Adding Failure to the Educational Mix

I don’t know exactly when failure became acceptable, but when the fashion world embraces failure, you know that failure has definitely become sexy.

Perhaps it was comfortable for education to embrace concepts of failure from the business world. After all, failure is part of the learning process, that endless spiral of advancing and regressing back to the initial novelty of information that the brain must re-process and make sense of. There are other kinds of failure as well – lessons where the wifi fails in the midst of creating digital stories, days when the IWB will stubbornly not be re-aligned, the sound cable has gone missing when the teacher has a great video to show the class, team members are absent on the day of a presentation; the list is endless and well known to those who spend a lifetime in classrooms.

Then there are other types of classroom failures – a lack of references which students miss and then fail to grasp the inherent meaning of text, a lack of cultural appropriateness, a lack of time for discussing what students really want to know about because there are tests to prepare for. Again, realities that many educators will be familiar with.

However, in between failures and successes, there are fine, subtle lines. Failure may be accepted,  as long as it is  followed by success.  Preferably by tremendous success, the kind  which often characterises the contemporary tales of the celebrity world. This is part of the acceptance – the story of failing and rising again. Icarus who rises as Phoenix.

In the educational process, though, this does not always happen at such a dramatic scale. Learners’ successes are often quiet, indeterminable. Success in learning takes time. And needless to say (yet I repeat), real learning is not about passing exams.

There is failure too when it comes to peer observations, as Didau points out:

One of the most pernicious and abiding myths at work is the belief that students should make progress every lesson.

This is meaningless. Learning is complicated and takes place over time. Everyone has experienced the fact that sometimes a lesson seems to have gone really well but yet students remember nothing the next lesson.

This is because we’re obsessed with measuring students’ performance rather than their learning.

Is Education a mere loop of failures?

No. Not in the least.

But it is a world where failure is an inherent part of the process. It is a world where constant motivation is essential in the many layers and forms teachers are able to provide students.

If one is to speak of authenticity in learning, then aspects of failure need to be added to the mix of items which constitute authenticity in learning and classrooms.

So, what is left within this mix?

The acceptance that learning is risky; what is new (e.g. learning to use a new digital tool) may take failure in order to  succeed; the need to reassure learners that yes, failure may be accepted for as long as success is aimed for and achieved in the end.

After all, aren’t we all aiming to pass exams?

Or is learning, real learning, a more authentic educational process?

How do you deal with failure in educational processes?

References:

Mundy, L.,  2013 – Losing is the New Winning

Sowray, B., 2013 – Tom Ford’s Secret to Success? Failure

Stenger, M. 2013, – We Can Only Guarantee Success if We Have Low Expectations. Anything Else Demands Risking Failure: Interview with Dabid Didau

Note

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Martin Marcisovsky

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World Teacher Day

October finds me me in my well known routines – eyes on screens, eyes in books, eyes observing students. October also finds me juggling online seminars and the desire to be outdoors. October finds me in transit – designing courses, learning on courses, switching from educator to learner, wearing different hats,  hoping that in the process I may become a better educator for those I work with.

October also finds me giving thanks to the many educators who inspire, guide and collaborate with me. On October 5th, my thoughts will go out to all in my connected web of networks and collaborations – with thanks and gratitude.

In a world where so much change impacts Education, individuals can no longer pretend to be islands of all knowledge. In a world where educators face all the realities of change in their students’ faces, where educators are handed outdated curricula to perform as teaching, in classrooms designed for the industrial age yet juggling digital devices for learning, there is an international day where teachers are recognised as an essential link for sustainable and improved living conditions across the globe.

The Global Learning Crisis
To all who enlighten me, to all who push boundaries, to all who make the world a more informed place – thank you.

Note:

The image with Seth Godin’s quote is by Samantha Tran

The Cyborg Within

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Who am I?

Who are you?

Simple questions, yet where does one begin unravelling the complexity of being a “someone”?

It was over the summer,  that issues of identity came again to linger on my mind. When I first visited Laos years ago, there was hardly a mobile phone in sight; to access the internet you needed to find an obscure, dark internet cafe, where you then struggled with connectivity. Today, that world has changed dramatically, like so many other places around the world. Today, one may find wi-fi in practically almost all public cafes and restaurants; everywhere you turn your gaze to, there will be someone taking a selfie, checking their photogenic image and uploading it to a social network; when silvery, Mekong evenings spread across the jungle skies, there will be throngs walking, jogging, running along the bank, with their smart phones,  some in Adidas track-suits,  most with  ear-plugs and an eye on their mobile screen. You could be almost anywhere else in the world – if not for the natural surroundings.

If asked who am I, I sometimes grin and say “I’m a cyborg. Whatever else?” Others’ reactions are usually quite interesting; often their associations are with dark, menacing Sci-Fi  films, where cyborgs are threatening beings, their powers far beyond mere humans. There is a lurking fear, a lurking mis-trust of cyborgs. Being a cyborg, simply put, is not desirable.

However.

Those jogging on the bank of the Mekong with their smart phones held dearly and tightly in their hands and those who possibly are reading this blog entry, are equally as much of a contemporary cyborg as I am. There are different interpretations of being a cyborg,  e.g. those who wear technology for enhanced digital experiences, those who participate in digital worlds, forming an identity within simulations, and those, like myself, who are equally comfortable in and out of digital worlds. As Turkle (2012) explains, “We are all cyborgs now”, in regard to how we “wander in and out of the physical real”. This element of being a cyborg has another characteristic as well, for one is in the digital world and somewhere else simultaneously. In other words, as cyborgs, we not only wander in and out of digital dimensions, but even when connecting with others, when digitally communicating with others, we are inhabiting two worlds at the same time.

Technologies and identity are complex issues. As someone who has had an interest in the digital since the internet became publicly available, it comes as no wonder that “who I am” will necessarily include the digital mix of who I am. In other words, I am my “life mix” (Turkle, 2012), moving quietly between worlds, between connections, between digital devices.

1xcom272947hangingThere are times when both my real and virtual self need breathing space as well – for instance, there may be times I don’t participate as much on one social network but with time, will return to it. There are times when I feel the need to disconnect, feel the need to think and dream without the ongoing connection which I do have in my life. This is not a rejection of my digital, cyborg self; merely a pause and one that I must ensure by silencing all my mobile digital gadgets. My “life mix” is both asynchronous and synchronous. Time to disconnect, briefly,  becomes a necessity. “Hanging up”, being “off the grid” is also necessary downtime for cyborgs.

A word of caution though: one may choose, re-invent or play with identity. This is not my case. Perhaps because it is not my case, I am equally at ease with my “life mix”.  Within my mix I am often a learner and educator, (though definitely, not only – e.g. I watch movies, connect with friends and family at non-professional levels, listen to music and so on). In these complex times of deep changes, I seek answers, I ask questions. I participate in online communities with others who likewise share the same concerns and questions. These communities range from social networks such as Twitter and G+, to VLEs where I learn and share with other members.

Which brings me to learning – once again. Leppisaari and Lee (2010) highlight how images are an integral part of constructing knowledge. By taking up visuals of footwear (Leppisaari and Lofroth 2013), one can visual one’s identity and role within multicultural learning.

From cyborg, from wandering in out of digital and analogue worlds, my footwear reflects the type of learning I engage in . Sandals – open, strappy, comfortable in twilight zones of being a cyborg. Sandals are ideal for treading lightly in a hyperlinked world.

Sandals are also practical for informal learning – which is how I would say most of my learning is today. I learn with and through my social networks, reading open access journals, reading articles online, participating in MOOCs, taking open online courses, and daily,  with my PLN, sharing and taking  part in on-going conversations. I attend webinars and belong to professional networks, where conferences are sometimes held online. Both these last two examples offer me the possibility of learning and participating in contexts which otherwise I could not attend. And I learn as I always have, even before the internet, i.e.. by learning from other fields of knowledge. Hence it is no surprise that I am a supporter of cross (or multi) disciplinary learning.

At times, I also take part in more formal learning, i.e. a structured course, where, ideally I will submit assignments on time. Hence, a pair of red shoes dangling, expressing on the one hand, a certain degree of formal artifact and on the other, the eternal quest of balancing time.

As a learner and educator I have lived and worked in different countries with distinct cultures. Though fascinating as it may sound, living and working in different cultures may be walzing through a mysterious field – one knows the footsteps to the dance but the music is different. Every time one thinks one finally understands the tune and attempts to dance, the steps will be different, for cultures are complex and forever changing. Every culture will have what is easily noticeable and learnable – with so many other steps hidden or disguised and which are essential for its understanding. And yes, there are times when simple sandals are more convenient to live within those settings, leaving light footprints, opening paths of learning for others who, in turn, will create meaningful knowledge and learning for their own cultural contexts.

When Downes (2013) speaks of learning, he mentions how:

“To teach is to model and to demonstrate; to learn is to practice and reflect“.

In a multicultural setting, whether F2F or online (e.g. distance education), this requires sturdy (but comfortable)  boots. Not only does one need to be sensitive to the culture, (e.g. in terms of what is or not appropriate) but the modelling has to be meaningful to it as well. Tapping into what may or not be meaningful to learners requires patience, resilience and time. Boots are often necessary for learning.

Much like Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), I dream of the perfect lesson, the perfect learning path where as an educator, it would only take a snappy click of heels for my students to become inspired, creative, and critical thinkers. In my cyborg mind, this is simple, with a myriad of tools and platforms to offer. In my “real”, analogue classrooms, this is much more challenging. At times, simply hard to do. After all, there are days and days – with a mix of 20+ learners in a classroom, there are bound to be days where the flow of learning just isn’t happening as one would wish it to.

Yet, I cling to the notion of a perfect lesson, where tasks are meaningful, motivational and fun for all. There are days when no click of heel is necessary and objectives are accomplished. And there are days when I return to the dream of a perfect lesson.

Today I have chosen 3 variations of footwear that perhaps define my days. When reflecting on the nature of being a cyborg and  a multicultural learner/participant, one also needs to add the digital dimension to multicultural learning. On the one hand, there is the culture of digital identity as an integral  part of the notion of identity, while on the other hand, there is also a cultural  field on online learning/distance education. Both of these, in my eyes, have different features; features which overlap at times, and which add another dimension to multicultural learning. In other words, it is not just the analogue world which has multicultural learning – there is a digital world as well.

When technologies and identities blend, “simple” issues of identity become more complex. In my mind, often richer as well.

Do you ever consider your cyborg self?

How do you perceive yourself as a cyborg?

References:

Leppisaari, I. and Lee, O., 2010, Modelling Digital Natives’ International Collaboration: Finnish-Korean Experiences of Environmental Education

Turkle, S., 2012, Alone Together

The Book that Spoke to Me

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Summer days are still upon my part of the world, but thoughts and resolutions are turning towards a new academic year with its challenges and wealth of learnings. With a de-cluttered mind, I set about preparing for what may lie ahead. Not only will be there be months of teaching, (as yet unknown courses), but also my own personal studies and professional development for which I necessarily need to slot in time for.

With an end-of-summer-break-resolution, I begin reading educational articles and commentaries, mostly finding myself asking when will they speak to me. When will all these academic writings actually speak to me; “me” who is an educator with years of classroom experience, with years of learning experience and as such, with some points of reference in the world of education?

 That is when I picked up a book lying on my coffee table, having kept it to read with a calm, quieter mind, hoping that new discoveries and perspectives would engage and stimulate my own personal thoughts. What I had not expected was how the book would speak to me.

As someone who has been in education for over 20 years and has studied formally and informally, academic articles are not a novel form of text. Yes, there may be another slant on a topic, but mostly, there will be strings and strings of other references, backing up every second statement. Despite my respect for this academic endeavour, despite understanding the “whys” of this style of writing, I have still wanted to read a non-fiction book, a book on education, that spoke to me. A narrative that started from the perspective that I understood current affairs in education, was aware of educational changes, of the role of digital literacies,  and wished to be inspired to take further action for constructive, positive, educational change. A book that would express its’ authors own ideas, without that endless string of quotations and  references, backing up every new statement. I wanted a book where the writers’ voices were present, were heard and not drowning in an academic display of references.  This book spoke to me.

Each chapter may be read on its own if one wishes. However, because the book is a dialogue with educators, inclusively including transcripts of conversations between the writers, I did not dip into chapters. Instead, as I read linearly, each chapter added to my own random thoughts, provoking me into further questionings of my own teaching experience, forming cohesion between beliefs and questions to pursue. 1xcom44797macroPearlsThese provocations made me take notes on how to better introduce effective change in my daily practices and reflect further on how to best achieve change. It was equally refreshing to come across references to educational technologists whose work I am familiar with and deeply admire, as well as including intelligent nuggets of information from social networks such as blogs. Not all references were entirely new to me, thus giving me a sense of a shared community, both as a reader and a participant, as well as teaching me about new connections and thinkers. This book spoke to me as a contemporary educator who is interested in professional development, interested in learning and yes, aware of the profound changes occurring at the many levels of education around the world.

 As someone who partakes in academia, this book also satisfied my own need for solid and further academic references. The richness of scope was another feature that left me reading slowly, not wishing to end the pleasure of the text. Having a background in the Humanities, I relished the weavings of film and theatre, for instance, as much as the academic writers and knowledge banks referred to. However, it is not a book solely for those with a background in the humanities – rather, a book every educator who is interested in transformational education should read.

 Why? Because it is written as a dialogue with the reader, providing case studies from others as well as the writers’ own experiences.  Throughout the chapters, there are also dialogues between the two writers, adding to that refreshing feature of speaking with rather down to the reader.  The reader becomes part of the dialogue, a participant in the transformation of learning. The reader becomes a member of that “learning gymnasium” which is explicitly described and referred to through the book.

adaptation studies “Adaptation Studies and Learning” is written by practitioners and for practitioners. There is a strong sense of knowing the world of classrooms, knowing daily challenges and restrictions, yet overcoming these by implementing effective changes in attitude and approach. Touching on film history, theories in education and literary criticism, “Adaptation Studies and Learning”, is in my view, about adapting to todays’ needs in education, how to overcome the culture of instant technological gratification, how to implement change and focus on learning instead.

Learning – that elusive, messy, chaotic process in which education is (supposedly) set up for.  Learning how to adapt to an increasingly fast-paced changing world, a world with uncertain professions, a world where openness, resilience and transdisciplinarity reign unfettered. Learning how to live with these features, learning how to guide students through these characteristics of today’s learning experience is what “Adaptation Studies and Learning” focuses on closely. Drawing in the reader as a participant in the narrative, provoking the reader to reflect on his/her own educational narratives, this book certainly did speak to me.

1xcom29429alluser8926TimeForFairyTalesWhat summer readings have spoken to you?

Reference:

Adaptation Studies and Learning 2013, Raw, L. and Gurr, T. 

So What Happened to Learning?

I sift through reams of words and worlds of pedagogy.

I blink through bytes of pedagogy and educational concerns.

May 2013 and still the drums beat on about 21st Century Learning. May 2013, and one still faces screens flickering on about disruptions in the educational process. Spring 2013 and again I wonder – what happened to learning?

It is simple enough to pin-point what learning should and may entail today. It is simple enough to declare “we want to become digital learners”. Yet, how far is the curriculum actually moving forward to give space to the learning which needs to be put into practice?

Students will not start creating content for learning if not given space and encouragement. Students have busy lives – they are connected and digitally intense. It’s that passion, that connectivity which needs to be channeled towards learning and learning environments, that still eludes me.

Just as I am baffled by a student who explains to me that they were told not to download interactive stories onto their iPads because those apps (i.e. interactive stories) take up too much space, I am left wondering – so it’s OK to fill up an iPad with games which require no learning, no thinking, no incentive towards productive creativity?

Change in attitudes will not happen because one decides to implement change from above. Change in learning attitudes is not solely the responsibility of teachers. It is the responsibility of all members of an institution, of a community.

As a classroom teacher, I want a change in focus. Stop telling me how and what to teach. Begin telling me about learning.

Tell me about the learning for futures uncertain.

Tell me about learning for jobs which have not yet been established.

Talk to me about learning.

Then, perhaps, will I awake from this flickering slumber of digital bytes on teaching.

Beyond the Gloss of Educational Change

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

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

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

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

Gloss comes in 3 main categories as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no time to fear failing.

The only fear is being stuck in gloss.

What’s your choice?

 

Further references:

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

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

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

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.