Learning Mobility

Cordelia – Nothing

King Lear – Nothing!

Cordelia – Nothing.

King Lear – Nothing will come of nothing; Speak again.

Silence. Stillness.

Disconnection. Nothingness.

Having recently experienced a tech meltdown ( CristinaSkyBox), issues regarding the relevance of being connected, of teaching digital citizenship/identity, of engaging learners and teachers with technology for education, it is no surprise that concerns about mobility have been most on my mind.

It is never sufficient to explain how mobility needs to be integrated into classrooms. Mobility of being able to connect without firewalls, mobility to use mobile phones – above all, the mobility to inspire minds. In many institutions world over, the rule of no mobile phones in the classroom is still strongly preached and enforced.

Question: what exactly are educators afraid of?

Are they indeed concerned for their learners or the fact that their classrooms are dull, boring, lifeless?

Or,  is it the threat that a younger generation,  who is more tech-savy, has the power to dismiss the teacher who does not wish to update him/herself both technologically and pedagogically? Were I student today at school (and please do note that I am in fact currently a student as well), I would be on my mobile device throughout boring lessons. Why would I even want to attend school if I was not learning how I wanted to, how I needed to and above all ,not  be respected as a 21st century learner?

Mobility to learn is not just related to M-learning. Mobility to learn is our reality today with OER, Open Universities, MOOCs, Web 2.0, mobile devices and so very much more.

Mobility is an attitude. A state of mind. A state of learning.

Question: what right do “teachers” have to censor learning?

What right do “educators” who are unwilling to keep up with current pedagogical approaches, with the needs of their learners, with the demands of real life outside the classroom, have to maintain silence? To establish educational censorship?
Bauer (2012)  explains how “Today’s students aren’t interested in “going online” to get things done. Booting up, opening the browser, logging on, navigating to the task — they’ll do it if absolutely necessary. Students live in a text and tweet world now and are more likely to consume information and access services if they’re mobile-friendly.
Tinto, suggests that in order to maintain student retention at higher education, that structures need to be put into place which meet their needs. In his study Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College, Tinto raises several issues in regard to student success and retention and explains how:

Involvement is also an important condition for student learning. Even among students who persist, students who are more actively involved in learning, especially with others, learn more and show greater levels of intellectual development.

Tinto also stresses the need of not only shared knowledge but share knowing – and shared responsibility. This is put into practice through communities where students are required to collaborate with each other. Result?

” students spend more time-on-task, learn more, and persist more frequently than similar students in stand-alone and/or traditionally taught classrooms. Their involvement with others in learning within the classroom becomes the vehicle through which effort is enhanced, learning is enriched, and commitments to their peers and the institution are engendered. By being placed in a setting where students have to learn together in a collaborative fashion, everyone’s understanding and knowledge is enriched. As one student observed, “not only do you learn more, you learn better.” (Tinto, Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College,)

It is through digital and mobile technology that these successes occur.

Bauer highlights how “According to market research firm IDC, by 2015 more users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs. By not embracing mobile, institutions will not only miss an opportunity to communicate with their students, they will actually create an interaction barrier.”

Change comes slowly. Change does not happen in a vacuum. Change demands loss of fear and commitment. Bauer’s  (2012) results from a 2011 survey showed the following:

We were surprised to learn that students wanted more than just a handful of campus services on their mobile devices — they wantedeverything. The overwhelming majority wanted mobile access to view grades, check course schedules, and log in to the college’s learning management system, Blackboard. They also wanted access to essential services like the library database and course registration information, along with conveniences like dining menus and bus schedules.

The student survey also pointed out that a majority of the students felt that mobile apps were of high importance. It was clear that whatever we did with mobile, we needed to do it quickly. And in building our strategy, we needed to incorporate students in creating the vision – we couldn’t workshop something and pop it out on them. We needed their voices and ideas in our development efforts.”

Change. Change is embedded in life. Change should be embedded in education.

However, as Herrington & al (2009) note:

Despite the significant potential of mobile technologies to be

employed as powerful learning tools in higher education, their current

use appears to be predominantly within a didactic, teacher-centred

paradigm, rather than a more constructivist environment. It can be

argued that the current use of mobile devices in higher education

(essentially content delivery) is pedagogically conservative and

regressive. Their adoption is following a typical pattern where

educators revert to old pedagogies as they come to terms with the

capabilities of new technologies, referred to by Mioduser, Nachmias,

Oren and Lahav (1999) as ‘one step forward for the technology, two

steps back for the pedagogy’ (p. 758).

Barseghian (2012) recently pointed out:

The opportunity of using mobile devices and all of its utilities allows educators to reconsider: What do we want students to know, and how do we help them? And what additional benefit does using a mobile device bring to the equation? This gets to the heart of the mobile learning issue: beyond fact-finding and game-playing – even if it’s educational — how can mobile devices add relevance and value to how kids learn?

There’s not just one explanation. As mobile devices evolve and become ever more powerful and multi-functional, the answers will change. In the meantime, there are some things educators know for certain do make a big impact on learning.”

Finally,

“Because mobile devices are the new piece here, people want to know does it make a difference,” Pasnik said. “When we know that learning happens because of relationships, and we want to keep that richness. So the question of the value of a single piece like the mobile phone becomes reductive. You falsely are having to focus in one element, when in fact, learning happens because multiple elements are interacting with one another.” (Barseghian, 2012)

With learning in mind, I turn to Herrington & al (2009) who call one’s attention to authentic learning:

“Authentic learning situates students in learning contexts where they

encounter activities that involve problems and investigations reflective

of those they are likely to face in their real world professional contexts

(Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Herrington

and Oliver (2000) have identified nine characteristics of authentic

learning:

• authentic contexts that reflect the way the knowledge will be used

in real-life

• authentic activities that are complex, ill-defined problems and

investigations

• access to expert performances enabling modelling of processes

• multiple roles and perspectives providing alternative solution

pathways

• collaboration allowing for the social construction of knowledge

• opportunities for reflection involving metacognition

• opportunities for articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be

made explicit

• coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times

• authentic assessment that reflect the way knowledge is asses in

real life.”

Mobility is real. Mobile learning is reality. So, again I ask, what right do those who are involved in education, dare dismiss mobility? Mobile phones, iPads/tablets, iPods are all useful learning tools. Learners connect with their devices – and through their day-to-day devices, become more open, more accepting of being in a classroom. Or must they only be in a classroom to do tasks and actually learn?

Hockly (2012) clearly explains how teaching/learning tasks may be carried out in the classroom or on “the go”. Even when an institution denies permission to use M-learning, there are so many creative, inventive ways for educators to guide learner on how to use their mobile devices. It is a question of taking advantage of the moment, of opening learning opportunities to students.

No. This lack is not because of tech. There are too many teachers, who by sticking to routine lesson plans, afraid of taking the untread path, fearful of losing “power”, do not take advantage of relevant learning moments. Which begs the question – isn’t that why students go to educational institutions? Aren’t they there to learn?

Many comments, such as the ones published here and here, are unacceptable. If one is involved in education, one has social, ethical and professional responsibilities. Educators need to keep up-dated. Educators need to connect with their learners, guide them, show them how they can use their devices to learn and not only send texts to each other.

In the words of Siemens (2012) in regard to higher education:

Educators are not driving the change bus. Leadership in traditional universities has been grossly negligent in preparing the academy for the economic and technological reality it now faces.”

Changes. Economic, technological realities. It is not only at tertiary education where these changes should be taking place, but at all levels of education.

Mobility comes in many forms. Mobility is above all an attitude, a belief and practice of life.

References:

Barseghian, T,  (2012) Amidst a Mobile Revolution in Schools, Will Old Teaching Tactics Work?

Bauer, P. (2012) Mobile: It’s Time to Get Serious

Herrington, J., Herrington, A., Mantei, J., Olney, I., & Ferry, B. (2009). New technologies, new pedagogies: Using mobile technologies to develop new ways of teaching and learning. In J.Herrington, A. Herrington, J. Mantei, I. Olney, & B. Ferry (Eds.), New technologies, new pedagogies Mobile learning in higher education (pp. 1-14). Wollongong: University of Wollongong. Retrieved from http://ro.uow.edu.au/

Hockly, N. (2012) in Mobile Tech, Nicky & Language Acquisition – IATEFL, Glasgow 2012

Siemens, G. (2012) The Future of Higher Education and Other Imponderables

Tinto, V.  Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College

Further Reading:

10 Sites to use with Mobile Phones in Education

E-moderation Station

Mobile Devices Drive Creative Instruction

Top 50 Mobile Learning Resources

Advertisements

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.

Referenecs:

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,

Jumping off the Digital Bandwagon

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

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

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

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

Disruption

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

Collaborative Learning

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

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

Flipping Classrooms

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

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

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

Digital Native Divide

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

Drama of Change

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

Wheeler, S. – 2012 What the Flip?

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?

La Sonata

“At one time, people used to paint things that could be seen on Earth, things they liked looking at and would have liked to see. Now we make the reality of visible things apparent and in doing so express the belief that, in relation to the world as a whole, the visible is only an isolated example and that other truths are latently in the majority. Things appear in their extended and manifold sense, often seemingly contradicting yesterday’s experience. The aim is to reveal the fundamental idea behind the coincidental.”

                                      Paul Klee

Having my students develop a digital story has proceeded with caution, clear instructions and an achievable pace for them. For if a task is not achievable, then what is the point of having learners do it?

Stories come from a womb of words; syllables mixed with desires, longings, memories.

There are shades of meaning, mists of cultural references, dreams of simplicity.

Developing digital stories is an awakening of the senses.

In the third phase of this digital storytelling lesson, (A Journey of Stories and RolesWomb of Words ) students had to print their collaborative  fragments from Edmodo and edit their writing. Once again, I reminded students how I was there if they needed any help or had any question. They glanced up but I had become invisible and irrelevant. Only their story existed. Each group had 2 tasks to complete:

Task 1 – Edit and proofread (especially verb tenses, singular/plurals, spelling and connecting words as well as other linguistic features; specific points to pay attention to were written up on board as a framework for students)

Task 2 – While some members of the group focused on the writing, others searched for images to collated into a visual story. I left the choice open should they want to include video and music as well.

The final task which was left for homework, was to create a movie with their visual data and written work. I had wanted students to use Vuvox – it would be an opportunity for them to become familiar with a tool which is useful for presentations, is easy to use and simple to embed in their blogs. However, there was an unexpected glitch: none of the students could sign up to Vuvox. I hadn’t used Vovox myself lately so that is certainly a recommendation I leave to teachers – always find time to check if there has been any change in a tool, whether when signing up or if it continues to be freely available.

However, students themselves proposed an alternative, rejecting any other tool I would have wanted them to learn. They knew how to create movies with iMovie and didn’t particularly want to learn a new way of making movies. I agreed to their suggestion, surprised and frankly pleased to see them take an initiative. But, did I as a teacher really give up my power by giving in to students?

Hall (1976:16) states that culture:

(i)              is not innate, but learned,

(ii)           the various facets of culture are interrelated,

(iii)           is shared and in effect defines the foundries of different groups.

(based on Hall 1976:16)

A teacher’s movement in the classroom may be perceived as a game of chess: in the game of chess, it is the Queen who holds the most powerful role of movement in the game. In the classroom, it the teacher who, while not necessarily acting in an authoritarian manner (Widdowson 1987:86), holds ultimate power. This unequal share of power is inherent to classrooms, and as Jackson (1968) points out, is always present (Jackson 1968:32). Any change in the power structure is one of degree – for just as in game of chess, once a teacher has given up complete power (i.e. when the queen is taken), the classroom culture ceases to be what is conceived as an established classroom cultures. And the sensitive question remains: would learners really desire the total collapse of a cultural system in which each member knows his / her role and the security (i.e. known expectations and demand) that security brings with it?

I dare say that in my conservative context, (or in many other teaching contexts) this would not be likely. Leadership in classrooms is important to learners. Learners expect the established classroom culture to be maintained, despite the momentarily abdication of power and rule setting.

And so my digital storytelling lesson draws to a close. As in many stories of change, an epilogue shall follow.

(Image: Still Life)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Questioning …

One counter argument I have often heard is what is the point of digital storytelling? How can it assessed? How does creating digital storytelling prepare learners for exams?

My question is, why must teaching/learning only be geared towards examination performance?

In my view, the ability of performing well on examination is the ability to do examinations. If learning is stimulated by inquiry and reflection, then the value of preparing students essentially for examination performance is stifling – more in line behaviourial theories than with cognitive development. The need to evaluate learners and grade them (though with its own merits – cf Hughes 1990, Davies 1988) seems to become at times more important than giving learners space to learn and to inquire into the learning process – i.e. their own individual learning process and the collective learning experience of the classroom. It is this area of conflict – or point of tension – (see figure below) that I refer to, but do not assume to supply ready answers, for that would demand a detailed inquiry.

Despite its tone of slight extremism, the question needs to be put forward: is education to remain as the legitimate process of restraining cognitive abilities and ensuring that behavioural responses – which are so much easier to control – are well activated? Notwithstanding, it is my firm contention that education may – and in many cases, is – more than legitimate cloning. It is with this last observation in mind, that I would wish to

suggest a sense of balance in education – for although I do not suggest that forms of evaluation be abolished, the data seems to indicate that a balance between the demands of teachers, learners and their educational institutions would more fully satisfy the members involved.

References

Davies, A . – 1988, “Communicative language Testing”, in ELT Documents 127, OUP

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

Hughes, A.  – 1990, Testing for Language Teachers, Cambrige University press

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

Widdowson, H. G. – 1987,  “The Roles of Teacher and Learner”, in ELT  Journal, vo1.

41/2,

A Journey of Stories and Roles

 Leave by Raluca Deca 

When plotting stories, one needs to find a point to begin, then, one must entwine the threads which will lead onto the following scenes and actions. Perhaps there will be characters. Perhaps they will have names. One thing is certain: it will not take place in a void.

In order to prepare my students for their digital story task, I too needed to plot and reflect on the journey. This post is an attempt to describe the steps which will lead to a multi-media story written and produced by my learners.

Opening the Door

In language classes, learners are accustomed to the traditional approach of teachers asking them questions and then moving on to the next task. Whether brainstorming in a group or a reading or listening activity, it is always the teacher who has the power to ask questions. My first step was to reverse this role.

The currant topic discussed in lessons has been on education. Having worked through the various types of learners and each of my students understanding better what their main learning style/preference was, it came to light that the majority of students had a preference for visual learning. Consequently, in the next lesson I divided the class in half. One half of the class had to prepare questions on the image they were about to see, while the other half of the class were to prepare answers about the image.

My choice of image was not random – my students are 19 years old, mostly single and many watch romantic movies. They also live in a mountainous region, where tales of genies  are shared and believed.

Magic is not remote. Magic and metaphors live round the bend of the mountain.

Some may think that giving answers is the key to power in the classroom, however it is the one who asks, the one who questions, who has the power. This power is also quite perverse and relative – both the teacher and students know who has the answer. By giving this power to the students, I as a teacher did not abdicate; I shifted the traditional power balance. Students had to study the image and formulate their own questions. The other students had to predict what kind of questions could be asked, what kind of responses they could give about the image. The only framework I gave them was that they had to observe the image and read the story in the image, thus giving students a broad scope for whatever story they read from it.

This first stage involved only a projected image and oral work. Students were highly engaged and with the slight element of competition (i.e. which group would have the better questions or answers?), listening attentively to each other. My role was different. I stood in the shadows, listening, observing, making no intervention until the end, when I congratulated them on their work – for while they were asking and answering, they would sometimes even correct themselves (e.g. a verb tense or SVA), something that they wouldn’t do so eagerly in other circumstances.

Knowledge, Culture and Roles

Stenhouse (1991) claims that the school is basically a distributor of knowledge rather than a manufacturer (1991:10). This raises two issues – firstly that the knowledge found in schools is moulded in the activities of maintaining that knowledge rather than generating new forms of knowledge. Secondly, as Stenhouse also points out, disciplines of knowledge “have a social existence” and:

are located in groups of scholars, typically in our society working in universities, extending their disciplines by research and teaching them to students.

(Stenhouse 1991:11)

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

What if that maintenance of knowledge is reversed? What if the classroom culture is altered?

It is my belief that knowledge and culture cannot be regarded as a fixed, immobile reality. It is dynamic in the sense that it is a phenomenon which is alive and changing. But although change occurs, that does not imply that a culture is altered: any culture will hold elements of changing factors which will in turn be perceived as recurring patterns to the members of the group, thus keeping the group together. There is a common understanding, whether in language classrooms or others. There may be reversals and moments with altering realities (e.g. who is asking the question) but members of that particular culture share an understanding that it is momentary.  And if not, if there indeed is a deeper change, what are the consequences?

In education, there is an inferred recognition of the classroom culture by both teachers and learners. This understanding is accomplished by the acknowledgement of roles: roles are the means of cultural recognition in a classroom. Yet roles are neither static nor permanent. Each member of the classroom will play out different roles throughout a lesson. The recurrent roles will become the pattern of cultural recognition. The issue which now follows is – what is in a role?

Sarbin tells us that:

A role is patterned sequence of learned action or deeds performed by a person in an interaction situation. The organizing of the individual action is a product of the perceptual and cognitive behaviour of person A upon observing person B.

(Sarbin, in Cicourel 1972:25)

Cortis (1977) claims that:

The role of teacher and pupil are accorded different statuses both by tradition and by the age and developmental differences between the two parties.

(Cortis 1977:19)

In contrast, Gremmo, Holec and Rilec perceive a role as ” more dynamic and consequently more fleeting than status. It operates over a narrower set of relations and is dependent on norms set and accepted by the participants themselves.” (Gremmo, Holec,Rilec 1985:37)

How then, are roles established in the classroom society? Breen states that the culture of the classroom “insists upon asymmetrical relationships”:

The rights and duties of the teacher and taught are different. More significantly both teacher and taught may be equally reluctant to upset the asymmetry of roles and identities to which these duties and rights are assigned. (Breen 1986:146)

Postman and Weingartner have discerned how when the teacher assumes new functions and exhibits different behaviours, so do his students. It is the nature of their transactions. (Postman & Weingartner 1975:47)

They also explain that:

Ecology has to do with the relationships of all the elements of an environment and how these relationships lead to balance and survival (…) In the learning environment there are at least four critical elements: the learner, the teacher, the ‘to-be-learned’ and the strategies for learning.

(Postman & Weingartner 1975:58)

Culture and the roles within culture are not static identities. They are alive, dynamic and as such, subject to alteration. In the classroom, we find a scenario where these elements are constantly altering – both throughout a lesson. Breen comments:

Learners give a teacher the right to adopt a role and identity of teacher. And a teacher has to earn particular rights and duties in the eyes of the learning group. (…) each new class-room group reinvents the rules of the game in ways which both reflect and form the classroom-culture assumption (…)

(Breen 1986:146-147)

Roles imply games and games imply power. Just like the playing pieces of the chess game, teachers and students too have pre-determined roles to fulfill. These roles will be shaped by an implicit or explicit power relationship. This power relationship between teachers and students is one in which power struggle, which will reflect in discourse practices. By giving the students the power of questioning, I intentionally reversed roles.

Esland (1981) remarks that “Pedagogy also contains a manipulative dimension in that it suggests strategies for minimizing the resistance between the teacher’s world view and that of the pupil.” (Esland 1981:84)

And so the scene was set for minimizing resistance. Minimizing conceptions of authority, roles and expectations. My intention is for my students to create a digital story. A learner centred task, in small groups, in different stages. My role is to provide a framework for them to achieve their task.

In a flatter world, an inter-connected world where learners may become the producers of their knowledge, classroom roles will be different. I may hold the knowledge to syntax and other features of language; I may also hold the knowledge of ICT tools for a fleeing moment until my students master them faster and even better than I do.

Perceptions of knowledge, culture and roles are undergoing shifts of perception. Shifts in understanding. Knowing is never static.

References:

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

Circourel, A.V. – 1972, ‘Basic and Normative rules in the Negotiation  3.Status and Role”, in Recent Sociology no2, ed. Dreitzel H.P., Collier Macmillan

Cortis, G. – 1977, The Social Context of teaching, Open Books

Esland,  G. – 1981, “Teaching and Learning as the organization of knowledge’, in Knowledge and control, ed. Young M.F., Collier Macmillan

Gremmo, M-J.,H.Holec, P.Riley,   – 1985, Interactional Structure; the Role of Role”, in Discourse and Learning, ed. Riley, P., Longman

Postman, N. & C Weingartner – 1975,  Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Penguin Education.

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

Further suggestions:

Digital Storytelling 

Digital Storytelling Collection

Global Digital Citizen – The Role of the Teacher

Differentiation as Learning

As educators, one learns how each student is different, special, unique. As educators, one learns how to manage rooms of unique learners, transmitting curricula which is meant for the masses, preparing learners for assessment of the masses.

Learning is knowing that:

Each individual is different.

Each learner is different.

Each educator is different.

Each is special, unique, gifted.

Knowing is learning.

I’d like to thank @suifaijohnmak for sharing this video and for all that I learn with him.