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

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Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions

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

* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning

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

* Decision-making is itself a learning process

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

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

 

References:

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

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism

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

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

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