Achieving Change through Collaboration and Cooperation

As an educator, I have always been aware that one feature of my role, was change. Not necessarily change on a global or national scale, but rather, introducing and implementing small steps of change in my daily practices .

Encouraging students to be success instead of doing poorly in their academic lives; changing how culture stereotypes may not always live up to their hype; change in the assumptions and expectations  that learners have in regard to their lives after the (relative) safety of classrooms. These are mere examples that every educator will recognise in their teaching practices. Sharing regular changes in perspective and attitudes are embedded in the role of educators.

In recent years my role as an agent of change has broadened both in scope and scale. It has become easier for me to train teachers in developing countries, for instance. It is easier to collaborate and cooperate across borders as well.

In my mind, it is also more urgent, more necessary to participate and engage in the changes happening within the eduscape. Not all is necessarily positive within the world/s of EdTech, for instance, but one needs to be aware of what is taking place in order to make the best informed decisions. When it comes to changing teaching practices, it has always been my belief that positive, constructive change happens from the grassroots upwards. Participants themselves must bring about the change they require, the change they wish to see implemented and spread in their educational institutions.

It is in this sense that I’d like to point out how at TAMK, teachers are actively engaging in such a process of grassroot discussion and action for change.

Successful change needs to begin from the bottom upwards. Successful change requires cooperation – whether across departments in an institution or across borders. In today’s world, multidisciplinary approaches are necessary for changing problems into solutions.  That is especially vital for supporting teachers as well.

One constantly comes across how education in Finland leads the world. There are many diverse reasons for that. However, putting into practice what one believes in, pulling together internal resources for change, is one approach that exists in Finland. One program that reaches out to the world is explained here by Mark Curcher. Digitmentorit is another example of how education and training in Finland differs and achieves the quality it is known for.

Change and educational leadership come from within.

Finding a way to accomplish transformational education lies in the will to achieve.

Winter apples do not need to be objects of desire, kept out of reach.

Change is not an elusive, imaginary process. Change is here, change is now.

 

Change is knowing that there are no limits when there is a will to change.

What changes are you engaging in now throughout 2016?

 

 

 

Further Suggestions:

Challenging our Pedagogy – Hybrid Pedagogy’s Editors Picks

Finding a Way – George Couros

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The Question of When

In a thought provoking post, George Couros raises the question of “What if…?” – timely questions for all educators and educational managers. My question is when?

When will educators make the effort to be fearless?

When will educators make the effort to connect with others without judgement but sharing resources, ideas, visions, trials, errors and successes?

When will educators accept that today’s learners do have digital lives, even if they may not be familiar with how to use digital technology for learning and so need to learn how to make the best use of digital tech for their academic lives and futures unknown?

When will educators, who often have digital resources at the tips of their fingers, be brave enough to accept that making mistakes, asking for help, failing, is all part of learning and that they too are learners?

When will educators realize that it is through networks and connections that ideas thrive, and new forms of knowledge may develop?

caras-7When will educators acknowledge that their world is open, if only they let it be and that professional development/training is an on-going conversation and not an end in itself?

When will educators accept that without their passion, without their individual efforts, without their positive, constructive action towards change, not much may make a difference in their practices?

However, change WILL happen. With, or without them.

Change is challenging, change may even be painful. But life IS all about change. Holding on to educational paradigms which were designed for the Industrial Age will simply no longer work. Classrooms of disengaged learners, longing to get back online, where there is interaction and engagement, is heart wrenching for all involved in classrooms. Bringing the world of digital spaces and digital learning  to the world of learning is necessary.

A change of perspective is urgent. And the first step is for teachers themselves to get involved. Regardless of how many training sessions teachers must attend, if they are not involved in connecting, in participating in a networked world, if they are not active in the giving and sharing, then many of those training sessions will have little positive outcomes. I am not making a case that Social Media is the only way to learn – by no means. I am making the case that yes, participating in Social Media is one way for teachers to keep themselves updated and involved in the process of changeS that are happening all around.

Learning is not about leading.

Learning is about the will to participate, the will to negotiate meaning, the will to implement the necessary changes for one’s changing context. Learning how to make sense of one’s changing, global, networked world requires elements of fearlessness.

 

When… ?

the connection - Seth Godin

Further references:

Bryant, P., 2013, The Logical Impossibility of Status Quo: Six Disconnects that Demand a Digital Pedagogy

Couros, G., 2013, What if… ? 

Downes, S., 2008, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

Downes, S. 2013, Strive Less, Share More

 

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

The Cyborg Within

1xcom259106oppressed

Who am I?

Who are you?

Simple questions, yet where does one begin unravelling the complexity of being a “someone”?

It was over the summer,  that issues of identity came again to linger on my mind. When I first visited Laos years ago, there was hardly a mobile phone in sight; to access the internet you needed to find an obscure, dark internet cafe, where you then struggled with connectivity. Today, that world has changed dramatically, like so many other places around the world. Today, one may find wi-fi in practically almost all public cafes and restaurants; everywhere you turn your gaze to, there will be someone taking a selfie, checking their photogenic image and uploading it to a social network; when silvery, Mekong evenings spread across the jungle skies, there will be throngs walking, jogging, running along the bank, with their smart phones,  some in Adidas track-suits,  most with  ear-plugs and an eye on their mobile screen. You could be almost anywhere else in the world – if not for the natural surroundings.

If asked who am I, I sometimes grin and say “I’m a cyborg. Whatever else?” Others’ reactions are usually quite interesting; often their associations are with dark, menacing Sci-Fi  films, where cyborgs are threatening beings, their powers far beyond mere humans. There is a lurking fear, a lurking mis-trust of cyborgs. Being a cyborg, simply put, is not desirable.

However.

Those jogging on the bank of the Mekong with their smart phones held dearly and tightly in their hands and those who possibly are reading this blog entry, are equally as much of a contemporary cyborg as I am. There are different interpretations of being a cyborg,  e.g. those who wear technology for enhanced digital experiences, those who participate in digital worlds, forming an identity within simulations, and those, like myself, who are equally comfortable in and out of digital worlds. As Turkle (2012) explains, “We are all cyborgs now”, in regard to how we “wander in and out of the physical real”. This element of being a cyborg has another characteristic as well, for one is in the digital world and somewhere else simultaneously. In other words, as cyborgs, we not only wander in and out of digital dimensions, but even when connecting with others, when digitally communicating with others, we are inhabiting two worlds at the same time.

Technologies and identity are complex issues. As someone who has had an interest in the digital since the internet became publicly available, it comes as no wonder that “who I am” will necessarily include the digital mix of who I am. In other words, I am my “life mix” (Turkle, 2012), moving quietly between worlds, between connections, between digital devices.

1xcom272947hangingThere are times when both my real and virtual self need breathing space as well – for instance, there may be times I don’t participate as much on one social network but with time, will return to it. There are times when I feel the need to disconnect, feel the need to think and dream without the ongoing connection which I do have in my life. This is not a rejection of my digital, cyborg self; merely a pause and one that I must ensure by silencing all my mobile digital gadgets. My “life mix” is both asynchronous and synchronous. Time to disconnect, briefly,  becomes a necessity. “Hanging up”, being “off the grid” is also necessary downtime for cyborgs.

A word of caution though: one may choose, re-invent or play with identity. This is not my case. Perhaps because it is not my case, I am equally at ease with my “life mix”.  Within my mix I am often a learner and educator, (though definitely, not only – e.g. I watch movies, connect with friends and family at non-professional levels, listen to music and so on). In these complex times of deep changes, I seek answers, I ask questions. I participate in online communities with others who likewise share the same concerns and questions. These communities range from social networks such as Twitter and G+, to VLEs where I learn and share with other members.

Which brings me to learning – once again. Leppisaari and Lee (2010) highlight how images are an integral part of constructing knowledge. By taking up visuals of footwear (Leppisaari and Lofroth 2013), one can visual one’s identity and role within multicultural learning.

From cyborg, from wandering in out of digital and analogue worlds, my footwear reflects the type of learning I engage in . Sandals – open, strappy, comfortable in twilight zones of being a cyborg. Sandals are ideal for treading lightly in a hyperlinked world.

Sandals are also practical for informal learning – which is how I would say most of my learning is today. I learn with and through my social networks, reading open access journals, reading articles online, participating in MOOCs, taking open online courses, and daily,  with my PLN, sharing and taking  part in on-going conversations. I attend webinars and belong to professional networks, where conferences are sometimes held online. Both these last two examples offer me the possibility of learning and participating in contexts which otherwise I could not attend. And I learn as I always have, even before the internet, i.e.. by learning from other fields of knowledge. Hence it is no surprise that I am a supporter of cross (or multi) disciplinary learning.

At times, I also take part in more formal learning, i.e. a structured course, where, ideally I will submit assignments on time. Hence, a pair of red shoes dangling, expressing on the one hand, a certain degree of formal artifact and on the other, the eternal quest of balancing time.

As a learner and educator I have lived and worked in different countries with distinct cultures. Though fascinating as it may sound, living and working in different cultures may be walzing through a mysterious field – one knows the footsteps to the dance but the music is different. Every time one thinks one finally understands the tune and attempts to dance, the steps will be different, for cultures are complex and forever changing. Every culture will have what is easily noticeable and learnable – with so many other steps hidden or disguised and which are essential for its understanding. And yes, there are times when simple sandals are more convenient to live within those settings, leaving light footprints, opening paths of learning for others who, in turn, will create meaningful knowledge and learning for their own cultural contexts.

When Downes (2013) speaks of learning, he mentions how:

“To teach is to model and to demonstrate; to learn is to practice and reflect“.

In a multicultural setting, whether F2F or online (e.g. distance education), this requires sturdy (but comfortable)  boots. Not only does one need to be sensitive to the culture, (e.g. in terms of what is or not appropriate) but the modelling has to be meaningful to it as well. Tapping into what may or not be meaningful to learners requires patience, resilience and time. Boots are often necessary for learning.

Much like Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), I dream of the perfect lesson, the perfect learning path where as an educator, it would only take a snappy click of heels for my students to become inspired, creative, and critical thinkers. In my cyborg mind, this is simple, with a myriad of tools and platforms to offer. In my “real”, analogue classrooms, this is much more challenging. At times, simply hard to do. After all, there are days and days – with a mix of 20+ learners in a classroom, there are bound to be days where the flow of learning just isn’t happening as one would wish it to.

Yet, I cling to the notion of a perfect lesson, where tasks are meaningful, motivational and fun for all. There are days when no click of heel is necessary and objectives are accomplished. And there are days when I return to the dream of a perfect lesson.

Today I have chosen 3 variations of footwear that perhaps define my days. When reflecting on the nature of being a cyborg and  a multicultural learner/participant, one also needs to add the digital dimension to multicultural learning. On the one hand, there is the culture of digital identity as an integral  part of the notion of identity, while on the other hand, there is also a cultural  field on online learning/distance education. Both of these, in my eyes, have different features; features which overlap at times, and which add another dimension to multicultural learning. In other words, it is not just the analogue world which has multicultural learning – there is a digital world as well.

When technologies and identities blend, “simple” issues of identity become more complex. In my mind, often richer as well.

Do you ever consider your cyborg self?

How do you perceive yourself as a cyborg?

References:

Leppisaari, I. and Lee, O., 2010, Modelling Digital Natives’ International Collaboration: Finnish-Korean Experiences of Environmental Education

Turkle, S., 2012, Alone Together

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

Dear Colleague – An Open Letter to A Teacher Trainee

Dear Colleague,

When I see you from the back of the classroom, time takes me to the classrooms where I first began my journey in teaching. Journey may be a well over-worn cliche, however, that is exactly what teaching is – a learning journey which spirals into fractuals, kaleidoscopes,   never ending. No matter how well you do on your training projects, no matter how well you have read pedagogical theories and approaches, let me share with you: the best teaching has little to do with trends and bandwagons of variable truths. Your best lessons will come from your heart and soul as you connect with students, as you stumble across the minefields of classroom management, as you walk in a haze through corridors wondering how to plot the next best lesson.

I delight with the sparkle in your eyes, I recognise the despair of being unsure what to next when students do not keep quiet, I smile softly as I see you lost in a maze of options.  Yes, those moments will be your daily bread from now onwards. Be prepared to deal with them calmly.

Be equally prepared to witness power struggles around you; politics which rarely have much to do with education. Inhale and focus.

Focus on why you are an educator. That is your policy. That is what comes first and foremost – fine tuning your skills as an educator, sharing with students and colleagues alike. Yes. I know. You tell me I am a dreamer and this does not make sense. Dear Colleague, education is a process of joy; each educator is responsible for his/her choices and accountable to their educational community. Strive to be a positive educator, one who solves problems instead of creating stumbling blocks which lead nowhere.

 

Be fearless and tread those classroom gardens with joy. Yes, there will be days in the shape of monsters.  Just as there will be moments which will remain with you all your life – a thank you, the look of achievement, the moment of finally putting pieces together and understanding. There is no financial gain for those moments. And they are yours to cherish and share.

Dear Colleague, throw out fear. Don’t isolate yourself, your worries and concerns; your classroom may have walls and doors, but the world is open. Your students live wall-less. Education is no longer to be kept locked – open all the locks for your students and keep yourself up-to-date by connecting with others.

If millions connect for social purposes today, (below is a mere example), you too can find others to connect with. As you participate in those networks and exchange ideas, thoughts and form your new ones, encourage  students to become responsible digital citizens as well. Show them how they too can make the internet a learning ecology.

Dear Colleague, I ramble on, trying to pick on my own chaotic learning. Welcome to the world of teaching! Messy, chaotic challenging,   interconnected and in flowing change! Let go of the past images of teachers; be prepared for power shifts in classrooms; never forget those in front of you need a place of joy, safety, intellectual stimulus. Often it is the only place where they can feel safe.

And let go. Let go of perfectionist ideals in and of classrooms. They do not exist. Each classroom will  host a unique culture. Finding a balance between reality and educational  dreams will become your daily routine.

Dear Colleague, I must surely have bored you by now. Do not look so alarmed.

Smile –  the world of education is a joy; despite all its trials and tribulations, there are few professions which touch the heart of humans as the intricate, ever-changing, ever-challenging world of learning. Connecting, smiling, letting learners know you are there for them; simplicity has its place in education as well.

Dear Colleague, heed the wise words of others, of those who challenge you to inquire, to seek answers to questions not yet asked. For it is you who will then bring these seeds of inquiring and learning to others.

Dear Colleague, the world of education is a world of disruptions and interruptions;  rise to the wonderous occasion of it all with joy!

Yours Learning as Always,

AC

PS!

And in the process of it all, do have fun everyday!

References:

Christensen, C., 2013, Why Online Education is Ready for Disruption Now

Shareski, D.,  2013, It Takes All Kinds : Teachers

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