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

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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

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

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

Digital Stories are Part of Today’s Educational Ecosytem

Education has different purposes depending on the point in time. One may regard education as civil training for individuals to fit in well in their social environment, as a process to perform the necessary tasks for a society to keep on producing and sustaining itself, or, as process for individuals to find their true potential while giving them the building blocks of knowledge of their cultural heritage.

Creativity and innovation are essential for any society to progress. Despite the rows and rows of bookshelves claiming the secrets to achieving creativity and innovation, they are often illusive in the learning process. What constitutes creativity? What constitutes innovation? Broad questions which one can only attempt to answer in regard to a specific context.

My current context is language teaching. Having taught writing skills for many years within the fields of business studies, medical ethics, EAP and ELT, it is no surprise that digital storytelling is a special field of interest to me.

Sharda (2010) explains how “Stories have been used as educational medium since prehistoric times as they encapsulate four crucial aspects of human communication: information, knowledge, context, and emotions (Norman, 1993). Embedding stories as digital media, i.e., digital storytelling, is therefore not only desirable, but almost essential for producing engaging e-learning content.”

Storytelling has often had the purpose of sharing values and beliefs to others. There are emotions in stories and with digital media, these can be creatively articulated. In addition to  individualisation, there is ownership – truly motivating for learners.  Furthermore, “digital stories give students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation—telling a story that highlights specific characteristics or events—a key part of establishing their identity, a process that for many is an important aspect of the college years.” (Digital Storytelling)

 Storytelling as a tool for learning is not restricted to language learners either. Tendero (2006) has researched storytelling in teacher training programmes, “Digital storytelling efficiently facilitates efforts to capture classroom moments for preservice teachers to reflect upon and revise practice, as well as to develop a teaching consciousness. What I have experienced is not just videotaping and critiquing one’s attempts at teaching. What I have experienced is a chance for preservice teachers to view, reflect, compose, and imagine versions of the teaching “self.” These discoveries are focused on some new possibilities for creating narratives about one’s own practice.”

There is wonder and learning in stories. And there are different purposes as well. Robin summarizes 3 main purposes:

There are many different types of digital stories, but it is possible to categorize the major types into the following three major groups: 1) personal narratives – stories that contain accounts of significant incidents in one’s life; 2) historical documentaries – stories that examine dramatic events that help us understand the past, and 3) stories designed to inform or instruct the viewer on a particular concept or practice.” 

Robin goes further to explain how digital storytelling meets the different demands of todays’ learning ecosystem:

Digital Storytelling by students provides a strong foundation in many different types of literacy, such as information literacy, visual literacy, technology literacy, and media literacy. Summarizing the work of several researchers in this field, Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) have labeled these multiple skills that are aligned with technology as “Twenty-first Century Literacy,” which they describe as the combination of:

Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help;

Global Literacy – the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective

Technology Literacy – the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance;

Visual Literacy – the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images;

Information Literacy – the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.”

All these characteristics are embedded in digital storytelling. On the one hand, introducing digital storytelling may make new demands on educators; on the other hand, it is necessary that the curriculum is flexible and allows space for educators and students to engage in digital storytelling.

How do you engage in digital storytelling?

References:

Digital Storytelling – published by Educause

Robin, B.R. – The Educational uses of Digital Storytelling

Sharda, N. (2010) Using Digital Storytelling for Creative and Innovative e-Learning

Tendero, A. (2006). Facing versions of the self: The effects of digital storytelling on English education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 6(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol6/iss2/languagearts/article2.cfm

Further suggestions:

Storytelling – It’s News!