my conversations with faculty about how they are using technology to support their students’ learning, a recurrent question is “How do we keep our students involved and engaged online? To think more about that question, I decided, for this issue to return to Brown’s essay, to revisit his useful and still-relevant insights, and to explore the relationship between digital learners, community, and our classroom practices.

Brown makes several larger points:

  • that the web offers a significantly different medium of communication,
  • that learners who have grown up in web environments have developed new literacy and learning practices that can be used to support their learning, and
  • that the creation and sharing of knowledge goes on most effectively when learners are actively constructing their understandings within communities formed with others who have shared interests and purposes.

I’ll briefly review what he had to say about the first two points, but most of this issue will focus on the third, considering

  • How the Web has changed literacy,  learning, and knowledge-sharing
  • What keeps students connected to online communities and what can we learn from the non-academic ones they participate in?
  • What our faculty have discovered about effective practices for teaching online
  • What we need to consider in constructing and managing effective online discussion
  • Other digital resources that will be available to faculty through Blackboard.

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