Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions

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

* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning

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

* Decision-making is itself a learning process

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

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

 

References:

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

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism

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

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

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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

Corridors of Stories

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. 

C.S.Lewis

There are whispers in corridors. Wanderings and wonderings. There are twists and bends. The unexpected, the predicted, the wonderous.

So too in learning. Yet knowledge is not something transferrable; it is not a commodity which can be absorbed. Knowledge as a commodity can only be exchanged – and this process  does not include learning. Learning is a solitary process, it is up to the individual to learn or not.

When it comes to digital literacies and engaging students in their learning process, I am a strong believer and practioner of digital story telling. Each student has the space to focus on his/her story, on what is valid, on what is valuable  to him/herself and transferable to others, thus starting a conversation which may lead to further corridors of discovery and reflection.

Stories do not happen in a vacumm. There are contexts, hidden meanings, weavings of significance and questionings.

Traditional school literacies have relied on printed text to transfer concepts. However, by blending multi-digital literacies (e.g. images, animation, music etc) and popular culture which engages learners (e.g. cartoons/comics), the learning process is centred on the learner. It is their creation, their process, their product.

A photostory, for example,  can demonstrate the

transformative power of reflecting on one’s own autobiography, the compilation of a person’s stories, in both words and images, to make sense of the often blurred mirror that simultaneously absorbs language learning and reflects identity construction.” (Skinner & Hagood 2008

When Law and Kickmeier discuss Digital Educational Games, they touch upon a feature which is equally ingrained in storytelling:

In a DEG, adaptive and interactive digital storytelling serves two essential purposes: First, it strongly supports a personalized learning experience by adapting the game’s story to individual preferences and by providing the possibility of explorative learning processes.”

and:

The major strengths of DEGs include [12] a high level of intrinsic motivation to play and to proceed in the game; clear goals and rules; a meaningful yet rich and appealing learning context; an engaging storyline with random elements of surprise; immediate feedback; a high level of interactivity, challenge and competition.”

In every class, there are elements of competition among the peers and though one may not necessarily immediately  perceive the competitive element in storytelling, it is there when learners share and read each others stories; there will be whispers, smiles and giggles; there will nodding in confirmation with the shared points of references and there will be that cutting edge to see who produced the best digital product with the least linguistic mistakes as well. Additionally, storytelling expresses the Individualization of learning experiences, adaptation to personal aims, needs, abilities thus giving learners a more enhanced sense of achievement.

In the field of education, there has been a strong emphasis on individualization and differentiation regarding students’ learning process. There has also been the positive

influence of Adrian Holliday’s work and the voiced concern of linguistic imperialism in the field of English Language Teaching. Canagarajah (1999) defends that it is necessary to “develop a grounded theory, in other words, a thinking on language, culture, and pedagogy that is motivated by the lived reality and everyday experience of periphery subjects.”

Echoing Canagarajah, Phillipson (1992) is clear when he explains that:

“The belief that ELT is non-political serves to disconnect culture from structure.  It assumes that educational concerns can be divorced from social, political, and economic realities.  It exonerates the experts who hold the belief from concerning themselves with these dimensions.  It encourages a technical approach to ELT, divorced even from wider educational issues. ”

One last feature I would like to point out is the relationship between oral, written, photographic and digital media. For many students who come from less privileged backgrounds, it is through the focus on their interests, their stories that their voices are shared. Digital storytelling is an inclusive approach when introduced in the classroom.

Voice. The power of having a voice, the power of sharing one’s voice.

We are living in times beyond preparing students to perform diligently in an industrial age.

Education is no longer a process to shackle youth to their social condition.

Storytelling is empowering.

What whispers do you heed in digital storytelling?


References:

Canagarajah, A.S. 1999 , Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, OUP

Holliday, A.  1994, Appropriate Methodology and Social Context, CUP

Law, E.L-C & M.Rust-Kickmeier, 80 Days: Immersive Digital Educational games with Adaptive Storytelling, 

Skinner, E.N. & M.C.Hagood, 2008, Developing Literate Identities with English Language Learners Through Digital Storytelling

Phillipson, R. 1992, Linguistic Imperialism, OUP

I Connect, Therefore I Am – Or Am I?

Everyone’s alone — or so it seems to me.

They make noises, and think they are talking to each other;

They make faces, and think they understand each other.

And I’m sure they don’t. Is that a delusion?

T.S.Eliot –  The Cocktail  Party

Since the early 90’s I have posed this question: how is my digital self different, or the same as my 3Dimensional self? And is it possible to have a 3D self online? Throughout the years my digital identity has altered and changed. Perhaps matured as I have. Being a participant in social networks and online communities, I am confronted with my digital identity at times – What is my role? Do I indeed have a role? Is it because I blog, I curate, I participate in digital networks that I actually exist digitally? What if I only consumed digital information and did not attempt to add to digital repositories? Would I still be a node in a connected world?

One’s digital identity is something that I have an interest in and as an educator, also have an interest in raising awareness among learners.  One of the questions in the mini survey which I conducted online in early March, was on how many people used social networks for teaching purposes (Question 4). Although I personally don’t currently use social networks in my practices (as I explained previously), as an educator I think that social networks should be used, discussed and focused on.

Why this need? What relationship is there between closed classrooms and open social networks?

And what is my role, my function, my identity if I do bring in the topic of social networks into the classroom?

To begin with, learners already have their digital worlds and networks, whether that is still through MSN Messenger, their Blackberries or social networks such as Facebook. They are participants and aware of digital networks. What they may not be so aware of is how to use them for learning purposes and how digital safety is part of being a digital citizen.  Being a digital citizen is not only a question of E-safety, it is a feature of life-long learning skills as our digital world keeps changing (e.g. 20 years ago, Second Life did not exist)

So what can educators do besides alert learners through games and sites which deal with E-safey? There are number of small, practical  steps I’d like to suggest:

1 – Learners should not use their school email account when signing up to networks or ICT tools. Often they forget to check their school accounts and when important notices are emailed, students rarely receive them because their inboxes are already overflowing from lack of use. Another reason, and one which I hold quite personally, is that I find it safer to have an email account just for tools and platforms. Two years ago, a personal email account of my was hacked into and I lost all the data which I had filed for years. Since then, I have found it more convenient to have different email accounts for different purposes. By no means am I suggesting that students have a variety of email accounts, but at least one other than their official educational account. Hacked email accounts is a reality and one that I think can be avoided as much as possible.

2 – Connecting with others, dialoguing with others is inherent to humans. Today  many of our conversations are online, in virtual worlds, networks and communities. Many students belong to a LMS which also forms an online community. Learning how to dialogue, to support, refute arguments and offer alternative viewpoints through these streams of interaction is a learning process. Cyberbullying is real. Learning how to deal with cyberbully, for instance, takes courage and it is in the safety of classrooms that learners may feel less threatened to talk about the cruel reality of cyberbullying, how it should be avoided and dealt with.

3 – Classrooms are important spaces of transition; from being a young learner, to a teen to a young adult,  many students are shaped by their experiences in classrooms. Inviting students to reflect and talk about their online experiences, is useful for them to gain a better understanding of their digital identity. Not only is it a personal focus on their learning, but also requires a more critical analysis of participating in online networks and what it really means to be a responsible digital citizen. 

If one is not floating along in 3D life without an identity, the same is true in digital worlds. Increasingly one is connected through mobile devices, often participating simultaneously in both worlds. I won’t question now whether one is projecting the same identity – that is another matter. Nevertheless, just as one plays out different roles in 3D (daughter, mother, teacher, friend, etc) one also plays out different roles digitally. For instance, my students have a role when they are connected through Edmodo and quite another role when they are on Facebook. Roles are identities may transfer from 3D to the digital, blending identities, forging new connections and establishing new identities – whether real or fictional.

Opening up the dialogue of identity, one’s digital identity, is for me, part of what makes up critical digital literacies. We can not leave pedagogical issues related to world knowledge and digital practices outside the classroom. Besides, what is a classroom today? There are many which are no longer closed between walls and windows, but open and fluid (e.g. a MOOC is a case in point). Online/distance learning is no longer regarded as a poor cousin of physical classrooms either. Whether one is focusing on the role of digital identities, how one’s  connections are established, one’s role and place in an inter-connected world, the moment digital media seeps into education, it is educators responsibility to question and teach how digital media and networks contribute to learners’ education.

As Marti Cleveland-Innes clearly pointed out in her session of Follow The Sun 2012, today’s social structures require educational systems that take advantage of the knowledge that promotes technological and cross-cultural citizenship. I would add that beginning by raising E-safety awareness in the classroom and discussing one’s digital identity is part of that process.

How do you regard your digital self?

Further references:

Digital Citizenship 

Identity Online – Jenny Mackness

Restructuring Technoliteracy: A Multiple Literacies Approach – Richard Khan & Douglas Kellner

Trust and Safety Online – Sui Fai John Mak

CristinaSkyBox –  A blog with a ed-tech focus and occasional reflections; by using the search box for E-Safety, you will find a number of entries focusing on E-Saftey for the classroom.

Learning – A Personal Option

Often I am asked why I tend to continue studying and taking professional training courses. These are questions which puzzle me,  because despite the many years I have spent in classrooms, I have always found new ideas to tinker with, new fields of knowledge to explore, and more recently, new tools to integrate in my classroom practices. Educators often stress the need for learners to become autonomous learners, to take control of their learning process, to be active participants in their own learning – but my question is whether educators themselves practice  learning autonomy themselves?

Jonah Salsich raises a similar question regarding critical thinking and problem solving:

If we expect our students to use “critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making” (ISTE student nets 4) and “apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes” (ISTE student nets 1.a), shouldn’t we be able to do the same as teachers? If we can’t apply these skills in our own learning, how can we teach our students to use them?

Learning is not only something that happens in a classroom or PD session. Participating and continuing to learn is not unique to “21st Century Learning”; those who have personal will to continue expanding their minds have always engaged in learning activities. What is different today is the means to continue developing one’s professional expertise. On the one hand,  it is too simplistic to continue stressing how the openness of the internet allows one to learn. Just as teachers cannot really motivate learners, (motivation comes from within the individual and what is left to educators is the chance to stimulate and engage learners’ motivation), educators too have their own responsibility to either be motivated or not.

On the other hand, there is the constant issue of time. Is it really time or lack of interest?

Professional development doesn’t always have to be formal, organised by others. One can so easily  participate in open learning today,  that to excuse one’s lack of motivation to learn just does not hold true any longer. There are NINGS, MOOCs, blogs, and so many other sources of information and learning, all free and at one’s finger tips. Learning can be toying around with new digital tools, participating in forums on Twitter and Facebook – both which offer so much to educators in all fields.

In an age where collaboration is key, when innovation stems from information and interaction, how else can educators inspire, guide, facilitate their students’ learning process if they themselves do not engage in continuous professional development, whether formally or informally, if they don’t interact with others? Today’s digital world demands media fluencies, creative fluencies, collaboration fluencies. The only way an educator juggle all these demands is by continuous learning, in small bytes, step by step. If educational transformation is to be effective, educators themselves need to stand up and take the initiative for no one will do it for them. Yes, time is a determining factor; yes, large class, lack of resources, out-dated curriculums and often, non-collegial working environments are all factors which may de-motivate teachers. Nevertheless, with the wealth of knowledge, information and means to learn available, I fail to understand how educators refuse learning necessary skills for today’s world.

My question now is, if you don’t connect, don’t participate in forums and networks to energise your educational outlooks and practices, how do you develop your education practices? How does one keep up-to-date without participating in communities where individuals question and share resources, ideas and reflections? How can educational transformation fall into place without educators setting examples of  through their own learning practices? How does one learn without interaction?

Further references:

Redefining my Role: Teacher as Student

21st Century Educations Requires Distributed Support for Learning

Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

Getting Fluent with the 5 Fluencies 

Metaphors of Collaborative Learning

I have tried  balancing my learning as others wanted and expected me to.

And I have often failed miserably.

Why?

Learning may be perceived as the acquisition of knowledge, as participation in a process, as creating knowledge and a progressive inquiry. (see Development of Learning Theories)  For me, it is not always simple to separate these models of learning. There is a place and time for each; each model taking on a different role and significance in the different stages of my learning process. It is with hindsight that I may later reflect, look back and attempt to pin-point what model of learning I was experiencing throughout a particular learning process.

Learning, like communication,  does not happen in a vacuum. It is socially conditioned and takes place in a specific time and context. There also needs to be shared points of references for one can only learn in regard to what one already knows. Going a step further, I also tend to regard all learning as relative at times – in the sense that what a learning experience may be for me, may not be regarded as a learning opportunity in the eyes of another. How I perceive an  optimal learning context too, may not be so fruitful for someone else, hence “learning” may possibly be regarded as having a certain degree of relativity if one wishes to pin-point the best model for learning.

Hindsight in learning as well as teaching, cannot be underestimated. Just as when Jackson (1968) states that:

“teaching is an opportunistic process. That is to say, neither the teacher nor his students can predict with any certainty exactly what will happen next. Plans are forever going awry and unexpected opportunities for the attainment of educational goal are constantly emerging.” (Jackson, 1968)

So too learning is full of the unexpected. Or at least, that is how I perceive the learning process at times. I have often maintained that learning is a slipping, sliding, gliding process, where things fall into place rather than be pre-programmed to fit into place. Again, I turn to Jackson who offers a similar metaphor for this process:

“(…) the path of educational progress more closely resembles the flight of a butterfly than the flight of a bullet.” (Jackson, 1968)

If  I wish to visualize the learning process, perhaps it is most authentically represented in a Jackson Pollock canvas – as Postman and Weingartner claim, ” a canvas whose colors increase in intensity as intellectual power grows (for learning is exponentially cumulative)”.(Postman & Weingartner 1975)

By no means do I wish to challenge nor disregard what researchers have established or expressed as learning models. Not at all. I myself have referred to these principles and models as well in the quest to understand this elusive process known as learning. (elusive because one cannot predict the exact moment of clarity and learning). When it does occur, again, it is with hindsight that one can look back and realize that like the high speed bubble, the moment has passed and one already “knows”, one has already “learnt”.

If I were asked which model of learning is most immediately significant to me today, without hesitation my reply would be collaborative learning. Learning for me does not make sense if it is merely a culmination of knowledge acquisition. Hence referring at the beginning of this post how I often failed “learning” which was repetitive, non-critical and non-participatory.

Learning is not, in my view, a hoarding of facts and figures. Learning implies outcomes of action-systems; learning is a change in perceptions.   If knowing is doing, then it is through collaborative learning (as as well as teaching and sharing) that my acquisition of knowledge makes the most sense. It is through collaborative learning – in the true sense of participating and  growing within the networks and communities to which I belong, that my learning takes most often place today.

It is through this perception of learning, of doing,  that I also engage students  in my classroom practices.

How do you perceive learning?

References:

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

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

Echoes of Social Learning

Often, when discussing learning, words such as “interaction”, “collaboration”, “sharing” pepper the discourse.  And of course, as any language teacher well knows, there is the regular “pair work” and “group work”. There is little pair work here. And up to now, no significant group work.  My dreaming weaves have  been silent, invisible. Or have they?

Does silence signify not learning?

In our days of constant chatter through media and our immediate social environments,  I do believe that there is a place for silent reflection when one is learning. This may not hold true for all, but certainly I need time to process information, thoughts and links.  True, I have been busy with my daily duties and tasks, have been reading, curating and sharing with others articles, web tools and platforms which I find interesting, useful and definitely creative.  I have also been attending workshops, a conference and am tentatively trying to catch up with a current MOOC.  Nevertheless,  within my momentary silences, I have also been wondering, questioning, learning.  Hence I  turn to a blank screen in order to seek a sense of possible balance between facts and fictions, links and hyperlinks.

One issue which has been circling in my mind is how communities of practice take place and evolve. Being active in classrooms and regarding each class as a culture on its own, CoPs are not necessarily a complete novelty to me as certain characteristics of CoPs tend to overflow into dimensions of classroom culture.  What is new (or rather, at this point, relatively new as CoPs are not a new concept nor practice in 2011), is how information is disseminated, codified and validated with the widespread use of media channels in contrast to a more “conservative” perspective of classroom culture. (Please note that when I refer to “conservative”, I refer to studies of classroom culture before the wide-spread of the internet and social media).

In CoP – Addressing workforce trends throgh new learning modelsEric Sauve explains that “CoPs are distributed groups of people who share a common concern, problem, mandate, or sense of purpose. They can be used to facilitate the informal knowledge transfer that drives leadership development, productivity, and innovation.”  It seems to me, that in today’s rich landscape of communication (Web 2.0 platforms, tools and the many options individuals have to join different communities and participate actively online and in the world), that this leaves few excuses for educators to sit back or lie in their shell, not participating, not adding to the flow of dialogue and on-going change. If educators themselves are not courageous enough to take the step forward and be active in an age of open learning and open resources for all, what skills will they be transfering to students? What learning practices will students acquire and adopt for their present and near future?

CoPs, in my view, are closely connected to social learning, even though social learning is not necessarily a “new” phenomena – people have always learnt socially. However, being able to connect, to share best practices, to raise issues and participate in open discussions is new through the tools and platforms now available. This process provides a dynamic synergy which wasn’t always possible before the advent of social media. Lucy Marcus portrays this connectiveness eloquently in her article What it Means Today to be “Connected”, when she states that “Connecting with people and innovative ideas is more important than ever.”

For it is not only the connection with others (i.e. one’s network or connections) but the flow and exchange of ideas which is essential for learning and change to take place.

There are issues which blur when reflecting on educational processes and learning. There are blurs between best practices  and engaging in social media. There are blurs between good teaching and attempting to cover up poor pedagogy with technology.

Attempting to question these areas are part of learning.

They are part of my learning.