When Walls Talk

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

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.

(Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash)

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.

(Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash)

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!

 

 

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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

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

Blurred Boundaries

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With a tool here, and a tool there,

And pretty  iPads all in a row”

If I were to change again the well known nursery rhyme, I would surely ask  how do  my learners learn?  Yet, when thinking of learning, what exactly is one referring to? What is considered knowledge?

Up to recently, knowledge was controlled and shaped by those in power – mostly by  university professors, journal editors, publishers and book reviewers. I say ” up to recently” because in postmodernism, knowledge is characterized

culturally and intellectually by a revolt against this control and by an assertion of different modes of cultural expression” (Pring, 2000).

Pring (2000) goes on to explain how this shift was caused by communications technology and how it frees one from restrictive practices. Additionally,  “Communications technology opens up other avenues for engaging with others in pursuit of knowledge” (Pring, 2000) thus providing alternative venues for learning.

This is relevant to bear in mind when reflecting on learning and learning processes today. Our postmodern world is characteristically eclectic, a constant flow of negotiation and re-negotiation of meaning, of understanding, of interpretation. It is through this process of of interaction that knowledge grows, and once again turning to Pring (2000), “Knowledge grows through the encouragement of of criticism, not through suppression” (123:2000).

As an educator I experience the blurred boundaries of learning and teaching; I am expected to provide knowledge of a particular subject, while at the same time, teach my students how to engage  and use specific digital technology. And this is the crux of the matter – whatever digital tools I may introduce in lessons are vehicles of learning, not only the tool itself. The digital tools I select serve both learning the subject matter as well as life-long skills. My boundaries blur as I daily consider appropriate pedagogy, content and digital technology.

I sometimes hear that students don’t need to blog, for instance, don’t need to use digital technology, that students will learn without tech, that learning how to use digital tech in the classroom is unimportant –  despite their lives being surrounded by digital technology. I often hear how students learnt in the past without the digital tools available today. And I question, for today is not the past. Education holds the  strands of the past with the stands of today,  providing knowledge and skills  for the future. If one is to engage students, then it should be with pedagogy which is appropriate for today and not only for the past.

In previous posts I mentioned iPads and elements of chaos. Change will often bring about elements of chaos and complexity. These changes affect all in education, especially when engaging with digital tech, as more than the 3 elements I mentioned above (pedagogy, content and technology), are involved. Precisely because of what tech enables us today, to be connected to others,  to openly exchange and pursue knowledge, this “Connectedness requires a distributed knowledge system; knowledge is not centrally located in a command and control centre; ” (Morrison, 2006). Possibly, it is this deep change of paradigm that provokes the concept of “disruption” in education. Personally, it is this element of connectedness which I feel lacking in my teaching practices.

On the one hand, I am in tune with a postmodern pedagogy; I am fully able in the field of content and a keen learner of digital tech (see CristinaSkyBox and Digital Delights for Learners as examples). I believe that literacy is not static and therefore teaching and engaging in digital literacies is fundamental today for the workforce of tomorrow. However, owing to my educational and cultural context (furthermore, cultural contexts should never be taken lightly nor underestimated), elements of connectedness are missing.

Yes, my learners engage by learning and creating with digital tools – both online tools and iPad apps. (Digital tools may not mandatory for learning but denying learners to access and use them is a breach in the purpose of education.)  There are many which may be adapted according to students’ needs, contexts, and content while  there is a wide choice to meet teachers’ teaching style.

Connecting. Connectedness. Connectivism. If literacy should not be regarded as static, then how can knowledge be accepted as static? It is precisely through connections that new ideas evolve, that creativity is fostered and new knowledge develops into something more tangible.

Perhaps it is time to stop focusing on lists of tools and apps. Perhaps it is time to focus instead on the transferable skills that these digital technologies enable and what is necessary to learn in order to use them.

Perhaps, it is time to live more comfortably, more at ease with the messy chaos of learning, accepting that knowledge has no centre, that knowledge is alive and constantly changing. And perhaps, that is what educators need to enable today in classrooms – a connection between content and skills (e.g. how to do research online, how to collaborate on projects online), bringing  more connectedness to classrooms, opening up windows of thought and collaboration to a generation living in a digitally connected world.

References and further reading:

Hall, I., 2012, Tools Are Just That

Mishra, P. & M.J. Koelher, 2006, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge

Morrison, K., 2006, Complex Theory and Education

Pring, R. 2000, Philosophy of Educational Research, Continuum, London-New York

Siemens, G., 2005, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 2

In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.

Jeanette Winterson

What is it about that chaos that attracts me?

The underlying order it establishes, the order that waits patiently to be deciphered. Perhaps. Nevertheless, if I am to pin point a “strategy”, a new approach in my classroom, then it is with wonder and respect that I say it is the perfection of apparent chaos flowing as students engage and produce at their own rhythm.

But first let me admit – as each day I watched my students sit with their iPads in front of me, I wondered: are we (educators, administrators, politicians) confusing content and learning with a device? Is this device actually delivering quality learning or quality technology? I struggled to understand. For this was a mobile device, not one where students sat in classroom rows. This was a device to consume and create content but …. where was the learning if it was the teacher who was obliged to create? Hungry for answers, all I came across was the cliche mantra: challenge-based lessons!

My lessons have always been a challenge. Not only do I teach a 2nd/3rd language to many of my students, I come from a different educational paradigm which challenges most of their educational experience. So how exactly was the iPad to add to the challenge – other than the challenge of finding activities which would actually work on it (i.e. the lack of flash which does not enable learners to engage in the many online activities available). Above all, how, as an educator, was I to ensure good teaching practices with the iPad? Furthermore, most of what I came across regarding iPadology, was in the context of K12. I teach at higher education. Where were the bridges I needed for my students?

This brings me to Mishra and Koelher (2006) who  explain how,

“Quality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate context-specific strategies and representations.”

If one considers the three components mentioned above (technology, content and pedagogy), there is bound to be points of tension between them at different moments in time. Today, and for example, in my case of using iPads as a learning device, I often feel that “it is the technology that drives the kinds of decisions that we make about content and pedagogy” (Mishra & Koelher 2006). Couros (2012), in an article referring to the use of social media, highlights how educators need to use the web with its 2.0 technology and not the more passive 1.0 approach. With the use of iPads in the classroom, educators have little choice but to follow this sound advice.

So where were the bridges I had to create? How was the implementation of iPadology to be effective? Far from attempting to create a new pedagogical theory, I sought a framework of practice. For “having a framework goes beyond merely identifying problems with current approaches; it offers new ways of looking at and perceiving phenomena and offers information on which to base sound, pragmatic decision making.” (Mishar & Koelher, 2006)

In order to begin establishing some kind of road map, some possible framework of practice, I considered the different contributions on App evaluations for the classroom. Below is Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s considerations on content and components logistics based on the SAMR model of learning.

All nicely put and visually pleasing, yet it is the framework of my daily practice that I inquire into. Could there be a road map in the apparent chaos and pedagogical tensions I perceived? Would I be capable of carrying out my pedagogical beliefs (so well summarised by Couros, 2013) with a mobile device and a set syllabus to cover?

In between the chaos and the space. Chances of learning practices loom.

References

Couros, G., 2012, Don’t use 2.0 Technology in a 1.0 Way

Couros, G., 2013, 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom

Mishra, P., Koelher, M.J., 2006 – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge

Ruben R. Puentedura’s Weblog – Ongoing Thoughts on Education and Technology

Schrock, K. , 2011, Evaluation Rubric for iPod/iPad Apps

Visions and Values

Visions of green, visions of greetings, visions of home.

Yet it is not home where I find myself nor greeted by.

Values of learning, values of progress. Thirst for knowledge and thirst of knowing.

Like my beautiful deserts which have adopted me, I am surrounded by drought, lack of lush green, lack of development. Instead I face lack of basic amenities, lack of connecting. I face lack. Not of visions, nor values.

I am currently teaching an online course which I designed for a developing country. The contrast of my participants’ enthusiasm, curiosity, thirst for knowledge, is striking when one thinks of all the digital technology and facilities one takes for granted in other parts of the world. Not only do I have 24 hours of electricity, but for over 20 years have been connected and participated on the grid. My current students too are connected, but their online time is determined by the hours of electricity they are given in their regions; Wikipedia is a novelty for some, while Google is only search engine they are aware of.  Their learning curve is sharp and steep. Their learning curve is a leap into the present and future.

I sit quietly, thoughts of learning, of online learning and distance education revolving in a dance. The changes I have seen and experienced in education have been constant, but never as urgent and on a global scale, as today. Information technology has brought about changes in all spheres of life, and indications predict even more to come with the advent of Web 3.0. As Oblinger (2012) well notes,

“Information technology has brought about much of the economic growth of the past century, accelerating globalization and fostering democracy. Such broad impacts would be impossible if “information technology” were only a set of technologies. As our use of mobile devices, games, and social networks illustrates, information technology can create new experiences. But more important, information technology enables new models. It can disaggregate and decouple products and processes, allowing the creation of new value propositions, value chains, and enterprises. These new models can help higher education serve new groups of students, in greater numbers, and with better learning outcomes.

As important as information technology might be, technology does not have impact in isolation—it operates as one element in a complex adaptive system. For example, in order for information technology to be a game changer, it requires that we consider learners as well as the experience that the student, faculty, institution, and technology co-create. The system is defined, in part, by faculty workload, courses, credentialing, financial models, and more. To realize changes through information technology, higher education must focus on more than technology.”

Digital technology would not be as powerful if not shared, if connections did not happen, if learning corridors were not open.

What strikes me most in my current online course, is the urgency to learn, the urgency to connect, the flexibility and learning capacity individuals have, when given the opportunity. Yes, my course was designed with a degree of difficulty for I had no idea who students would be. Designing a course in the dark is a challenge. Yes, I gave and re-check instructions, clearly and with examples. Yes, I am present to guide and provide feedback. Yet, what would any course be if participants themselves did not collaborate, did not investigate together?

Kang (2007) also explains how

“We learn from out interaction with other people, events and occurrences around us. Knowledge and meaning are always produced with a context. (…)

Learning is an ideological and cultural practice under the influence of socioculturally established norms. Therefore, the context is not a simple backdrop against which the learner is stituated. Rather, it is something shaping the learner and shaped by the learner simultaneously.”

Within this perspective, the credit of any course, and this one in particular, is not mine. It belongs to the participants, who with their thirst to become 21st century citizens, they are aware of the role of being netizens as well.

For all those who are digitally literate, for those who blog, who design online courses, and so much more, this leap into a present future may not appear significant. Deja vu almost.

However, from what I have experienced and seen in countries such as the UK, where at one university where I taught, for example, there was no wifi, my classroom had no projector nor desktop for the teacher, one needs to bear in mind the many changes and challenges that are occurring in economically developing countries. The argument of deja vu falls through for digital lack  (whether that be in hardware or teacher interest, for instance) is found both east and west, north and south. Digital progress, digital learning is happening right now in far flung places of the globe, where learners struggle with lack of electricity and even possessing their own digital hardware (e.g. desktop, laptop, iPad). They depend on desktops at institutions, they look forward to courses which they can access on their mobiles.

This is today. This is the present. Tomorrow?

Consider:

If educators don’t prepare learners for today, what hope will there be for our tomorrows?

References:

Kang, D.J., 2007, Rhizoactivity: Toward a Postmodern Theory of Lifelong Learning

Oblinger, D.G,  2012, IT as a Game Changer