Beyond the School Walls

There was a time when learning was simple, safe, almost sound-proof. Giggles and blunders, dreams and childhood disobedience were snuggly tucked behind school walls. Playgrounds were for running and crying out aloud “Tag! You’re it now!” followed by peals of laughter and often, scraped knees.

Learning settings have changed. Today I face a blank sheet where I am to account  my learning bytes. My initial task was to write about my expectations and possible concerns regarding this online learning experience. However, learning, like communication, does not occur in a vacuum. As the days accumulate, so too do my reflections of learning and what it means to be a participant on this course. It is within the cracks of time and reflections that I now try to make partial sense of what it means to be an open, online participant on a post-graudate course.

But first, a glimpse behind a wall.

I began a blog (CristinaSkyBox) which, among other purposes, was an example for my students,  because I believe that as an educator, I needed to set an example for them. This was not the first time I have participated online, and it is a blog I still keep and develop. More recently I have begun Mind Mirrors, a blog about reflections of change and voices from different parts of the world. Just like I have always perceived feminine writing as being not written on the body, but rather, written through the body, Mind Mirrors too has taken me beyond my regular comfort zone.

In Mind Mirrors my body, my self is transposed electronically, in pixels and bytes; my body and voice are  trapped in electronic media, public, open to criticism or positive acceptance. It is one thing to participate in video conferencing for private or professional reasons; another to expose one’s human fragilities as a matter of fact. This is what I do and what I ask participants to do on their side of the screen.  Our electronic selves melt away from self-consciouness, for our focus is change and whatever matters arise from the particular context we are discussing.

Which brings me back to here and now. My open learning space. A public, open space where I dare raise my voice as a learner, as an educator and a participant of a community.

This is definitely not as simple as I initially had thought it could be. One needs to balance restraints, silences and hesitations,  as well as the need to clearly state what one believes in and thinks as an individual. I wonder too about my role in keeping this public learning process and what  possible value it may ever have for others, other than to assess me, to stick a grade or number to my name. I think about learning pyramids and how teaching can be either passive or participatory. So too, is learning: with a time for passive learning, and a time for participatory learning.

As someone who strongly believes in free learning, in open access and open sources, how is it that I now question my very beliefs when I am moving beyond the school walls?

In other words, I have become publicly vulnerable as a learner. Leaving the comfort and safety of classrooms, staffrooms and playgrounds,  I step forward humble as a learner, eager to grasp a sense of knowing and perhaps indulge my understandings of knowledge.

Today I have re-learnt how as an educator I need to bear more often in mind my students’ vulnerabilities too.

What lessons in open learning have you experienced?


8 thoughts on “Beyond the School Walls

  1. Hello! An interesting perspective on moving outside of the safety of a controlled school environment. I have to say that I don’t think that learning was ever simpler or safer. I think that what we mean by ‘learning’ changes as we live our lives. Our learning needs shift and the demands of the stakeholders change.
    Enjoyed reading your blog and looking forward to more!

  2. Hi Dean,

    Yes, I do see your point regarding learning. However, I think that learning changes according to context rather than the process of learning; for example, when one is learning a new skill as a hobby, for instance, the stakes are different than when doing a post-graudate academic course. For me there are similarities in the learning process, however, what one has at stake (in terms of outcome) is different.

    My main issue in my post however, is about the transition of being a learner in a less public environment compared to being a learner in the open eye – as I am (and others are) when narrating a learning experience and attempting to make sense of learning openly through social media such as this blog.

    Although being a participant of social media is (for me) an on-going learning experience (for a number of reasons), transforming my learning into an object so publicly (as opposed to a safe and closed environment of say a Moodle or VLE), is a new, at times intimidating and exhilarating, experience.

    Would be quite interested in knowing how others deal with this process too 🙂

  3. This is interesting and I take your point about the openness of being so public. I am not sure of your settings on this blog, so I do not know if it is open to the whole world or just our PGCTHE community.

    The way that some have dealt with this issue is to limit who can read their posts and find their blog and that is their prerogative. I guess in a way that reestablishes the electronic equivalence of the classroom walls around their learning. The rest of the class can see but not the whole world. However it does of course go deeper as the blog becomes increasing reflective and so not only our public behaviour but also our inner thoughts and ideas get revealed, or do they? In the end I guess we still modify what we post as a public projection – suitable for the audience we know will be reading and we perhaps censor, for all kinds of reasons, the true dialog and thought process in our heads.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for taking time to read and reply to my postings. You raise an interesting point when you mention the revelation of inner thoughts and ideas and whether they are truly revealed.

      This brings me to 2 other issues: firstly, the one of the writer. Both T.S.Elliot and Fernando Pessoa (among other poets) played around with this issue of voice – who’s voice is one reading? The poet’s or the individual’s? Which brings one then to another point – what is fact, what is fiction?

      In this case, because I have made my learning and participation on this course a public object, my question is: is this public record indeed an accumulation of facts which demonstrate that I have “learnt” a “lesson” or because I am writing, because I choose what to disclose as part of a learning process, will it be considered fiction? These are important when one reflects on the nature of open learning environments and roles participants play out.

      However, I also think that there are other issues which are more interesting to address (and quite likely throughout this course). In her recent presentation on Connected Knowledge, Collective Learning, Allison Littlejohn, highlights the need to learn how to think differently in order to solve problems. In regard to objectifying my learning process so publicly as I am now, I suppose that I am trying to overcome intellectual barriers and perhaps change my thinking mold. Time will tell 🙂

  4. Great post Ana, my own secondary school experience was effectively social crowd control in rather run down town of Billingham Cleveland so I can identify strongly with elements of your picture which are relevant today :). I appreciate your concern about your learning experience moving from a private space to a public and shared experience and identify with your views about modifying our persona. However, I think this is entirely human to not only empathize but adapt socially for an audience. I am looking forward to learning much from you 🙂

  5. Hi Tony,
    Thank you for your time and feedback. Because I grew up in different parts of the world (by the time I was 18, I spoke 6 languages), my school years were all significantly different. One thing that links them though, was the playfulness and pleasure of questioning.

    A habit I still carry around with me 🙂

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