Beyond the Gloss of Educational Change

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

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

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

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

Gloss comes in 3 main categories as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no time to fear failing.

The only fear is being stuck in gloss.

What’s your choice?

 

Further references:

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

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

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

Advertisements

The New Normal

So what is the new normal today?

What it always has been.

Change.

Paradigm shifts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new normal is sometimes unrealistic.

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

The new normal is provocative.

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

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

The new normal is.

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

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

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

The new normal is open.

How do you embrace the new normal?

References:

Boyd, R., 2013, SuperHuman Education

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

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

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

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 2

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

Jeanette Winterson

What is it about that chaos that attracts me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Meaning in Paradigm Shifts

Dant (1991:5) defines knowledge as being a phenomenon which is socially constructed and shared by all members of a society. Its features of common sense may be understood at two levels: on the one hand, it is of belonging to a consensual wisdom: on the other hand, common sense is not only taken for granted, but at the same time, maintained by the members of the group.

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.”

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.

And, according to Postman and Weingartner (1975:195),

“The basic function of all education, even in the most traditional sense, is to increase the survival prospects of the group. If this function is fulfilled, the group survives.”

Learners are not passive recipients of knowledge. They do not come to class as tabua rasa, but with their own set/s of knowledge. One can only learn in relation to what one knows already, which is one of the pedagogical intents of involving learner’s personal points of references in order to create/add further knowledge.  Hence, my question is, if todays students are using digital technology for their everyday purposes, why are educators still reluctant to acknowledge the implementation of of digital tech in the classroom? If education is to establish the survival of a group, then denying students to use digital technology in their learning process is to deny their survival in the world outside classrooms. Digital technology is not merely a tool which facilitates learning – it is much more than that as I have previously explained throughout this blog.

As Sara Rasmussen explains:

“Understanding how to take advantage of the capacity of iPad apps, how to use audio recording devices and Audacity, how to export and upload files online, or exploring programming software like Processing — these skills are utterly valuable. Sure, they up a student’s job marketability, but far more importantly, they create opportunity for creativity.They expand students’ options for expressing their work and push them to rethink and challenge the ‘natural’ standards for collecting, communicating and sharing knowledge.”

It is that shared knowledge, the ability to take advantage of digital tools for communication and creation that make up the characteristics of digital literacies. This knowledge is an integral part of learners’ requirements today, just as it is for educators.

Enthusiasm and support for integrating digital technology may stem from a number contexts: “For some, it’s about improving computing skills to support the digital economy and entrepreneurship; for others, learning to code is part of a subversive and empowering approach that enables ordinary people to take control of the structures they live and work within (see, for example, the excellent hackasaurus and codecademy projects). It can stem from a belief that schools need to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change in the modern world to remain relevant to students’ lives outside school or because digital media makes study more effective. It can reflect a desire to equip young people with the skills to participate in new media networks, or to defend themselves against pervasive and potentially harmful media messages. It can be seen as both opening up new educational inequalities and as a way to combat social disadvantage.” (Lyndsay Grant). Morever, it can be a a combination of the reasons above or even others, such as ensuring that education fulfills its purpose as the survival of the group, as Postman and Weingartener point out.

When Downes discusses knowledge, he refers to different types of knowledge, broadening the spectrum of quantative and qualitative knowledge, to include distributed knowledge: “Distributed knowledge adds a third major category to this domain, knowledge that could be described as connective. A property of one entity must lead to or become a property of another entity in order for them to be considered connected; the knowledge that results from such connections is connective knowledge.”

It is this paradigm of connective knowledge that our learners are growing up in today. Learning is not confined to the classroom. Learning occurs in and out of educational institutions. Connected learning is not only a possibility, but a reality. Today, it is also a matter of choice for educators. Below is an example of how a digital classroom may harness digital learning:

I understand that it takes courage to shift behaviour, beliefs and paradigms. Nevertheless, it is time. Time to acknowledge that we are living in times of profound change and those changes affect education and approaches to learning. Digital tools do not replace traditional knowledge – it is the approach, the enhancement of what learners already know and practice and developing their skills further. For example, if before students spent hours searching for a reference in a library, today they can often  find that information online. What they need to know, is how. If in the past students glued images to their projects  which were then posted on the classroom walls, today there is a wealth of digital tools for image editing and digital posters can be shared beyond their classroom walls, commented by others and perhaps even the beginning of dialogues which transcend borders and boundaries.

Distributed knowledge is fluid. And through its fluid characteristics, dynamic. The sociotechnical context of our world is altering traditional practices and if educators are not part of that change, they will be left behind in a world which has no place for them.

References:

An Introduction to Connective Knowledge – Stephen Downes

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

Connected Learning

Design Your Digital Classroom  – Susan Oxnevad

Knowledge, Ideology and Discourse – Dant, T (1991)

Liberal Arts in the Digital Age: Teaching Technology as a Language – Sara Rasmussen

Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory – Francis Bell

 Role of Tech vs The Purpose of Education – Lyndsay Grant

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – Postman, N. & C. Weingartner (1975)

Wondering Research, Wandering Teaching

New technologies will always bring about discussions, hesitations and questionings. That in itself is not new. Change in practices, change in paradigms, change in inquiry.

In regard to research and shifts in paradigms, Robert Donmoyer suggests that  ” Rather than talking in terms of different paradigms and continuing to carry the balkanization-oriented baggage associated with the use of Kuhn’s construct in our field, (…)  it might be more helpful to characterize our differences in terms of differing purposes, which presumably could be at least under- stood and, consequently, debated by those who approached research in radically different ways.”

As an example for qualitative research, Donmoyer presents the following table:


Donmoyer also claims that “it is now time to leave our hermetically sealed paradigmatic universes and engage with those in power in their own terms”.

My learning today, wondering through research paradigms, wandering 21st century teaching.

The wheel is still in spin.

Learning requires life and change. Learning requires adopting to change, adapting new paradigms of inquiry and practice.

How do you spin the wheels of change?

Reference:

Donmoyer, Robert(2006) ‘Take my paradigm … please! The legacy of Kuhn’s construct in educational research’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19: 1, 11 — 34 –