Connections + Collaborations = the 21st Century Learner

The impact of the internet on the field of education has been revolutionary.  In Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, the inception of Wikipedia was referenced as one of the most significant outcomes of social media.  Though it had no “owners” and made no money, people became vested in its success.  As the only nonprofit in the top twenty list of websites, Wikipedia’s unique user “flexibility” model allows for anyone to contribute to its articles on asphalt…to Koch snowflakes (Shirky, 2008).

Changes in education very much mirror the changes we have witnessed in how people are now able to access information.  The transition from the “traditional encyclopedia” to the collaborative effort of Wikipedia has undoubtedly changed the way our students learn in their classrooms.  Formal textbooks have been replaced with ebooks that can be updated with the click of a button.  Students no longer visit the library’s card catalog to look up information but rather hop on the Web and search for their facts.  As an educational leader it is imperative that I stay up to date on the current technologies so that I can share this information with my school community.  Professionally, I have embraced the internet and consistently encourage my staff and students to do so as well.

Web 2.0 tools have proven to be a huge asset to me in my role of Principal.  Specifically, Google Apps for Education has been amazing to work with.  I converted my school’s website and email system over to Google at the beginning of last year.  Not only was this a huge cost savings for us, but it was also much more user-friendly for my teachers.  We are now able to seamlessly integrate Google Drive, Google Circles, Google Calendar, etc. as a staff.  Agendas for faculty meetings are created collaboratively in Google Drive, the computer lab schedule or the iPad cart sign-out is shared in Google Calendar so it remains current at all times.  In addition, this year we had to update our School Improvement Plan.  Each committee was able to complete their portion in Google Drive without sitting together for hours with their peers.  It has made our school much more productive and vastly improved the communication amongst our staff.  My teachers feel empowered as contributors to the decisions that are made regarding our school.

As a leader, I am aware of the significant role ‘wirearchy’ has come to play in the corporate world.  It’s interesting to consider that ‘wirearchy’ is less about the actual technology and more about the connections and collaborations that result from the availability of the technology.  Leaders must recognize this and provide opportunities for these types of interactions for their employees.  Businesses no longer function in an isolated corporate world, but rather, as a result of this notion of ‘wirearchy’ they have become connected and networked together.  Humans, as social creatures, are able to benefit from these types of relationships and work together to achieve common goals.  As a result, workflow and production become more efficient but de-routined (Egham, 2010).

Education is one of the few fields in which some sort of routine must remain intact.  Aside from the gaining popularity of virtual schools, school days begin and end at set times.  Throughout the school day, students and teachers follow a pre-determined schedule of classes.  It is what is occurring during those classes that has begun to vastly evolve.  Schools are now focused on their students as “21st century learners” and have begun to realize that what has traditionally worked in the past must now change.  The new buzz words in education today such as “blended learning” and the “flipped classroom” indicate that teachers are teaching differently because they have begun to realize that as a result of the Internet and Web 2.0 tools, students are learning differently.  Just as Gartner (2010) released its list of the “10 Key Changes” in the nature of work, these will most likely be adapted in order to exist in the educational setting.  As more and more of my teachers embrace these new methods, it is exciting to witness the increase in excitement and engagement of students in their 21 century learning environments.


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

Egham, UK. (2010, August 4). Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years. Retrieved from

Husband, J. (2014).  Wirearchy. Retrieved from


7 thoughts on “Connections + Collaborations = the 21st Century Learner

  1. Nice post, ShaunaLeigh2! I particularly liked your comment that the concept of wirearchy has less to do with technology and more to do with relationships – that is spot on!

    Relationships are both physical and virtual. A few weeks back, I was teaching a night class and mentioned a website in passing. A few minutes later, one of my students mentioned that she had just found the website and tweeted it to everyone. That became a teachable moment to pull it up and go more in depth.

    I now wonder how I ever taught “B.G.” … Before Google!

  2. Sarahjini Nunn says:

    Interesting that you speak of the impact that the internet has had on education. I was an educational journal not long ago (can’t recall the name) that discussed the trend of online high schools and their market niche. The article initially caught my eye because I have a good friend that just moved to California to work for one of the online high schools. I tried to dissuade him from leaving his stable, good paying job and moving and working for the unknown. When he explained the concept of an online high school, I was shocked that this trend had actually emerged. But as I thought about it, I’m not sure why I was surprised. Colleges and universities have found great success with online programs. Heck! I’m working on my second online degree so you would think that I would be the biggest advocate. But I am not. the one thing that keeps me from being supportive of online high schools is the one thing that technology in general seems to minimize – socialization! While it doesn’t hold true for every student, high school offers students the opportunity to develop socially. Mastering this skill has served many students well in their college and professional careers.

    I am not totally diminishing the concept of online high schools because there is a certain caliber of students that are benefitting from type of educational setting. However, I do questions this setting being offered for profit.

    While, the internet has offered some advancements for education, I am a proponent of old-fashioned teaching methods. I am certain that we will see where these internet advancements will lead our kids in the future.

    • Two thoughts…to my knowledge, there are few high school students going solely online for their learning. Most are taking courses that could not be delivered locally (like Chinese language). Around 5 states (Virginia and Florida among them) now legislatively mandate that all high school students take at least one online course as part of their preparation for college and the future work force … part of digital literacy.

      Second, I agree about physical socialization … but I wonder about virtual socialization … which is a skill that is becoming increasingly important.

  3. It is clear that you intentionally and enthusiastically take on responsibility as a leader, the requirement of needing to keep up with technology in order to keep up with the changing workforce. As Husband (2013) points out, leaders must understand the changing nature of work.

    To this day I still am so amazed and grateful at how much we much we are able to access at our fingertips when researching. I imagined what the process of working on our dissertations would look like if we had to return to the days of going library for every piece of information. Limited hours, (literal) card catalogs, copying, microfiche, etc. are no longer a necessity. It is very interesting to me to see how students now learn very differently. I wondered if this is ever a struggle in the field of education, as the teachers have likely experienced learning in a very different way from their students. It seems one key to this would be strong leaders, as you describe, who are open to the changing environment.

    Reading your post, I wondered about how this adaptation general varies by field. I honed in on your use of the word “encouraged” as you encourage staff and students to embrace the use of technology. Was your conversion to Google met with any resistance? As a leader, you are a driving force, but the teachers and students had to implement the change. I have had experiences in which leadership was extremely resistant to even the most basic use of technology, resulting in very inefficient systems. A funding source even required the organization to convert to a web-based information management system, and even then, they did not comply, ultimately losing funding. This experience seems to be an example of the sharp contrast between situations where leaders are open to the changing environment, or unable to accept the new reality.


    Husband, J. (2013). What is wirearchy? Retrieved from

  4. I work in higher education and we often talk about training students for the jobs of tomorrow. I think we all understand that the world is changing and so the needs of the workforce must follow. Gartner’s (2010) ten changes provide an interesting perspective on the skills students will need to successfully navigate the workplace in the future. It is interesting how the list is largely associated with human skills and interpersonal strengths verses content knowledge. In the future the students will need to know how to build strong networks, collaborate effectively, communicate clearly and be culturally competent.

    Do you see the routine of education remaining the same in the future? Do you feel like education is preparing students for the jobs of the future? How can/should the education system change to meet these changing needs?


    Gartner, L. G. (2010). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years. Retrieved from

  5. I sit on two academic advisory committees for the University of Nebraska – Omaha, one for the Computer Science department and the second for the overall College of Information Science & Technology. This college does an outstanding job of engaging community business leaders to continuously change and improve its curriculum to ensure it is preparing its students to successfully join the workforce. It does this for two reasons – first and foremost, to ensure its students receive quality, relevant education. Second, as a land-grand university, it takes its responsibilities to the community very seriously and wants to ensure local employers are receiving quality workers to grow their businesses.
    Universities that see the value in such collaborations, actively cultivate the advisory boards and, ultimately, update and create new curriculum based on the collaboration of the board and faculty will be the schools whose students employers seek to hire and students seek to attend due to their high placement rates. I think it would also follow they would be the schools that have more sources of funding as the community feels the benefits of a well trained workforce, both in private and public sources.

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