flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

In a recent episode of Future Tense, Matthew Smith presented a report on the dingo fence that stretches across south-eastern Australia. The fence was developed to keep out dingos out of the fertile part of the Australia. However, researcher Euan Ritchie explained how the desired purpose does not always achieve the intended outcome. For although the fence was designed to help protect sheep flocks, in eliminating one of the environments natural predators, it has led to an over-abundance of wild animals and a subsequent decrease in vegetation. As Ritchie explains,

With dingoes being absent from ecosystems we have more cats, we have more foxes, we have too many kangaroos, we often have feral goats, pigs et cetera, and they all have their own impacts.

In addition to this, the fence – stretching over 5000 kilometres – costs roughly 10 million dollars a year to maintain.

The answer being purposed to improve the state of things is rewilding. Already used in Europe and America, the practise involves reintroducing top-level predators into an ecosystem in order to restore function back to the landscape. One of major concerns comes from farmers who such things as the dingo fence were created for. There have been different strategies and solutions used to quell the impact of predators on livestock. They include: large guardian dogs, such as maremmas, smaller fencing to protect young calves and lamb, as well as reimbursement for lost  stock. What is interesting is that it been argued that due to the decrease in herbivores and increase in vegetation, properties with dingoes are actually better off in a net sense. Scientists are therefore proposing not to simply remove the whole fence, but to move parts of it in order to monitor and manage the change.

This discussion of rewilding got me thinking about education. In a recent post, David Culberhouse discussed overcoming the barriers and pushing past procedures. As he explained,

The problem is that at some point, like with all obstacles or walls that we create, the danger we are trying to keep out finds a way in.

Maybe then what is needed is a rewilding of education. So often structures are put in place to support instruction and schooling. A point Greg Miller touches on in a recent post. Practises that are then measured and maintained through standardised tests. The learning landscape is then left barron with little beauty and a lot less care.

What if we removed the fences, where instead of focusing on managing experiences for students from the top on down, we co-create experiences with students from the bottom up. Supporting students to be what Ewan McIntosh describes as problem finders. This does not mean simply leaving students to their own accord, instead like the guard dogs protecting the flock, support them in the maintenance of their learning portfolios to add discipline to the process. For those learners in need of smaller fences, provide scaffolding in regards to the development of core literacy and numeracy skills, especially in early years. While provide focused assistance to those who need additional guidance to aide their learning.

Some see all of this as a risk of sending the lamb to the slaughter. Condemning students to an education of ‘stuff‘. The problem is that we are doing that now. With the research done, it is often already decided what is important to know and do, rather than placing students in the driving seat of their learning.

Some see things like Genius Hour or 2-hours allocated to inquiry as the solution. However, as Audrey Waters questions,

Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?

This is not to say that this is simple or without risk. Just as the proposal with the dingo fence is to move a small part of it and then reassess, one approach to rewilding education maybe to take small incremental steps. Set a goal, take action and then reassess. Starting with 10%, as Will Richardson has suggested. A useful strategy in support of such change is the IOI Process which provides a series of tools that helps discuss not only where you are at, but a map of where the next step may lie.

Maybe you don’t think that this metaphor works? The strategies are too simple or lack nuance? You don’t think that learning is the top predator? That could be so. However, what is important is to continually reimagine and ask the question, what if? Such ideas may not be right or necessarily work, but they promote more discussions and help build towards a brighter tomorrow.

I will leave last word to Gillian Light who, on reflecting upon the need to lead digitally, summed the situation up nicely:

School doesn’t have to involve students sitting in straight lines listening to an all-knowing teacher. Because learning certainly doesn’t involve that.


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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by courosa: http://flickr.com/photos/courosa/2922421696
 
So far I have discussed connecting with others both off and online. In addition to this, I explored taking owner of our identity online, as well as elaborating on and engaging with the ideas of others. The fifth step in being a connected educator is learning.
 
Ideas and inspiration can come from many places and like connections, are not always digital or online. Sometimes learning can be as simple as a chat around the photocopier or walking between classes. I have discussed this elsewhere as the incidental ‘hidden’ professional learning. The reality is, everything in life can offer a point of learning if we are willing to see it that way. For example, an activity that I have done with my students in the past is to reflect upon their classroom and what it says. I have done this in history when considering artefacts, as well as in music when thinking about performance and space.
 
I would argue though that the digital realm only extends the potential of this learning. One of the best things about learning online is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Whether it be reading a blog, watching a video, listening to a podcast or participating in an online chat, there are so many opportunities and options that the biggest challenge that we are faced with is what to engage with.
 
At the recent Teachmeet event at the Immigration Museum+Richard Olsen posed the question about whether there are any negatives about being connected. This has really prayed on my mind. I think there is so much written about the positives, that the flip side is often left silent. One of the initial negatives that I found is having so many different options and ideas out there, it can often leave you in a state of disarray. The challenge then is what we do about this disruption to the way things are. The biggest lesson I have learnt in being a connected educator is that nothing has to be the way that it is, rather we choose for it to be that way.
 
My solution to this feeling of perpetual confusion is to engage with others online in the effort to identify different perspectives. By engaging I don’t mean lambasting those whose views are different, but rather, as +Peter DeWitt puts it, “finding common ground with people I do not always agree with, and building consensus with those that I do.” 
 
In a recent interview with +Ed Tech Crew, +Dan Donahoo provides the suggestion of finding five people that you disagree with and following them. His argument was that we often learn more from those who we oppose, than those that we agree with. In another take on this, +David Truss, refuting the echo chamber argument, states that, “a good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.” 
 
As I stated in my post on blogging, learning online is about connecting with others in a reciprocal manner, both taking and giving. At its heart, it is about keeping the conversation going. Often though, it is the walls that are often built around us that kill this conversation. 
 
The easiest way to breakdown walls that so often hold us back, inhibit us and prevent us from reaching our potential is to realise that such ‘walls’ are merely a construct. Having been built, they can often just as easily be torn down. To me the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC epitomised (or epitomises, depending on how you think of things) everything that is meaningful about being a connected educator both in content and construct. 
 
Although I connected with some really great people, such as +Simon Ensor, +Keith Hamon, +Luis López-Cano, +maureen maher, +Ronald L and +dave cormier, it was a connection formed around ideas rather than personalities. I made no pretence to assume that I knew many or any of these people. To me though, this is what is so significant about connectivism. Although we may connect with people, a specific identity, to me it is the thoughts and ideas that they may offer that makes them truly meaningful. It may be important to nurture and maintain connections, but it is our capacity to know more that is more critical than what is currently known which stands out the most.
 
Although online learning, whether it be responding to a tweet or participating in a MOOC, may not necessarily provide the same depth and rigor of a more formalised learning, it does provide an opportunity to connect with others who we otherwise would not normally associate with and develop new knowledge in the process. As +George Siemens pointed out in his seminal piece, “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” To me, being a connected educator is the first and most important step to a life of learning. For if as David Weinberger puts it that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room”, my learning is more meaningful when it is not restricted to those people who I work with or know through past experiences.

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