The Book that Spoke to Me

1xcom20300DialogueToday

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. 

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

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!

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

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 3

I sought bridges and found none.

I sought coherence and was left with chaos. At times, there is no choice but to embrace chaos, to accept the dynamics and life within a sphere of chaotic movement. I regarded fractuals and their apparent order, quietly acknowledging how fractual my  practices in the classroom had become. Is this where teaching practices were heading towards? A fractual of lessons  where chaos reigned?

Murphy (2011) refers to Katherine Hayles, when reflecting on elements of chaos in an instructional designer‘s practices:

Chaos theory . . . can be generally understood as the study of complex systems, in which nonlinear problems . . . are considered in their own right, rather than as inconvenient deviations from linearity. Within chaos theory, two general emphases exist. In the first, chaos is seen as order’s precursor and partner, rather than as its opposite. The focus here is on the spontaneous emergence of self-organization from chaos. . . .

The second branch emphasizes the hidden order that exists within chaotic systems. Chaos in this usage is distinct from true randomness, because it can be shown to contain deeply encoded structures called “strange attractors.” Whereas truly random systems show no discernible pattern when they are mapped into phase space, chaotic systems contract to a confined region and trace complex patterns within it. The discovery that chaos possesses deep structures of order is all the more remarkable because of the wide range of systems that demonstrate this behavior. . . . The strange-attractor branch differs from the order-out-of-chaos paradigm in its attention to systems that remain chaotic. For them the focus is on the orderly descent into chaos rather than on the organized structures that emerge from chaos.” (Hayles, 1990, pp. 9–10)

While I was quite comfortable with the varying rhythms of students working on their laptops, the introduction of iPads in my practices forced me to look into chaos and the organised structures which may emerge. I began by considering what could be done with an iPad:

The iPad is much more than a mere toy which gave access to digital games; it is also much more than only a device to create engaging presentations; it gives learners practice and develops skills which they will need in their lives beyond the school’s gate. The argument against this is,  whether adopting iPads is really necessary as there already is a wealth of digital tools online which provide free practice for the above skills. However, that was a thought, a reflection; the refute, being how data access has become mobile and that this has affected education as well. Nevertheless,  my main concern was how to find a balance between my teaching beliefs and practices and iPads in the classroom.

The moment came when I tried a different approach.

As usual, I wrote up the date and day of week on the upper hand corner of the whiteboard. As students came into the classroom, there was the regular  pre-lesson interaction, greetings and questions. Then, instead of having the whole class focus on the same task at the same time, I explained that they were to complete the tasks on the board within the time of their lesson. I quickly wrote up the tasks which needed to be done, from tasks in their course iBook to the use of apps to complete project work.

Silence. Stares. Silence.

 Then a wave of energy ensued. And chaos reigned.

If I was reluctant to have students enclosed in their individual bubble, working quietly, individually with their iPad, I was wrong.

As I went around the classroom, observing them, students were working together, solving exercises, collaborating with each other. Some worked alone then checked with a partner. Others decided to go straight for their project work and compared their work with those students who were also focusing on that task, comparing what they had achieved with their choice of Apps. (I had given a range of Apps for them to choose from).

The energy was catchy and my teacher trainee was equally surprised at how autonomous they had become. Yes, there was a certain degree of noise as students called out for each other. Yes, I was kept busy as individual students had different questions. The 2 hour lesson went by in a flash; all tasks had been accomplished. At the end of the lesson, I exchanged views with my trainee; after all, her opinions as an observer and a speaker of L1, were relevant. What I found out surprised me – students had been focused on their tasks throughout the entire lesson. What appeared to me as chaos, was in fact students talking about task problems and how best to solve them. Instead of being distracted with  games and private texting, they spent the whole lesson focused and being productive.

There had been no isolation. Collaboration ruled within the apparent chaos.

From apparent fractuals and chaos, I had found the bridge I so needed. Perhaps this lesson had been characteristic of a certain group of learners, at a certain point in time. They certainly had had experience with using their interactive iBook; they already had had experience using a range of Apps for carrying out assignments. What I had not expected was their autonomy in achieving all tasks. I, in turn, was able to assist more individually, giving specific support and clarification to each individual. The iPad, with its ease of mobility in the classroom, allowed everyone to work at their own pace and easily collaborate with whom they wanted to – not only with the person sitting next to them.

Ideally, I wish that all my lessons had the flow and energy that this particular one had. But that would be like wishing for a perfect world, not taking into account students’ moods, concerns, and other features which influence a lesson. My quest remains: at every step I wish to use the iPad as a 1:1 teaching device, I want my students to collaborate, solve problems, create, and above all, learn.

iPads still frustrate me with their lack of Flash and Java; iPads are certainly not for word-processing but offer users the possibility to blog and write and even print from them.

iPadology? A welcoming world of streamlined fractuals and chaos, from where new practices of learning arise.

References:

Bloom’s Taxonomy Re-imagine & Digital Blooms: different ways to approach learning

Gleeson, M., 2012, The iPad, What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

Holland, B., 2012, What Students Can Actually DO with an iPad (Edudemic)

Kulowiec, G., 2012, iPads are like Hammers (Edudemic)

Murphy, D., 2011, Chaos Rules, Revisited in IRRODL, Vol 12, No 7 (2011)

The Discontent of our Connectivity

1x.photo33064There is no doubt that connectivity has opened up learning possibilities and approaches which were not viable before. Skills such as collaboration and networking online have become more urgent and unquestioning relevant for both institutions and individuals. I often disagree with notions that creativity and critical thinking are essential ingredients of today’s education, for they have always been necessary. Nevertheless, with the role of digital literacies firmly in place, shifts of classroom practice and assessment are required.

Digital literacies is an umbrella term which includes different kinds of literacy, ranging from digital citizenship to digital media fluency. Some may even include  lCT literacy, while others claim that learners today also need to have improved computer knowledge and not only know how to use them.

At times I sense that there is a certain degree of unease when discussing digital literacies in education: Where are they visible in the curriculum? Aren’t teachers supposed to teach their subject matter and not dabble in visual representations, games, social media and other digital tools which are free online? And if teachers are wasting time with these activities, will there be sufficient focus  on the official syllabus for students to achieve in their  assessments?

55476-time-travelAssessment.

Evaluation.

Tests.

Exams.

Measuring days behind the desk in tea spoons.

Popping bubbles in charts to please the statistics of a nation.

Within the analogue classroom, my approach would easily be labelled as blended. However, what of my assessment approach? As an individual working within an institution, I have no right to disrupt what my department lays down as the framework for assessment. As an individual, I may reflect and consider what best may be done for my learners and how they are practicing learning in my classrooms. As an individual I have the right to think and express myself, but not necessarily go against the directives of my workplace. Nonetheless, educators often have leeway in terms of assessment – for as long as I can remember, I have always had the space and numbers to award learners a mark which was based on qualitative features, rather than measured “rights” and “wrongs”.

So, where is the discontent?

In the classroom. 1x.comphotos52084-21735

In the halls of educational institutions.

On the playground.

At home, where learners plug into their connected world and plug out of their learning environment.

This raises several questions:

1 – Learning Environment

Today the learning environment is not self-contained in one particular space. Students can log into their LMS to be updated, check emails, join chats  in synchronous time. Learning is neither solitary nor confined to space and time.

2 – Classroom Practice Versus Assessment

In classrooms where the focus is on learner autonomy, individualization and digital practices, how can assessment continue be practiced in its traditional format of multiple choice boxes and bubble sheets? Where is the connection between the work done on creating a Popplet, a glog or a blog post and then labelling a learner with a quantitative evaluation approach? Is there any link between the emphasis on type of activities carried out in the classroom and the tests that students then must take?

3 – Assessment,  Learning Culture and Discomfort

Self-evaluation, as described by Rolheiser and Ross (Student Self-Evaluation) plays an important role in education, however, in my view, educators need to first take the learning culture into consideration, namely the issue of responsibility and learner autonomy. These features need to be in place before institutions move ahead to a more open and transparent form of assessment. A case in point is my current teaching context.

My students arrive at tertiary education from a primarily rote-education background. They are accustomed to a strong group mentality and culture; for instance, if a student has a complaint, that student will not complain alone but with the whole group together. In the classroom, as in many places around the world, students are more comfortable working in small groups rather than on their own. Although there is place for both pair and group work, there are times when work needs to be done individually. This is a learning bridge to be crossed.

Additionally, this current academic year my students are using iPads as their main learning tools. They have books (which they do not bring to class); they also have an iBook to follow. Their iBook is quite interactive, with activities that do demand a range of digital literacies – from being able to use a range of apps to different individual tasks. It is ignoring the fact that students are now in possession of a tool which transforms their autonomy, which becomes a discontent in connectivity. The learner has both the content and means to create further content. The focus is highly individualized, with each learner moving from the different tasks at their convenience and pace.

I have noticed how the most successful lessons are those where chaos reigns. There are set tasks for students to accomplish; they do them in their own pace. With this apparent chaos, as I am called by X or Y , while looking over the shoulder of Z, I confirm that each of them are in fact carrying out their tasks. Individually, they will use tools which they prefer for a presentation or digital story. They will collaborate with one another, helping a peer to use an app or adjust an image.

Day by day their learning culture changes. Chaos will rule and within the apparent chaos on the surface, learning is happening underneath – learning how to be autonomous, learning how to create digitally, learning how to become more effective digital learners and citizens.

It is only when these practices have been ingrained and learned, that self-evaluation will actually take on a more meaningful role. Not that these learners are unable to evaluate themselves; yet one needs to respect how they are already juggling some steps of autonomy and the teacher’s different role in their classroom. Should the teacher’s assessment fade away completely, learners would feel cheated and uncomfortable with such a consequence. As with all learning, it needs to be practiced and implemented in achievable steps so that all parties involved perceive it’s utility.

self_eval1Despite giving learners guidance and the chart on the left is an example,  one needs to remember that not all  cultures regard responsibility and autonomy in the same light. There are critical differences, linked to the broader cultural environment. Self-evaluation may become part of my students’ assessment today, but only up to a point.

Connectivity. Discontent. Realities which go hand in hand with today’s digitalized classrooms.

Assessment is part of education.

However, passivity in the face of change will not silence the discontent.

References

Rolheiser, C and J.A.Ross – Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows

Silva, E. – Measuring Skills for 21st Century Learning

Action, Beliefs and Inquiries

Knowledge is knowledge of order, the order created by the individual when he imposes the organization of his cognitive categories on the chaos which surrounds him.

(Riley 1985)

In moments of dramatic changes, I feel the need to re-visit maps, to reflect on knowing and knowledge, to open  boundaries which may lead my inquiries and learning further beyond. Knowledge becomes what one knows after having imposed cognitive categories in an organized fashion.

And, according to Riley (1985)

Since each individual has his own cognitive map and will add to it indiosyncratically, the most powerful aids to learning will be those which reveal to him (the learner) the nature of his map, which provides him with a model of his world. (Riley 1985:160

My maps are entwined with different knowings. Between the analogue world and the digital dimension, I seek possibly clues for answers.

In his discussion on the content of education, Stenhouse (1991) raises the following issue:

Prophets may teach private wisdom: teachers must deal in public knowledge.

(Stenhouse 1991:6)

So, when transmitting knowledge, what roles do teachers perform? How do they become apparent (Widdowson 1987:84)?

Let me thread my beliefs together:

  1. Firstly, reality is socially constructed. Its features of knowledge are shared by all members of a specific community or cultural group.
  2. Educational institutions and their classrooms from such specific cultures.
  3. Culture is fluid and this notion of fluidity, with its tensions between internal and social worlds, will be present in the classroom.
  4. Culture may be perceived through the enactment of roles. Within the classroom culture, there exist three determining role of the teacher, the learner and the curriculum. Each will sustain and be sustained by the status recognized by and recognizable of the group.
  5. These roles and statuses will determine and shape the expectations and demands of each of the participating members.
  6. Despite the “opportunistic process” (Jackson 1968:166) of teaching there exist norms and procedures. Owing to these, the classroom culture may be seen as a chess game, where power struggles are perceived through the social interactional setting.
  7. Hence, the art of teaching is confronted with the unnerving critical question: is the classroom space intended for teaching – i.e. the handing down of knowledge- or good social management? And does good social management provide fruitful learning conditions?
  8. Power is sited in discourse:   What are the implications for the classroom teacher who is often caught between theory and reality? What possible bridges exist And how are they crossed?

Educational group such as schools and classrooms are specific cultures into which their members are initiated. We may understand the educational process as formulated by Stenhouse (1967)

Education is essentially a group process depending upon communication. And the communication is not merely from the teacher to the class. If the class is to make the culture its own, it must come to found its own social life on it.”

With metaphors or without, classrooms may be perceived as dynamic social communities, with their own cultural behaviour and knowledge. In relation to knowing,  knowledge is always gained through action and for action (MacMurry, 1957, Polauyi,1958).

Hence my belief that it is of no practical use to only claim to support digital tech in education. One needs to practice one’s belief and understanding; to foster knowledge and knowing, there needs to be action. This action is not merely initiated and maintained by the teacher, but by all participants of the classroom. This action too can not be limited to the Powerpoint displays by the teacher nor only participation of learners in a LMS.

At a time when the needs of digital literacies are constantly discussed, it is impertinent that learners themselves create and become involved in their process of digital literacies. It isn’t a question of learners being “involved in their learning process” – that has been a requirement of all times. What indeed is urgent is that learners are able to understand that even using simple digital tools to create dialogues or comic strips for their blogs, are relevant skills for their future.

How? Learners need to read the screen. Locate information, and not just cry out for the teacher’s assistance. This is a skill which is learnt through practice/action. It is through active participation in digital networks and communities that learners become more aware of their role as digital citizens and their digital footprint. It is by blogging  and using class wikis that students gain experience to take beyond the classroom walls. It is by experimenting with search engines other than Google that learners may become aware of how better to locate information.

These are merely some examples which I practice in my classrooms; practices which cross the bridge of class management and the tensions between educational theory and practice.

I began this post with retracing beliefs.

I end this post by planting a garden of (adapted) questions raised by Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007).

Journeys of inquiry do not end quickly.

Referenecs:

Cummins, J., Brown, K, Sayers, D. – 2007 – Literacy, Technology, and Diversity, Pearson

Jackson, P.W.– 1968, Life in classrooms, Holt, Rinehart &Winston

Riley, P. – 1985, Mud and Stars: Personal Constructs, Sensitization and Learning”, in Discourse and Learning, ed. Riley, P., Longman

Stenhouse, L.       – 1967, Culture and Education, Thomas Nelson & Sons

Stenhouse, L.       – 1991, An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, Heineman

Widdowson, H. G. – 1987,  “The Roles of Teacher and Learner”, in ELT  Journal, vol1 41/2,

La Sonata

“At one time, people used to paint things that could be seen on Earth, things they liked looking at and would have liked to see. Now we make the reality of visible things apparent and in doing so express the belief that, in relation to the world as a whole, the visible is only an isolated example and that other truths are latently in the majority. Things appear in their extended and manifold sense, often seemingly contradicting yesterday’s experience. The aim is to reveal the fundamental idea behind the coincidental.”

                                      Paul Klee

Having my students develop a digital story has proceeded with caution, clear instructions and an achievable pace for them. For if a task is not achievable, then what is the point of having learners do it?

Stories come from a womb of words; syllables mixed with desires, longings, memories.

There are shades of meaning, mists of cultural references, dreams of simplicity.

Developing digital stories is an awakening of the senses.

In the third phase of this digital storytelling lesson, (A Journey of Stories and RolesWomb of Words ) students had to print their collaborative  fragments from Edmodo and edit their writing. Once again, I reminded students how I was there if they needed any help or had any question. They glanced up but I had become invisible and irrelevant. Only their story existed. Each group had 2 tasks to complete:

Task 1 – Edit and proofread (especially verb tenses, singular/plurals, spelling and connecting words as well as other linguistic features; specific points to pay attention to were written up on board as a framework for students)

Task 2 – While some members of the group focused on the writing, others searched for images to collated into a visual story. I left the choice open should they want to include video and music as well.

The final task which was left for homework, was to create a movie with their visual data and written work. I had wanted students to use Vuvox – it would be an opportunity for them to become familiar with a tool which is useful for presentations, is easy to use and simple to embed in their blogs. However, there was an unexpected glitch: none of the students could sign up to Vuvox. I hadn’t used Vovox myself lately so that is certainly a recommendation I leave to teachers – always find time to check if there has been any change in a tool, whether when signing up or if it continues to be freely available.

However, students themselves proposed an alternative, rejecting any other tool I would have wanted them to learn. They knew how to create movies with iMovie and didn’t particularly want to learn a new way of making movies. I agreed to their suggestion, surprised and frankly pleased to see them take an initiative. But, did I as a teacher really give up my power by giving in to students?

Hall (1976:16) states that culture:

(i)              is not innate, but learned,

(ii)           the various facets of culture are interrelated,

(iii)           is shared and in effect defines the foundries of different groups.

(based on Hall 1976:16)

A teacher’s movement in the classroom may be perceived as a game of chess: in the game of chess, it is the Queen who holds the most powerful role of movement in the game. In the classroom, it the teacher who, while not necessarily acting in an authoritarian manner (Widdowson 1987:86), holds ultimate power. This unequal share of power is inherent to classrooms, and as Jackson (1968) points out, is always present (Jackson 1968:32). Any change in the power structure is one of degree – for just as in game of chess, once a teacher has given up complete power (i.e. when the queen is taken), the classroom culture ceases to be what is conceived as an established classroom cultures. And the sensitive question remains: would learners really desire the total collapse of a cultural system in which each member knows his / her role and the security (i.e. known expectations and demand) that security brings with it?

I dare say that in my conservative context, (or in many other teaching contexts) this would not be likely. Leadership in classrooms is important to learners. Learners expect the established classroom culture to be maintained, despite the momentarily abdication of power and rule setting.

And so my digital storytelling lesson draws to a close. As in many stories of change, an epilogue shall follow.

(Image: Still Life)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Questioning …

One counter argument I have often heard is what is the point of digital storytelling? How can it assessed? How does creating digital storytelling prepare learners for exams?

My question is, why must teaching/learning only be geared towards examination performance?

In my view, the ability of performing well on examination is the ability to do examinations. If learning is stimulated by inquiry and reflection, then the value of preparing students essentially for examination performance is stifling – more in line behaviourial theories than with cognitive development. The need to evaluate learners and grade them (though with its own merits – cf Hughes 1990, Davies 1988) seems to become at times more important than giving learners space to learn and to inquire into the learning process – i.e. their own individual learning process and the collective learning experience of the classroom. It is this area of conflict – or point of tension – (see figure below) that I refer to, but do not assume to supply ready answers, for that would demand a detailed inquiry.

Despite its tone of slight extremism, the question needs to be put forward: is education to remain as the legitimate process of restraining cognitive abilities and ensuring that behavioural responses – which are so much easier to control – are well activated? Notwithstanding, it is my firm contention that education may – and in many cases, is – more than legitimate cloning. It is with this last observation in mind, that I would wish to

suggest a sense of balance in education – for although I do not suggest that forms of evaluation be abolished, the data seems to indicate that a balance between the demands of teachers, learners and their educational institutions would more fully satisfy the members involved.

References

Davies, A . – 1988, “Communicative language Testing”, in ELT Documents 127, OUP

Hall, E.T. – 1976, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, Double-day

Hughes, A.  – 1990, Testing for Language Teachers, Cambrige University press

Jackson, P.W.  – 1968, Life in classrooms, Holt, Rinehart &Winston

Widdowson, H. G. – 1987,  “The Roles of Teacher and Learner”, in ELT  Journal, vo1.

41/2,

Digital Stories are Part of Today’s Educational Ecosytem

Education has different purposes depending on the point in time. One may regard education as civil training for individuals to fit in well in their social environment, as a process to perform the necessary tasks for a society to keep on producing and sustaining itself, or, as process for individuals to find their true potential while giving them the building blocks of knowledge of their cultural heritage.

Creativity and innovation are essential for any society to progress. Despite the rows and rows of bookshelves claiming the secrets to achieving creativity and innovation, they are often illusive in the learning process. What constitutes creativity? What constitutes innovation? Broad questions which one can only attempt to answer in regard to a specific context.

My current context is language teaching. Having taught writing skills for many years within the fields of business studies, medical ethics, EAP and ELT, it is no surprise that digital storytelling is a special field of interest to me.

Sharda (2010) explains how “Stories have been used as educational medium since prehistoric times as they encapsulate four crucial aspects of human communication: information, knowledge, context, and emotions (Norman, 1993). Embedding stories as digital media, i.e., digital storytelling, is therefore not only desirable, but almost essential for producing engaging e-learning content.”

Storytelling has often had the purpose of sharing values and beliefs to others. There are emotions in stories and with digital media, these can be creatively articulated. In addition to  individualisation, there is ownership – truly motivating for learners.  Furthermore, “digital stories give students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation—telling a story that highlights specific characteristics or events—a key part of establishing their identity, a process that for many is an important aspect of the college years.” (Digital Storytelling)

 Storytelling as a tool for learning is not restricted to language learners either. Tendero (2006) has researched storytelling in teacher training programmes, “Digital storytelling efficiently facilitates efforts to capture classroom moments for preservice teachers to reflect upon and revise practice, as well as to develop a teaching consciousness. What I have experienced is not just videotaping and critiquing one’s attempts at teaching. What I have experienced is a chance for preservice teachers to view, reflect, compose, and imagine versions of the teaching “self.” These discoveries are focused on some new possibilities for creating narratives about one’s own practice.”

There is wonder and learning in stories. And there are different purposes as well. Robin summarizes 3 main purposes:

There are many different types of digital stories, but it is possible to categorize the major types into the following three major groups: 1) personal narratives – stories that contain accounts of significant incidents in one’s life; 2) historical documentaries – stories that examine dramatic events that help us understand the past, and 3) stories designed to inform or instruct the viewer on a particular concept or practice.” 

Robin goes further to explain how digital storytelling meets the different demands of todays’ learning ecosystem:

Digital Storytelling by students provides a strong foundation in many different types of literacy, such as information literacy, visual literacy, technology literacy, and media literacy. Summarizing the work of several researchers in this field, Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) have labeled these multiple skills that are aligned with technology as “Twenty-first Century Literacy,” which they describe as the combination of:

Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help;

Global Literacy - the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective

Technology Literacy - the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance;

Visual Literacy - the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images;

Information Literacy - the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.”

All these characteristics are embedded in digital storytelling. On the one hand, introducing digital storytelling may make new demands on educators; on the other hand, it is necessary that the curriculum is flexible and allows space for educators and students to engage in digital storytelling.

How do you engage in digital storytelling?

References:

Digital Storytelling – published by Educause

Robin, B.R. – The Educational uses of Digital Storytelling

Sharda, N. (2010) Using Digital Storytelling for Creative and Innovative e-Learning

Tendero, A. (2006). Facing versions of the self: The effects of digital storytelling on English education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 6(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol6/iss2/languagearts/article2.cfm

Further suggestions:

Storytelling – It’s News!

Corridors of Stories

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. 

C.S.Lewis

There are whispers in corridors. Wanderings and wonderings. There are twists and bends. The unexpected, the predicted, the wonderous.

So too in learning. Yet knowledge is not something transferrable; it is not a commodity which can be absorbed. Knowledge as a commodity can only be exchanged – and this process  does not include learning. Learning is a solitary process, it is up to the individual to learn or not.

When it comes to digital literacies and engaging students in their learning process, I am a strong believer and practioner of digital story telling. Each student has the space to focus on his/her story, on what is valid, on what is valuable  to him/herself and transferable to others, thus starting a conversation which may lead to further corridors of discovery and reflection.

Stories do not happen in a vacumm. There are contexts, hidden meanings, weavings of significance and questionings.

Traditional school literacies have relied on printed text to transfer concepts. However, by blending multi-digital literacies (e.g. images, animation, music etc) and popular culture which engages learners (e.g. cartoons/comics), the learning process is centred on the learner. It is their creation, their process, their product.

A photostory, for example,  can demonstrate the

transformative power of reflecting on one’s own autobiography, the compilation of a person’s stories, in both words and images, to make sense of the often blurred mirror that simultaneously absorbs language learning and reflects identity construction.” (Skinner & Hagood 2008

When Law and Kickmeier discuss Digital Educational Games, they touch upon a feature which is equally ingrained in storytelling:

In a DEG, adaptive and interactive digital storytelling serves two essential purposes: First, it strongly supports a personalized learning experience by adapting the game’s story to individual preferences and by providing the possibility of explorative learning processes.”

and:

The major strengths of DEGs include [12] a high level of intrinsic motivation to play and to proceed in the game; clear goals and rules; a meaningful yet rich and appealing learning context; an engaging storyline with random elements of surprise; immediate feedback; a high level of interactivity, challenge and competition.”

In every class, there are elements of competition among the peers and though one may not necessarily immediately  perceive the competitive element in storytelling, it is there when learners share and read each others stories; there will be whispers, smiles and giggles; there will nodding in confirmation with the shared points of references and there will be that cutting edge to see who produced the best digital product with the least linguistic mistakes as well. Additionally, storytelling expresses the Individualization of learning experiences, adaptation to personal aims, needs, abilities thus giving learners a more enhanced sense of achievement.

In the field of education, there has been a strong emphasis on individualization and differentiation regarding students’ learning process. There has also been the positive

influence of Adrian Holliday’s work and the voiced concern of linguistic imperialism in the field of English Language Teaching. Canagarajah (1999) defends that it is necessary to “develop a grounded theory, in other words, a thinking on language, culture, and pedagogy that is motivated by the lived reality and everyday experience of periphery subjects.”

Echoing Canagarajah, Phillipson (1992) is clear when he explains that:

“The belief that ELT is non-political serves to disconnect culture from structure.  It assumes that educational concerns can be divorced from social, political, and economic realities.  It exonerates the experts who hold the belief from concerning themselves with these dimensions.  It encourages a technical approach to ELT, divorced even from wider educational issues. “

One last feature I would like to point out is the relationship between oral, written, photographic and digital media. For many students who come from less privileged backgrounds, it is through the focus on their interests, their stories that their voices are shared. Digital storytelling is an inclusive approach when introduced in the classroom.

Voice. The power of having a voice, the power of sharing one’s voice.

We are living in times beyond preparing students to perform diligently in an industrial age.

Education is no longer a process to shackle youth to their social condition.

Storytelling is empowering.

What whispers do you heed in digital storytelling?


References:

Canagarajah, A.S. 1999 , Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, OUP

Holliday, A.  1994, Appropriate Methodology and Social Context, CUP

Law, E.L-C & M.Rust-Kickmeier, 80 Days: Immersive Digital Educational games with Adaptive Storytelling, 

Skinner, E.N. & M.C.Hagood, 2008, Developing Literate Identities with English Language Learners Through Digital Storytelling

Phillipson, R. 1992, Linguistic Imperialism, OUP