It takes a village

The “Conclusions and Implications” section of the Living and Learning with New Media from the MacArthur Foundation summarizes the research findings in relation to implications for learning, education and public participation. What struck me most was the concept that “Peer-based learning has unique properties that suggest alternatives to formal instruction.”

Once more:

“Peer-based learning has unique properties that suggest alternatives to formal instruction.” 

Is that so? We know that our students can spend hours on their technology “hanging-out” in friendship-driven sites such as Facebook and Snapchat. Some, dare I say, take it to the next level and dive into interest-driven groups for collaboration and creation of (insert product/hobby here). Imagine what it would be like if we could harness the same drive and energy from our students into their subjects at school. . .

Peer-based learning is characterized by the idea that:

  • Peers are an important driver of learning
  • There is a context of reciprocity, where participants feel that they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture
  • Expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority
  • When in a context of public scrutiny, youth are motivated to develop their identities and reputations
  • Youth [are] taking on more “grown-up” roles and ownership of their own self-presentation, learning and evaluation of others

For me, this sounds like an ideal teaching scenario. The teacher would take on the role of an expert participant or what Dilan Mahendran dubs as “co-conspirators.” This adult-youth collaboration is also defined by the work of Chavez and Soep known as the “pedagogy of collegiality.” The expert participant  would help model and guide the learning journey from the beginning of a unit to the summative assessment.

But you just said they don’t have “authority.”

You’re right. In order to “assess” the students’ understanding of the unit, outside forces (i.e. public scrutiny) would obtain that role. Students with a music composition assignment could be assessed by a known composer/songwriter. The invention of a simple machine could be assessed by “tinkers” and inventors. Creative writing projects can be assessed by various authors, writers or even librarians. The possibilities are endless!

Enlisting the help and expertise of the community during a unit of study offers, by and large, an authentic and applicable learning journey for our students. Authentic. Something that is genuine, real, bona fide and true.

As the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Funny how this rings true even today. . . Thoughts?

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