Over the last summer I had the opportunity to take part as a trainer on a new professional development programme for Saudi Arabian educators in Finland. This transnational educational programme, “Building Leadership for Change” would last six months, with the first initial 3 months focused on brushing up participants’ English language skills. The different groups of educators, (teachers, school inspectors and supervisors), were spread out across several different university campuses. My group was based in Tampere and had an overall good level of English. The programme, though language focused, was also based on pedagogical themes which were given to the language teachers to develop. From reviewing issues related to the roles of learners and teachers, to different approaches of assessment and teacher observation, the 3 months were an intense journey and discussion through topics which make up the day-to-day life of educational practitioners.
As in any other transnational educational project, there was content and context. In this particular case, I would bring the content and participants would bring the context – their educational context. Though this may apply in many other educational situations, significant learning can only happen if course participants consider the content (whether it is a new digital tool or a novel approach to doing teacher observations) as relevant to their context. As a trainer, my role was mostly to model (as so often Downes refers to) while giving time and space for participants to debate, discuss and reflect on what could be integrated into their own daily practices as educators. Their teaching/educational context was always at the forefront, making content relevant to them.
Like on many courses, there was a moodle which served to share content and discussion boards. However, a LMS does not give learners ownership and so, each participant had their own digital portfolio as well. While F2F classes were filled with discussions and debates, poster design and training games (among other activities), these narratives of learning were also included in their ePortfolios. Unlike the LMS, their ePortfolios provided the much needed sense of ownership. Here was the space where they could keep articles which were of more interest to them, digital artifacts that they created throughout the course, (for example, their blogs and other digital creations), their weekly learning reflections and even traces of their participation in the LMS discussions. These discussions were significant for two main reasons: on the one hand, reflecting critically on one’s learning takes time and practice, and with time, the quality of reflections develops into something more tangible and significant for the learner to look back to and reflect further. On the other hand, it is through shared reflections and discussion that knowledge is constructed and given meaning, a shared meaning and not only an imposition of another educational system for PD purposes. The selected ePortfolio also included collaborative features, i.e. sharing and sending messages, by which participants could communicate and comment.
Day by day and with the passing of the weeks, a learning community was established, with male and female participants contributing towards their own course, fine tuning their own professional insights while working together and balancing new and different approaches in the field of education.
Novelties? Many, as was to be expected. However, it is in the creation rather than imitation of educational systems and thought that real change can be introduced. These need to be closely related to trainees’ teaching context.
It is when learners take ownership of their learning, whether through their presentations, mini research projects, their narratives of teaching and learning, all reflected and visible in their ePortfolios, that one can say, yes! walls do not whisper learning – they talk!