iPadogogy, Portfolios and iSense?

Slowly, sluggishly, another academic year draws towards its end. A year of bridges, a year of learning, a year of questioning. A year which leaves me with no e-portfolios to go through.

Some may find that a relief; personally, I find it a pity.

It is never too soon to have learners begin their e-portfolio, in particular when working within an iPadology framework. The question of e-portfolios has been widely accepted but where is the practice?

Let’s begin by considering an iPadology framework where students have a possible iBook and a selection of apps to work with. It is with the apps that students create their presentations, whether those be with Haiku, Keynote or digital stories with PuppetPal or any other app appropriate for story-telling. Students may present their work to the whole class or neatly submit it to the teacher through a LMS or cloud. Either way, this approach is parallel to when students wrote only for the teacher’s eyes – a practice I have always rejected. In an age where digital literacies are needed to be fostered and developed, producing only for the teacher’s eyes makes even less sense to me.

Which begs the question, if students are encouraged to use apps for creating stories, movies and other tasks, why must these creative productions be hidden in a cloud?

Let me take a step back for a moment – what are these digital literacies which are so bantered about? If literacy may be understood as  “a set of social and cultural practices that involve the interpretation, production and communication of shared meanings. Literacy implies the ability to make sense and to create meaning, as well as an understanding that doing so is a social practice that draws on an array of complex, interwoven social, cultural and historical contexts” (Payton & Hague 2010), then digital literacies are all of the above but with the addition of digital tools.

These digital tools help build new knowledges, changing how students learn and develop knowledge. Belshaw (2011) points out how there may not be a complete agreement among some regarding the precise definition digital literacies, yet highlights how there are 8 main elements to take into consideration:

If these literacies are to be included in a learner’s experience, if a learner is encouraged to bring his/her life experiences to their learning experiences, then their work needs to be visible.

This visibility serves different purposes as well. On the one hand, it is a show-case of the learner’s work and progress throughout an academic year or course. On the other hand, by being able to display, share, comment and improve, the individual learns.

It comes as no surprise that I believe blogs to be the best medium for a student’s portfolio. While there may be a whole industry willing to sell e-portfolios to educational institutions, again, these are far from my preferences. Why should a student leave their work locked up, far from the real world, in an institution’s system? Where is the purpose? (Where is the openness?) It is not only the need for one’s portfolio to be accessible anywhere, at anytime – it is a question of ownership. A learner’s portfolio belongs to him/her, reflecting their progress, learning and achievements.  Even if a system is mobile, the learner’s portfolio will still be tucked away, visible to teacher and possibly peers. Possibly.

More than tools developed for digital curation and storage, for example LiveBinders, blogs are easy to use, easy to share and students are left with a visible trace of their progress. As Downes  (2004) explains, “What makes blogs so attractive, in both the educational community and the Internet at large, is their ease of use. A blog owner can edit or update a new entry without worrying about page formats or HTML syntax. Sebastian Fiedler, a media pedagogy specialist at the University of Augsburg in Germany, has been monitoring the rise of blogs for a number of years. “Many lightweight, cost-efficient systems and tools have emerged in the personal Webpublishing realm,” he writes. “These tools offer a new and powerful toolkit for the support of collaborative and individual learning that adheres to the patterns of contemporary information-intensive work and learning outside of formal educational settings.”

Downes (2004) also discusses the value and pitfalls of blogging, adding that “Despite obvious appearances, blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that’s just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting. If a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community. For blogging in education to be a success, this first must be embraced and encouraged.”

Students are learning. It is through practice, by being given opportunities to create, develop and display their work that an iPadology (for instance) adds to what I would call “iSense“.  By keeping a portfolio, students are able to go back, reflect, while at the same, go forward with their learning while developing their digital literacies – literacies which for me,  also include other skills such as digital citizenship, being aware of one’s digital footprint and a degree of transparency in the learning process. Luca, (2011) who neatly points out 5 reasons supporting why students should blog, also stresses how students’ world view changes when blogging – a learning experience which one would hope exists in education.

I cannot perceive learning as an end, despite there being objectives for every course. Learning is a process, one that needs to be encouraged and supported. The focus on the learner, offering individualisation and catering to different learning needs and styles,  only makes sense when giving learners a chance to develop a project with tools which best meet the project and their learning styles.  To have students develop a blog as their portfolio, only enhances the “iSense” which is necessary in today’s environment of digital literacies.

Lastly, a word on change.

It has happened. It is happening. Change in our world, change in our daily learning and practices.

And no, it won’t be turning back so soon.

NOTE:

Please note that I have purposefully referred to E-Portfolios as portfolios. Just as E-learning is a part of learning, electronic portfolios may be considered part of portfolios, especially as the introduction and practice of digital education is increasingly a common feature in many parts of the world.

References

12 Important Trends in the EPortfolio Industry

Downes, S., 2004, Educational Blogging

Luca, J., 2011, 5 Reasons Why our Students are Writing Blogs and Creating ePorfolios

Payton, S. & C. Hague, 2010, Digital Literacy – Professional Development Resource

Further Reading

Couros, G., 2013, 5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog

Lampinen, M., 2013, Blogging in the 21st Century Classroom

Rosenthal,S., 2011, Learning abut Blogs for Your Students – Part II Writing

Waters, S., 2011, Getting More Out of Student Blogging

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The New Normal

So what is the new normal today?

What it always has been.

Change.

Paradigm shifts.

And as with most shifts, change begins with whispers which waver before becoming tsunamis.

MOOCs are an example. Initially MOOCs came into action without making daily headlines; today, rarely a day goes by without the media highlighting a new MOOC, advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs and all other opinions, fears, challenges and opportunities that MOOCs bring with them.

Contrary to many of those in the ivory towers of knowledge, I have always believed that education was all about change. Yes, there are the power factors too which reign in education thus maintaining the status quo of societies. Perhaps it was because of all my linguistic transitions; perhaps because of my personal narratives, I often have been on the edge of social circles, a resident, never quite an ingrained citizen. Perhaps these are purely irrelevant concoctions as there will always be individuals who provoke shifts, nodes of change who meet, who connect,  and in serendipity, add to the currents of change.

It is within these narratives, these desires, these perceptions of new possibilities and clearer objectives, that changes happen too in education. The new normal is not invisible. The new normal has been here for a while, being daily added to, re-mixed and re-used.

What still needs to happen is for the new normal to be widely acknowledged, accepted and, most importantly, practiced.

In the visual above, Heick (2013) stresses 7 main shifts in the educational world today. I hesitate to agree with point 5 – if there had been no interaction before, there would never have been changes. Obviously, today interactions are more immediate and far reaching; the effects of OERs, for example, are still to be seen. Additionally, I would argue with point 2 being “new”.  For all the negative rap that academia may sometimes receive, critical reflections are at the core of academia. In the new normal, it is expected, practically demanded, that the learner too takes the reigns of learning, of producing critical thought to a new level of production.

The new normal is sometimes unrealistic.

How many students actually want that power? How many young people actually demand that responsibility? And how many are really able to dare and take the responsibilities of freedom of thought?

The new normal is provocative.

Begin talking about the role of digital literacies in a staffroom, among a circle of business people, among learners. Notice the reactions – from blank to comprehending to puzzled. To denial as well.

Provocation is nevertheless maintained, and even publications such as Forbes, discuss the relevance  of digital literacies.

The new normal is.

Boyd (2013) refers to the Faustian bargain that has permeated education, explaining that initially,  the cost and difficulty of managing the insertion of computers, networks and smart boards into class rooms proves more costly than any benefits gained. This has been true of early adoption cycles for technology in every industry.” Today it is visible to all that the interface between technologies and classroom is a smoother reality, stretching out to developing countries as well.

No change comes without failure. The new normal accepts failure as part of the process. As an educator, I must necessarily accept a lesson which fails because my students did not achieve what I had planned with a specific tool. Perhaps they were not ready. Perhaps the failure was mine, not having selected a less demanding digital tool or task. However much I reflect and plan, I must accept failure too,  as part of the new normal – not as personal, ethical or moral defeat. Shifts challenge.

Unrealistic, provocative, challenging. The new normal may induce discomfort at times (failure is never pleasant, for example). But is precisely because of discomfort that the new normal has come into being. Hence, the discourse of “disruption” so often heard in thought circles today – not the disruption of misbehaviour, but the disruption of past perspectives and practices. Below is another example of how the new normal transcends borders.

The new normal is open.

How do you embrace the new normal?

References:

Boyd, R., 2013, SuperHuman Education

Hartley, S., 2013. Digital Literacy: New Literacy?

Heick, T., 2013, Shift_Learning: The 7 Most Powerful Idea Shifts In Learning Today

OER will need 20 to 30 years to reach its ultimate global realization” interview with Fred Mulder, chair of UNESCO OERs

Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Ed

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Were it so simple in the world of education. I often compare (naively?) the educational field with the field of medicine. In the medical world, the aim is to save the patient’s life or cure his/her disease. Cutting edge approaches are welcomed and doctors endeavour to practice these approaches as much as their working context allows them to.  Team work is no oddity, for it is not only nurses and doctors who provide health care, but a wider group of professionals, from lab researchers to anatomo-pathologists who work behind the scenes.

The educational world is changing rapidly and yet there are times when I feel as if left behind in time. What is holding education back?

Roscoria (2013) points out the following challenges in regard to adapting technology  in higher education, which were highlighted in an Educause  Learning Initiative in the 2013 Horizon Project report:

1. Faculty training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues to rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.

2. The emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching outpace sufficient and scalable modes of assessment.

3. Too often it is education’s own processes and practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

4. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

5. New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of higher education.

6. Most academics are not using new technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research.

Perhaps it is the first and fifth points that immediately jump out at me. I have yet to become familiar with a curriculum that openly acknowledges the role of digital literacies across the board; equally, despite MOOCs being a constant headliner in journals and newspapers, there are still many educators who are not familiar with MOOCs nor the concept of such open learning.

Another aspect that I wonder about, is why so many institutions do not offer more blended courses to better suit the population? Often institutions do have the hardware and the professionals who are able to offer such courses. I believe that these changes will occur – the challenges and barriers will fall on the way as increasingly a student population wishes to study online, or at least within a blended approach of F2F and online learning. There is no lack of platforms and the technical requirements for students at higher education may be simply met with training sessions on campus before the course begins (should this be necessary).

Then there are Open Educational Resources. These are not meant for only a developing world, but for all.

One needs to bear in mind that only a selected group in developing countries are privy to OER – not only are there  regular struggles with hardware, electricity maintenance and wifi, but often those who would most benefit don’t speak the language which OER are published in. Nevertheless, this too is changing as more universities around the world open up their libraries and resources.

Personally I find the sixth point difficult to understand – for many years now academics are able to access libraries online, for instance. What I do find curious is how in academia, skills that academics use, are not taught to students more systematically.  For instance, how best to use search engines and not merely Google. A simple example,  but one which I regularly encounter when speaking with under-graduates. By the same measure, academics who claim to support open learning will continue publishing in closed, paid for journals. Blogging? Definitely not part of academia. These are but some contradictions which I encounter and am perplexed by.

Michael Horn, co-director and co-founder of Innosight Institute, believes that many of the challenges and opportunities for higher education will eventually happen as major changes will occur at secondary level. Horn also points out how:

“University professors, while they’re really good at research, are not really good at teaching and learning,”

adding that

Different students have different learning needs at different times,” as well as pointing out   that that situation may provide big opportunities for disruptive models to step in and offer more efficient solutions to individualized instruction. Disruptive models, in this case, being online education which opens up opportunities for more members of society to study.

Online learning may be understood within different models as Hill (2012) describes:

The last challenge I’d like to point out for now, is how we are living on the edge of Web 3.0 yet so much of what happens in classrooms still belongs to a world of Web 1.0. In Gerstein’s  (2013) discussion on User Generated Education, she includes the following visual which clearly defines each stage of the Web and how it is being used in education:

At a time when so many changes are happening around us, when iPadalogy, whether for the better (or not) is rapidly spreading across countries, when MOOCs are raising their heads everyday to the point of even offering accreditation,  it is time to take these changes into more serious consideration through conversation and reflection. Each challenge will provide further opportunities for both students and educators, contributing to a more open world of knowledge.

References:

Gerstein, J., 2013, User Generated Education

Hill, P., 2012, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View

Horn, M., 2012 Disrupting College – Video of Horn’s talk

Roscoria, T. (2013) 6 Challenges to Higher Ed Technology Adoption

Wiley, D.

Warmoth, B., 2012 Educause 2012: 5 ways online learning is disrupting education

Note:

If you would like to read more on OERs and other Open Access for Education,  and Change in Education, please visit, re-visit,  use, re-use, re-mix, re-vise and re-distribute!

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 3

I sought bridges and found none.

I sought coherence and was left with chaos. At times, there is no choice but to embrace chaos, to accept the dynamics and life within a sphere of chaotic movement. I regarded fractuals and their apparent order, quietly acknowledging how fractual my  practices in the classroom had become. Is this where teaching practices were heading towards? A fractual of lessons  where chaos reigned?

Murphy (2011) refers to Katherine Hayles, when reflecting on elements of chaos in an instructional designer‘s practices:

Chaos theory . . . can be generally understood as the study of complex systems, in which nonlinear problems . . . are considered in their own right, rather than as inconvenient deviations from linearity. Within chaos theory, two general emphases exist. In the first, chaos is seen as order’s precursor and partner, rather than as its opposite. The focus here is on the spontaneous emergence of self-organization from chaos. . . .

The second branch emphasizes the hidden order that exists within chaotic systems. Chaos in this usage is distinct from true randomness, because it can be shown to contain deeply encoded structures called “strange attractors.” Whereas truly random systems show no discernible pattern when they are mapped into phase space, chaotic systems contract to a confined region and trace complex patterns within it. The discovery that chaos possesses deep structures of order is all the more remarkable because of the wide range of systems that demonstrate this behavior. . . . The strange-attractor branch differs from the order-out-of-chaos paradigm in its attention to systems that remain chaotic. For them the focus is on the orderly descent into chaos rather than on the organized structures that emerge from chaos.” (Hayles, 1990, pp. 9–10)

While I was quite comfortable with the varying rhythms of students working on their laptops, the introduction of iPads in my practices forced me to look into chaos and the organised structures which may emerge. I began by considering what could be done with an iPad:

The iPad is much more than a mere toy which gave access to digital games; it is also much more than only a device to create engaging presentations; it gives learners practice and develops skills which they will need in their lives beyond the school’s gate. The argument against this is,  whether adopting iPads is really necessary as there already is a wealth of digital tools online which provide free practice for the above skills. However, that was a thought, a reflection; the refute, being how data access has become mobile and that this has affected education as well. Nevertheless,  my main concern was how to find a balance between my teaching beliefs and practices and iPads in the classroom.

The moment came when I tried a different approach.

As usual, I wrote up the date and day of week on the upper hand corner of the whiteboard. As students came into the classroom, there was the regular  pre-lesson interaction, greetings and questions. Then, instead of having the whole class focus on the same task at the same time, I explained that they were to complete the tasks on the board within the time of their lesson. I quickly wrote up the tasks which needed to be done, from tasks in their course iBook to the use of apps to complete project work.

Silence. Stares. Silence.

 Then a wave of energy ensued. And chaos reigned.

If I was reluctant to have students enclosed in their individual bubble, working quietly, individually with their iPad, I was wrong.

As I went around the classroom, observing them, students were working together, solving exercises, collaborating with each other. Some worked alone then checked with a partner. Others decided to go straight for their project work and compared their work with those students who were also focusing on that task, comparing what they had achieved with their choice of Apps. (I had given a range of Apps for them to choose from).

The energy was catchy and my teacher trainee was equally surprised at how autonomous they had become. Yes, there was a certain degree of noise as students called out for each other. Yes, I was kept busy as individual students had different questions. The 2 hour lesson went by in a flash; all tasks had been accomplished. At the end of the lesson, I exchanged views with my trainee; after all, her opinions as an observer and a speaker of L1, were relevant. What I found out surprised me – students had been focused on their tasks throughout the entire lesson. What appeared to me as chaos, was in fact students talking about task problems and how best to solve them. Instead of being distracted with  games and private texting, they spent the whole lesson focused and being productive.

There had been no isolation. Collaboration ruled within the apparent chaos.

From apparent fractuals and chaos, I had found the bridge I so needed. Perhaps this lesson had been characteristic of a certain group of learners, at a certain point in time. They certainly had had experience with using their interactive iBook; they already had had experience using a range of Apps for carrying out assignments. What I had not expected was their autonomy in achieving all tasks. I, in turn, was able to assist more individually, giving specific support and clarification to each individual. The iPad, with its ease of mobility in the classroom, allowed everyone to work at their own pace and easily collaborate with whom they wanted to – not only with the person sitting next to them.

Ideally, I wish that all my lessons had the flow and energy that this particular one had. But that would be like wishing for a perfect world, not taking into account students’ moods, concerns, and other features which influence a lesson. My quest remains: at every step I wish to use the iPad as a 1:1 teaching device, I want my students to collaborate, solve problems, create, and above all, learn.

iPads still frustrate me with their lack of Flash and Java; iPads are certainly not for word-processing but offer users the possibility to blog and write and even print from them.

iPadology? A welcoming world of streamlined fractuals and chaos, from where new practices of learning arise.

References:

Bloom’s Taxonomy Re-imagine & Digital Blooms: different ways to approach learning

Gleeson, M., 2012, The iPad, What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

Holland, B., 2012, What Students Can Actually DO with an iPad (Edudemic)

Kulowiec, G., 2012, iPads are like Hammers (Edudemic)

Murphy, D., 2011, Chaos Rules, Revisited in IRRODL, Vol 12, No 7 (2011)