World Teacher Day

October finds me me in my well known routines – eyes on screens, eyes in books, eyes observing students. October also finds me juggling online seminars and the desire to be outdoors. October finds me in transit – designing courses, learning on courses, switching from educator to learner, wearing different hats,  hoping that in the process I may become a better educator for those I work with.

October also finds me giving thanks to the many educators who inspire, guide and collaborate with me. On October 5th, my thoughts will go out to all in my connected web of networks and collaborations – with thanks and gratitude.

In a world where so much change impacts Education, individuals can no longer pretend to be islands of all knowledge. In a world where educators face all the realities of change in their students’ faces, where educators are handed outdated curricula to perform as teaching, in classrooms designed for the industrial age yet juggling digital devices for learning, there is an international day where teachers are recognised as an essential link for sustainable and improved living conditions across the globe.

The Global Learning Crisis
To all who enlighten me, to all who push boundaries, to all who make the world a more informed place – thank you.

Note:

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Samantha Tran

Over the Rainbow and into Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumping off the Digital Bandwagon

Knowledge – or what is accepted as useful knowledge by a certain community – is maintained in educational institutions. We may perceive by this that this maintenance of knowledge is a powerful form of social control, and in effect, a maintenance of reality.

On the other hand, there are different perceptions and understanding of what learning is and the purpose of education. Dewey, for instance, “worthwhile learning was that which was ‘fruitful’ in enabling people to adapt successfully to new situations and to identify (and deal with) problems as they arise.” (Pring:2000).  In other words, through education, people are not left as they were before being educated; they are transformed into becoming a different person.

However, one’s perception, understanding and practice of education is a transaction between one’s underlying values. These transactions are never static; they are fluid, mediated by one’s experience and deliberations between what one has learnt and the point in time where one finds him/herself.

Just like in the world of ELT, where there have been streams of bandwagons (e.g. dogme is a recent example of debate in the blogosphere – what is it? a theory? an approach? a re-invention and re-labelling of what educators have been doing for decades? a clique for others to follow an by doing so, feeling an exclusive right of belonging?), I have come to the point where I can no longer read another article speckled with bandwagon terminology in regard to today’s learning environment. Yes. Learning is changing. Yes. Education is changing and still needs to change more. Nevertheless, change does not occur in a vacuum nor overnight.

Disruption

To disrupt means to make it difficult for something to be done in the”normal” way. “Normal” is relative, for even at this point in time, what may be “normal” for me may not be for someone else. Relativity is part of life. However, I do not agree with how digital technology in education is “disruptive” – for digital tech in classrooms serves a multitude of purposes, namely to prepare learners for their world. Would teaching a foreign  language be considered “disruptive”? After all, when learning a foreign language, one learns a foreign culture as well. Nevertheless, I have never heard of learning a foreign language being considered a disruptive activity in the world of education. The more often the term is used, the less meaning it carries. Bandwagons come and go mindlessly.

Collaborative Learning

As an educator of over 20 years, my students have always worked in pairs and small groups. I have always collaborated with other departments for the benefit of learners, have participated and contributed to others’ research projects, and have always supported and encouraged the collaboration of different classes and levels on projects at the institutions where I have taught. When there was no internet, there were study visits and pen-pals; there were visitors to my classrooms to answer questions about the working world beyond the education institution’s walls.

Yes, with the web collaborative learning today has taken another dimension. A greater, wider dimension, but it is not particular only to today’s digital world.

Flipping Classrooms

As a child growing up in Montreal, I clearly remember lessons during which we were connected with classrooms in the Northern Territories. At that point in time, they were some of my favourite lessons – being able to communicate across such distances in realtime! There was one television screen and and at times, interference, but the class remained silent, enchanted, holding our breathes for the continuation of the transmission.

Over the years, I have taught both content and language subjects. In both situations I have set readings for homework and self-study. With the presence of the internet, I have often set videos for viewing as homework. Hence my question, what exactly is novel in flipping classrooms?

On the one hand I cannot argue with the possibility of providing education to those with no other option but to study online. Yet online studying does not equate to watching videos and then doing work in class the next day. E-learning is far richer and complex than that. On the other hand, I can understand how  the notion of “flipping classrooms” may be new to certain fields of learning but it is not in any way a major characteristic of digital learning.

Digital Native Divide

Although I have used this expression, I no longer think it means anything of much significance; nor do people who grew up without the internet need to justify how they are as native as any youngster with a desktop/laptop at home. The divide that concerns me most, is the population who have restricted or no access to digital technology; those who would wish to learn, to learn to have a voice for their own culture and not have foreign cultures of education imposed on them, throwing chaos and failure among learners. Divisions of knowledge and knowing come in many forms.

Drama of Change

The dramas of social change should never be underestimated. We are caught in a point in time when societies claim to be broken (e.g. broken Britain), where other societies are creating strong middle classes while in the countries known for being industrialized and “progressive” are facing economic decline. Power shifts, social unrest, educational changes.

As George Siemens points out, “The current generation of students will witness the remaking of our education system. Change is happening on many fronts: economic, technological, paradigmatic, social, and the natural cycles of change that occur in complex social/technical systems.”

In Siemens’ blog posting, he includes the following diagram on change:

Rather than focusing on bandwagon terminology, the issues highlighted about change are the ones educators should be inquiring and reflecting on: how to implement change, how to contribute to positive change and how best education can fulfill a meaningful role in our society today.

References:

N is for Nik – an interview with Nik Peachey on Flipped Classrooms and more

Pring, R. – 2000, Philosophy of Educational Research, Continuum

Siemens, G. – 2012, Remaking Education in the Image of our Desires

Wheeler, S. – 2012 What the Flip?

A Digital Journey’s Epilogue

Breen (1986) has called our attention, to the fact that in order to better understand the relationship between classroom input and learning outcomes,

“Or to explain possible relationships between strategic behaviour and language learning, then we need to locate these relationships socially.”

(Breen 1986:138)

Classrooms, which may be producers of scientific thought, do not proceed in vacuums. Above all, they represent atmospheres which are socially conditioned.

According to Thelen (1981) there exist three types of knowledge which are utilized in any classroom. They are used whether one knows it or not. They are:

“knowledge of self; knowledge of the society in which on participates (i.e. the classroom group); and artifacts.”

(Thelen 1981:113-114)

Parson (1964)  says culture is transmitted, learned and shared (1964: 15);  Hall (1976) also considers three characteristics which are fundamental in culture: “it is not innate, but learned: the various facets of culture are inter-related- you touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected it is shared and in effect defines the boundaries of different groups.” (Hall 1976:16)

Culture thus becomes the product of and a determinant of the systems of social interaction (Parsons 1964:15). Parsons also discusses how patterns emerge in one particular social system, which in turn become interdependent with others (1964:15). This concept of patterns is also exploited by Berger & Luckman (1984), in relation to the relation to the reality of everyday life. According to Berger & Luckmann (1984:35), the reality of everyday life appears already objects to the individual, i.e. the order of objects before the appearance of the individual.

In a sense, we come full circle if we now consider Gellner’s view of structures and cultures (1964:153-155). He holds that in modern societies “culture does not so much underline structure: rather it replaces it” (1964:155). This replacement of structure in relation to “small, simple, ‘primitive’ societies, everybody knows the identity and therefore the role of the other members. Bourdieu (1981) stresses this issue by saying;

“culture is not merely a common code or even a common catalogue of answers to recurring problems: it is a common set of previously assimilated master patterns (…).”

Bourdieu (1981:192)

Thus, culture becomes that which is fundamental to co-operation and communication among the members of a group – namely, as Stenhouse (1967) phrases it – “recognition and anticipation of the thoughts and action of others” (Stenhouse 1967:14)

If we perceive culture as something which is learnt, assimilated and inherited by the next generation, it forwards that learning is an individual process as one learns for him/herself. At the same time, culture is a shared phenomenon. Culture, therefore, is a phenomenon which is both individually learned and shared. Stenhouse points out that culture is both individual and social phenomenon.

Yet one must be wary – for although culture is intrinsically part of reality, Bourdieu (1981) points out, quoting Kurt Lewin that:

“Experiments dealing with memory and group pressure on the individual show that what exists as “reality” for the individual is, to a high degree, determined by what is socially accepted as reality … “Reality” therefore, is not an absolute. It differs with the group to which the individual belongs.”

(Bourdieu 1981:195)

Thelen (1981) notes:

All classrooms develop their own culture in the form of a set of expectations which become sufficiently well habituated that people can see how to relate to and communicate with each other. (Thelen 1981:134)

These expectations are perceived much in the same manner by Stenhouse (1967):

(…) the teacher generates in his class common understandings which link mind with mind. (…) the class has a culture (…) of its own. It has shared values, information, techniques, interpretations and meanings.

(Stenhouse 1967:67)

 Therefore, it is my contention that culture cannot be regarded as a fixed, immobile reality. It is dynamic in the sense that it is a phenomenon which is alive and changing. But although change occurs, that does not imply that a culture is altered: any culture will hold elements of changing factors which will in turn be perceived as recurring patterns to the members of the group, thus keeping the group together.

So how can digital storytelling alter a classroom culture – if there is any change indeed? And if there is a change in roles, won’t a specific culture be altered?

I have claimed before (in this blog) that it is not the tool itself that is relevant – it is how the use digital literacies alter learning processes, roles in classrooms and classroom cultures. With the final emphasis being empowering students in their learning process, learning autonomy and preparation for a future is digital.

Epilogue

The process took the form of a journey or exploration; from showing an image to students who then were given the power to form their own questions and answers, to setting up groups where they collaborated together through their LMS on a story, to then transferring their digital fragments to a coherent Word document in order to edit and proofread, to selecting images representing their story and creating a movie.

When discussing transmedia narratives, , Max Giovagnoli (2011) explains that:

“cross-media and transmedia, both used to identify narratives that simultaneously develop on multiple media. As always, the difference lies in the nature of stories and in the way we choose to tell them. In this sense, there are:

– narrative forms that don’t change when they are diffused on multiple platforms (for instance, a short film released in the same version at the cinema and, at the same time, on the web or during a TV show);

– narrative forms that share the same elements (plots, characters, atmospheres… ) but that change depending on the publishing platform through which they are released (for instance, the same short film might be developed as a series or as a movie for the theater; its protagonist for a comic book series, etc… ).”

and that

“This latter way of storytelling, which is much more powerful and effective, is often identified as cross-media in some countries (for instance in Europe) still today. In others, particularly after the term has been accred- ited in the Hollywood film industry, it is known as transmedia.”

I shall refer to the process as transmedia, for students worked collaboratively through their LMS, then thru images and sound and finally through their voices. For the last stage was in fact a group performance.

Each group presented the class their movie, a stream of images representing their written work, accompanied by music which reflected their story. The audience (i.e. the other students) watched and then told the whole group how they interpreted the images and music, thus creating another story. At times there were overlaps of stories, desires, cultural references mixing and shared by the students own personal and generational culture. Afterwards, the group who had showed the movie, read their story to all.

The ritual of taking control of the teacher’s desktop to standing together in front of the class, each member of the group reading their part of the story, took the form of a flowing performance, where each member had a role, while all members of the class were equally engaged and in tune with the readers words and story.

Cultural Disruptions

“The four cardinal points of “doing transmedia” are:

1. Doing transmedia means to involve multiple media in a publishing project, keeping the features and the language of each one, even if they are part of a single system of integrated communication;

2. Doing transmedia means to make the project’s contents available on different technological platforms, without causing any overlaps or inter- ferences, while managing the story experienced by different audiences;

3. Doing transmedia means to allow the multiple media to tell differ- ent stories but all exploring a common theme, even if it is experienced through multiple narrative perspectives;

4. Doing transmedia means to agree to give a part of the authorship and responsibility of the tale to the audience and other storytellers in order to create a participatory and synergistic story in the experiences of the different audiences of the tale.”

Max Giovagnoli (2011)

Synergy. With the implementation of digital tools, there were shifts in power and roles. I as a teacher was put aside while students took control of what they wanted and how they wanted to express themselves. Students used current digital tools, incorporated elements of transmedia to the traditional storytelling.  They were challenged and in their groups had to compromise. Collaboration and cooperation – elements important in the past and increasingly relevant today when participants are involved in online projects.

Obviously, there is an element of relativity as I had set up the task through the LMS and then added selecting images and sharing their movie with the whole class.  That was the framework. A queen never abdicates in the game of chess. (see previous blog entries).

There are elements too of a  hybrid practice; the whole journey was not soley digital, despite the digitalized beginning. Writing is still writing and before students eventually publish their work in their blogs, their writing needs to be edited and proofread – just as without digital technology. Hence I perceive this experience of a hybrid transmedia task, where cultural classroom practices were altered and learners given a sense of  empowerment.

For as C.S.Lewis once said ” We read to know that we are not alone”.

Sharing stories consolidates participants in a culture, whether that be on a large social scale or in a classroom.

Stories are to be shared.

Stories may disrupt classroom cultures constructively.

Creative voices may bring disruption.

Voices are to be heard.

References:

Berger, P. & T. Luckman,  –  1984, The Social Construction of Reality, Penguin

Breen,M.P.  –1986, “The Social Context for Language Learning – a                                    Neglected Situation?”. In SSLA 7, pg.  135 -158

Bourdieu,  P.  -1981, “Systems of Education and Thought”, in Knowledg and Control, ed. Young, M, Collier Macmillan

Gellner,  E.  – 1964, Thought and Change, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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

Max Giovagnoli & ETC Press 2011 -TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial-NonDerivative 2.5 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5)

Parsons,  T.  – 1964, The Social System, Routledge & Kegan Paul

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

Thelen, H. A. – 1981, The Classroom Society, Croom Helm

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,

A Womb of Words

“We begin with a concept of some kind of basic awareness, some kind of basic ability to “know” or “sense” or “recognize” that something is happening. This is a fundamental theoretical and experiential given. We do not know scientifically what the ultimate nature if awareness is, but is our starting point.”

C.T.Tart

My world is filled with words. My words and words of others.

My language,  mixed with foreign sounds which have become part of my world.

Words make my world. Will the limits of my words limit my world?

If so, then there are boundaries to shift. New borders to establish. Rain, rain don't go awayDifferent worlds to explore. And new words to exploit.

This is my second posting on a digital story which is in process. Just as the rain brings smiles and frowns, so too does this entry.

Crossing boundaries requires braveness.

The Womb of Words

The stage had been set (A Journey of Stories & Roles) and it was time for the curtains to rise.

Context: Intermediate level of English

Number of students: 20 in each class, all with same L1

My students are accustomed to pair work and group work but were certainly not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of them. In groups of 5 they had to individually select an image which they liked. Any image that appealed to them. Then, they had to negotiate and collaborate on their decision, for only one image was going to be used for the task.

The next step was to explain how they were to proceed: by logging onto Edmodo, I had created small, colour-coded groups (students were given a coloured coded cardboard to choose a colour for their group). I wrote the code for each colour on the board and students joined their new small group.

After uploading their selected image, one student had to begin the story. The others were to use the reply button in Edmodo and continue the story.

The first border to cross was that students were not accustomed to writing a group story without discussing it beforehand. Their experience was to sit together, talk about it in L1 and then one student would write it in L2 (English) while they others looked on or perhaps drew some pictures to go along with their story. This was a radical change. An entirely new world where they had to sit on their own, read what the other members of the group were writing and then add their own continuation of the story.

Challenges: to develop a story on one’s own – and in another language. Secondly, what thread/s would emerge? Would there be one story or multiple layers of a story? And if there are multiple layers to a story, is there a core to the story? How many worlds can co-exist within one story and will it make meaning to the reader?

Although I had reassured students that I was there should there be any questions, no questions were asked. I had told students to focus on the story – we would edit and proofread later. From some groups there were giggles and shrieks of laughter while others frowned as they looked silently into their screens. Shadows of uncertainty were present. I too wondered,  as I watched them engaged and forgetful of time.

What will emerge from a womb of words, where meanings struggle to link plot and characters? Where layers of stories compete to have the loudest voice?

Literacy and Technology

“Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

A.Koestler

Let us consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners (A Journey of Stories & Roles) To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is an active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson may be relatively new to learners. Relatively because they have already been exposed to a more communicative approach of teaching by their foreign teachers.

Communicative classes are supposedly open and flexible – an outsider would be able to percieve and understand the tasks in which the learners are involved: pair work with information gaps and transfer exercises as language is a vehicle for communication, groups work to stress the importance of interaction with others through language.

The communicative approach tends to be polychronic, but lessons and classrooms survive on the balance between a polychronic and monochronic atmosphere. If too much is done during the same lesson, e.g. too many activities and games, the learner will not able to cope with the accelerated pace – there will be no time given to digest and appropriate the information.

This lesson moved from a polychronic to a monochronic pace, where learners had to work on their own. However, with the tasks they were asked to do, further shifts were taking place, namely the emphasis of autonomy and creativity – and collaboration through digital media.

I have already stated how digital technologies in education open more opportunities for students who may not be particularly academically gifted (nor interested in becoming academic.) Using digital literacies is more inclusive for such learners. Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007) argue that:

“the major problem in promoting an expanded range of literacy competencies for all students resides in the tension between inquiry-based and transmission-based orientations to pedagogy. As discussed in Chapter 2, inquiry-based orientations (both social constructivist and transformative) aim to support students in constructing curriculum-related knowledge, whereas transmission-based orientations focus on enabling students to internalize the content of the curriculum. Transmission orientations to pedagogy pre- dominate in low-income schools as a result of the pressure on teachers to ensure that their students pass the high-stakes tests that dominate the curriculum. Thus, the pedagogical focus in these schools is considerably more narrow than in more affluent schools, and this pedagogical divide extends to the ways in which technology is used in these two school contexts.” (2007:93)

By opening doors and creating bridges for my students, they are being given the opportunity to learn, explore and use digital literacies to their advantage. They are given the opportunity to create and to think critically (i.e. as they read previous contributions to the story, they need to think about how their contribution will aid the unfolding of the plot and construction of the characters).

Rorabaugh points out how:

“In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.””

Indeed there are shifts. Morever, there are challenges for those involved and participating in these shifts. One of the challenges within education is the assessment factor, particularly in regard to qualitatitive assessment and digital learning.

Miyazoe and Anderson (2010), in their study on the simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, state that:

“One of the difficulties that has yet to be addressed concerns assessment issues in collaborative learning, namely how we evaluate the process and the final products of collaborative work such as wiki productions. (…) to evaluate collaborative artifacts, at least three elements should be considered: 1) achievement as a group process in contrast to work of other groups; 2) the individual’s share in the group’s achievement; and 3) achievement of the individual before and after the group work.”

Collaborative work has often been a problematic area for teachers to assess. Nevertheless, it is something that language teachers often must do as there is individual work, pair work and group work in their classes. By using a digital platform such as Edmodo, the teacher has clear access to who contributes, how much is contributed and the quality of the contribution – in this particular case, both in terms of language use and story building.

In regard to the first and and third issues raised, the process has not yet ended and students will still have thresholds to cross.

A world of words, a womb of challenges and shifts in tormoil, will soon unfold.

References:

Cummins, J., Brown, K., Sayers, D. (2007) Literacy, Technology, and Diversity 

Miyazoe, T, Anderson, T. (2010) Learning Outcomes and Students’ Perceptions of Online Writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and a wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, System, Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 185–199

Rorabaugh, P. (2012)  Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology