The New Normal

So what is the new normal today?

What it always has been.


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?


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

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 2

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

Jeanette Winterson

What is it about that chaos that attracts me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Fluidity

With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere.


My first computer was a MAC; slick grey lines, beautifully designed keyboard to lightly tap away on, friendly and easy to use. After all, I had had no IT training and appreciated not only the design but the simple drag and drop ease which MAC offered. When I left my home to study abroad, I didn’t take my desktop with me. Instead, I learnt how to bang away on Windows, becoming acquainted with different word processing programs of the time.  Yes. I did miss my own desktop but was happy enough slipping and sliding disks where I saved my work.

Already I was involved in quiet conversations  of  how a communication revolution  was about to take place; a revolution so profound that human communication would change forever.  I knew where it had started but didn’t know the name. Some months later I did, and I too was connected with a modem to the internet. Connected to the world – or so I thought at the time.

Perceptions of connection, of being connected, of digitally connecting,  change with time. And with the technology available for each period of time.

I still used floppy disks to back up work. I began disliking the unreliability of the modem.  I dreamt of a more streamline and fluid form of communication.

From desktops to laptops, from laptops to mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone, today I have become more agile, more mobile than ever. With or without wifi, I am able to digitally connect with others. I no longer carry floppy disks of any format; you can always count on me having several USBs/flashdrives tucked away in my bag; I digitally dwell in and out of Web 2.0, welcome the approach of Web 3.0, delight in free flow of communication, information and learning.

Open doors, open windows. Criss-crosses of light beaming and transporting me.

And yet.

Where does that leave me as an educator? How significant is my own rite of digital passage in regard to others? In order to reflect more closely on the role of mobile devices in today’s educational settings, I turned again to my PLN.

Over four days, I shared my survey on Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo and G+.

I received a total of 585 responses, 3 of which did not include their country of origin.

In my fluid digital world, there are also glitches. Time, context, connections. One participant (who I will refer to in more detail further ahead) was so willing to participate that he/she sent me a Word document as there had been digital glitches.

Fluidity does not necessarily imply perfection. Here below you can see the results of the mini survey.

My 1st question was:

My 2nd question referred to participants’ age group:

And my 3rd question inquired into where participants were located. From East to West, North to South, the 585 participants are located in:

As mentioned above, I also had a special contribution from Romania:

Number of participants -> 12


10 years of age/ 6 participants

9 years of age/ 5 participants

8 years of age/ 1 participant


Laptop / 8 participants

iPad / 3 participants

Desktop / 1 participant

From the survey, I would also like to add the additional information: 

1) There was 1 participant who added that he/she did not have an iPad yet;

2) 1 participant skipped Question 1;

3) 6 participants skipped Question 2;

4) 3 participants skipped Question 3.

5) 1 participant told me in one of my PLN that Question 2 was too difficult to answer as the use of device depended on context where they found themself.

6) I did not include young learners, (i.e. under the age of 15)  aware that some schools use firewalls and that perhaps teachers who did not know me,  (or did not have time to carry out survey in class) would not allow their learners to participate in the survey. Nevertheless, and even though I work in Higher Education, it is this group of learners who will be defining the future’s preferred digital device. Their voices too should heard.

Communication requires a context, shared points of reference and the acceptance that everything is relative.

However, I purposefully gave no options to participants  in regard to context of use. My aim was to narrow down options as much as possible, hoping that participants would provide answers which reflected their true use of digital device. Obviously, a laptop will be more popular than perhaps a iPhone/Android when there is a need for writing more than a message; just as perhaps an iPad/Tablet may often be more comfortable to read in bed than a laptop. For each context, today we have choices in regard to different digital needs and purposes.

Mobility. Fluid, uninterrupted, flowing.

A desire to be achieved or a desire in action?

Looking at the pie chart, one clearly sees how laptops, iPad/Tablets and iPhone/Androids have become more popular than desktops. My next entry shall be an attempt to address issues raised today and possible approaches to the change that mobile learning brings to education and classrooms.

Special Note

To all participants, my sincerest thanks for your time and support. A very special thank you to Cristina Milos, @surreallyno, who when faced with a digital glitch, took time to send me the results via email, thus ensuring that  young voices from Romania would also be heard. 

Further reading:

Mobile Learning : More than just Mobile + Learning – Social Learning Blog

Mobile Tech, Nicky & Language AcquisitionCristinaSkyBox

Action, Beliefs and Inquiries

Knowledge is knowledge of order, the order created by the individual when he imposes the organization of his cognitive categories on the chaos which surrounds him.

(Riley 1985)

In moments of dramatic changes, I feel the need to re-visit maps, to reflect on knowing and knowledge, to open  boundaries which may lead my inquiries and learning further beyond. Knowledge becomes what one knows after having imposed cognitive categories in an organized fashion.

And, according to Riley (1985)

Since each individual has his own cognitive map and will add to it indiosyncratically, the most powerful aids to learning will be those which reveal to him (the learner) the nature of his map, which provides him with a model of his world. (Riley 1985:160

My maps are entwined with different knowings. Between the analogue world and the digital dimension, I seek possibly clues for answers.

In his discussion on the content of education, Stenhouse (1991) raises the following issue:

Prophets may teach private wisdom: teachers must deal in public knowledge.

(Stenhouse 1991:6)

So, when transmitting knowledge, what roles do teachers perform? How do they become apparent (Widdowson 1987:84)?

Let me thread my beliefs together:

  1. Firstly, reality is socially constructed. Its features of knowledge are shared by all members of a specific community or cultural group.
  2. Educational institutions and their classrooms from such specific cultures.
  3. Culture is fluid and this notion of fluidity, with its tensions between internal and social worlds, will be present in the classroom.
  4. Culture may be perceived through the enactment of roles. Within the classroom culture, there exist three determining role of the teacher, the learner and the curriculum. Each will sustain and be sustained by the status recognized by and recognizable of the group.
  5. These roles and statuses will determine and shape the expectations and demands of each of the participating members.
  6. Despite the “opportunistic process” (Jackson 1968:166) of teaching there exist norms and procedures. Owing to these, the classroom culture may be seen as a chess game, where power struggles are perceived through the social interactional setting.
  7. Hence, the art of teaching is confronted with the unnerving critical question: is the classroom space intended for teaching – i.e. the handing down of knowledge- or good social management? And does good social management provide fruitful learning conditions?
  8. Power is sited in discourse:   What are the implications for the classroom teacher who is often caught between theory and reality? What possible bridges exist And how are they crossed?

Educational group such as schools and classrooms are specific cultures into which their members are initiated. We may understand the educational process as formulated by Stenhouse (1967)

Education is essentially a group process depending upon communication. And the communication is not merely from the teacher to the class. If the class is to make the culture its own, it must come to found its own social life on it.”

With metaphors or without, classrooms may be perceived as dynamic social communities, with their own cultural behaviour and knowledge. In relation to knowing,  knowledge is always gained through action and for action (MacMurry, 1957, Polauyi,1958).

Hence my belief that it is of no practical use to only claim to support digital tech in education. One needs to practice one’s belief and understanding; to foster knowledge and knowing, there needs to be action. This action is not merely initiated and maintained by the teacher, but by all participants of the classroom. This action too can not be limited to the Powerpoint displays by the teacher nor only participation of learners in a LMS.

At a time when the needs of digital literacies are constantly discussed, it is impertinent that learners themselves create and become involved in their process of digital literacies. It isn’t a question of learners being “involved in their learning process” – that has been a requirement of all times. What indeed is urgent is that learners are able to understand that even using simple digital tools to create dialogues or comic strips for their blogs, are relevant skills for their future.

How? Learners need to read the screen. Locate information, and not just cry out for the teacher’s assistance. This is a skill which is learnt through practice/action. It is through active participation in digital networks and communities that learners become more aware of their role as digital citizens and their digital footprint. It is by blogging  and using class wikis that students gain experience to take beyond the classroom walls. It is by experimenting with search engines other than Google that learners may become aware of how better to locate information.

These are merely some examples which I practice in my classrooms; practices which cross the bridge of class management and the tensions between educational theory and practice.

I began this post with retracing beliefs.

I end this post by planting a garden of (adapted) questions raised by Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007).

Journeys of inquiry do not end quickly.


Cummins, J., Brown, K, Sayers, D. – 2007 – Literacy, Technology, and Diversity, Pearson

Jackson, P.W.– 1968, Life in classrooms, Holt, Rinehart &Winston

Riley, P. – 1985, Mud and Stars: Personal Constructs, Sensitization and Learning”, in Discourse and Learning, ed. Riley, P., Longman

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

Stenhouse, L.       – 1991, An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, Heineman

Widdowson, H. G. – 1987,  “The Roles of Teacher and Learner”, in ELT  Journal, vol1 41/2,

Deconstructing Maps of Digital Identity

‘This’, Belbo said, would explain why Dee paid so much attention to those royal cartographers. It was not to discover the ‘true’ form of the earth, but to reconstruct, among all the mistaken maps, the one right map, the one of use to him.

 ‘Not bad, not bad at all,’ Diotallevi said. ’To arrive at the truth through the painstaking reconstruction of a false text.’     (Eco 1989:459)

Maps, learning and reconstructions. One must not confuse the map with the territory. The map becomes another objective reality to read interpret.

However, as a participant in education, I am required to create maps, to read maps, to interpret maps. To interpret approaches, trends and changes. It is part of who I am, what I do, how I wish to learn.

Ethnographic interpretations are part of my map reading. According to Lutz (1981), ethnography develops from two models: the operational and representational model. By operational model, Lutz refers to the “data of events observed by the researcher” (Lutz 1981:55). On the other hand, the representational model reflects the “data gathered from “native” informants about the “native” interpretation and meaning of what happened.” (Lutz 1981:55). Ethnography becomes an encounter with inner and outer events. We may even regard it as an approach which is primarily characterised by this collaborative encounter with experience – not only the researcher’s experience, but also of those who are being studied.

Maps are to be read, interpreted and understood. So where can meaning be found?

To arrive at meaning, the research must undergo understanding and interpreting phenomena. Heron (1990) demonstrates this by saying that:

“To explain human behaviour you have, among other things, to understand this activity, and to fully to understand it involves participating in it through overt dialogue and communication with those who are engaging in it.” (Heron 1990:23)

The ethnographic text thus becomes an artifact, a construction of reality (Hammersley and Atkinson 1983, Reason and Rowan 1990). This constructed reality, the map of reality but not the territory, cannot express a total, unshaken truth, for:

“(…) the idea that any science can be value free is, in my view, a delusion. Persons in relation to their world symbolizing their experience of the value of the presented world constitutes a fundament of the human condition.” (Heron 1990:33)

In any scientific research then, it is impossible to break away from any degree of subjective interpretation. 

Digital Maps

One aspect of today’s change is the added feature of digital citizenship. No light addition,  for both educators and learners need to understand what is involved; they need to understand the map/s of digital citizenship.

Reading the Map of Digital Citiizenship

As I read the map of digital citizenship, the following characteristics leap out:

These are neither simple nor learnt in one hour. One’s digital footstep, one’s digital traces have become part of one’s identity. As an adult, I have learnt with time, participating in educational boards, mailing lists to online communities and networks to contributing to the digital world with my own blogs and other online participations. I have often questioned the issue of identity, particularly one’s digital identity; and as any other role, perceive it as one which is alive, in motion, developing.

In regard to learners, educators have an urgent responsibility to openly discuss the implications of online participation and the nature of digital citizenship. As Richards (2010) explains:

“The Internet features communication platforms, such as blogs, wikis, and social networks that have allowed average users to change from passive receivers of information to active producers of information (Budin, 2005).  These tools and the ways that they have empowered individuals to take control of their Internet experiences have been categorized as Web 2.0 technology (Pachler & Daly, 2009; Williams & Chinn, 2009). There have been several occurrences in recent history where the use of these tools has either promoted awareness of social causes or gathered people together for civic action.  As more of these instances happen throughout the world, it is increasingly important for students to understand not only how Web 2.0 tools work, but also how the sharing and distribution of information through these tools can promote civic engagement (Budin, 2005). Warschauer (2003) defined computer-mediated communication (CMC) as the “interpretive and writing skills necessary to communicate effectively via online media” (p. 117).”

Ethnographic research into classrooms and roles of teachers and learners today, needs to take these digital maps into consideration. These maps are more than traces of identity – they define one’s identity, thus being an integral part of oneself.

Maps are to be read into.

Maps are to be questioned throughout learning journeys.

How do you map your digital citizenship identity?


Hammersley, M.&P.Atkinson – 1983, Ethnography, Principles and Practice Tavistock Publications

Heron, J. – 1990, “Philosophical Basis for a New Paradigm” in  Human Inquiry, ed. Reason, P.& J.Rowan, John Wiley &Sons

Lutz, F.W. – 1981, “Ethnography – The Holistic Approach to Understanding Schooling”, in Ethnography and Language in Educational Settings, ed. Green, J. & C. Wallet,

Reason, P. & J. Rowan, – 1990, “Issues of validity in new paradigm Research”, in Human Inquiry, ed. Reason, P. & J. Rowan, John Wiley & Sons

Richards, R., –  2010,  Digital Citizenship and Web 2.0 Tools, JOLT

The Nature of Classroom Roles – An Inquiry

The discovery of meaning lies, as Wittgenstein so persuasively taught not in the lexicon but in use. In the search for meaning, then we are not so much concerned with matters of fact or with some objective representation of reality, but with the more elusive topics of the perception, cognition and expression of reality.

(Cohen 1984)

As I reflect on today’s changes in classrooms, I take a step back, peer into those spaces,  and establish my beliefs and perceptions in regard to classrooms and roles. For it is by expressing how I perceive classrooms that I many then inquire into the changes that digital technology has brought us.

To begin with, the classroom is a dynamic social encounter which is conditioned by different factors such as roles, furniture display, pace and flow of movements, evaluation and silences.

Teachers are individuals who represent a group culture and at the same time, represent the institution’s culture – both characteristics are present according to varying degrees. Learners also represent a group culture, as well as being a group culture.

In the classroom, it becomes easier to point out teacher roles in terms of what they are, giving them a name, a defining noun. Although their roles may shift several times in the same lesson from manager to monitor to counselor to entertainer, this shift may often be very subtle. Yet teacher roles are characterized by what they are, they have a name of role which holds certain characteristics.

On the other hand, learner roles appear more difficult to pin-point with a name. Their roles are more easily recognized in terms of their behaviour, of what they do in the classroom, it becomes the action which characterizes their role.

Hence I am led to put forward the hypotheses that a role may not always be a role per se, but a function:

In the classroom a teacher is something. The learner does something which does not reflect a role per se, but an activity. If nouns pre-define the proceeding verb, it is the teacher’s role which will pre-determine and ser in motion the learner’s function/ role.

Therefore, speaking of “Learner’s role” as one refers to “teacher’s role” is an illusion of democratic equality. The concepts of roles are highly relevant within a communicative approach. Since one may consider the communicative approach as evolving from the intellectually dissatisfied ‘60’s, a more democratic ideal of education had to be established and put into practice.

There was a shift from from teacher – centred to learner – centred approach in classrooms (pedagogic reasons for this are not under debate here – I am merely observing this shift of emphasis).

Below is a graph of how I perceive  the socio-educational of the changes which I have just referred to, in regard to English Language Teaching:

Speaking of teacher and learner roles becomes a metaphor for this concept of equality. Both share/contribute equality. Both share/contribute equally to the classroom culture as such, but each in turn will form their own culture – both in and out of the classroom.

Let us visualize this metaphor which is at once bifurcate and globalizing:

Let me consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners. To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is and active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson is explored and emphasized within the communicative approach. This shift accompanies the move which may be parallel to the cognitive theories – a shift which may be parallel to the implementation of communicative teaching / learning.

However, current shifts in education and society have disrupted these perceptions. As the world of knowing and knowledge becomes flatter, more open, so too, do roles.

Or do they?

Classroom Roles – A Prelude

Every educational institution defines its reality through its norms, thus establishing its patters of common behaviour to the participating members. When considering the different levels of education and their reality of age differences – i.e. age differences between teachers and learners will create different social relationships, e.g. age differences between secondary and tertiary students will develop different patterns of behaviour in the relationship with the teacher and syllabus. However, there remains an impertinent question in regard to tertiary classroom cultures:

i) Is there really less “management” of learning at tertiary level than at other levels?

ii) If the managing of learning is still there, though less visible, hence more intangible, does it is more subtle?

iii) And if so, what are then the markers of that discourse?

Related to these issues, is of course the purpose of formal education and classrooms as we know them in their present state: is the justification for the object of teaching meant as a need for learning, learning here meaning the internalizing of external modes of reality in order to continue sustaining that reality?

From my experience and observations in classrooms, these are features which I have found and reflect upon.

1)    It is the institution which pre-determines the roles of teachers and learners, though one should always take into account the different personalities of each of the participating members.

2)    These roles and statues will also contribute to the determination of the teaching approaches applied by the individual teacher.

3)    The curriculum – syllabus and its testing – may condition teaching attitudes and procedures in the classroom.

Nevertheless, there are changes in process.

Changes which will not be stopped nor prevented any longer.

Classroom walls are open.

Learners have free access to whatever they want, whenever they want.

Roles are changing.

Can these changes be measured? And if not, are they not worth inquiring into?

“Questions which cannot be measured are not seen as challenging the notion of measurement, but rather as not worth studying. The impact on society of such a definition of knowledge is the undermining of independent thinking an decision making.”(Reinhartz 1990:422)
What Students Want on PhotoPeach

What do your students want?


Reinharz, S. – 1990 “Implementing New paradigm Research: A Model for Training and practice”, in Human Inquiry, ed. Reason, p. & J. Rowan, John Wiley &  Sons