The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom

a simulpost with TechLearning

The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom

Right now, Julie and I are both doing several things to help duplicate ourselves and help others understand what it takes to conduct a Flat Classroom project or Horizon Project.

I've outlined what I believe are the five phases I take my classes through to prepare them for independent, self-directed levels of collaboration. I suspect these ruminations will evolve.

Phase One: The INTRA-connected Classroom
First, one must have a classroom that is connected electronically to itself.

This includes:
  • A walled blog (I use Ning.)
  • Intra-class Instant messaging and Skyping I teach this using a backchannel in some of our class discussions. By observing a live backchannel chat, I teach appropriate behavior and what it means to be a professional student. I also have them video and audio skype each other.
  • Intra-class collaboration using a public wiki
    • First, someone they sit next to.
    • Next, someone who sits on the other side of the room. (I have to cut off the verbal tether to transition students to online interaction!)
I wouldn't DREAM of connecting my class to another until I teach appropriate electronic behavior. There is a BIG difference between understanding how to USE electronic media and understanding appropriate BEHAVIOR. The using is easy, the behavior takes time and vigilance.

PHASE 2: The INTERConnected Classroom
I connect ALL of my classes to one another on the Ning. Students must learn the dynamics of interacting with people of other ages and in other classes. This is a wholly different dynamic than intra-classroom because students are interacting with students they may not see on a daily basis.

This includes:
  • A walled blog (I again use my social network, Ning that is private.)
  • Inter-Class projects and collaboration on the wiki (i.e. Your 2nd period class is doing a project with your 4th period class)
  • Asychronous communications -- sharing videos, photos, blogging, and more where students must respond and communicate on a topic. (You have to cut off the tether of both time and space and teach students to collaborate with those who will work at a different time and in a different space than they are occupying at the moment.)
This further helps students understand that they are working with REAL people with an online presence and takes them in a gradual transition to a fully online project. It also helps you pick up on potentially troublesome habits of students while ALL students are still under your direction and policies.

Phase 2A - IntraDistrict or IntraAssociation students
For those in a district or association -- I would add another possible step in here of connecting by grade level and subject. Honestly, I can see no excuse for not connecting all fifth graders in a district or all World History Students.

DON'T STOP! I don't think that one can get enough diversity within a private school or public school association or within one district to truly accomplish what needs to be done in terms of cultural understanding with today's teens. Move on to the next phase.

Phase 3: Flat Classroom - Many to One Connections AND one to Many connections with Teacher Direction

In this phase, students as a class are connected to one person or group of people typically via Skype. This is essential because they can see me model appropriate behavior and techniques.

This includes:
  • Presenting to another location as a class via Skype.
  • Interaction with an expert (such as our keynote speakers for our projects) via wiki or videosharing.
  • Connecting to others through my quoting their work (with permission) and sharing with others. (a sense of global audience and they are more likely to read and see me model appropriate behavior.)
  • Public (anonymous) blogs of my students who have permission from parents. (others blog on a large blog with 1,000 other students at Youth Voices.)
This gives them awareness of a global audience and transitions them to full blown connections as individuals. They learn accountability and I am able to isolate their individual practice and habits to help them.

Phase 4: Flat Classroom: Many to Many with Teacher management
This is Flat Classroom with many students collaborating with one another directly to create wikis and digital artifacts (they outsource part of their video to one another.) On this project, the teachers are still very involved in group dynamics and media issues with the teams.

This includes:
  • Collaborative Writing and Editing between students
  • Involvement of experts and other educators to provide a rich, diverse global audience and feedback.
  • RSS readers and customized learning spaces (for self-directed learning)
  • Instructions delivered via wiki to all students (they use their RSS reader to get their assignments.)
  • Interaction with a keynote or thought leader to inspire them and help them understand global audience from the beginning.
  • Digital Storytelling with outsourcing of part of their video to a partner in another location (This requires an EXTREME amount of communication between the partners and is quite challenging.)
This is a HUGE step between Phase 3 and 4 and the first time I did it as a teacher it was a bit overwhelming. I liken it to going down a really long water slide for the first time... knowing it is supposed to be fun but also knowing that once I start, I'm not stopping until the end comes!

Phase 5: Flat Classroom: Many to Many Connections with STUDENT Management

This is the Horizon Project. This is everything that we do in Flat Classroom with an added component: student self-management and organization.

This includes:
  • Students manage the teams. We have project managers, assistant managers, editors elected for each wiki AND subgroups have the option of organizing themselves as well.
  • Increasing use of social networks and IM's of the students to connect.
It HELPS if students have done flat classroom first, however, usually, that is not the case.

However, I would say it is essential for teachers to move through this process by phase. I don't think that we could have had project managers on our first Flat Classroom for the simple reason that Julie and I were still learning what we were doing.

Now, the other Horizon teachers can handle student organization because they trust Julie and I to facilitate it and help it work.

This is my favorite project because the student management piece is truly monumental and so EXCITING!

Sometimes I wish that Horizon was not in the shadow of its father, the Flat Classroom project because in a lot of ways Horizon is a younger, stronger, improved version of Flat Classroom. However, both projects are very important and exciting!

What is your phase?
I'd be interested to hear from you, the reader, to see what phase you are at in your classroom.

Just as a baby doesn't jump out from its mother's womb to compete in a 100 yard dash, likewise, it takes time to progress to flat classroom.

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