Resistance and the Re-Imagining of Knowledge

With distance I regard my educational expectations, hopes and whims. I look out the window of my regular comfort and into the lives of the disenfranchised, the disconnected, the illiterate and wonder what  knowledge is today, what would  knowledge be for these who dig up roads and what is knowledge for those in clean connected classroom.

There have always been gaps of knowledge between the haves and have-nots. Today is no different, despite the hope that is pinned on the Web of Open Access and Open Education.

I think of my own students and how their profiles have changed over the years. I tell myself to accept these changes in their attitudes towards educators, towards their studies. If, as an educator I have always encouraged change, if, as an educator I have always supported creative ways of learning, then why do I find it uncomfortable (at times) to accept that students’ profiles have changed? Society has changed. Social norms, social rythyms have been altered by digital technology. The world of education has opened its door to a broader background of students. Their diversity brings creativity but also frictions to classrooms.

Challenge: how does one  guide those frictions into constructive learning?

When considering knowledge today, it is necessary to bear in mind the changes brought about by Open Access. Increasingly there are more open journals, more academics who blog, sharing resources and reflective considerations on their teaching context. Knowledge production has changed, just as students and social environments.

Challenge: how does one make sense of all this open knowledge?

Again I think of my students, of the changes I impose on them in regard to learning with digital devices. As I scrutinize their faces, I am aware of their resistance to digital learning – at times. In this paradox of learning, where students are happy to bring an iPad to classes yet refuse to become autonomous learners, I ask questions and know that I am not the only educator to face this.

Pearce (2013) explains:

“Students are actually quite conservative in their use of open educational resources (OERs),” she said. “The students in our sample were clear that while many made use of them in their own learning, they were much more likely to do so when it was part of their course and it had been suggested to them by their lecturer.

“Where lecturers do not value OERs and do not signal that the use of OERs will help in their learning, and in particular where students are not offered technical support in their use of them, they absolutely won’t use them.”

She added: “I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”

If educators are to actually instigate, inspire and hopefully encourage learning, then one must take students’ approaches to learning more in account. Despite the benefits that educational technology may bring to learning, it is non-productive without students taking on board those same values.

What strikes me most in this excerpt above, is 53% of students who wished their teachers used more F2F interaction. This holds true in 1:1 classrooms – no matter how much creativity and autonomy iPadology may bring into lessons, students still expect educators to explain, to hold their attention at the front of the classroom.

Challenge : how does one make students understand that the requirements of jobs have changed today? How will demands of more collaboration, more creativity in job posts become relevant to the young, when they live the now, the moment and post-pone a future of accountability?

I look out towards the hazy sky filled with fumes, dust, incense. Distance from my regular social environment raises questions.

If , as an educator, I adapt to local circumstances, may I talk about adaptive learning?

An adaptive learning approach in classrooms which allows me to deal with student resistance, the re-imagining of knowledge and a more flexible path to educational change?

How do you deal with student resistance?

How do you make sense of the re-imagining of knowledge?

References:

Five Ways Students use Technology in the Classroom

Parr, C., 2013, Students Will Defend Need for Traditional Learning

No Red Pill No Blue Pill

Spring.

I am cold within. Frost bitten.  A racing mind, seeking answers, bridges which I may tread upon. To no avail. The ones I put my foot on are  too shaky and stilted for my liking. My desire insists on stronger, more permanent bridges. Passages of learning need to be safe, silent, secure.

My inheritance this semester are students who have little or no digital skills. Nor do they wish to acquire them. Hence this inner bare landscape, withering away in a fractual of questions I seek light and possible solutions.

How?

Where?

it

I wish I could say that learning is a delightful, warm, easy, fuzzy experience. Soft as the finest of wools, simple to weave meaning, silky and smooth when putting into practice.

Reality, however, is different.

Learning is hard work. There are no red pills. There are no blue pills. (“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” The Matrix)

Learning may be social, but in the end it is individual.

The learning process is social – one learns with and from others, whether from the past or present. When social learning is discussed, the focus is on the “how” one learns. Learning, assimilating skills and information is left to the individual.

And this requires a total shift in values and perceptions which is equally challenging.

Learning involves the 8 points highlighted in the above poster. One may substitute passion for motivation – yet motivation too is individual. No matter how a teacher tries, if a learner is not motivated to learn, there will be little progress. There are rivers of ink on motivation. I too commit the fallacy of believing that there are right tools and approaches to inspire motivation. However, it is the inspiration and not the motivation that an educator may trigger among learners. Besides, as many educators understand, it is more comfortable and easier to blame a teacher for lack of motivation rather than take responsibility for one’s learning process.

Accountability is a strong word. Shareski (webinar on 23.January.2013) discussed the differences between being accountable and responsible in regard to educators sharing work online. This discussion is equally relevant when it comes to learning – are students to be accountable? Should they be responsible?

Despite my belief in learning how to become an autonomous learner, these are no simple questions in many societies where group values are embedded in learners’ behaviour. Once students enter higher education, they are expected (and demanded) to be autonomous learners and be responsible for the first time in their lives.

Learning hurts.

Knowing how to participate, knowing how to be and what the expectations are in a certain context (e.g. higher education), is like learning about a place, a different landscape, a different culture. For students, this transition from analogue, rote learning to a landscape where digital learning is required, is painful. Resistance to change is easier than change itself.

Immersion into digital learning and acquiring digital literacy skills takes time – and a degree of willingness.

I would also dare add the lack of fear, for change is scary. Unknown landscapes are bewildering, at times, on the border of threatening.

Understanding these factors does not actually help me with bridges. Not immediately.

What can an educator do?

Explore, engage, explain.

Connections do happen.

My recipe? Stories. Learners elaborate on their own framework of knowledge and as a teacher, I have data to evaluate, to contribute to students’ assessment.

More than routine assessment (something teachers and students cannot ignore), learners gain confidence – in themselves, in their own world knowledge, in learning how to use digital spaces for learning.

Red pills. Blue pills.

Only the self can walk through the door of learning.

Until then, I linger in frost, waiting for the blooms of Spring.

Connections do happen.

References:

Best Digital Story – Examples and Resources

Shareski, D., 2013, Social Media and Open Education, a webinar on 23 January, 2013

What Is College Readiness? – An Infographic

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 3

I sought bridges and found none.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moment came when I tried a different approach.

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

Silence. Stares. Silence.

 Then a wave of energy ensued. And chaos reigned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

The Discontent of our Connectivity

1x.photo33064There is no doubt that connectivity has opened up learning possibilities and approaches which were not viable before. Skills such as collaboration and networking online have become more urgent and unquestioning relevant for both institutions and individuals. I often disagree with notions that creativity and critical thinking are essential ingredients of today’s education, for they have always been necessary. Nevertheless, with the role of digital literacies firmly in place, shifts of classroom practice and assessment are required.

Digital literacies is an umbrella term which includes different kinds of literacy, ranging from digital citizenship to digital media fluency. Some may even include  lCT literacy, while others claim that learners today also need to have improved computer knowledge and not only know how to use them.

At times I sense that there is a certain degree of unease when discussing digital literacies in education: Where are they visible in the curriculum? Aren’t teachers supposed to teach their subject matter and not dabble in visual representations, games, social media and other digital tools which are free online? And if teachers are wasting time with these activities, will there be sufficient focus  on the official syllabus for students to achieve in their  assessments?

55476-time-travelAssessment.

Evaluation.

Tests.

Exams.

Measuring days behind the desk in tea spoons.

Popping bubbles in charts to please the statistics of a nation.

Within the analogue classroom, my approach would easily be labelled as blended. However, what of my assessment approach? As an individual working within an institution, I have no right to disrupt what my department lays down as the framework for assessment. As an individual, I may reflect and consider what best may be done for my learners and how they are practicing learning in my classrooms. As an individual I have the right to think and express myself, but not necessarily go against the directives of my workplace. Nonetheless, educators often have leeway in terms of assessment – for as long as I can remember, I have always had the space and numbers to award learners a mark which was based on qualitative features, rather than measured “rights” and “wrongs”.

So, where is the discontent?

In the classroom. 1x.comphotos52084-21735

In the halls of educational institutions.

On the playground.

At home, where learners plug into their connected world and plug out of their learning environment.

This raises several questions:

1 – Learning Environment

Today the learning environment is not self-contained in one particular space. Students can log into their LMS to be updated, check emails, join chats  in synchronous time. Learning is neither solitary nor confined to space and time.

2 – Classroom Practice Versus Assessment

In classrooms where the focus is on learner autonomy, individualization and digital practices, how can assessment continue be practiced in its traditional format of multiple choice boxes and bubble sheets? Where is the connection between the work done on creating a Popplet, a glog or a blog post and then labelling a learner with a quantitative evaluation approach? Is there any link between the emphasis on type of activities carried out in the classroom and the tests that students then must take?

3 – Assessment,  Learning Culture and Discomfort

Self-evaluation, as described by Rolheiser and Ross (Student Self-Evaluation) plays an important role in education, however, in my view, educators need to first take the learning culture into consideration, namely the issue of responsibility and learner autonomy. These features need to be in place before institutions move ahead to a more open and transparent form of assessment. A case in point is my current teaching context.

My students arrive at tertiary education from a primarily rote-education background. They are accustomed to a strong group mentality and culture; for instance, if a student has a complaint, that student will not complain alone but with the whole group together. In the classroom, as in many places around the world, students are more comfortable working in small groups rather than on their own. Although there is place for both pair and group work, there are times when work needs to be done individually. This is a learning bridge to be crossed.

Additionally, this current academic year my students are using iPads as their main learning tools. They have books (which they do not bring to class); they also have an iBook to follow. Their iBook is quite interactive, with activities that do demand a range of digital literacies – from being able to use a range of apps to different individual tasks. It is ignoring the fact that students are now in possession of a tool which transforms their autonomy, which becomes a discontent in connectivity. The learner has both the content and means to create further content. The focus is highly individualized, with each learner moving from the different tasks at their convenience and pace.

I have noticed how the most successful lessons are those where chaos reigns. There are set tasks for students to accomplish; they do them in their own pace. With this apparent chaos, as I am called by X or Y , while looking over the shoulder of Z, I confirm that each of them are in fact carrying out their tasks. Individually, they will use tools which they prefer for a presentation or digital story. They will collaborate with one another, helping a peer to use an app or adjust an image.

Day by day their learning culture changes. Chaos will rule and within the apparent chaos on the surface, learning is happening underneath – learning how to be autonomous, learning how to create digitally, learning how to become more effective digital learners and citizens.

It is only when these practices have been ingrained and learned, that self-evaluation will actually take on a more meaningful role. Not that these learners are unable to evaluate themselves; yet one needs to respect how they are already juggling some steps of autonomy and the teacher’s different role in their classroom. Should the teacher’s assessment fade away completely, learners would feel cheated and uncomfortable with such a consequence. As with all learning, it needs to be practiced and implemented in achievable steps so that all parties involved perceive it’s utility.

self_eval1Despite giving learners guidance and the chart on the left is an example,  one needs to remember that not all  cultures regard responsibility and autonomy in the same light. There are critical differences, linked to the broader cultural environment. Self-evaluation may become part of my students’ assessment today, but only up to a point.

Connectivity. Discontent. Realities which go hand in hand with today’s digitalized classrooms.

Assessment is part of education.

However, passivity in the face of change will not silence the discontent.

References

Rolheiser, C and J.A.Ross – Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows

Silva, E. – Measuring Skills for 21st Century Learning

Shifting Mobility, Learning and Assessment

Mobility defines our times. From cheap flights to ever more accessible mobile phones, being mobile, being able to connect anytime anywhere is taken for granted in many parts of the world.

As mentioned in some posts back, digital mobility is not restricted to phones – iPods, iPads, gaming devices are all mobile technology as well.  How is the implementation of such mobile devices in the classroom changing the playing field of education and how is education lagging behind with the consequences?

As many know, the implementation of iPads in schools and higher education has been taking the world of education by storm. This does not mean that iPads in classrooms have become as ubiquitous as blackboards or even IWB, merely that increasingly, where possible, educational institutions are turning towards iPads as the panacea for educational woes and hope that iPads will solve the many problems in education today.

Despite currently teaching  with iPads, I don’t perceive iPads as a global panacea for education. iPads are devices which allow users to access tools and to engage in digital literacies. Undoutedly, iPads offer a wide range of potential uses in classrooms, from digital books which are easy and promote learning autonomy to creative activities such as learners creating their own podcasts, visual displays with popplet and digital stories, among many others.  Yet, before teaching with iPads, my students were already carrying out such tasks, just like many other learners around the world.

The main difference I see so far, is the emphasis on mobility, choice, autonomy and personalization. Students carry their iPads because it’s cool (and one should never underestimate the cool factor); working on iPads becomes cooler than on a laptop, even though laptops still offer users an ease of use which sometimes the iPad doesn’t – for instance, embedding work done on an iPad is not always simple; if you create a story with Puppet Pals, for instance, you have to email yourself before including it in your blog. Other tools are also not immediately simple to manage on the iPad, such as Glogster, which my learners have found easier to use on a desktop or laptop. For me right now, these are technical issues which are easily solved.

This does not mean  that using iPads is misleading nor out of place in education. Mobility implies being able to be connected to the living Web, being able to communicate, create, collaborate and hopefully, when making choices, being critical in one’s evaluation.

In my view, there are however, two sticky thorns which need to be addressed and not only by educators.

One is the issue of learner autonomy – a constant issue in education (not only in the “digital” age) and assessment.

On the one hand, not all learners are willing to take responsibility for their learning nor academic progress. This may be due to cultural traditions and hence, learners’ expectations in the classroom. As such, bridges to learner autonomy need to be built so that instead of giving up or using the iPad merely to play non-educational games, learners do in fact see how the iPad is much more than a cool accessory or gaming board. With the wealth of apps, iBooks and online activities to engage students, this issue is more a question of time, of adaptation than a long term stumbling block.

In terms of activities, I would take note regarding using the iPad as one uses other more traditional devices with programs such as Office – the iPad is much more than a typing and reading device. The degree of interactivity which the iPad offers is as relevant as it being such a convenient mobile device.

If the emphasis today is even greater for learners to be autonomous in their learning, if the focus on creativity, connectivity, collaboration and mobility are seriously implemented in education, my question is: how can traditional assessment reflect what students are learning? How can multiple choice ever determine a learner’s digital literacy and creative success? If there is an ever increasing emphasis on personalization in education, how can traditional methods of evaluation have meaning in this context of learning? Concepts of time, place and teaching approaches change, but in formal education (i.e. at educational institutions) there is still traditional assessment. Shades of change in classrooms, with safe, tried and tested, traditional methods to measure their activity and knowledge accumulation.

In some ways the use of iPads in classrooms brings to mind some of the same issues as OER and MOOCs, namely the issue of assessment.

This chart below provokes further questions regarding traditional assessment in an age of mobility and openness:

(taken from: Connectivism)

Moving away from more traditional approaches to teaching and into a more open field of personalized learning, networks, diverse means to deliver content, a strong emphasis on creativity and innovation, is a basically a frightening experience for many educators and learners at times. There is a shift in classroom power, a shift in responsibility, and there should be a shift in how assessment is carried out. However, this is complex. Not all educators are creative. Not all educators think critically. And not all educators are innovative. Relying on traditional methods of assessment echoes stability and comfort – even if these echoes are not effective nor reflect what is really taking place in digitally engaged classrooms.

I don’t hold a golden key nor crystal ball with clear answers to this. I do know, however, that by learning with multimedia/multimode literacies, making use of formal and informal learning, taking advantage of all the positive features that mobile learning brings with it, the thorny issue of assessment will need to become more in tune with the pedagogical changes in classroom practices.

References:

Adventures in Mobility

Connectivism

Exploring the Pedagogical Applications of Mobile Technologies for Teaching Literacies

On the Brink with Mobile

The iPad – What it Should and Shouldn’t Be for Education

A Digital Journey’s Epilogue

Breen (1986) has called our attention, to the fact that in order to better understand the relationship between classroom input and learning outcomes,

“Or to explain possible relationships between strategic behaviour and language learning, then we need to locate these relationships socially.”

(Breen 1986:138)

Classrooms, which may be producers of scientific thought, do not proceed in vacuums. Above all, they represent atmospheres which are socially conditioned.

According to Thelen (1981) there exist three types of knowledge which are utilized in any classroom. They are used whether one knows it or not. They are:

“knowledge of self; knowledge of the society in which on participates (i.e. the classroom group); and artifacts.”

(Thelen 1981:113-114)

Parson (1964)  says culture is transmitted, learned and shared (1964: 15);  Hall (1976) also considers three characteristics which are fundamental in culture: “it is not innate, but learned: the various facets of culture are inter-related- you touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected it is shared and in effect defines the boundaries of different groups.” (Hall 1976:16)

Culture thus becomes the product of and a determinant of the systems of social interaction (Parsons 1964:15). Parsons also discusses how patterns emerge in one particular social system, which in turn become interdependent with others (1964:15). This concept of patterns is also exploited by Berger & Luckman (1984), in relation to the relation to the reality of everyday life. According to Berger & Luckmann (1984:35), the reality of everyday life appears already objects to the individual, i.e. the order of objects before the appearance of the individual.

In a sense, we come full circle if we now consider Gellner’s view of structures and cultures (1964:153-155). He holds that in modern societies “culture does not so much underline structure: rather it replaces it” (1964:155). This replacement of structure in relation to “small, simple, ‘primitive’ societies, everybody knows the identity and therefore the role of the other members. Bourdieu (1981) stresses this issue by saying;

“culture is not merely a common code or even a common catalogue of answers to recurring problems: it is a common set of previously assimilated master patterns (…).”

Bourdieu (1981:192)

Thus, culture becomes that which is fundamental to co-operation and communication among the members of a group – namely, as Stenhouse (1967) phrases it – “recognition and anticipation of the thoughts and action of others” (Stenhouse 1967:14)

If we perceive culture as something which is learnt, assimilated and inherited by the next generation, it forwards that learning is an individual process as one learns for him/herself. At the same time, culture is a shared phenomenon. Culture, therefore, is a phenomenon which is both individually learned and shared. Stenhouse points out that culture is both individual and social phenomenon.

Yet one must be wary – for although culture is intrinsically part of reality, Bourdieu (1981) points out, quoting Kurt Lewin that:

“Experiments dealing with memory and group pressure on the individual show that what exists as “reality” for the individual is, to a high degree, determined by what is socially accepted as reality … “Reality” therefore, is not an absolute. It differs with the group to which the individual belongs.”

(Bourdieu 1981:195)

Thelen (1981) notes:

All classrooms develop their own culture in the form of a set of expectations which become sufficiently well habituated that people can see how to relate to and communicate with each other. (Thelen 1981:134)

These expectations are perceived much in the same manner by Stenhouse (1967):

(…) the teacher generates in his class common understandings which link mind with mind. (…) the class has a culture (…) of its own. It has shared values, information, techniques, interpretations and meanings.

(Stenhouse 1967:67)

 Therefore, it is my contention that 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.

So how can digital storytelling alter a classroom culture – if there is any change indeed? And if there is a change in roles, won’t a specific culture be altered?

I have claimed before (in this blog) that it is not the tool itself that is relevant – it is how the use digital literacies alter learning processes, roles in classrooms and classroom cultures. With the final emphasis being empowering students in their learning process, learning autonomy and preparation for a future is digital.

Epilogue

The process took the form of a journey or exploration; from showing an image to students who then were given the power to form their own questions and answers, to setting up groups where they collaborated together through their LMS on a story, to then transferring their digital fragments to a coherent Word document in order to edit and proofread, to selecting images representing their story and creating a movie.

When discussing transmedia narratives, , Max Giovagnoli (2011) explains that:

“cross-media and transmedia, both used to identify narratives that simultaneously develop on multiple media. As always, the difference lies in the nature of stories and in the way we choose to tell them. In this sense, there are:

- narrative forms that don’t change when they are diffused on multiple platforms (for instance, a short film released in the same version at the cinema and, at the same time, on the web or during a TV show);

- narrative forms that share the same elements (plots, characters, atmospheres… ) but that change depending on the publishing platform through which they are released (for instance, the same short film might be developed as a series or as a movie for the theater; its protagonist for a comic book series, etc… ).”

and that

“This latter way of storytelling, which is much more powerful and effective, is often identified as cross-media in some countries (for instance in Europe) still today. In others, particularly after the term has been accred- ited in the Hollywood film industry, it is known as transmedia.”

I shall refer to the process as transmedia, for students worked collaboratively through their LMS, then thru images and sound and finally through their voices. For the last stage was in fact a group performance.

Each group presented the class their movie, a stream of images representing their written work, accompanied by music which reflected their story. The audience (i.e. the other students) watched and then told the whole group how they interpreted the images and music, thus creating another story. At times there were overlaps of stories, desires, cultural references mixing and shared by the students own personal and generational culture. Afterwards, the group who had showed the movie, read their story to all.

The ritual of taking control of the teacher’s desktop to standing together in front of the class, each member of the group reading their part of the story, took the form of a flowing performance, where each member had a role, while all members of the class were equally engaged and in tune with the readers words and story.

Cultural Disruptions

“The four cardinal points of “doing transmedia” are:

1. Doing transmedia means to involve multiple media in a publishing project, keeping the features and the language of each one, even if they are part of a single system of integrated communication;

2. Doing transmedia means to make the project’s contents available on different technological platforms, without causing any overlaps or inter- ferences, while managing the story experienced by different audiences;

3. Doing transmedia means to allow the multiple media to tell differ- ent stories but all exploring a common theme, even if it is experienced through multiple narrative perspectives;

4. Doing transmedia means to agree to give a part of the authorship and responsibility of the tale to the audience and other storytellers in order to create a participatory and synergistic story in the experiences of the different audiences of the tale.”

Max Giovagnoli (2011)

Synergy. With the implementation of digital tools, there were shifts in power and roles. I as a teacher was put aside while students took control of what they wanted and how they wanted to express themselves. Students used current digital tools, incorporated elements of transmedia to the traditional storytelling.  They were challenged and in their groups had to compromise. Collaboration and cooperation – elements important in the past and increasingly relevant today when participants are involved in online projects.

Obviously, there is an element of relativity as I had set up the task through the LMS and then added selecting images and sharing their movie with the whole class.  That was the framework. A queen never abdicates in the game of chess. (see previous blog entries).

There are elements too of a  hybrid practice; the whole journey was not soley digital, despite the digitalized beginning. Writing is still writing and before students eventually publish their work in their blogs, their writing needs to be edited and proofread – just as without digital technology. Hence I perceive this experience of a hybrid transmedia task, where cultural classroom practices were altered and learners given a sense of  empowerment.

For as C.S.Lewis once said ” We read to know that we are not alone”.

Sharing stories consolidates participants in a culture, whether that be on a large social scale or in a classroom.

Stories are to be shared.

Stories may disrupt classroom cultures constructively.

Creative voices may bring disruption.

Voices are to be heard.

References:

Berger, P. & T. Luckman,  -  1984, The Social Construction of Reality, Penguin

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

Bourdieu,  P.  -1981, “Systems of Education and Thought”, in Knowledg and Control, ed. Young, M, Collier Macmillan

Gellner,  E.  – 1964, Thought and Change, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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

Max Giovagnoli & ETC Press 2011 -TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial-NonDerivative 2.5 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5)

Parsons,  T.  – 1964, The Social System, Routledge & Kegan Paul

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

Thelen, H. A. – 1981, The Classroom Society, Croom Helm

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

http://photopeach.com/public/swf/story.swf

What do your students want?

References:

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

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 Womb of Words

“We begin with a concept of some kind of basic awareness, some kind of basic ability to “know” or “sense” or “recognize” that something is happening. This is a fundamental theoretical and experiential given. We do not know scientifically what the ultimate nature if awareness is, but is our starting point.”

C.T.Tart

My world is filled with words. My words and words of others.

My language,  mixed with foreign sounds which have become part of my world.

Words make my world. Will the limits of my words limit my world?

If so, then there are boundaries to shift. New borders to establish. Rain, rain don't go awayDifferent worlds to explore. And new words to exploit.

This is my second posting on a digital story which is in process. Just as the rain brings smiles and frowns, so too does this entry.

Crossing boundaries requires braveness.

The Womb of Words

The stage had been set (A Journey of Stories & Roles) and it was time for the curtains to rise.

Context: Intermediate level of English

Number of students: 20 in each class, all with same L1

My students are accustomed to pair work and group work but were certainly not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of them. In groups of 5 they had to individually select an image which they liked. Any image that appealed to them. Then, they had to negotiate and collaborate on their decision, for only one image was going to be used for the task.

The next step was to explain how they were to proceed: by logging onto Edmodo, I had created small, colour-coded groups (students were given a coloured coded cardboard to choose a colour for their group). I wrote the code for each colour on the board and students joined their new small group.

After uploading their selected image, one student had to begin the story. The others were to use the reply button in Edmodo and continue the story.

The first border to cross was that students were not accustomed to writing a group story without discussing it beforehand. Their experience was to sit together, talk about it in L1 and then one student would write it in L2 (English) while they others looked on or perhaps drew some pictures to go along with their story. This was a radical change. An entirely new world where they had to sit on their own, read what the other members of the group were writing and then add their own continuation of the story.

Challenges: to develop a story on one’s own – and in another language. Secondly, what thread/s would emerge? Would there be one story or multiple layers of a story? And if there are multiple layers to a story, is there a core to the story? How many worlds can co-exist within one story and will it make meaning to the reader?

Although I had reassured students that I was there should there be any questions, no questions were asked. I had told students to focus on the story – we would edit and proofread later. From some groups there were giggles and shrieks of laughter while others frowned as they looked silently into their screens. Shadows of uncertainty were present. I too wondered,  as I watched them engaged and forgetful of time.

What will emerge from a womb of words, where meanings struggle to link plot and characters? Where layers of stories compete to have the loudest voice?

Literacy and Technology

“Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

A.Koestler

Let us consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners (A Journey of Stories & Roles) To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is an 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 may be relatively new to learners. Relatively because they have already been exposed to a more communicative approach of teaching by their foreign teachers.

Communicative classes are supposedly open and flexible – an outsider would be able to percieve and understand the tasks in which the learners are involved: pair work with information gaps and transfer exercises as language is a vehicle for communication, groups work to stress the importance of interaction with others through language.

The communicative approach tends to be polychronic, but lessons and classrooms survive on the balance between a polychronic and monochronic atmosphere. If too much is done during the same lesson, e.g. too many activities and games, the learner will not able to cope with the accelerated pace – there will be no time given to digest and appropriate the information.

This lesson moved from a polychronic to a monochronic pace, where learners had to work on their own. However, with the tasks they were asked to do, further shifts were taking place, namely the emphasis of autonomy and creativity – and collaboration through digital media.

I have already stated how digital technologies in education open more opportunities for students who may not be particularly academically gifted (nor interested in becoming academic.) Using digital literacies is more inclusive for such learners. Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007) argue that:

“the major problem in promoting an expanded range of literacy competencies for all students resides in the tension between inquiry-based and transmission-based orientations to pedagogy. As discussed in Chapter 2, inquiry-based orientations (both social constructivist and transformative) aim to support students in constructing curriculum-related knowledge, whereas transmission-based orientations focus on enabling students to internalize the content of the curriculum. Transmission orientations to pedagogy pre- dominate in low-income schools as a result of the pressure on teachers to ensure that their students pass the high-stakes tests that dominate the curriculum. Thus, the pedagogical focus in these schools is considerably more narrow than in more affluent schools, and this pedagogical divide extends to the ways in which technology is used in these two school contexts.” (2007:93)

By opening doors and creating bridges for my students, they are being given the opportunity to learn, explore and use digital literacies to their advantage. They are given the opportunity to create and to think critically (i.e. as they read previous contributions to the story, they need to think about how their contribution will aid the unfolding of the plot and construction of the characters).

Rorabaugh points out how:

“In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.””

Indeed there are shifts. Morever, there are challenges for those involved and participating in these shifts. One of the challenges within education is the assessment factor, particularly in regard to qualitatitive assessment and digital learning.

Miyazoe and Anderson (2010), in their study on the simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, state that:

“One of the difficulties that has yet to be addressed concerns assessment issues in collaborative learning, namely how we evaluate the process and the final products of collaborative work such as wiki productions. (…) to evaluate collaborative artifacts, at least three elements should be considered: 1) achievement as a group process in contrast to work of other groups; 2) the individual’s share in the group’s achievement; and 3) achievement of the individual before and after the group work.”

Collaborative work has often been a problematic area for teachers to assess. Nevertheless, it is something that language teachers often must do as there is individual work, pair work and group work in their classes. By using a digital platform such as Edmodo, the teacher has clear access to who contributes, how much is contributed and the quality of the contribution – in this particular case, both in terms of language use and story building.

In regard to the first and and third issues raised, the process has not yet ended and students will still have thresholds to cross.

A world of words, a womb of challenges and shifts in tormoil, will soon unfold.

References:

Cummins, J., Brown, K., Sayers, D. (2007) Literacy, Technology, and Diversity 

Miyazoe, T, Anderson, T. (2010) Learning Outcomes and Students’ Perceptions of Online Writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and a wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, System, Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 185–199

Rorabaugh, P. (2012)  Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology

Unleashing Curiosity

In the midst of paradigm shifts, questioning becomes more urgent. What is one changing from, where does one want to go, what does one wish to  achieve, why is it so urgent to adapt to newness?

In the middle of my mini project on digital storytelling, I can’t help but reflect on how I plot lessons. A lesson is like a musical piece, each having three distinct movements. Not only in terms of a beginning, middle and ending, but more like a stream of music where notes blend and rhythms are created.

And I confess: I have always hated the static lesson plan. Not that they are irrelevant – by no means. As trainees start their journey into education, knowing how to plot and prepare lessons is important. But are they taught how to be prepared for that unexpected moment when learning may happen? Are they trained to take advantage of learning opportunities raised by students? Jim Scivener speaks about the need to demand higher standards in the teaching of English language, that teaching has become a routine performance with close to perfect lesson plans yet inquiring into where the learning is.

Static lesson plans do not encourage creativity nor learning. I prefer to regard lesson plans as a web, where there is a structure but also flexibility for the teacher to take opportunity to explore and exploit the moments of curiosity that learners express. Curiosity opens the door to making connections and hence new ways of seeing the world. Curiosity nudges learners into reflecting and in reflecting, to learning.

Curiosity leads to connections.

Learning is about the ability to  face the waves of life. It is not static. Nor are learners meant to be still ships stranded on silent sands.

Implementing digital storytelling is one way of unleashing learning, learners’ autonomy and their journey into curiosity.

Storytelling challenges learners to think, to plan, to create meanings.

Engaging and challenging, learners like ships, are meant to sail into unknown territories of learning,  making connections, discovering new meanings and ways of knowing.

 (image: Waiting for Freedom)

How do unleash curiosity in classrooms?

References:

Demand High ELT – J.Srivener and Adrian Underhill