How OPENing My Classroom OPENed My Mind

Grab any sampling of school mission statements and you are likely to come across the words “life long learner”.  This is such a wonderful sentiment, but what do these words actually look like in practice?  What are the identifiable traits of “life long learners”?  What types of activities do these learners engage in and how are they sustained ‘life long’?

Spending the past few months in the open (through #IMMOOC and utilization of Open Pedagogy in my online course) has opened my eyes to this notion of true continuous learning.  Learning in open forums (and encouraging the same of my students) has helped me experience, first hand, a learning cycle of critical consumption, reflection, creation, and finally – contribution.   

Original Image from Empower by AJ Juliani & John Spencer


Continual engagement in this learning cycle is how I envision ‘life long learning’ playing out in…well…real life.  Most educators engage in consumption – on a regular basis: begging, borrowing, and stealing (with permission), great ideas from whomever and wherever we can.  The best consumers then reflect on this content, become inspired to create their own works and ideally, openly contribute them back into the cycle and back into the field.

This is extremely exciting for educators and learners alike, because this experience of creating and contributing openly transcends the restrictions of both physical classroom walls and online learning management systems.  In fact, authentic participation in this continuous learning cycle can’t occur inside a classroom or LMS because the cycle craves a larger audience and bigger stage.  Plus, courses end, grades close, programs are completed, and students graduate.  And when they do, manufactured learning opportunities disappear. 

In the past I worked really hard to mimic the real world in both my face to face and virtual classrooms.  I spent many hours attempting to recreate real world situations and craft real life experiences in my classes.  I was spending a good amount of time and effort orchestrating the creation of fake real world scenarios when the real real world was right there all along.

How OPENING My Course OPENED My Mind:

This term I took a new approach (inspired by Robin DeRosa and local Open Pedagogy discussions- check them out at @actualham & #USNHShare).  I asked my students to immerse themselves in the field of education in concert with current, practicing educators.  I asked my learners to utilize open forums to share their learning, interact with colleagues, authors, and thought leaders of whose work we read in class.  I facilitated real real world learning tasks that asked students to reflect on their learning consumption then create meaningful artifacts that contributed to their personal learning communities.

Doing so facilitated a REAL real world immersion that even the best of my previous mimicked lessons couldn’t touch.  Working in the open naturally increased my course’s rigor and relevancy as my assignments grew in audience, purpose, and value and my students became contributors to our field.   My students were empowered to take an active role in the creation of real content and in the experience of real conversations in their respective fields.  Learning expanded naturally and exponentially, as the connections, discussions, and purpose for my course’s work become much greater than a LMS or classroom could ever hope to provide.

Ideas for OPENing Your Class:

  • Move online classroom discussions out of your Learning Management System and into the open (through social media and/or blogging).  Use a course hashtag to track posts, replies, & comments
  • Exchange a required online discussion for a live Twitter Chat (organize your own, or invite students to participate in a chat of their choice related to a course topic, content area, or age group they are interested in)
  • Ask students to blog weekly as a vehicle for sharing their reflections.  Ask learners to share and comment on one another’s work, pushing their collective thinking and making connections to other existing works, blogs, chats, and discussions.
  • Invite students to share their course artifacts in the open (through a Creative Commons license and on an open platform like  FlipGrid or Padlet.
  • Transition assignments from ‘Disposable’ to ‘Renewable’ (@actualham).  “Disposable assignments” have an audience of only one (the teacher).  They have little purpose and/or the actual product has little relevancy to the real real world as evidenced by their final destination…a trash can or electronic archive).  Renewable work, though, has purpose, meaning, and value in context.  These assignments are created to meet the actual needs of a real (and wide) audience and as a result are living, renewable, and valuable.

BE an OPEN model

What better way to model, foster, and encourage lifelong learning in our students than by openly modelling continuous learning ourselves?  Continuous engagement in the reflective process of critical consumption, creation, and contribution is life long learning in practice.

Let’s free ourselves from the exhausting work of learning in isolation.  Let’s quit the tiring task of recreating real life inside the constraints of our classrooms.   Let’s agree to make, remix, revise, and GIVELet’s break into the OPEN.  THIS is what will sustain a profession.



4 thoughts on “How OPENing My Classroom OPENed My Mind

  1. Pingback: Classroom Contradictions | brave pedagogy

  2. Pingback: PD? That’s on ME. | brave pedagogy

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