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Developing higher-level skills with technology

GUEST COLUMN | by Dawn Casey-Rowe

Learnist imageAs a high school teacher in Rhode Island, I was seeking a way to give my students access to a better variety of materials without breaking the department budget—books were getting old, I didn’t have computers in the classroom (I have been lucky enough to receive some since) and I really wanted to step up the pace of my teaching with technology. I discovered Learnist, a social learning platform, which has helped me do that in many regards.

One of the criticisms of this and other social learning platforms, however, has been whether all the material is at the same level of quality. Even though there are many experts using it to showcase and share their creations—people you’ve seen on TV and in the media—it’s true, that in an open-platform social media learning and sharing site, not all users are using it for the same purposes. As such, the perspective and quality of their site boards varies.

I have found this to be a benefit—first of all, the real world has so many inputs that influence students. The ability to evaluate information is a skill. This is one of the primary things I taught my students when we began to use the platform. They first needed to evaluate and select material. Slowly, we are moving on to the curation process where they will complete projects using their ability to evaluate and assemble material, justifying their selections and defending their choices. This is a higher-order Common Core-based skill that I feel will serve them throughout their lives.

The other aspect they needed to learn was appropriate social interaction online. Learnist is a social learning site. We have come to hold “social” as the standard for many of our websites. This has amazing benefits. I, for example, have made the best professional connections in my life using both this site and Twitter. I have networked with others around the world, exchanging thoughts, materials, inspiration, and teaching methodology. However, there can be a down side to collaborating on the Internet. It is sometimes impersonal — anonymous. People, at times, do not attend to the same level of politeness and tact when commenting in comment sections.

Teaching students to express pointed views in a tactful way is an extremely necessary skill in communication. Sometimes the best place to practice that skill is on a Learnist board espousing a perspective other than their own, or in giving feedback to help improve a board—even going as far as to use their feature to “suggest a learning.”

Technology, and specifically a platform such as this one, has been very helpful to my students in learning these types of skills. The philosophy for social platforms is that learning should be continual and accessible to everyone throughout their entire lives. That’s a benefit I truly love.

Dawn Casey-Rowe is a high school social studies teacher in Rhode Island who uses Learnist in her classroom. Write to:


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