Putting Students in the Driver's Seat: An Interview with Kim Cofino
Kim Cofino is an Ed-tech expert with 14 years of experience in the field. She has taught in schools all over the world, including in Germany, Malaysia and Thailand.
She currently works as a Technology and Learning coach at an international school in Japan, where she helps coordinate a Connected Learning Community program, a Digital Citizenship program, and a Technology and Learning Coaches team.
“I’m really fortunate to be working in an amazing school, with a fantastic community of parents, teachers, administrators and students,” she says.
“The focus of my job is to work with our community members to help them understand and use technology efficiently and effectively.”
Cofino notes that one thing she loves about working with international schools and students is their open-mindedness and understanding of different cultures and perspectives.
“Many of our students move from school to school every few years and they are amazingly adept at fitting in wherever they go.
They’re great travelers, and they understand that most people they meet may have a different background or view on the world than they do – and that’s a valuable learning opportunity,” she says.
Developing processes for lifelong learning
Cofino is a firm believer in lifelong learning, and her blog Always Learning is a reflection of this belief. Her main goals are to help students learn how to learn and develop processes for lifelong learning, and help make technology accessible and useful for individuals.
So what does being a lifelong learner mean to her, and how does she personally keep that passion for learning alive?
“In one of my classes, we’re just starting a unit that highlights the idea of being a lifelong learner,” she explains.
“For me it’s all about staying curious and knowing that you can find the answer to pretty much anything, as long as you’re interested.
Personally, I love learning, and I think that’s probably why I like working with technology so much. There’s always something new to learn or to explore and technology is always changing.
I know that with curiosity, interest and inquiry I can learn anything, so I guess I just try to stay curious.”
Helping students become self-regulated learners
One of the recent trends in education is personalized learning. Although personalized learning is hardly a new thing, predictions are that teachers will be switching into more of a facilitator role this year, while learners work on self-regulating their learning.
“In my school we see lots of students learning outside classroom time, investing their personal time on goals they’ve developed on their own and building learning communities around those skills,” says Cofino.
“To me, that’s what learning should be about – finding an interest or a passion, developing goals and then working at your own pace to meet those goals.”
She explains that developing this type of student-driven learning experience is something she and others at her school are working on.
“One of my favorite things about teaching Technology is that the whole course is about the design process, basically project management,” she says.
“Students can create pretty much anything and the focus is on how do we learn something new, then structure our design based on specific criteria, plan our time effectively, create the product, and then evaluate the process.
Although this is a very structured model, it’s definitely a move toward self-regulated learning.”
Learning styles or teaching styles?
There is still much debate on whether or not “learning styles,” – the idea that different students have different styles of learning and that matching teaching to that style could improve their learning — actually exist. But what is Cofino’s take on this?
“I would say that my goal as a teacher is to try offer as many different ways to approach a topic and develop and demonstrate understanding as I can,” she notes.
“Whether or not we have a specific learning style, we all enjoy learning in different ways.
While some students might prefer a video tutorial, others might prefer a hands-on activity, and still others might prefer to read about a topic.
If I can provide opportunities for many of those different preferences, not only am I providing opportunities for students to learn in a way that works best for them, but I’m challenging myself to be more creative than I might naturally be!”
Developing a personal learning network
Developing a personal learning network (or PLN) can be another great way for students to take control of their learning. This is particularly true for students in an online environment, who often feel isolated due to the lack of daily interaction with other students and teachers.
Building a network of real-world connections gives learners access to other learners, leaders and experts from all over the world with whom they can share resources and information, interests and thought processes.
“My best advice for learners looking to develop their own PLN would be: Don’t be afraid to interact with others and to share your thinking,” says Cofino.
Some of her tips for building a PLN from scratch include:
Join a social network
Cofino points out that although social network sites like Facebook can be great for connecting with people you already know, social networks with a specific focus on teaching and learning are better still.
Set up an RSS feed
Once learners have found blogs they find interesting or insightful, Cofino suggests using an RSS reader like Netvibes to keep track of new posts in one place.
Start blogging and tweeting
Sharing thoughts, opinions and findings can be a great way for learners to bring their PLN together. Blogging allows them to reflect and connect their learning to something new, while Twitter gives them a chance to share quick bits of information and helps to widen information consumption little by little.
Develop your own personal connections
A big part of building a PLN is developing personal connections with individuals who have similar experience, skills or interests. In order to do this, Cofino suggests taking advantage of tools like Skype, Second Life, FlashMeeting, WizIQ and Elluminate.