When Walls Talk

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Over the last summer I had the opportunity to take part as a trainer on a new professional development programme for Saudi Arabian educators in Finland. This transnational educational programme, “Building Leadership for Change” would last six months, with the first initial 3 months focused on brushing up participants’ English language skills. The different groups of educators, (teachers, school inspectors and supervisors),  were  spread out across several different university campuses. My group was based in Tampere and had an overall good level of English. The programme, though language focused, was also based on pedagogical themes which were given to the language teachers to develop. From reviewing issues related to the roles of learners and teachers, to different approaches of assessment and teacher observation, the 3 months were an intense journey and discussion through  topics which make up the day-to-day life of educational practitioners.

(Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash)

As in any other transnational educational project, there was content and context. In this particular case, I would bring the content and participants would bring the context – their educational context. Though this may apply in many other educational situations, significant learning can only happen if course participants consider the content (whether it is a new digital tool or a novel approach to doing teacher observations) as relevant to their context. As a trainer, my role was mostly to  model (as so often Downes refers to) while giving time and space for participants to debate, discuss and reflect on what could be integrated into their own daily practices as educators. Their teaching/educational context was always at the forefront, making content relevant to them.

Like on many courses, there was a moodle which served to share content and discussion boards. However, a LMS does not give learners ownership and so, each participant had their own digital portfolio as well. While F2F classes were filled with discussions and debates, poster design and training games (among other activities),  these narratives of learning were also included in their ePortfolios. Unlike the LMS, their ePortfolios provided the much needed sense of ownership. Here was the space where they could keep articles which were of more interest to them, digital artifacts that they created throughout the course, (for example, their blogs and other digital creations),  their weekly learning reflections and even traces of their participation in the LMS discussions. These discussions were significant for two main reasons: on the one hand, reflecting critically on one’s learning takes time and practice, and with time, the quality of reflections develops into something more tangible and significant for the learner to look back to and reflect further. On the other hand, it is through shared reflections and discussion that knowledge is constructed and given meaning, a shared meaning and not only an imposition of another educational system for PD purposes. The selected ePortfolio also included collaborative features, i.e. sharing and sending messages, by which participants could communicate and comment.

(Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash)

Day by day and with the passing of the weeks, a learning community was established, with male and female participants contributing towards their own course, fine tuning  their own professional insights while working together and balancing new and different approaches in the field of education.

Novelties? Many, as was to be expected. However, it is in the creation rather than imitation of educational systems and thought that real change can be introduced. These need to be closely related to trainees’ teaching context.

It is when learners take ownership of their learning, whether through their presentations, mini research projects, their narratives of teaching and learning, all reflected and visible in their ePortfolios, that one can say, yes! walls do not whisper learning – they talk!

 

 

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Achieving Change through Collaboration and Cooperation

As an educator, I have always been aware that one feature of my role, was change. Not necessarily change on a global or national scale, but rather, introducing and implementing small steps of change in my daily practices .

Encouraging students to be success instead of doing poorly in their academic lives; changing how culture stereotypes may not always live up to their hype; change in the assumptions and expectations  that learners have in regard to their lives after the (relative) safety of classrooms. These are mere examples that every educator will recognise in their teaching practices. Sharing regular changes in perspective and attitudes are embedded in the role of educators.

In recent years my role as an agent of change has broadened both in scope and scale. It has become easier for me to train teachers in developing countries, for instance. It is easier to collaborate and cooperate across borders as well.

In my mind, it is also more urgent, more necessary to participate and engage in the changes happening within the eduscape. Not all is necessarily positive within the world/s of EdTech, for instance, but one needs to be aware of what is taking place in order to make the best informed decisions. When it comes to changing teaching practices, it has always been my belief that positive, constructive change happens from the grassroots upwards. Participants themselves must bring about the change they require, the change they wish to see implemented and spread in their educational institutions.

It is in this sense that I’d like to point out how at TAMK, teachers are actively engaging in such a process of grassroot discussion and action for change.

Successful change needs to begin from the bottom upwards. Successful change requires cooperation – whether across departments in an institution or across borders. In today’s world, multidisciplinary approaches are necessary for changing problems into solutions.  That is especially vital for supporting teachers as well.

One constantly comes across how education in Finland leads the world. There are many diverse reasons for that. However, putting into practice what one believes in, pulling together internal resources for change, is one approach that exists in Finland. One program that reaches out to the world is explained here by Mark Curcher. Digitmentorit is another example of how education and training in Finland differs and achieves the quality it is known for.

Change and educational leadership come from within.

Finding a way to accomplish transformational education lies in the will to achieve.

Winter apples do not need to be objects of desire, kept out of reach.

Change is not an elusive, imaginary process. Change is here, change is now.

 

Change is knowing that there are no limits when there is a will to change.

What changes are you engaging in now throughout 2016?

 

 

 

Further Suggestions:

Challenging our Pedagogy – Hybrid Pedagogy’s Editors Picks

Finding a Way – George Couros

Over the Rainbow and into Reality

Overlooking a city intoxicated with dirt, air pollution and prayers for tomorrow, I am already caught between worlds. I linger on Twitter, catching up on tid-bits of conferences and opinions which are to influence educational practices and positions, I sip my coffee while trying to out-wit the never ending swarms of flies. I am lucky to have a connection to view the web world, to interact, to be myself.

And I wonder – how much does the developed world actually include the have-nots?

In an attempt to bridge the increasing digital divide, I came as a personal volunteer to train EdTech.ON MY WAY

(To those who do not know me, yes, I live over the rainbow, I live with hope, I live with belief).

Nonetheless, it takes much more than good will and possibly monetary donations, for change to happen. Change, as many know, takes time.

When it comes to EdTech, there is undoubtedly an awareness of what is happening in the rest of the developed world. There is an acknowledgement that digital learning skills are necessary for development and educational prestige. However, for EdTech to be effective, – or any professional training for that matter – it takes a profound shift of attitudes.

By no means am I an favour of imposing change from other models and countries; I believe that each environment, whether classroom or society, needs to implement the changes that are best suited to its needs and participants. However, there is a need of bridges. No one can progress, no one can introduce change without the aid of bridges. When it comes to professional training in developing countries, those involved need to make the effort to create bridges of understanding and performance – both ways. It is not acceptable any longer that bridges are to be built only by one world. If there is to be success, then both parties, both sides of participants are required to make the effort to reach out and elliminate possible stumbling blocks and cross-cultural differences, in order that the training experience is as  successful as possible for all participants.

Rainbows and realities. Neither are meaningful without a tremendous effort to achieve success. It is not a question of lack of cutting-edge hardware, nor ill will,l nor lack of material resources which lead to risks of possible defeat.

It is the required shift in perceptions and learning attitudes. And these are the most challenging features to change – anywhere, at any time. In regard to EdTech, these are most urgent to deal with, the most urgent to reflect on, if there is ever to be effective educational change.

Rainbows and realities. An urgency for each to meet, interconnect and blend.

Dear Colleague – An Open Letter to A Teacher Trainee

Dear Colleague,

When I see you from the back of the classroom, time takes me to the classrooms where I first began my journey in teaching. Journey may be a well over-worn cliche, however, that is exactly what teaching is – a learning journey which spirals into fractuals, kaleidoscopes,   never ending. No matter how well you do on your training projects, no matter how well you have read pedagogical theories and approaches, let me share with you: the best teaching has little to do with trends and bandwagons of variable truths. Your best lessons will come from your heart and soul as you connect with students, as you stumble across the minefields of classroom management, as you walk in a haze through corridors wondering how to plot the next best lesson.

I delight with the sparkle in your eyes, I recognise the despair of being unsure what to next when students do not keep quiet, I smile softly as I see you lost in a maze of options.  Yes, those moments will be your daily bread from now onwards. Be prepared to deal with them calmly.

Be equally prepared to witness power struggles around you; politics which rarely have much to do with education. Inhale and focus.

Focus on why you are an educator. That is your policy. That is what comes first and foremost – fine tuning your skills as an educator, sharing with students and colleagues alike. Yes. I know. You tell me I am a dreamer and this does not make sense. Dear Colleague, education is a process of joy; each educator is responsible for his/her choices and accountable to their educational community. Strive to be a positive educator, one who solves problems instead of creating stumbling blocks which lead nowhere.

 

Be fearless and tread those classroom gardens with joy. Yes, there will be days in the shape of monsters.  Just as there will be moments which will remain with you all your life – a thank you, the look of achievement, the moment of finally putting pieces together and understanding. There is no financial gain for those moments. And they are yours to cherish and share.

Dear Colleague, throw out fear. Don’t isolate yourself, your worries and concerns; your classroom may have walls and doors, but the world is open. Your students live wall-less. Education is no longer to be kept locked – open all the locks for your students and keep yourself up-to-date by connecting with others.

If millions connect for social purposes today, (below is a mere example), you too can find others to connect with. As you participate in those networks and exchange ideas, thoughts and form your new ones, encourage  students to become responsible digital citizens as well. Show them how they too can make the internet a learning ecology.

Dear Colleague, I ramble on, trying to pick on my own chaotic learning. Welcome to the world of teaching! Messy, chaotic challenging,   interconnected and in flowing change! Let go of the past images of teachers; be prepared for power shifts in classrooms; never forget those in front of you need a place of joy, safety, intellectual stimulus. Often it is the only place where they can feel safe.

And let go. Let go of perfectionist ideals in and of classrooms. They do not exist. Each classroom will  host a unique culture. Finding a balance between reality and educational  dreams will become your daily routine.

Dear Colleague, I must surely have bored you by now. Do not look so alarmed.

Smile –  the world of education is a joy; despite all its trials and tribulations, there are few professions which touch the heart of humans as the intricate, ever-changing, ever-challenging world of learning. Connecting, smiling, letting learners know you are there for them; simplicity has its place in education as well.

Dear Colleague, heed the wise words of others, of those who challenge you to inquire, to seek answers to questions not yet asked. For it is you who will then bring these seeds of inquiring and learning to others.

Dear Colleague, the world of education is a world of disruptions and interruptions;  rise to the wonderous occasion of it all with joy!

Yours Learning as Always,

AC

PS!

And in the process of it all, do have fun everyday!

References:

Christensen, C., 2013, Why Online Education is Ready for Disruption Now

Shareski, D.,  2013, It Takes All Kinds : Teachers

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

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!

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