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The Connected Learners- A Book by Students for Teachers

We have heard plenty from teachers. We have heard plenty from educational “gurus” and theorists what students should/shouldn’t be learning and how we should/shouldn’t be teaching.

I have written and talked plenty about the need for globally connected educators. I have even written a chapter in Heidi Hayes Jacobs‘ upcoming book about Global Literacies.

It is time to hear from students!

Ann Michaelsen, a High School English teacher from Oslo, Norway did precisely that. She gave her students a voice, the time to research, write and platform to share THEIR perspective. What does it mean to be a connected learner as a student?

Ann shares in the book’s introduction

As a classroom teacher, you cannot create your own educational system. however, you can change what is going on in your classroom. This book will show you how to help your students become connected learners. Our hope is that teachers and students will be able to model a true learner centered environment!

The secret seems to lie in giving students a voice, letting them take ownership and asking them to learn skills that help them perform a “just in time” not a “just in case” authentic task.

The chapter on motivation is especially interesting. Marie and Silje relate their motivation in school to the ever important question: WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THIS?  The two young authors conclude that it is not just about finding ONE answer to that questions. HOW many answers one can come up with is  directly related to the degree of motivation you will experience.

We, as educators (in the classroom, but also as curriculum writers and decision makers) need to truly start making MOTIVATION  part of our priorities. How can we help students come up with more and more answers to this eternal question…beyond “because you might need it in the future”, “because I said so”… or “you want to get a good grade”.

Let’s make learning authentic and real! Let’s make knowing “why they are learning about something” a priority for our students. Let’s help students answer the question “Why do I have to learn this?” in a variety and in many creative ways.


Interested in the book? Take a look at their website and a reflection on the process of the work.

The Powerful Learning Practice Press made the book available as a PDF file.

Written by a team of 27 students at Sandvika High School (Oslo, Norway), Connected Learners: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Global Classroom is a unique compendium of stories, advice and how-to articles designed to help high school teachers and their students around the globe shift from classrooms that are isolated and teacher-centered to digitally rich environments where learning is student-driven and constantly connected to the global internet.

The 220-page collaborative book takes the reader through all the steps to create a digital classroom, says a spokesman for the team of Grade 9 students, “ranging from setting up Twitter and blog accounts, to finding educators and students online for global learning activities, to how to optimize the use of search engines and teach the key elements of digital literacy.”

The book represents the culmination of a student learning project supported by English teacher and international blogger Ann Michaelsen, recognized by Microsoft Partners in Learning as a “Global Hero in Education” in 2012.

“This book offers a unique insight into what students and teachers need to know in the 21st century classroom,” says Michaelsen. “I’m extremely proud of what my English learners have accomplished and shared in this remarkable example of project learning.”

Entirely written, edited and designed by the students themselves, the 10-chapter interactive digital book is designed to be useful for teachers and students in both high and middle school.

“PLPress is helping with the promotion and distribution of this unique book as a public service,” said Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, CEO of Powerful Learning Practice LLC, “and in recognition of all the educators and students around the world who are leading the shift to connected learning.”

All profits will go into a fund for the Sandvika High students to support physical field trips to schools they collaborate with online.



Take Another Look Around You- Learning to Learn in a New World

Will Richardson said:

If you are not feeling a little bit uncomfortable about being a teacher or being in education right now, then you are not paying attention

Working in schools and in education tends to put us in a “bubble” sometimes. We have our own micro-organisms of the way things work.  The way our school world works has not changed as fast as the world around us. We still hold on to models that are outdated outside the world of education.

I am asking every teacher to TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AROUND.


The sense of urgency is real and PERSONAL to me (as it should be to most of you!).

You will mostly see my own granddaughter as the model in the presentation slides below! She is just a little over a year old and has all of  her “formal” schooling ahead of her. She will go through pre-school, elementary, middle and high school and hopefully, possibly, maybe to (a traditional) university (???).  She will have good teachers and not so good teachers along the way. Teachers, who will care about her and her learning and teachers who will only care about test scores.

  • Will they prepare her for the year 2030 and the way the world beyond will look like?
  • Will she be learning from textbooks only?
  • Will her learning inside the physical classroom be unrecognizably different from her learning outside of school?
  • Will her teachers allow her to use devices/tools to demonstrate evidence of learning instead of traditional methods of assessment?

It is PERSONAL… when I look at my own three children. Below is a picture of my youngest daughter on her first day of school (with a traditional German school cone in her arms) and then again on her LAST day of high school. Notice the big, heavy textbook in her arms on the last day. Time past in a blink of an eye..


She went to a so called all “A” schools (Schools in our State are classified with a grade according to the results of the standardized tests). Her classes sported Smartboards in the rooms and her teachers were given iPads to use for their teaching. It did not change how she was prepared for life outside of school. It did not change how she was taught in order to pass tests, instead of learning how to learn in HER world. There was no collaboration beyond working with her classmates. There was never an authentic task beyond “getting the grade”. There was no strategic intent to embed skills to expose, support and strength literacies beyond traditional reading and writing  (One of the teachers tried “blogging” with her English class once, but abandoned it quickly, since it was too much work to monitor all the students’ writing).

If you have children in school…blink once and they will too graduate in no time. There is no time for baby steps in order to think about trying this or that. There is an urgency to take a good hard look around and take action.

Stepping Up the Backchannel In the Classroom

Students need our guidance to use virtual platforms for ACADEMIC purposes. We can’t rely on their “so called” native status to know how and what to do. Just a few years ago, no one had heard of “backchanneling”, nowadays, it has become main stream (although most people might not associate the term “backchannel” and “backchanneling” with something they might be familiar with.

  • when you watch one of your favorite TV shows and are asked to use a twitter hashtag to interact with other viewers or the actors/participants…. you are participating in a backchannel
  • when you are listening to a live political speech and are updating your Facebook status,  “liking” of commenting on someone else’s status… you are in a backchannel
  • when you are passing a note (in the same room) or texting a colleague or classmate during a meeting or lecture… YOU are in a backchannel



Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication,

Think Eric Think

It’s a kind of parallel discussion, a collectively shaped comment on some ongoing conversation. An alternative channel, often with a different conversational modus.

Lee Lefever

It’s a little like passing notes in class- except via the Internet. Wireless Internet connections at conferences and lectures are allowing people to use laptops and other tools to communicate in real time during presentations. These communications occur in what is called the “backchannel”

The more ubiquitous mobile devices, among the general population and in our schools are becoming, the more we need to be exposing, preparing, supporting and teaching our students to be able to use them:

  • for academic purposes
  • collaboratively
  • with integrity and as a good digital citizen
  • focused (but at the same time multitasking)

“Backchanneling” academically is one of the skills that no one is born with. I have been thinking about, testing out and reflecting on backchanneling in the classroom for a few years now.

At last year’s edJEWcon conference, quiet by surprise, our Middle School students, who were invited to listen in to Heidi Hayes Jacob‘s keynote, created their own backchannel to document and discuss what they were hearing and understanding.Everyone was surprised and impressed, as Mike Fisher wrote in his ASCD post titled “Strategic and Capable“.

At this year’s conference, we asked attending students to participate in a backchannel again. Part of the process of backchanneling with students includes the debriefing and reflection by going over the saved backchannel log. We used the Notability app on the iPad to color code some of our observations and bring attention to skills practiced, chat-iquette, grammar, understanding, connections made, value added, quality content and depth.


What I learned:

  • just because students backchanneled one year, did not mean they could transfer the skills nor step up the quality of contributions. (… we need to practice backchanneling more… not a one time event…give them a guide to support their growth in using a backchannel tool)
  • some students didn’t understand WHY we asked them to backchannel. They could not articulate the purpose for the activity, nor pinpoint skills that were related to backchanneling. (… we need to do a better job at explaining to  our students the WHY of an activity, the skills we want to them to develop and the real world application)
  • students shared with us, that they were not able to focus, in their opinion, they would have taken “better notes” by themselves without the distractions of the other students. (…we need to make it clearer for our students, that the value of a backchannel is the collaboration, the added perspective, the sum of different voices versus their thoughts and understanding in isolation)
  • some students admitted that they were not happy with their keyboarding abilities. They could not type fast enough. Someone else posted “the exact same thing” they wanted to say. (…we need to encourage them to practice their typing/thumbing skills in their own free time)

David Kelly, on his blog,  underlines that

the value of the backchannel is in the sharing, not in the technology.  In much the same way that a person can not really appreciate the joy of riding a bicycle until they can do so without consciously focusing on balance and pedaling, getting the full value of a backchannel requires an understanding of what the backchannel is and how you use tools to participate in it.

I went back to the drawing board to create a framework, a guide to help teachers AND students understand the value, purpose, skills and steps of growth.


The purpose of using a Backchannel with students is multifold. From collaborative note taking, to curating information, capturing quotes, gathering and Linking resources, sharing notes and adding one’s own perspective to others.



  • Active
  • Substantive
  • Timely


  • Respond to questions
  • Initiate questions
  • Make connections

Digital Citizenship:

  • Leadership
  • Respect
  • Network

Evidence of Learning:

  • Connections made
  • Development of skills
  • Quality of Content:
    • Relevance
    • Depth
    • Added Value


  • Language
    • Clarity
    • Spelling
    • Full sentences
    • In context
    • Grammar & Syntax
  • Multitasking
    • Listening
    • Thinking
    • Writing
  • Multimodal
    • Curating
    • Note-Taking
    • Conversation
  • Recall
    • Remembering
    • Restate
    • Summarize
  • Logistics
    • Typing
    • Backchannel Syntax/Format


What Kind of Backchanneler Are You?


  • I have a hard time multitasking and can only concentrate on listening to the conversation.


  • I recall and reproduce exact words that I hear


  • I only restate relevant information and bring in selected resources


  • I question content, respond to and initiate conversation. I add my own thoughts and perspective.



Download the Backchannel Guide as pdf file.

Further resources:

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