Kelsey has enrolled in a new course I’ll be teaching in the fall, Literacy in the Digital Age. Here’s something you should know about Kelsey: she has already created a new Pinterest board on digital learning for this course–even though it doesn’t start for another month. Here’s something else you should know about Kelsey: she started using Pinterest to organize her own teaching and learning boards in my Methods course–after she decided the tool I was teaching my students to use, Diigo, didn’t work for her.
She has so many qualities I admire–initiative, independence, resourcefulness, courage. She also has this way of challenging her professors without offending them that I absolutely wish I could emulate. Everyone thinks Kelsey is so sweet when really, Kelsey is the squeakiest of wheels. It’s kind of magical. Plus, she’s really fun to be around.
Kelsey is working on her English Education degree. I think every one of my colleagues has stopped by my office at some point in the past year and said something along the lines of, “Wow, that Kelsey! She is going to be a phenomenal teacher.”
And she is going to be a phenomenal teacher. Because first and foremost, she’s a phenomenal learner.
Kelsey doesn’t need to take Literacy in the Digital Age; it won’t count for any of her requirements. She’s electing to take the course because she wants to learn. Honestly, she already knows enough to teach the class herself. She’s the poster child for connected learning. She has a terrific blog where she writes about education; she vlogs; she tweets; she attends professional conferences, she networks.
Kelsey is what Howard Rheingold would call a lead learner:
A teacher can do a great deal to facilitate the conditions from which learning communities emerge – but only the learners can make the real magic happen. In my ten years of teaching face to face and online, I’ve discovered that the sine qua non of the truly magical co-learning experience is a lead learner or two – people who will try the activities and read the texts I prescribe, then not only share their own learning with the group, but take an active lead in firing up co-learners and helping them join together into a cooperative community. Whenever a lead learner emerges, face to face or online, I know we have a good chance of acting not just as knowledge-acquiring individuals, but as a community of inquiry that makes sense of knowledge together.
When I saw Kelsey’s name on the roster for the Digital Literacy course, I knew I had my lead learner. And suddenly Literacy in the Digital Age became a lot more interesting to me as a course–as well as somewhat more challenging.
Teaching a student like Kelsey is a joy–as well as a responsibility. I had been envisioning a course where we would start slow, dip our toes in, wade out a few steps. But Kelsey is ready to dive into the deep end on the first day. I don’t want to hold her back. And now I’m puzzling over ways to create a course structure and schedule that will be as inviting to her as it will be to the student who has never published anything more than a Facebook status update on the web. I’m excited about all of the ways this course can become a “community of inquiry.”
When you have a lead learner–someone who will take risks, who will challenge herself and her classmates and you–so many doors open.