I have been giving it a lot of thought lately, the power of connections. In my line of work, as a school leader/teacher it might not seem that important, but it is. During my career, I have met a lot of people who have played an important part in my life and in my work. From my early Connected learners years when I wrote a book with my students, and that ultimately lead to me publishing a book for Cappelen Damm, last year a second edition. Since starting on this digital journey in 2006, I have encountered many people who have believed in my mission and my work. It has all led to publications, workshops, and keynotes in many countries. Like this quote from the 2014 nmc-horizon-report-eu-en.online. 2014 Horizon Report Europe Advisory Board.
School-age students commonly use social media to connect with their peers for all sorts of reasons, and understanding how social media can be leveraged for social learning — and how to avoid common missteps — has come to be a key skill for teachers. Initial teacher education and continuing professional development (CPD) programmes are increasingly expected to include these topics. Ann Michaelsen, a teacher and administrator in Norway, recently showed BETT Conference participants in London how to use Skype, YouTube, blogs, and Twitter to forge connections between students and experts,21 but educators can also access professional forms of social media as well.
It is not only what you know but who you know that is going to decide your chances later in life. That is why this article; The next decade of disruption in education? Unlocking networks caught my attention. I read the book Disrupting Class, how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns a long time ago! (2010). He predicted that online learning would radically shift education in the 21st century. Since then, the U.S. K-12 edtech market has ballooned in the past decade to an estimated $7 billion. Recently when visiting Knowledge lab in London we discussed the meaning of disruptive innovation.
At its simplest, Disruptive Innovation theory describes how organizations harness technology to make a product or service more accessible to more people. Disruptive innovations start off simple and affordable. Over time, they improve to eventually overtake mainstream offerings.
It makes sense to me. And that is why the headline “The next decade of disruption caught my attention.” Because the importance of unlocking networks for our students is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. According to this article, the next level of disruptive innovation involves how students connect, to mentors, experts and peers.
These innovations are offering connections in circumstances where students lack access to relationships. They are opening up new channels to help students accrue what sociologists and economists call social capital—that is, the value contained in our networks. And over time, they stand to disrupt the boundaries that time and geography have long held on students’ networks.
In fact, I have some ideas about what I would like to see happen in the near future. Because it seems to me that more and more students struggle to find their place in school. They believe they are the only ones who struggle and are not able to see that other students have the same problems. So how to connect students and create a network with mentors, experts, and peers? How do you find mentors, experts, and peers? And how do you encourage other students in your school, to take responsibility and own up to a moral obligation, that everyone is connected, thriving, learning and growing? Read an extract of the article here;
Who students know matters
The power of connections is evident to any adult who has benefited from a friend or acquaintance helping him find a job along his professional path. The same is true for students today. Research suggests that the networks that surround young people shape their career ambitions and pathways, regardless of students’ aptitude in particular disciplines. Relationships impact everything from students’ grades to persistence through high school, and with an estimated 50% of jobs coming through personal connections, who they know matters immensely.
Schools, however, remain largely insular environments with human capital shortages of their own. Nationally, student-to-teacher ratios hover around 16:1 and student-to-guidance counselor ratios are a startling 482:1. And with limited time and strict budgets, few schools offer meaningful opportunities for students to connect with non-teacher adults and mentors in the real world. In short, despite the clear premium that relationships hold in today’s labor market, schools—society’s supposed ‘great equalizer’—are ill-designed to nurture and expand students’ networks.
But, luckily, that is beginning to shift. New technologies are emerging that could make networking students at once affordable and feasible for schools.
Expanding networks with technology
These network-expanding tools are cropping up in discrete pockets of the edtech market, like college guidance, project-based real-world learning, and academic supports. The common denominator? They are providing students with relationships otherwise out of reach. On tools like Nepris or Educurious, students can meet a neurosurgeon or an engineer on the other side of the country over video chat. On platforms like Student Success Agency, students can access a personal ‘agent’—often a role filled by college students–to receive personalized, on-demand college and career guidance around the clock. On platforms like Granny Cloud, students—particularly those with limited access to formal education—can access unconditional support and encouragement from a far-flung community of caring adults.
Many Disruptive Innovations, regardless of industry, follow the same pattern: they start off as simpler, seemingly “lower quality” applications targeted at consumers shut out of the existing market due to cost or access barriers. As a result, these innovations don’t compete head-to-head with leading companies and products, but instead compete against nonconsumption—where the only alternative is nothing at all.
These pockets of nonconsumption offer footholds from which disruptors can then rapidly improve to serve increasingly demanding circumstances. Sony got its start with the flimsy Walkman before it offered sleek CD players; Southwest began on lesser-traveled intra-state routes before it sold low-cost cross-country flights; personal computers offered the chance to merely tinker before they eventually competed with powerful mainframes. Similarly, online networking tools hitting the edtech market rarely provide high-touch, close mentoring relationships that education systems might conventionally prize. But for students whose networking and guidance alternatives are limited or altogether nonexistent, these tools are revolutionary.For students whose networking and guidance alternatives are limited or altogether nonexistent, edtech that connects students to online experts, mentors, and peers is revolutionary.New connections compete on new dimensions
Online connections can’t compete on traditional measures of performance like enduring and strong relationships, which students all need for healthy development. At first blush, the connections forged through these tools may seem underwhelming to schools. Interactions between experts and entire classrooms may be one-to-many unlike traditional one-to-one mentoring programs; the virtual interface of online guidance and mentoring can potentially hinder the depth of connection and empathy that face-to-face interactions afford; and some online interactions between students and adults last no longer than a single session. But these connections, as cursory as they may sound, are the seeds of disruption.
These seemingly rudimentary connections could prove far more valuable than meets the eye on a different dimension of performance. New technologies are diversifying less intimate connections in students’ lives. Although they may not deliver caring mentors, these tools stand to offer the distinct advantage of what sociologists call the “strength of weak ties”—that is, even relationships with less intimacy, trust, and familiarity can provide crucial, plentiful sources of new information and opportunities otherwise inaccessible through our immediate networks.
In the past decade, we’ve seen how learning technologies have begun generating tectonic shifts in how the education sector now thinks about school as we know it. But the emergence of new networking tools suggests that in the next decade the disruptive potential of the edtech market is no longer confined to breakthroughs in online coursework, productivity tools, or adaptive software programs. Looking ahead, schools can begin to use edtech to connect; disrupting, over time, not just historical limits of how and when students learn, but also whom they know.