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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Friday, 30 November 2012

On being a node :)

During this presentation at ALT_C 2012 I was faced with the realisation that my channel, WarwickLanguage is a node, that is to say it is a meeting point for those interested in language teaching and technology use. I guess I had been aware of this and indeed I had consciously worked towards embedding myself at the intersection between teachers, learners and technologists for quite some time. Indeed over the last few years I have found myself in demand as an advisor, consultant or just a signpost to help others in their journey to become connected educators. Being nodal has its up sides and it also brings demands that require serious consideration and decision making if you are not to burn out. The intersection between multiple roads will always get the greatest use and therefore needs to be reinforced if it is to last the wear and tear. I am having to learn how to ensure that I use my time wisely and build in opportunities for rest and reflection. An important life lesson I think.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The landscape

Getting to grips with the technical context for my voice over the internet research I found this discussion very useful:

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Holes in the wall presentation at ALT-C 2012

Holes in the_wall_alt2012 from Teresa Mackinnon

At the recent ALT-C2012 conference, I presented an overview of the virtual learning environment I have created for language teaching. Key design considerations include:

  • choosing design partners who share your vision and commitment to the final product
  • designing for nature within a learning environment so that it supports the natural ecosystem that is needed for great learning experiences.
  • defining the granularity of control so that innovation can take place.

The Languages@Warwick portal has facilitated much innovation:

  • A large scale project deploying e-portfolios as part of language skills assessment.
  • Creation of an Online Intercultural Exchange for 600 students, collaborating between institutions.
  • Implementation of a Community of Practice to support digital skills acquisition for our tutors.
  • Professional development and publications from our Senior Tutors for Chinese and Japanese.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

#altc2012 charging my batteries.

This conference seems to have come around again quickly, I must have been busy this past year! Annual events are always a great opportunity to measure progress or even just take time to reflect on how I've changed. One thing that, despite constant flux and change in the field, remains constant is the warm welcome at #alt2012. Again I have made new connections and caught up with old friends. There have been memorable conversations which will lead to new collaborations, this year with a German member. It is good to see more international connections happening through this network, especially at a time when the benefits of #oie are being highlighted by the INTENT project download report here  The conference papers and events have provided relevant and timely insights which I am able to take away. Staying in halls with no wifi (sorry Manchester but that has to change surely!) means I get a good night's sleep though and a welcome chance to charge my batteries. Thanks #alt2012 for a great conference,

Saturday, 16 June 2012

#geug12 feedforward

I travelled to Portsmouth this week to take part in my first Google apps for education EU users group meeting, #geug12. I was a little afraid of meeting lots of developers - you know, hip types invariably male with expensive tastes in kit and a passion for talking java, python, css and php. There's only so much of that I can take and as I have served more than my first half century of life's great adventure so far, I can be sure they won't be beating a path to chat to me. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised: I found folk interested in good student experiences and collaboration as well as excellent French connections with whom to enjoy some bavardage.

In the wrap up session at the end of the day, a rather downbeat Google chap (clearly senior management as they work hardest to look casual, jeans and white shirt, perched on Google bean bags) shared with us his woes. Here we are, he said,(I paraphrase) with all this great free kit, with which clearly you can achieve fantastic things in education, and yet still European adoption is very low. He offered his observations: no use in Germany at all, low adoption in France (despite high level discussions), resistance in UK and only 20% in Spain (a success story). He asked us, pleadingly, what are we doing wrong? Half joking he said maybe we should change the name? to Blackboard maybe?
Well, Google man - here are my thoughts (some of which were expressed more or less in the session) but I think this post may lead you to a deeper understanding as to the barrier you are facing. The clue is in the culture.

Understand your customers: most universities in the UK (especially large traditional Russell group et al) are big corporate businesses these days. The management delegate the IT discussions to their techies who worry only that, at some point, someone will hit them with a big stick for forgetting to predict the unpredictable. IT professionals are often tribal, some love Google for personal use, others see only pain and even job losses if they move away into the unknown and relinquish any control. You assume they understand what you do - generally they don't, believe me. Grass roots change may help, especially with the additional UK driver of high fees and the arrival of "paying customers."

Know your USP: Google has a huge product range. The rule is similar to the weather on Skye (Western Isles of Scotland BTW) if it isn't there already, just wait a minute. However you are forgetting your major advantage - you provide international tools that could facilitate greater international collaboration across borders; language fonts and and scripts are easy with Google, sharing is not hierarchical, a true participatory culture can be established using docs, hangouts etc.  So you support our internationalisation agendas, offering the chance to simplify (even for the technophobes) interaction and dynamic growth. And we academics don't have to spend hours getting ITS in, asking them to understand what we want to do, waiting for them to come back with a "solution" and trying to fit what we do into that. The tools you create on the whole support the ideals we hold dear, we can just get on with it.

In your defence, you are improving your communication - currently rather confusing just because there is so much of it - but Google can handle big data and make sense of the navigation, surely?

Back to my cultural point. Sad Google chap - you did a great job of making that intercultural leap to communicate with a UK audience. We all felt sorry for you and wanted to help. This was your master stroke - you were a skilled intercultural operator. The British love a loser, we warm to the underdog. Somehow you managed to make us believe that Google apps for ed, this little team, needed our help. I am confident that we will come rushing to your aid. We need you to grasp the cultural shifts presented by working with the mélange of cultures that make up Europe. It is a bigger challenge than the US, as you have discovered. The one common factor that crosses all cultures is that we trade with those we trust, we trust those we understand.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Informing the debate.

Everyone has an opinion about education. Usually based upon their own experience and a collection of anecdotes which support their beliefs. This means that every time journalists raise questions about the purpose of our education system we get the regurgitation of half thought through debate and very little informed insight. Quite depressing if your whole life has been dedicated to service in teaching. Someone who, in my opinion, has made a real contribution to informing the debate is Donald Clarke with his recent collection of blog posts summarising the thoughts and influence of those who have spent many years thinking about human learning and have influenced teaching through the ages. Donald's concise style makes the posts very readable and should be shared with a wide network thanks to his huge twitter following. They also make a handy resource for teacher trainers and those professionals who have long forgotten the theories that underpin their craft. Here is one of my favourite on Bruner For me there is nothing in life as important as the ability to learn, therefore it is worth investing time in reflection and informed discussion to improve educational experiences for our young people.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The end of teaching as we know it?

Organic connections

via @connceted learning, this infographic pulls together a compelling case for connected learning. I love the organic nature of it. It reminds me of a natural ecosystem, a circle of life where each element supports the other and the result is a thriving community. Largely self regulating, experitse is readily available, experts ready to learn from others and hierarchy is irrelevant.

Connected Learning

Monday, 6 February 2012

Presenting Mahara.

Wordle: e-portfolio
Preparing my presentation on our use of Mahara for Wednesday's LLAS conference at Coventry University Language Centre. The biggest challenge of this pilot project this year has been arriving at shared understanding of the purpose of an e-portfolio, particularly for staff. Perhaps just a reflection of the newness of the concepts involved. The biggest joy has been sitting down with students as they wonder why we are asking them to go through this process and seeing how they really get it. Mahara has been generally well received by students once they know it is their tool, they can create their own web pages and all their content is, by default, visible only to them. They have created some brilliant pages, all the while spending time refelcting on their learning. I hope they are brave enough to be honest about their formal learning and experiences so that we can learn from them. What a great learning opportunity for their teachers.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Learning in lines

I was once accused, by someone who didn't really know me at all, of being afraid of complexity. The memory of this accusation still makes me wince :( It is true that I like the messages I deliver in teaching to be clear and relevant, unmuddied by the detail until it becomes necessary and relevant, but I love complexity, it is the very stuff of being human.

Lanier (You are not a gadget) warns of the de-humanising of human interaction when mediated by technology, and I feel he makes some very well observed points informed by many years as a tech insider. Learning games created in digital language have to enforce choices made of 0 or 1, to interact with them you have to "play the game". However, fortunately as humans we can overcome that limitation. There are many attempts, too often succesful, to reduce learning to a series of steps out of a desire to create a teaching model that it is believed can be duplicated and distributed. Usually these are driven by the desire to reduce cost and (if I am to give in to a cynical element of my personality) to decrease the importance of the relationships needed for great learning experiences. Reducing learning and teaching to numbers, rankings and other pernicious, mechanistic devices for measurement does not enhance or in any way contribute to raising the quality of learning, only creating false judgements that miss the most important personal interactions that underlie transformative learning. The effects of such numerical judgements can be devastating for the self esteem and therefore learning potential of those who are subject to them, be they teachers or students. They encapsulate a learning theory that is linear,  x + y =z, read this + do as I say = you will get a good grade. I agree completely with Steve Wheeler's distrust of the reductionist faux theories that often dominate training and education as described here: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/convenient-untruth.html

Human beings are complex largely social animals, we love to observe and experiment, find the boundaries, push beyond them, fall over and learn. When, as a parent, did you say to your child "oh no, I can't read you the story you gave me, not until you have read the other 5 that come before it on our reading list?" I doubt it happened - indeed I really hope it didn't! Why would you wish to put humans into boxes, categorised and limited by your false expectations? We do not learn in lines, we learn organically sending out rhizomes to those around us, seeking truths and life enhancing insights, finding ways of healing our pains in the world around us. This complex relationship between sensory input and our world is too complex for us to unpick, much less chart or define. As a teacher we are privileged to sometimes be around when magic happens as a result or not of our best hunch, and we witness individual learning, let us not fool ourselves into thinking we are responsible. Without engaging with and accepting the complexity of education, we have no right to call ourselves educators, we are simply reductionist bean counters. (Image from http://bbpress.matbury.com/2012/02/week-2-no-child-left-behind-act/)