Transformative Bytes

Never have educators had so many choices for professional development as today. Never have educators had so many choices of networks and professional communities to join and participate in. And yet…

There are those who still fear the internet and its power to erode local cultural morals. There are those who still add further brick walls to their already existing technical constraints in classrooms by burying any possible digital engagement under dull carpets of excuses.

Culture is not something static, neat and tidy that one keeps in a locked up box. Culture is alive, transformative in its nature of being alive and adapting to change. Clinging to the notion of culture as static, is denying what culture really is about. Defining culture today also implies reflecting on the global impact of globalisation – this is not only the “eroding” of local cultures, but adaptation and development. Whether one agrees of not, it will not stop as younger generations grow up in a post-Google world. And yes, there are dark, dangerous places online. Just as there are dark, dirty channels on satelite TV – yet, even in the most conservative of societies, these eyesores are a constant fixture on the housing landscape. Perhaps, precisely because of these dark spaces, it is worth integrating digital practices in classrooms, teaching learners how to keep safe, how to develop a positive digital footprint and how no, whatever they post online will not go away. Ever. Being a responsible educator today also means to guide students’ online profile.

Digital technology alone will not transform education. Referring to Excel sheets and teaching how to use PowerPoint is also not what I would refer to as ICT. Using an iBook as one would use a traditional course-book, is another fallacy which is easy to fall into.

Additionally, no imposed professionally training will actually make teachers become more receptive to implementing change in their classrooms. The will has to come from understanding the possibilities of engagement which digital technologies offer to learners and teachers alike. This will to learn, to adapt to today’s world, to today’s educational possibilities,  is the individual teacher’s responsibility. This shift of values has to occur from within. Whether it is focusing on digital citizenship, cyber-bullying, using a digital platform to create a movie,  or even how to find the best work-flow when using iPads in classrooms, individuals need to find a need, which will lead them to learning. Only then will educators really understand how digital technologies may bring about classroom engagement and educational value today.

Transformation will come about. Whether in small bytes by individuals driving change or even by students themselves, though in my experience, if a teacher is open to using digital tools/platforms in a classroom, students will more readily add their preferences as well.

Informal learning is becoming increasingly common practice. Whether through Social Media or other sources (e.g. online communities, MOOCs, open courses etc), worlds of learning are available to all. And yes, even in conservative societies, students are aware of these platforms. All it takes is the will power to guide learners how to take advantage of all this possibilities for their own learning. And no. Learning will not end nor will we be able to say “I know everything now!”. The speed of change is too great for such self-deluding discourse.

There are no miracles in the process of change.

There are individuals who engage, who seek learning. Learning comes from practice, from failing and not fearing to try again.

Transforming education was never a simple task. Education depends on individuals and not merely on communities and networks who are interested in change.

Most critically, students depend on education to prepare them for the changes that lie ahead of them.

How can educators ignore that change is indeed an essential part of education?

References:

Asfar, V. 2013, Our Educational Leaders Must Get Aggressive with Technology

Chad, E., 2013, Technology is not a Magic Bullet

The Question of When

In a thought provoking post, George Couros raises the question of “What if…?” – timely questions for all educators and educational managers. My question is when?

When will educators make the effort to be fearless?

When will educators make the effort to connect with others without judgement but sharing resources, ideas, visions, trials, errors and successes?

When will educators accept that today’s learners do have digital lives, even if they may not be familiar with how to use digital technology for learning and so need to learn how to make the best use of digital tech for their academic lives and futures unknown?

When will educators, who often have digital resources at the tips of their fingers, be brave enough to accept that making mistakes, asking for help, failing, is all part of learning and that they too are learners?

When will educators realize that it is through networks and connections that ideas thrive, and new forms of knowledge may develop?

caras-7When will educators acknowledge that their world is open, if only they let it be and that professional development/training is an on-going conversation and not an end in itself?

When will educators accept that without their passion, without their individual efforts, without their positive, constructive action towards change, not much may make a difference in their practices?

However, change WILL happen. With, or without them.

Change is challenging, change may even be painful. But life IS all about change. Holding on to educational paradigms which were designed for the Industrial Age will simply no longer work. Classrooms of disengaged learners, longing to get back online, where there is interaction and engagement, is heart wrenching for all involved in classrooms. Bringing the world of digital spaces and digital learning  to the world of learning is necessary.

A change of perspective is urgent. And the first step is for teachers themselves to get involved. Regardless of how many training sessions teachers must attend, if they are not involved in connecting, in participating in a networked world, if they are not active in the giving and sharing, then many of those training sessions will have little positive outcomes. I am not making a case that Social Media is the only way to learn – by no means. I am making the case that yes, participating in Social Media is one way for teachers to keep themselves updated and involved in the process of changeS that are happening all around.

Learning is not about leading.

Learning is about the will to participate, the will to negotiate meaning, the will to implement the necessary changes for one’s changing context. Learning how to make sense of one’s changing, global, networked world requires elements of fearlessness.

 

When… ?

the connection - Seth Godin

Further references:

Bryant, P., 2013, The Logical Impossibility of Status Quo: Six Disconnects that Demand a Digital Pedagogy

Couros, G., 2013, What if… ? 

Downes, S., 2008, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

Downes, S. 2013, Strive Less, Share More

 

Adding Failure to the Educational Mix

I don’t know exactly when failure became acceptable, but when the fashion world embraces failure, you know that failure has definitely become sexy.

Perhaps it was comfortable for education to embrace concepts of failure from the business world. After all, failure is part of the learning process, that endless spiral of advancing and regressing back to the initial novelty of information that the brain must re-process and make sense of. There are other kinds of failure as well – lessons where the wifi fails in the midst of creating digital stories, days when the IWB will stubbornly not be re-aligned, the sound cable has gone missing when the teacher has a great video to show the class, team members are absent on the day of a presentation; the list is endless and well known to those who spend a lifetime in classrooms.

Then there are other types of classroom failures – a lack of references which students miss and then fail to grasp the inherent meaning of text, a lack of cultural appropriateness, a lack of time for discussing what students really want to know about because there are tests to prepare for. Again, realities that many educators will be familiar with.

However, in between failures and successes, there are fine, subtle lines. Failure may be accepted,  as long as it is  followed by success.  Preferably by tremendous success, the kind  which often characterises the contemporary tales of the celebrity world. This is part of the acceptance – the story of failing and rising again. Icarus who rises as Phoenix.

In the educational process, though, this does not always happen at such a dramatic scale. Learners’ successes are often quiet, indeterminable. Success in learning takes time. And needless to say (yet I repeat), real learning is not about passing exams.

There is failure too when it comes to peer observations, as Didau points out:

One of the most pernicious and abiding myths at work is the belief that students should make progress every lesson.

This is meaningless. Learning is complicated and takes place over time. Everyone has experienced the fact that sometimes a lesson seems to have gone really well but yet students remember nothing the next lesson.

This is because we’re obsessed with measuring students’ performance rather than their learning.

Is Education a mere loop of failures?

No. Not in the least.

But it is a world where failure is an inherent part of the process. It is a world where constant motivation is essential in the many layers and forms teachers are able to provide students.

If one is to speak of authenticity in learning, then aspects of failure need to be added to the mix of items which constitute authenticity in learning and classrooms.

So, what is left within this mix?

The acceptance that learning is risky; what is new (e.g. learning to use a new digital tool) may take failure in order to  succeed; the need to reassure learners that yes, failure may be accepted for as long as success is aimed for and achieved in the end.

After all, aren’t we all aiming to pass exams?

Or is learning, real learning, a more authentic educational process?

How do you deal with failure in educational processes?

References:

Mundy, L.,  2013 – Losing is the New Winning

Sowray, B., 2013 – Tom Ford’s Secret to Success? Failure

Stenger, M. 2013, – We Can Only Guarantee Success if We Have Low Expectations. Anything Else Demands Risking Failure: Interview with Dabid Didau

Note

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Martin Marcisovsky

World Teacher Day

October finds me me in my well known routines – eyes on screens, eyes in books, eyes observing students. October also finds me juggling online seminars and the desire to be outdoors. October finds me in transit – designing courses, learning on courses, switching from educator to learner, wearing different hats,  hoping that in the process I may become a better educator for those I work with.

October also finds me giving thanks to the many educators who inspire, guide and collaborate with me. On October 5th, my thoughts will go out to all in my connected web of networks and collaborations – with thanks and gratitude.

In a world where so much change impacts Education, individuals can no longer pretend to be islands of all knowledge. In a world where educators face all the realities of change in their students’ faces, where educators are handed outdated curricula to perform as teaching, in classrooms designed for the industrial age yet juggling digital devices for learning, there is an international day where teachers are recognised as an essential link for sustainable and improved living conditions across the globe.

The Global Learning Crisis
To all who enlighten me, to all who push boundaries, to all who make the world a more informed place – thank you.

Note:

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Samantha Tran

Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

In a globalised world, filled with the richness and risks of multiculturalism, how does one maintain a sense of being unique while at the same time, having a sense of “belonging”? Does the sense of “self” maintain its individuality or with the increase of networks and connections, with the far reaching consequences of globalisation, is one left to become a shadow of self, a clone of contemporary “selves”?

Because  London Fashion Week was recently taking place, I asked my female students what was the first piece of clothing which came to their mind when they thought of black for women.  Immediately their replies were “abayas”, “sheilas” (the black cloak and headscarf which is characteristic of female clothing in the Arabic Gulf). Women in the Arabic Gulf are as trend conscious as women anywhere else (if not more, as financial wealth is widespread), yet it was not biker jackets,  nor black boots,  nor LBD (little black dresses) which were initial references for these students. Their references were local,  and directly meaningful to their everyday lives.

An anecdotal example, but one that is significant when it comes to multicultural learning. Any teacher asking similar questions to their students will have responses which are mostly rooted in a local context. (I would like to make a note here: when referring to “multicultural learning”, I am referring to learning across cultures/with other cultures,  and not to political policies of social engineering).

Which brings me to ask whether in today’s scenario of social media entwined with learning and knowledge creation, if there is a risk of cloning in education. On the one hand, the same or similar digital platforms and tools are becoming widely used – for instance, Moodle as a learning platform for distance learning and Fotobabble as a digital tool. On the other hand, learning, sharing and creating knowledge through social networks is increasingly entwined in educational practices. How sustainable is this for the individual who is learning, to maintain his/her individuality?

When discussing  sustainability and authenticity  in higher education, Kaviola (2006) highlights how

“In transformative learning method students construct their own information and solutions to problems in co-operation and dialogue with the others involved in the learning process. When a student practices decision-making related to sustainable development in a collective learning situation (e.g. problem based or contradictory information), his or her ability to manage conflicting situations (which are inevitable in changes that promote sustainable development) will improve. This is also a way to develop students a sense of ownership in the learning process (Wals 2006: 49). “

This ownership in turn becomes personal, localised and individual. Rather than cloning, one has contextualised learning, which provides a degree of authenticity and meaningfulness in learning. Again, turning to Kaviola (2007) who explains that,

” A human cannot live in isolation away from society. Constructivism stipulates that learning and the object of learning are an indistinguishable part of the socio- cultural framework in which the learning takes place. This implies that information is always constructed in a certain context and that a person will put together a picture of the surrounding reality and him or herself by selecting and interpreting information and by reflecting on the feedback that s/he gets on his or her actions. ” (Kaviola, 2007)

A step further is of course Connectivism, where through connections and networks, knowledge is shared, distributed, and transferred. Individual learning through networks, chaotic as it may initially appear, is an inherent characteristic of Connectivism (Siemens, 2004). This informal learning lies on a set of principles, namely,

* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions

* Learning as a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources

* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning

* The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

* Decision-making is itself a learning process

Learning contexts will take many forms, whether those be personal,  institutional, or national. Learning cultures are even broader, with some sharing similar characteristics. However, despite the similarities, despite connections and learning networks, I doubt that today’s education panorama with Open Access, MOOCs and the myriad of online learning resources that exist, will lead to cloned education models or learners. These may push individual learners out of their comfort zone,  may provoke them into a richer, more critical analysis of knowledge and learning, but will not necessarily create clones. Clones are indeed among us (Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession Is A Glimpse Into The Futurebut hopefully will remain in the domain of other social concerns. 

Learning, like much else, remains an individual perception; a perception fostered and shared by a localised culture. That culture may indeed be transnational, international, mulitcultural (pick your choice) but it is left to the individual and fortunately, individual differences are still what makes us individuals – both as learners and humans.

 

References:

Kaviola, T., 2007, Towards Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism

Wheeler, S., 2012, Theories for the Digital Age – Connectivism

Digital Delights : Connecting Online Education – Connectivism - A selection of articles and posts on Connectivism

The Cyborg Within

1xcom259106oppressed

Who am I?

Who are you?

Simple questions, yet where does one begin unravelling the complexity of being a “someone”?

It was over the summer,  that issues of identity came again to linger on my mind. When I first visited Laos years ago, there was hardly a mobile phone in sight; to access the internet you needed to find an obscure, dark internet cafe, where you then struggled with connectivity. Today, that world has changed dramatically, like so many other places around the world. Today, one may find wi-fi in practically almost all public cafes and restaurants; everywhere you turn your gaze to, there will be someone taking a selfie, checking their photogenic image and uploading it to a social network; when silvery, Mekong evenings spread across the jungle skies, there will be throngs walking, jogging, running along the bank, with their smart phones,  some in Adidas track-suits,  most with  ear-plugs and an eye on their mobile screen. You could be almost anywhere else in the world – if not for the natural surroundings.

If asked who am I, I sometimes grin and say “I’m a cyborg. Whatever else?” Others’ reactions are usually quite interesting; often their associations are with dark, menacing Sci-Fi  films, where cyborgs are threatening beings, their powers far beyond mere humans. There is a lurking fear, a lurking mis-trust of cyborgs. Being a cyborg, simply put, is not desirable.

However.

Those jogging on the bank of the Mekong with their smart phones held dearly and tightly in their hands and those who possibly are reading this blog entry, are equally as much of a contemporary cyborg as I am. There are different interpretations of being a cyborg,  e.g. those who wear technology for enhanced digital experiences, those who participate in digital worlds, forming an identity within simulations, and those, like myself, who are equally comfortable in and out of digital worlds. As Turkle (2012) explains, “We are all cyborgs now”, in regard to how we “wander in and out of the physical real”. This element of being a cyborg has another characteristic as well, for one is in the digital world and somewhere else simultaneously. In other words, as cyborgs, we not only wander in and out of digital dimensions, but even when connecting with others, when digitally communicating with others, we are inhabiting two worlds at the same time.

Technologies and identity are complex issues. As someone who has had an interest in the digital since the internet became publicly available, it comes as no wonder that “who I am” will necessarily include the digital mix of who I am. In other words, I am my “life mix” (Turkle, 2012), moving quietly between worlds, between connections, between digital devices.

1xcom272947hangingThere are times when both my real and virtual self need breathing space as well – for instance, there may be times I don’t participate as much on one social network but with time, will return to it. There are times when I feel the need to disconnect, feel the need to think and dream without the ongoing connection which I do have in my life. This is not a rejection of my digital, cyborg self; merely a pause and one that I must ensure by silencing all my mobile digital gadgets. My “life mix” is both asynchronous and synchronous. Time to disconnect, briefly,  becomes a necessity. “Hanging up”, being “off the grid” is also necessary downtime for cyborgs.

A word of caution though: one may choose, re-invent or play with identity. This is not my case. Perhaps because it is not my case, I am equally at ease with my “life mix”.  Within my mix I am often a learner and educator, (though definitely, not only – e.g. I watch movies, connect with friends and family at non-professional levels, listen to music and so on). In these complex times of deep changes, I seek answers, I ask questions. I participate in online communities with others who likewise share the same concerns and questions. These communities range from social networks such as Twitter and G+, to VLEs where I learn and share with other members.

Which brings me to learning – once again. Leppisaari and Lee (2010) highlight how images are an integral part of constructing knowledge. By taking up visuals of footwear (Leppisaari and Lofroth 2013), one can visual one’s identity and role within multicultural learning.

From cyborg, from wandering in out of digital and analogue worlds, my footwear reflects the type of learning I engage in . Sandals – open, strappy, comfortable in twilight zones of being a cyborg. Sandals are ideal for treading lightly in a hyperlinked world.

Sandals are also practical for informal learning – which is how I would say most of my learning is today. I learn with and through my social networks, reading open access journals, reading articles online, participating in MOOCs, taking open online courses, and daily,  with my PLN, sharing and taking  part in on-going conversations. I attend webinars and belong to professional networks, where conferences are sometimes held online. Both these last two examples offer me the possibility of learning and participating in contexts which otherwise I could not attend. And I learn as I always have, even before the internet, i.e.. by learning from other fields of knowledge. Hence it is no surprise that I am a supporter of cross (or multi) disciplinary learning.

At times, I also take part in more formal learning, i.e. a structured course, where, ideally I will submit assignments on time. Hence, a pair of red shoes dangling, expressing on the one hand, a certain degree of formal artifact and on the other, the eternal quest of balancing time.

As a learner and educator I have lived and worked in different countries with distinct cultures. Though fascinating as it may sound, living and working in different cultures may be walzing through a mysterious field – one knows the footsteps to the dance but the music is different. Every time one thinks one finally understands the tune and attempts to dance, the steps will be different, for cultures are complex and forever changing. Every culture will have what is easily noticeable and learnable – with so many other steps hidden or disguised and which are essential for its understanding. And yes, there are times when simple sandals are more convenient to live within those settings, leaving light footprints, opening paths of learning for others who, in turn, will create meaningful knowledge and learning for their own cultural contexts.

When Downes (2013) speaks of learning, he mentions how:

“To teach is to model and to demonstrate; to learn is to practice and reflect“.

In a multicultural setting, whether F2F or online (e.g. distance education), this requires sturdy (but comfortable)  boots. Not only does one need to be sensitive to the culture, (e.g. in terms of what is or not appropriate) but the modelling has to be meaningful to it as well. Tapping into what may or not be meaningful to learners requires patience, resilience and time. Boots are often necessary for learning.

Much like Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), I dream of the perfect lesson, the perfect learning path where as an educator, it would only take a snappy click of heels for my students to become inspired, creative, and critical thinkers. In my cyborg mind, this is simple, with a myriad of tools and platforms to offer. In my “real”, analogue classrooms, this is much more challenging. At times, simply hard to do. After all, there are days and days – with a mix of 20+ learners in a classroom, there are bound to be days where the flow of learning just isn’t happening as one would wish it to.

Yet, I cling to the notion of a perfect lesson, where tasks are meaningful, motivational and fun for all. There are days when no click of heel is necessary and objectives are accomplished. And there are days when I return to the dream of a perfect lesson.

Today I have chosen 3 variations of footwear that perhaps define my days. When reflecting on the nature of being a cyborg and  a multicultural learner/participant, one also needs to add the digital dimension to multicultural learning. On the one hand, there is the culture of digital identity as an integral  part of the notion of identity, while on the other hand, there is also a cultural  field on online learning/distance education. Both of these, in my eyes, have different features; features which overlap at times, and which add another dimension to multicultural learning. In other words, it is not just the analogue world which has multicultural learning – there is a digital world as well.

When technologies and identities blend, “simple” issues of identity become more complex. In my mind, often richer as well.

Do you ever consider your cyborg self?

How do you perceive yourself as a cyborg?

References:

Leppisaari, I. and Lee, O., 2010, Modelling Digital Natives’ International Collaboration: Finnish-Korean Experiences of Environmental Education

Turkle, S., 2012, Alone Together

The Book that Spoke to Me

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Summer days are still upon my part of the world, but thoughts and resolutions are turning towards a new academic year with its challenges and wealth of learnings. With a de-cluttered mind, I set about preparing for what may lie ahead. Not only will be there be months of teaching, (as yet unknown courses), but also my own personal studies and professional development for which I necessarily need to slot in time for.

With an end-of-summer-break-resolution, I begin reading educational articles and commentaries, mostly finding myself asking when will they speak to me. When will all these academic writings actually speak to me; “me” who is an educator with years of classroom experience, with years of learning experience and as such, with some points of reference in the world of education?

 That is when I picked up a book lying on my coffee table, having kept it to read with a calm, quieter mind, hoping that new discoveries and perspectives would engage and stimulate my own personal thoughts. What I had not expected was how the book would speak to me.

As someone who has been in education for over 20 years and has studied formally and informally, academic articles are not a novel form of text. Yes, there may be another slant on a topic, but mostly, there will be strings and strings of other references, backing up every second statement. Despite my respect for this academic endeavour, despite understanding the “whys” of this style of writing, I have still wanted to read a non-fiction book, a book on education, that spoke to me. A narrative that started from the perspective that I understood current affairs in education, was aware of educational changes, of the role of digital literacies,  and wished to be inspired to take further action for constructive, positive, educational change. A book that would express its’ authors own ideas, without that endless string of quotations and  references, backing up every new statement. I wanted a book where the writers’ voices were present, were heard and not drowning in an academic display of references.  This book spoke to me.

Each chapter may be read on its own if one wishes. However, because the book is a dialogue with educators, inclusively including transcripts of conversations between the writers, I did not dip into chapters. Instead, as I read linearly, each chapter added to my own random thoughts, provoking me into further questionings of my own teaching experience, forming cohesion between beliefs and questions to pursue. 1xcom44797macroPearlsThese provocations made me take notes on how to better introduce effective change in my daily practices and reflect further on how to best achieve change. It was equally refreshing to come across references to educational technologists whose work I am familiar with and deeply admire, as well as including intelligent nuggets of information from social networks such as blogs. Not all references were entirely new to me, thus giving me a sense of a shared community, both as a reader and a participant, as well as teaching me about new connections and thinkers. This book spoke to me as a contemporary educator who is interested in professional development, interested in learning and yes, aware of the profound changes occurring at the many levels of education around the world.

 As someone who partakes in academia, this book also satisfied my own need for solid and further academic references. The richness of scope was another feature that left me reading slowly, not wishing to end the pleasure of the text. Having a background in the Humanities, I relished the weavings of film and theatre, for instance, as much as the academic writers and knowledge banks referred to. However, it is not a book solely for those with a background in the humanities – rather, a book every educator who is interested in transformational education should read.

 Why? Because it is written as a dialogue with the reader, providing case studies from others as well as the writers’ own experiences.  Throughout the chapters, there are also dialogues between the two writers, adding to that refreshing feature of speaking with rather down to the reader.  The reader becomes part of the dialogue, a participant in the transformation of learning. The reader becomes a member of that “learning gymnasium” which is explicitly described and referred to through the book.

adaptation studies “Adaptation Studies and Learning” is written by practitioners and for practitioners. There is a strong sense of knowing the world of classrooms, knowing daily challenges and restrictions, yet overcoming these by implementing effective changes in attitude and approach. Touching on film history, theories in education and literary criticism, “Adaptation Studies and Learning”, is in my view, about adapting to todays’ needs in education, how to overcome the culture of instant technological gratification, how to implement change and focus on learning instead.

Learning – that elusive, messy, chaotic process in which education is (supposedly) set up for.  Learning how to adapt to an increasingly fast-paced changing world, a world with uncertain professions, a world where openness, resilience and transdisciplinarity reign unfettered. Learning how to live with these features, learning how to guide students through these characteristics of today’s learning experience is what “Adaptation Studies and Learning” focuses on closely. Drawing in the reader as a participant in the narrative, provoking the reader to reflect on his/her own educational narratives, this book certainly did speak to me.

1xcom29429alluser8926TimeForFairyTalesWhat summer readings have spoken to you?

Reference:

Adaptation Studies and Learning 2013, Raw, L. and Gurr, T.