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21st-century students write first ever book on digital classroom

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In four months, 27 teenagers managed to do what a class of college students, five and six years their senior, never could.

The students, enrolled in teacher Ann Michaelsen’s Grade 11 English class at Sandvika High School in Oslo, Norway, wrote a 200-page book tilted ‘Connected Learners: a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Global Classroom’.  “We like to say that we are the first in the world to do this,” says Michaelsen, who says she knows of one other instance where a college class tried to produce an eBook but ran out of time.

The 10-chapter book comprises articles written by Michaelsen and her students. Topics range from blogging in the classroom and Skype for educators to Facebook groups for students and QuadBlogging. “It’s basically everything students should learn in middle and high school that I find they are not learning at all,” says Michaelsen, who uses the itslearning learning platform in her teaching.

The book is available as a PDF, but book project manager Haakon Bakker hopes to make it available as an iBook. Bakker says the book promotes the 21st Century classroom, which includes using the itslearning learning platform. “The focus of the book is to get teachers to open their eyes to all the new technology that is emerging every day,” Bakker says. “Almost every day new tools come up that allow classes to run smoother than they are today.”

Bakker wrote several articles for the book, including an article arguing for alternative assessment in schools.

In the article, he argues that the current final exam scheme in English, where students write a short story in five hours, is outdated. Instead, he prefers a system where students write blog posts using, for example, the itslearning blog tool. At the end of the semester, instead of an exam, students would choose from their existing posts to form the basis of their assessment.

Bakker says students spent five hours a week writing the book in English class, starting the week before Christmas 2012. “From there out we have been writing a lot. It’s been really fun,” he says. “I’ve been working outside of school on the book as well. I’ve really put my heart and soul into it. I liked the project because it’s something different than in all the other classes.”

Michaelsen’s connected learning teaching approach centers on allowing students to research topics that interest them. itslearning provides a start and finish point. She makes the curriculum goals available on the course dashboard. The students then research a topic of their choosing related to the goal. In the end, students submit their assignments, are tested and receive their grades on itslearning. “If you teach with a textbook, the author decides what you should be learning. We are using the blogs. That’s connected learning. The students can ask the questions,” Michaelsen says.

Michaelsen says allowing students to conduct their own research makes them more motivated to study. “With this approach a lot more students are working hard because they have found their own topics and something they like to work on. Not all students are working all the time in the digital classroom, but you don’t find everyone working all the time in the traditional classroom, either.”

Bakker says he likes having the freedom to research his own topics. “I think it’s a much better approach than just learning from a book. Most of my other classes just use a textbook. Using the web as a textbook is a much better approach.” He says itslearning is a major component of the digital classroom. Bakker recently discovered how to use an RSS feed to divert itslearning notifications to the calendar on his mobile devices. “Now I can see teacher updates instantly on a calendar application. I think that’s really cool. When I found this out, I really enjoyed itslearning more, because I discovered that itslearning is not a closed space (as many of the other platforms) and I’m able to get the information I want to go where I want.”

The book, which is written in English, is the first to deal with the digital classroom from a student’s perspective. Proceeds will go to a student travel fund. You can purchase the book here.