Connected Learning–Shared Purpose

This week in Connected Learning we have been exploring the idea of shared purpose.  When I first read about this week’s topic I admit I was a bit confused.  Isn’t connected learning already shared purpose learning?  I found out through the readings and videos that there is an important difference.  Danielle Filipiak explained her understanding of shared purpose in an exceptionally clear and concise way.  She explained that shared purpose is something that is not forced.  Instead, it grows organically out of shared interests between individuals–educators and students alike.

Possibly the most awesome example of shared purpose is the Harry Potter Alliance.  The Harry Potter Alliance is organized mostly through open networks.  There are local chapters at high schools and colleges, and through their website and social media the HPA has organized some truly incredible things.  One of their biggest project is the Accio Book Drive (where they have donated over 87,000 books).  They held a Wizard Rock the Vote to register new voters, raised enough money to send five cargo planes full of medical supplies to Haiti, and convinced Universal Studios to use ethically sourced chocolate for their Harry Potter chocolates!  Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California, spoke to the Washington Post about the unlikely success of an organization with such an “incoherent frame.”  It seems that the interest and passion of the fans of the Harry Potter universe is more than enough to hold this “incoherent” cause together!  Part of their mission statement:

Our mission is to empower our members to act like the heroes that they love by acting for a better world.

Through their passion for Harry Potter–or their shared purpose–fans of the series have joined together to socialize and do real, tangible good and become heroes in their own right.

My understanding of shared purpose learning was also enhanced by Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.  Here the idea of “shared purpose lead(ing) to civic action is explored,” as the story of Roberto is shared.  As an eleventh grader in Detroit, Roberto struggled with his own view of himself: “I chill with people who smoke weed…I help kids at Holy Redeemer with their prayers. I can’t say either of these people aren’t me” (87).  Roberto struggled with his sense of identity as well as with his classes.  Roberto was barely passing his classes, but it was not because he didn’t care.  As he states, “Everyone cares about something. You just gotta find out what it is.”  Roberto did not care about grades.  It took projects that he truly cared about for him to find success for himself.

I think that that is the rub in connected learning, and in education as a whole: you must find what truly interests your students.  It goes back to the old adage that has been spoken so many times it seems to have lost its meaning: “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  The same goes for schooling.  If teachers can figure out what makes each individual student tick, they would never have to worry about engagement, and therefore they would never have to worry that the student was not learning.  Interest–>Engagement–>Learning–>Change.

Shared purpose introduces another piece to the puzzle that seems like it would be immensely inspiring to all involved.  As I understand it, shared purpose is all the elements of connected learning strengthened and reinforced by numbers.  Bringing the conversation back to theatre–this is what we (theatre-makers) do.  Whether you are an actor, director, or technician, you are most certainly working a labor of love.  Unless you are starring on Broadway, theatre pays little (often nothing).  Theatre is a group of individuals working together–not for fame or fortune but for love.  Sometimes the goal of theatre is simply to entertain, sometimes its goal is deeply political.  It is always collaborative, and it is always with one overarching shared purpose: to put on the best show possible.

Image courtesy of Kimberly Reilly at Villanova University.

I know what makes me tick.  Theatre, and literature.  I will attend rehearsal for 20 hours a week when I’m getting paid nothing and love every minute of it.  When I get home I will pick up a book from my never ending “to read” pile and eventually fall asleep with my face in the spine.  What I need to do now is figure out what makes my students live.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Maya Angelou

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