About Ana Cristina Pratas

Educator, blogger, curator; interested in educational technology, educational innovation, online education; love photography, music, seas and open skies

Over the Rainbow and into Reality

Overlooking a city intoxicated with dirt, air pollution and prayers for tomorrow, I am already caught between worlds. I linger on Twitter, catching up on tid-bits of conferences and opinions which are to influence educational practices and positions, I sip my coffee while trying to out-wit the never ending swarms of flies. I am lucky to have a connection to view the web world, to interact, to be myself.

And I wonder – how much does the developed world actually include the have-nots?

In an attempt to bridge the increasing digital divide, I came as a personal volunteer to train EdTech.ON MY WAY

(To those who do not know me, yes, I live over the rainbow, I live with hope, I live with belief).

Nonetheless, it takes much more than good will and possibly monetary donations, for change to happen. Change, as many know, takes time.

When it comes to EdTech, there is undoubtedly an awareness of what is happening in the rest of the developed world. There is an acknowledgement that digital learning skills are necessary for development and educational prestige. However, for EdTech to be effective, – or any professional training for that matter – it takes a profound shift of attitudes.

By no means am I an favour of imposing change from other models and countries; I believe that each environment, whether classroom or society, needs to implement the changes that are best suited to its needs and participants. However, there is a need of bridges. No one can progress, no one can introduce change without the aid of bridges. When it comes to professional training in developing countries, those involved need to make the effort to create bridges of understanding and performance – both ways. It is not acceptable any longer that bridges are to be built only by one world. If there is to be success, then both parties, both sides of participants are required to make the effort to reach out and elliminate possible stumbling blocks and cross-cultural differences, in order that the training experience is as  successful as possible for all participants.

Rainbows and realities. Neither are meaningful without a tremendous effort to achieve success. It is not a question of lack of cutting-edge hardware, nor ill will,l nor lack of material resources which lead to risks of possible defeat.

It is the required shift in perceptions and learning attitudes. And these are the most challenging features to change – anywhere, at any time. In regard to EdTech, these are most urgent to deal with, the most urgent to reflect on, if there is ever to be effective educational change.

Rainbows and realities. An urgency for each to meet, interconnect and blend.

Resistance and the Re-Imagining of Knowledge

With distance I regard my educational expectations, hopes and whims. I look out the window of my regular comfort and into the lives of the disenfranchised, the disconnected, the illiterate and wonder what  knowledge is today, what would  knowledge be for these who dig up roads and what is knowledge for those in clean connected classroom.

There have always been gaps of knowledge between the haves and have-nots. Today is no different, despite the hope that is pinned on the Web of Open Access and Open Education.

I think of my own students and how their profiles have changed over the years. I tell myself to accept these changes in their attitudes towards educators, towards their studies. If, as an educator I have always encouraged change, if, as an educator I have always supported creative ways of learning, then why do I find it uncomfortable (at times) to accept that students’ profiles have changed? Society has changed. Social norms, social rythyms have been altered by digital technology. The world of education has opened its door to a broader background of students. Their diversity brings creativity but also frictions to classrooms.

Challenge: how does one  guide those frictions into constructive learning?

When considering knowledge today, it is necessary to bear in mind the changes brought about by Open Access. Increasingly there are more open journals, more academics who blog, sharing resources and reflective considerations on their teaching context. Knowledge production has changed, just as students and social environments.

Challenge: how does one make sense of all this open knowledge?

Again I think of my students, of the changes I impose on them in regard to learning with digital devices. As I scrutinize their faces, I am aware of their resistance to digital learning – at times. In this paradox of learning, where students are happy to bring an iPad to classes yet refuse to become autonomous learners, I ask questions and know that I am not the only educator to face this.

Pearce (2013) explains:

“Students are actually quite conservative in their use of open educational resources (OERs),” she said. “The students in our sample were clear that while many made use of them in their own learning, they were much more likely to do so when it was part of their course and it had been suggested to them by their lecturer.

“Where lecturers do not value OERs and do not signal that the use of OERs will help in their learning, and in particular where students are not offered technical support in their use of them, they absolutely won’t use them.”

She added: “I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”

If educators are to actually instigate, inspire and hopefully encourage learning, then one must take students’ approaches to learning more in account. Despite the benefits that educational technology may bring to learning, it is non-productive without students taking on board those same values.

What strikes me most in this excerpt above, is 53% of students who wished their teachers used more F2F interaction. This holds true in 1:1 classrooms – no matter how much creativity and autonomy iPadology may bring into lessons, students still expect educators to explain, to hold their attention at the front of the classroom.

Challenge : how does one make students understand that the requirements of jobs have changed today? How will demands of more collaboration, more creativity in job posts become relevant to the young, when they live the now, the moment and post-pone a future of accountability?

I look out towards the hazy sky filled with fumes, dust, incense. Distance from my regular social environment raises questions.

If , as an educator, I adapt to local circumstances, may I talk about adaptive learning?

An adaptive learning approach in classrooms which allows me to deal with student resistance, the re-imagining of knowledge and a more flexible path to educational change?

How do you deal with student resistance?

How do you make sense of the re-imagining of knowledge?

References:

Five Ways Students use Technology in the Classroom

Parr, C., 2013, Students Will Defend Need for Traditional Learning

The New Normal

So what is the new normal today?

What it always has been.

Change.

Paradigm shifts.

And as with most shifts, change begins with whispers which waver before becoming tsunamis.

MOOCs are an example. Initially MOOCs came into action without making daily headlines; today, rarely a day goes by without the media highlighting a new MOOC, advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs and all other opinions, fears, challenges and opportunities that MOOCs bring with them.

Contrary to many of those in the ivory towers of knowledge, I have always believed that education was all about change. Yes, there are the power factors too which reign in education thus maintaining the status quo of societies. Perhaps it was because of all my linguistic transitions; perhaps because of my personal narratives, I often have been on the edge of social circles, a resident, never quite an ingrained citizen. Perhaps these are purely irrelevant concoctions as there will always be individuals who provoke shifts, nodes of change who meet, who connect,  and in serendipity, add to the currents of change.

It is within these narratives, these desires, these perceptions of new possibilities and clearer objectives, that changes happen too in education. The new normal is not invisible. The new normal has been here for a while, being daily added to, re-mixed and re-used.

What still needs to happen is for the new normal to be widely acknowledged, accepted and, most importantly, practiced.

In the visual above, Heick (2013) stresses 7 main shifts in the educational world today. I hesitate to agree with point 5 – if there had been no interaction before, there would never have been changes. Obviously, today interactions are more immediate and far reaching; the effects of OERs, for example, are still to be seen. Additionally, I would argue with point 2 being “new”.  For all the negative rap that academia may sometimes receive, critical reflections are at the core of academia. In the new normal, it is expected, practically demanded, that the learner too takes the reigns of learning, of producing critical thought to a new level of production.

The new normal is sometimes unrealistic.

How many students actually want that power? How many young people actually demand that responsibility? And how many are really able to dare and take the responsibilities of freedom of thought?

The new normal is provocative.

Begin talking about the role of digital literacies in a staffroom, among a circle of business people, among learners. Notice the reactions – from blank to comprehending to puzzled. To denial as well.

Provocation is nevertheless maintained, and even publications such as Forbes, discuss the relevance  of digital literacies.

The new normal is.

Boyd (2013) refers to the Faustian bargain that has permeated education, explaining that initially,  the cost and difficulty of managing the insertion of computers, networks and smart boards into class rooms proves more costly than any benefits gained. This has been true of early adoption cycles for technology in every industry.” Today it is visible to all that the interface between technologies and classroom is a smoother reality, stretching out to developing countries as well.

No change comes without failure. The new normal accepts failure as part of the process. As an educator, I must necessarily accept a lesson which fails because my students did not achieve what I had planned with a specific tool. Perhaps they were not ready. Perhaps the failure was mine, not having selected a less demanding digital tool or task. However much I reflect and plan, I must accept failure too,  as part of the new normal – not as personal, ethical or moral defeat. Shifts challenge.

Unrealistic, provocative, challenging. The new normal may induce discomfort at times (failure is never pleasant, for example). But is precisely because of discomfort that the new normal has come into being. Hence, the discourse of “disruption” so often heard in thought circles today – not the disruption of misbehaviour, but the disruption of past perspectives and practices. Below is another example of how the new normal transcends borders.

The new normal is open.

How do you embrace the new normal?

References:

Boyd, R., 2013, SuperHuman Education

Hartley, S., 2013. Digital Literacy: New Literacy?

Heick, T., 2013, Shift_Learning: The 7 Most Powerful Idea Shifts In Learning Today

OER will need 20 to 30 years to reach its ultimate global realization” interview with Fred Mulder, chair of UNESCO OERs

Edu-Gadgetry

If communication does not happen in a vacuum, neither does magic. As many know, iPads have become one of the most recent panacea to the many woes in education. From primary education to higher education, iPads are being introduced in classrooms. What do they fulfill?

Undoubtedly, iPads are powerful – with that added appeal of sexy cutting-edge and user-friendliness.  However, will their implementation achieve the same high results at all stages of education? Having been teaching with iPads for the last months, there are questions which have not been completely answered – yet.

For instance:

How do students perceive learning with iPads? Can an iPad really take the place of a laptop, in particular at higher education where students must write longer essays and not only the 5-paragraph essay for an IELTS exam?

There is so much rich learning from iPads that to dismiss them entirely is neither constructive nor beneficial to anyone, especially learners. What needs to be understood is that they will not magically increase learner engagement if learners are not themselves motivated to learn, nor can they be used in the same way in all educational contexts.

Petocz & Manuguerra (2011) claim that iPads have been used to “as a means to engage, inspire and motivate students through high-level presentation and communication tools.” They also add how It has changed the pedagogical approach, making the learning experience simpler and yet deeper. Results show that students learn best when technologies are seamlessly integrated into the curriculum to enhance their learning experience.”

Yes, there are apps which do add that extra appeal and glitter, however they are not essential for a high-level presentation nor as a communication tool. There are plenty of those online – and free to users. Often what I see is merely a more attractive re-packaging of a presentation rather than deep learning. My other query is up to which point are digital technologies really being seamlessly integrated into the curriculum when assessment is still based on paper and pen exams? Where lies the enhancement? With all the discussions and claims to enhancing motivation and learning, dare I ask – where is this learning? And once again, is the focus of iPadology more on the tool or on what the tool can achieve in terms of learning? Is the increased engagement all about the tool and apps, or in fact about the quality of learning?

Personally I believe that learning today is more mobile than ever; mobility shapes us with the aid of digital technology. Mlearning  (which I use to define mobile learning for the sake of clarity) will hopefully bring educational benefits to the many who have not had access to education.  Mlearning is a benefit to myself as well. My iPad is always by my side, all I need is WiFi to reach out to the world and learn.

Nevertheless….

However…

Is the implementation of iPads (and a required iPadology) sufficient to improve learning in educational environments? And if, doesn’t there need to be a differentiation among the educational levels and environments in order that the use of the tool better fits the needs and demands of learners?

Momentarily I linger…

I question as each day unfurls further questions. Education has to be more than gadgetry – though those will not go away any day soon.

Between the shoreline of Web 1.0, Web 2.0, heading towards Web 3.0, is where you will find me.

References:

Heick, T., 2013, 8 Characteristics of Education 3.0

Petocz, P. & M.Manuguerra, 2011, Promoting Student Engagement by Integrating New Technology into Tertiary Education

Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Ed

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Were it so simple in the world of education. I often compare (naively?) the educational field with the field of medicine. In the medical world, the aim is to save the patient’s life or cure his/her disease. Cutting edge approaches are welcomed and doctors endeavour to practice these approaches as much as their working context allows them to.  Team work is no oddity, for it is not only nurses and doctors who provide health care, but a wider group of professionals, from lab researchers to anatomo-pathologists who work behind the scenes.

The educational world is changing rapidly and yet there are times when I feel as if left behind in time. What is holding education back?

Roscoria (2013) points out the following challenges in regard to adapting technology  in higher education, which were highlighted in an Educause  Learning Initiative in the 2013 Horizon Project report:

1. Faculty training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues to rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.

2. The emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching outpace sufficient and scalable modes of assessment.

3. Too often it is education’s own processes and practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

4. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

5. New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of higher education.

6. Most academics are not using new technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research.

Perhaps it is the first and fifth points that immediately jump out at me. I have yet to become familiar with a curriculum that openly acknowledges the role of digital literacies across the board; equally, despite MOOCs being a constant headliner in journals and newspapers, there are still many educators who are not familiar with MOOCs nor the concept of such open learning.

Another aspect that I wonder about, is why so many institutions do not offer more blended courses to better suit the population? Often institutions do have the hardware and the professionals who are able to offer such courses. I believe that these changes will occur – the challenges and barriers will fall on the way as increasingly a student population wishes to study online, or at least within a blended approach of F2F and online learning. There is no lack of platforms and the technical requirements for students at higher education may be simply met with training sessions on campus before the course begins (should this be necessary).

Then there are Open Educational Resources. These are not meant for only a developing world, but for all.

One needs to bear in mind that only a selected group in developing countries are privy to OER – not only are there  regular struggles with hardware, electricity maintenance and wifi, but often those who would most benefit don’t speak the language which OER are published in. Nevertheless, this too is changing as more universities around the world open up their libraries and resources.

Personally I find the sixth point difficult to understand – for many years now academics are able to access libraries online, for instance. What I do find curious is how in academia, skills that academics use, are not taught to students more systematically.  For instance, how best to use search engines and not merely Google. A simple example,  but one which I regularly encounter when speaking with under-graduates. By the same measure, academics who claim to support open learning will continue publishing in closed, paid for journals. Blogging? Definitely not part of academia. These are but some contradictions which I encounter and am perplexed by.

Michael Horn, co-director and co-founder of Innosight Institute, believes that many of the challenges and opportunities for higher education will eventually happen as major changes will occur at secondary level. Horn also points out how:

“University professors, while they’re really good at research, are not really good at teaching and learning,”

adding that

Different students have different learning needs at different times,” as well as pointing out   that that situation may provide big opportunities for disruptive models to step in and offer more efficient solutions to individualized instruction. Disruptive models, in this case, being online education which opens up opportunities for more members of society to study.

Online learning may be understood within different models as Hill (2012) describes:

The last challenge I’d like to point out for now, is how we are living on the edge of Web 3.0 yet so much of what happens in classrooms still belongs to a world of Web 1.0. In Gerstein’s  (2013) discussion on User Generated Education, she includes the following visual which clearly defines each stage of the Web and how it is being used in education:

At a time when so many changes are happening around us, when iPadalogy, whether for the better (or not) is rapidly spreading across countries, when MOOCs are raising their heads everyday to the point of even offering accreditation,  it is time to take these changes into more serious consideration through conversation and reflection. Each challenge will provide further opportunities for both students and educators, contributing to a more open world of knowledge.

References:

Gerstein, J., 2013, User Generated Education

Hill, P., 2012, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View

Horn, M., 2012 Disrupting College - Video of Horn’s talk

Roscoria, T. (2013) 6 Challenges to Higher Ed Technology Adoption

Wiley, D.

Warmoth, B., 2012 Educause 2012: 5 ways online learning is disrupting education

Note:

If you would like to read more on OERs and other Open Access for Education,  and Change in Education, please visit, re-visit,  use, re-use, re-mix, re-vise and re-distribute!

Have To, Want To, Need To – Recipe for Change?

If one is to accept that the song of life is accomplished on the strings of change, then my  life has been a tribute to change, ingrained in me, written on the body and practiced with sunrise.

From geographical changes, landscapes and seascapes, west to east, east to west, there are few spaces in between where change was not written in capital letters. As an educator, I have weathered both the lull before the storm of change as well as the satisfactions and frustrations that changes bring.

Change is a celebration, a gift of life.

Or Is it?

As I reflect on the changes sweeping across the USA in regard to the Common Core State Standards, I can’t help thinking that these objectives have always been part of the curricula that I have taught (in other contexts, other places). Nevertheless, the urgency that these same objectives are applied to all levels of education, have never been greater.

Two particular points are most relevant to higher education: the emphasis of life skills across the curriculum and accountability. It is not enough to claim that higher education is to prepare students for the workforce – very often it does not. Ivory towers still remain aloof, wrapped in delusions that technological advances are for others. Responsibility is much more than merely arriving to class on time and following a required syllabus.  Life does not happen in a vacuum, much less learning. Learning is inter-woven, regardless of subject or topic. Links are not merely hyper or digital, but factual and real. Ensuring that this transparency of inter-connectivity in learning, is in my view, necessary for every classroom, for in every context and age level, students need to make abstract and intellectual connections of knowledge.

Ignoring the connectivity that open learning brings us today, is ignoring the many changes taking place in the world of education today. Change does not occur in isolation nor do only academic articles published in journals, bring about change. Change is the practice, the implementation, the belief of change. And there are many who to reach out to.

Is there anyone who is possibly reading this now and can truthfully claim that they experience, they witness no change around them? More: can anyone truthfully say that there is no support available? As a curator I daily come across article after article, offering ideas and suggestions for implementing change, whether in companies, professional training or in education.  I think it is time to assert that only those who ignore change may state that there is no support; all it takes is will power and a click to open the windows of the many who share, reflect and practice change. They are no outsiders to their world of knowledge nor rebels without a cause. Practicing educators will often offer practical advice.

Where does this leave me in regard to change in education?

In the space visualized above, (taken from Learning Attitudes to #eLearning), where needs merge and inter-twine. I have previously mentioned the role of learners’ motivation; the chart above is a reminder how change is not only for learners but for all, especially those in the field of education – teachers, leaders, administrators.

Godin, reminds readers that,

Before changing the signal and thus assuming that this will change the outlook, it probably makes sense to understand what will change the causes of someone’s perception and habits, and use the signal as a way of figuring out who needs to be taught.”

In other words, it is not enough though to introduce change without all participants and stake-holders understanding the reason for change – major stake-holders such as learners need to be aware of the role of change, why and how it will affect them. Initiatives such as the introduction of iPadology will not become effective without learners understanding why such shifts are being practiced in their classrooms.

Change

and

connections

are written on the body.

Of all.

References:

D’Antoni, S. 2013, A World Map of Open Education Resources Initiatives

Godin, S., 2013, Signal and Causes

Hopkins, D., 2012, Learning Attitudes to #eLearning

Mak, J., 2013, Who are Changing the World of Education and Learning?

Murray, J., 7 Ways Common Core Will Change Your Classroom

Stacey, P. 2013, Open Access

Parallels of Online Learning and Higher Education

Increasingly my mind returns to the parallels of online education and transitions to higher education. Challenges of both blend into similarities and hurdles which students need to overcome. A broad generalisation – that I am aware of. Nevertheless, let’s consider some of the parallels:

1 – For those who initiate online learning, particularly in the case of distance education, more than learning about the subject matter, they need to learn how to learn online. This means being an autonomous learner, taking responsibility for time-management, being able to read instructions and follow them. (any echo here of higher education expectations?)

Students who have grown up more accustomed to using digital platforms for learning may perhaps be accustomed to the features I mention, but for students who are commencing an online course, this is not so obvious. For instance, often,  participants will post replies where ever they want to, either not following instructions or not being used to reading carefully and understanding instructions. This is certainly not because instructions were obtuse or complex – merely because the learner has not had sufficient online learning experience, as well as studying within an paradigm of educational expectations/demands. Asking the teacher to repeat instructions is common; in online education, the learner has to re-read him/herself. In other words,  the learner must be independent.

It is within this shift of behaviour  that I clearly observe parallels.

2 – The time spent at higher education often represents the best years of youth; expanding minds, new encounters, a bliss of options and parties. Discipline does not come easily. Managing one’s time to focus and to enjoy all the frills of higher education (e.g. extra curriculum activities, free conferences, foreign visitors/speakers and so forth) is not a skill which one is born with. It is a learning process. Both as an online student and online teacher, I have experienced the urgency to refine one’s time management in order to meet deadlines and be a full participant of the course.

Time however, is relative. Concepts of time, concepts of deadlines vary from culture to culture. The emphasis of meeting a deadline seems to be closely entwined with personal and social accountability. If a particular social environment does not place responsibility on citizens nor expects responsibility from its citizens, how will learners from this setting perform online according to other cultural expectations?

As an educator who works in foreign settings, these are challenges I have observed in different countries; I am an outsider, imposing foreign norms and educational expectations on my students. Most norms are international – for example, being on time for class – yet time is not fixed and tomorrow’s deadline may be perceived as next week’s assignment.

Discipline with time management is closely woven with cultural perceptions of time.

3 – Despite the many years we now live with digital technology, not all students have been taught digital literacies. Yes, they may have their mobiles and use Facebook as an extension of their physical body, but digital literacies are much more than mobile texting, playing games on an iPad and spending time in coffee-shop talk on Facebook. Digital literacies, the ability to present and understand information in the multitude of digital forms, is no appendix to learning. Digital literacies are as essential as the skill to read and do basic mathematics.

For both students entering higher education and online learners, these skills are a challenge to master. From uploading an image to embedding, to using a digital tool to present information (e.g. a popplet, using SlideShare and so on),  there is a wealth of key language to understand and then skills to accomplish. Lack of knowledge may be de-motivating for many. If motivation is to be taken as a personal driving force, not all learners are equipped with this engine to successfully study at higher education nor on online courses. Nevertheless, few options exist today as so many colleges and alternative institutions have decided to become universities. A university may hold more prestige, may receive more financial support from ministeries of education, yet does not do justice to every single student – many who would perform much better in a higher education college where their real skills and interests could be developed, equipping students to become more productive in their societies.

Results in both cases are again similar. Drop-out rates in online education and incomplete or poorly achieved degrees.

From features of

distance learning,

online learning,

blended learning,

classroom learning,

characteristics of learning are present. It is not the label which defines; learning processes share similarities. In the quest to promote knowledge, to exchange and create knowledge, the digital tools we have today are one’s compass to achievement. Whether one follows the advice for learning on a MOOC or in a classroom, it is not a question of labels, but rather, mapping one’s learning process.

Further reference:

Amy’s MOOCs – Professional Digi-velopment

No Red Pill No Blue Pill

Spring.

I am cold within. Frost bitten.  A racing mind, seeking answers, bridges which I may tread upon. To no avail. The ones I put my foot on are  too shaky and stilted for my liking. My desire insists on stronger, more permanent bridges. Passages of learning need to be safe, silent, secure.

My inheritance this semester are students who have little or no digital skills. Nor do they wish to acquire them. Hence this inner bare landscape, withering away in a fractual of questions I seek light and possible solutions.

How?

Where?

it

I wish I could say that learning is a delightful, warm, easy, fuzzy experience. Soft as the finest of wools, simple to weave meaning, silky and smooth when putting into practice.

Reality, however, is different.

Learning is hard work. There are no red pills. There are no blue pills. (“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” The Matrix)

Learning may be social, but in the end it is individual.

The learning process is social – one learns with and from others, whether from the past or present. When social learning is discussed, the focus is on the “how” one learns. Learning, assimilating skills and information is left to the individual.

And this requires a total shift in values and perceptions which is equally challenging.

Learning involves the 8 points highlighted in the above poster. One may substitute passion for motivation – yet motivation too is individual. No matter how a teacher tries, if a learner is not motivated to learn, there will be little progress. There are rivers of ink on motivation. I too commit the fallacy of believing that there are right tools and approaches to inspire motivation. However, it is the inspiration and not the motivation that an educator may trigger among learners. Besides, as many educators understand, it is more comfortable and easier to blame a teacher for lack of motivation rather than take responsibility for one’s learning process.

Accountability is a strong word. Shareski (webinar on 23.January.2013) discussed the differences between being accountable and responsible in regard to educators sharing work online. This discussion is equally relevant when it comes to learning – are students to be accountable? Should they be responsible?

Despite my belief in learning how to become an autonomous learner, these are no simple questions in many societies where group values are embedded in learners’ behaviour. Once students enter higher education, they are expected (and demanded) to be autonomous learners and be responsible for the first time in their lives.

Learning hurts.

Knowing how to participate, knowing how to be and what the expectations are in a certain context (e.g. higher education), is like learning about a place, a different landscape, a different culture. For students, this transition from analogue, rote learning to a landscape where digital learning is required, is painful. Resistance to change is easier than change itself.

Immersion into digital learning and acquiring digital literacy skills takes time – and a degree of willingness.

I would also dare add the lack of fear, for change is scary. Unknown landscapes are bewildering, at times, on the border of threatening.

Understanding these factors does not actually help me with bridges. Not immediately.

What can an educator do?

Explore, engage, explain.

Connections do happen.

My recipe? Stories. Learners elaborate on their own framework of knowledge and as a teacher, I have data to evaluate, to contribute to students’ assessment.

More than routine assessment (something teachers and students cannot ignore), learners gain confidence – in themselves, in their own world knowledge, in learning how to use digital spaces for learning.

Red pills. Blue pills.

Only the self can walk through the door of learning.

Until then, I linger in frost, waiting for the blooms of Spring.

Connections do happen.

References:

Best Digital Story – Examples and Resources

Shareski, D., 2013, Social Media and Open Education, a webinar on 23 January, 2013

What Is College Readiness? – An Infographic

Dear Colleague – An Open Letter to A Teacher Trainee

Dear Colleague,

When I see you from the back of the classroom, time takes me to the classrooms where I first began my journey in teaching. Journey may be a well over-worn cliche, however, that is exactly what teaching is – a learning journey which spirals into fractuals, kaleidoscopes,   never ending. No matter how well you do on your training projects, no matter how well you have read pedagogical theories and approaches, let me share with you: the best teaching has little to do with trends and bandwagons of variable truths. Your best lessons will come from your heart and soul as you connect with students, as you stumble across the minefields of classroom management, as you walk in a haze through corridors wondering how to plot the next best lesson.

I delight with the sparkle in your eyes, I recognise the despair of being unsure what to next when students do not keep quiet, I smile softly as I see you lost in a maze of options.  Yes, those moments will be your daily bread from now onwards. Be prepared to deal with them calmly.

Be equally prepared to witness power struggles around you; politics which rarely have much to do with education. Inhale and focus.

Focus on why you are an educator. That is your policy. That is what comes first and foremost – fine tuning your skills as an educator, sharing with students and colleagues alike. Yes. I know. You tell me I am a dreamer and this does not make sense. Dear Colleague, education is a process of joy; each educator is responsible for his/her choices and accountable to their educational community. Strive to be a positive educator, one who solves problems instead of creating stumbling blocks which lead nowhere.

 

Be fearless and tread those classroom gardens with joy. Yes, there will be days in the shape of monsters.  Just as there will be moments which will remain with you all your life – a thank you, the look of achievement, the moment of finally putting pieces together and understanding. There is no financial gain for those moments. And they are yours to cherish and share.

Dear Colleague, throw out fear. Don’t isolate yourself, your worries and concerns; your classroom may have walls and doors, but the world is open. Your students live wall-less. Education is no longer to be kept locked – open all the locks for your students and keep yourself up-to-date by connecting with others.

If millions connect for social purposes today, (below is a mere example), you too can find others to connect with. As you participate in those networks and exchange ideas, thoughts and form your new ones, encourage  students to become responsible digital citizens as well. Show them how they too can make the internet a learning ecology.

Dear Colleague, I ramble on, trying to pick on my own chaotic learning. Welcome to the world of teaching! Messy, chaotic challenging,   interconnected and in flowing change! Let go of the past images of teachers; be prepared for power shifts in classrooms; never forget those in front of you need a place of joy, safety, intellectual stimulus. Often it is the only place where they can feel safe.

And let go. Let go of perfectionist ideals in and of classrooms. They do not exist. Each classroom will  host a unique culture. Finding a balance between reality and educational  dreams will become your daily routine.

Dear Colleague, I must surely have bored you by now. Do not look so alarmed.

Smile -  the world of education is a joy; despite all its trials and tribulations, there are few professions which touch the heart of humans as the intricate, ever-changing, ever-challenging world of learning. Connecting, smiling, letting learners know you are there for them; simplicity has its place in education as well.

Dear Colleague, heed the wise words of others, of those who challenge you to inquire, to seek answers to questions not yet asked. For it is you who will then bring these seeds of inquiring and learning to others.

Dear Colleague, the world of education is a world of disruptions and interruptions;  rise to the wonderous occasion of it all with joy!

Yours Learning as Always,

AC

PS!

And in the process of it all, do have fun everyday!

References:

Christensen, C., 2013, Why Online Education is Ready for Disruption Now

Shareski, D.,  2013, It Takes All Kinds : Teachers

Dreams and Quality in Higher Ed

Everyday I read different articles, opinions, and claims on how to improve education. Ideas  expose dreams for pre-primary to post-graduate levels and yet solutions remain ellusive. Dreams? Surely there needs to be more than intangible dreaming for education. From MOOCs  to iPedagogies , all cry out for one’s attention, proclaiming  the salvation of learning.

Let me proceed with caution then, for in the midst of paradigm upheavals, of technological changes and most importantly, financial crises which affect education, one needs to inhale calmly and focus on the immediate environment.

To begin reflecting on quality in higher education, one needs first to focus on a specific context. There are higher education institutions where there are barely any facilities, computer labs with old desktops are locked up, classrooms lack what many other places would expect as the bare essentials for teaching – a white board, a projector and wifi, among other expectations.  Political entities have the power to decide whether an institution will be open to students or not; educators heed these random orders for it is safer to keep the peace and obey. Yet students, though they dream of better conditions, are content and grateful for the existence of threadbare institutions. Not only are students content, they actually accomplish their goals and achieve academic success.

As in so many fields of life, quality is relative.

Dreams too. For though I am fortunate enough to have worked in institutions where there are sufficient desks and chairs for learners, where there are libraries and digital support, I have also worked in the UK, where at one university there was no desktop for the teacher, no projector and no wifi. The immediate solution was to practice a flipped classroom approach, keeping class time for open discussions and feedback. Once, I was even assigned another classroom which turned out to be a broom cupboard. While I considered on the practicalities of the situation, my post-graduation students immediately refused to even peek inside.

It is not, therefore, only in the “developing world” that there is lack of quality in the studying conditions at higher education.

Quality and dreams will have to include the physical aspects of an institution, for they are the first contact learners and educators have with an educational organisation. The facilities will obviously depend on the location’s economic power and political desires of education. Dreams of the location will include spaces for students to work together, spaces where both educators and students can display and share their outside activities such as painting and photography. Spaces of collaboration and spaces for creativity and sharing. Dreams will include a cafeteria and food outlets which serve more than popular junk food and at prices which students can afford.

Mak (2013) highlights how higher ed institutions are places where learners are to be well informed, where they can think critically, analyse social problems and hopefully propose solutions. These elements are part of another set of dreams – those intangible aims which institutions advertise, yet only the most self-motivated learners can aspire to.

If quality at higher ed institutions is going to be taken to heart, then one also needs to bear in mind current trends which lie outside the ivory towers of power:

“Openness — concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information — is becoming a value.

Massively open online courses are being widely explored as alternatives and supplements to traditional university courses.

The workforce demands skills from college graduates that are more often acquired from informal learning experiences than in universities.

There is an increasing interest in using new sources of data for personalizing the learning experience and for performance measurement.

The role of educators continues to change due to the vast resources that are accessible to students via the Internet.” (Lepi, 2013)

These and other elements are decisive in today’s institutions. Acknowledging that educators are able to be leaders in their field without necessarily possessing traditional  academic qualifications, but experience and know-how, accepting that online course add value to an institution and do not take away its value, supporting and investing in new technologies for educators, researchers and students – all these are qualities which are necessary for an institution to practice quality management.

Is there really a will?

Or do those dreams lie in the will of those who believe?

References:

Lepi, K.,  2013, 6 Technologies that Will Change Higher Education

Mak, J., 2013, Reflection of competency-based education, training and Total Quality Management in Education