Learning Success

To know what rain feels like, one has to actually go out, let the water drops touch one’s skin. That is water. That is rain.

You have to not only see, but experience it.

So what has rain got to do with learning?

In order to learn anything, one needs to be involved in their learning process. One needs to experience learning – that process in which one is actively engaged in finding out about something new, in experimenting, perhaps even in failing and trying to succeed again.

Until one does.

As a learner myself and an educator, I find it increasingly frustrating to keep distinguishing between F2F and online learning. Yes, there are differences as there are differences in every context, but there are equally many similarities.

Learner autonomy and the need to be proactive in one’s learning, is the same.

These characteristics may not come naturally to students who have little or no experience of being autonomous, independent, responsible learners, but with time and practise, they too can succeed.

However, today it has been mostly how learners can become successful when studying online that has taken up my mind.

What other tips to become a successful online learner would you include?

Images from Pexels

Adding Failure to the Educational Mix

I don’t know exactly when failure became acceptable, but when the fashion world embraces failure, you know that failure has definitely become sexy.

Perhaps it was comfortable for education to embrace concepts of failure from the business world. After all, failure is part of the learning process, that endless spiral of advancing and regressing back to the initial novelty of information that the brain must re-process and make sense of. There are other kinds of failure as well – lessons where the wifi fails in the midst of creating digital stories, days when the IWB will stubbornly not be re-aligned, the sound cable has gone missing when the teacher has a great video to show the class, team members are absent on the day of a presentation; the list is endless and well known to those who spend a lifetime in classrooms.

Then there are other types of classroom failures – a lack of references which students miss and then fail to grasp the inherent meaning of text, a lack of cultural appropriateness, a lack of time for discussing what students really want to know about because there are tests to prepare for. Again, realities that many educators will be familiar with.

However, in between failures and successes, there are fine, subtle lines. Failure may be accepted,  as long as it is  followed by success.  Preferably by tremendous success, the kind  which often characterises the contemporary tales of the celebrity world. This is part of the acceptance – the story of failing and rising again. Icarus who rises as Phoenix.

In the educational process, though, this does not always happen at such a dramatic scale. Learners’ successes are often quiet, indeterminable. Success in learning takes time. And needless to say (yet I repeat), real learning is not about passing exams.

There is failure too when it comes to peer observations, as Didau points out:

One of the most pernicious and abiding myths at work is the belief that students should make progress every lesson.

This is meaningless. Learning is complicated and takes place over time. Everyone has experienced the fact that sometimes a lesson seems to have gone really well but yet students remember nothing the next lesson.

This is because we’re obsessed with measuring students’ performance rather than their learning.

Is Education a mere loop of failures?

No. Not in the least.

But it is a world where failure is an inherent part of the process. It is a world where constant motivation is essential in the many layers and forms teachers are able to provide students.

If one is to speak of authenticity in learning, then aspects of failure need to be added to the mix of items which constitute authenticity in learning and classrooms.

So, what is left within this mix?

The acceptance that learning is risky; what is new (e.g. learning to use a new digital tool) may take failure in order to  succeed; the need to reassure learners that yes, failure may be accepted for as long as success is aimed for and achieved in the end.

After all, aren’t we all aiming to pass exams?

Or is learning, real learning, a more authentic educational process?

How do you deal with failure in educational processes?

References:

Mundy, L.,  2013 – Losing is the New Winning

Sowray, B., 2013 – Tom Ford’s Secret to Success? Failure

Stenger, M. 2013, – We Can Only Guarantee Success if We Have Low Expectations. Anything Else Demands Risking Failure: Interview with Dabid Didau

Note

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Martin Marcisovsky

Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

In a globalised world, filled with the richness and risks of multiculturalism, how does one maintain a sense of being unique while at the same time, having a sense of “belonging”? Does the sense of “self” maintain its individuality or with the increase of networks and connections, with the far reaching consequences of globalisation, is one left to become a shadow of self, a clone of contemporary “selves”?

Because  London Fashion Week was recently taking place, I asked my female students what was the first piece of clothing which came to their mind when they thought of black for women.  Immediately their replies were “abayas”, “sheilas” (the black cloak and headscarf which is characteristic of female clothing in the Arabic Gulf). Women in the Arabic Gulf are as trend conscious as women anywhere else (if not more, as financial wealth is widespread), yet it was not biker jackets,  nor black boots,  nor LBD (little black dresses) which were initial references for these students. Their references were local,  and directly meaningful to their everyday lives.

An anecdotal example, but one that is significant when it comes to multicultural learning. Any teacher asking similar questions to their students will have responses which are mostly rooted in a local context. (I would like to make a note here: when referring to “multicultural learning”, I am referring to learning across cultures/with other cultures,  and not to political policies of social engineering).

Which brings me to ask whether in today’s scenario of social media entwined with learning and knowledge creation, if there is a risk of cloning in education. On the one hand, the same or similar digital platforms and tools are becoming widely used – for instance, Moodle as a learning platform for distance learning and Fotobabble as a digital tool. On the other hand, learning, sharing and creating knowledge through social networks is increasingly entwined in educational practices. How sustainable is this for the individual who is learning, to maintain his/her individuality?

When discussing  sustainability and authenticity  in higher education, Kaviola (2006) highlights how

“In transformative learning method students construct their own information and solutions to problems in co-operation and dialogue with the others involved in the learning process. When a student practices decision-making related to sustainable development in a collective learning situation (e.g. problem based or contradictory information), his or her ability to manage conflicting situations (which are inevitable in changes that promote sustainable development) will improve. This is also a way to develop students a sense of ownership in the learning process (Wals 2006: 49). “

This ownership in turn becomes personal, localised and individual. Rather than cloning, one has contextualised learning, which provides a degree of authenticity and meaningfulness in learning. Again, turning to Kaviola (2007) who explains that,

” A human cannot live in isolation away from society. Constructivism stipulates that learning and the object of learning are an indistinguishable part of the socio- cultural framework in which the learning takes place. This implies that information is always constructed in a certain context and that a person will put together a picture of the surrounding reality and him or herself by selecting and interpreting information and by reflecting on the feedback that s/he gets on his or her actions. ” (Kaviola, 2007)

A step further is of course Connectivism, where through connections and networks, knowledge is shared, distributed, and transferred. Individual learning through networks, chaotic as it may initially appear, is an inherent characteristic of Connectivism (Siemens, 2004). This informal learning lies on a set of principles, namely,

* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions

* Learning as a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources

* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning

* The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

* Decision-making is itself a learning process

Learning contexts will take many forms, whether those be personal,  institutional, or national. Learning cultures are even broader, with some sharing similar characteristics. However, despite the similarities, despite connections and learning networks, I doubt that today’s education panorama with Open Access, MOOCs and the myriad of online learning resources that exist, will lead to cloned education models or learners. These may push individual learners out of their comfort zone,  may provoke them into a richer, more critical analysis of knowledge and learning, but will not necessarily create clones. Clones are indeed among us (Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession Is A Glimpse Into The Futurebut hopefully will remain in the domain of other social concerns. 

Learning, like much else, remains an individual perception; a perception fostered and shared by a localised culture. That culture may indeed be transnational, international, mulitcultural (pick your choice) but it is left to the individual and fortunately, individual differences are still what makes us individuals – both as learners and humans.

 

References:

Kaviola, T., 2007, Towards Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism

Wheeler, S., 2012, Theories for the Digital Age – Connectivism

Digital Delights : Connecting Online Education – Connectivism – A selection of articles and posts on Connectivism

The Book that Spoke to Me

1xcom20300DialogueToday

Summer days are still upon my part of the world, but thoughts and resolutions are turning towards a new academic year with its challenges and wealth of learnings. With a de-cluttered mind, I set about preparing for what may lie ahead. Not only will be there be months of teaching, (as yet unknown courses), but also my own personal studies and professional development for which I necessarily need to slot in time for.

With an end-of-summer-break-resolution, I begin reading educational articles and commentaries, mostly finding myself asking when will they speak to me. When will all these academic writings actually speak to me; “me” who is an educator with years of classroom experience, with years of learning experience and as such, with some points of reference in the world of education?

 That is when I picked up a book lying on my coffee table, having kept it to read with a calm, quieter mind, hoping that new discoveries and perspectives would engage and stimulate my own personal thoughts. What I had not expected was how the book would speak to me.

As someone who has been in education for over 20 years and has studied formally and informally, academic articles are not a novel form of text. Yes, there may be another slant on a topic, but mostly, there will be strings and strings of other references, backing up every second statement. Despite my respect for this academic endeavour, despite understanding the “whys” of this style of writing, I have still wanted to read a non-fiction book, a book on education, that spoke to me. A narrative that started from the perspective that I understood current affairs in education, was aware of educational changes, of the role of digital literacies,  and wished to be inspired to take further action for constructive, positive, educational change. A book that would express its’ authors own ideas, without that endless string of quotations and  references, backing up every new statement. I wanted a book where the writers’ voices were present, were heard and not drowning in an academic display of references.  This book spoke to me.

Each chapter may be read on its own if one wishes. However, because the book is a dialogue with educators, inclusively including transcripts of conversations between the writers, I did not dip into chapters. Instead, as I read linearly, each chapter added to my own random thoughts, provoking me into further questionings of my own teaching experience, forming cohesion between beliefs and questions to pursue. 1xcom44797macroPearlsThese provocations made me take notes on how to better introduce effective change in my daily practices and reflect further on how to best achieve change. It was equally refreshing to come across references to educational technologists whose work I am familiar with and deeply admire, as well as including intelligent nuggets of information from social networks such as blogs. Not all references were entirely new to me, thus giving me a sense of a shared community, both as a reader and a participant, as well as teaching me about new connections and thinkers. This book spoke to me as a contemporary educator who is interested in professional development, interested in learning and yes, aware of the profound changes occurring at the many levels of education around the world.

 As someone who partakes in academia, this book also satisfied my own need for solid and further academic references. The richness of scope was another feature that left me reading slowly, not wishing to end the pleasure of the text. Having a background in the Humanities, I relished the weavings of film and theatre, for instance, as much as the academic writers and knowledge banks referred to. However, it is not a book solely for those with a background in the humanities – rather, a book every educator who is interested in transformational education should read.

 Why? Because it is written as a dialogue with the reader, providing case studies from others as well as the writers’ own experiences.  Throughout the chapters, there are also dialogues between the two writers, adding to that refreshing feature of speaking with rather down to the reader.  The reader becomes part of the dialogue, a participant in the transformation of learning. The reader becomes a member of that “learning gymnasium” which is explicitly described and referred to through the book.

adaptation studies “Adaptation Studies and Learning” is written by practitioners and for practitioners. There is a strong sense of knowing the world of classrooms, knowing daily challenges and restrictions, yet overcoming these by implementing effective changes in attitude and approach. Touching on film history, theories in education and literary criticism, “Adaptation Studies and Learning”, is in my view, about adapting to todays’ needs in education, how to overcome the culture of instant technological gratification, how to implement change and focus on learning instead.

Learning – that elusive, messy, chaotic process in which education is (supposedly) set up for.  Learning how to adapt to an increasingly fast-paced changing world, a world with uncertain professions, a world where openness, resilience and transdisciplinarity reign unfettered. Learning how to live with these features, learning how to guide students through these characteristics of today’s learning experience is what “Adaptation Studies and Learning” focuses on closely. Drawing in the reader as a participant in the narrative, provoking the reader to reflect on his/her own educational narratives, this book certainly did speak to me.

1xcom29429alluser8926TimeForFairyTalesWhat summer readings have spoken to you?

Reference:

Adaptation Studies and Learning 2013, Raw, L. and Gurr, T. 

So What Happened to Learning?

I sift through reams of words and worlds of pedagogy.

I blink through bytes of pedagogy and educational concerns.

May 2013 and still the drums beat on about 21st Century Learning. May 2013, and one still faces screens flickering on about disruptions in the educational process. Spring 2013 and again I wonder – what happened to learning?

It is simple enough to pin-point what learning should and may entail today. It is simple enough to declare “we want to become digital learners”. Yet, how far is the curriculum actually moving forward to give space to the learning which needs to be put into practice?

Students will not start creating content for learning if not given space and encouragement. Students have busy lives – they are connected and digitally intense. It’s that passion, that connectivity which needs to be channeled towards learning and learning environments, that still eludes me.

Just as I am baffled by a student who explains to me that they were told not to download interactive stories onto their iPads because those apps (i.e. interactive stories) take up too much space, I am left wondering – so it’s OK to fill up an iPad with games which require no learning, no thinking, no incentive towards productive creativity?

Change in attitudes will not happen because one decides to implement change from above. Change in learning attitudes is not solely the responsibility of teachers. It is the responsibility of all members of an institution, of a community.

As a classroom teacher, I want a change in focus. Stop telling me how and what to teach. Begin telling me about learning.

Tell me about the learning for futures uncertain.

Tell me about learning for jobs which have not yet been established.

Talk to me about learning.

Then, perhaps, will I awake from this flickering slumber of digital bytes on teaching.

Beyond the Gloss of Educational Change

Yes. You have been there. The children are scrubbed clean, their uniform shirt has been ironed and their broken, shoddy footwear is kept well out of site.

Yes. You have been there. The new building which is an eye-sore on the urban landscape, the sparkling clean windows, the corridors barren of dirt and laughter.

Yes. You too have been there. The newly installed wi-fi, the brand new digital devices, the staff breathlessly dashing from lessons to training sessions, only to slump in the car park with relief that another wasted day is over.

And that is precisely one of the central issues at moments of profound change: the outer gloss.

Gloss comes in 3 main categories as well.

Category 1 – We have invested in new computers/iPads/computer labs! See how we shine for you…..

Category 2 – We provide professional training to our staff! See how we shine for you…..

Category 3- We are on par with leading institutions because we support change in Education. See how we shine for you…..

However, the shining is superficial, the gloss is thin and easily cracked.

In order for real change to occur, one needs to work constantly beyond the gloss, beyond the rhetoric, beyond the shining exterior. Agendas of change need to begin within the participants for there to be any positive effect. If teachers themselves do not feel the need for change, no amount of imposed professional training will alter their perceptions. If students are not shown how digital learning does enable them to become better learners, better students, no amount of digital investment will change their perceptions.

Having been (and currently am) a participant of change within educational systems that I work in and contribute to, the attachment to glossy smoke and mirrors is, in my view, one of the major stumbling blocks to effective change.

That is not to say that I favour dropping all digital initiatives and thus risk even further gaps of skills and knowledge. By no means would that solve any problem in education.

What I am saying, is that the need for change, the need for all players to acknowledge the need for change, takes time and must come from within an institution and its participants. There may be national educational agendas, regional agendas or even local agendas. None will be effective if the need does not stem from within. When participants are able to contribute to the agenda of change, to tailor it to their context and needs, that is when the process of change begins in full bloom. That is the moment walking unknown roads becomes a pleasure, an urgency and meaningful.

Just as the iPad brings no alchemy of success to classrooms without an iPadology to accompany it, introducing digital change from above without internalizing change to begin with, will not bring about success.

Educators cannot be lingering and waiting for professional development to come to them any longer. Educators need to be willing to have initiative, to practice and develop their interests and skills. Step by step – just as so many educators will tell their students. Educators need to internalize and  acknowledge change. From there, they are able to assist learners, many who still struggle with using digital environments and tools for learning.

There is no time to fear failing.

The only fear is being stuck in gloss.

What’s your choice?

 

Further references:

Heick, T. 2012, 5 Secrets for Smarter Education Technology Integration

Jeffery, B., 2013, iPads, A Tool, Not Alchemy, For Education

Vander Ark, T., 2013, Good Work: Tapping the Dark Matter

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