Brave New Classrooms
I am on to my second book, “Brace New Classrooms: Democratic Education and the Internet” edited by Joe Lockhard and Mark Pegrum.
It is like clearing the cobweb in my mind. Having developed my teaching and education career along with the world wide web, and the ideals of a knowledge worker, and knowledge creator, it is really refreshing to sit back and reflect on the technological advancement that has taken over the landscape of education and communications in the last 25-30 years. Caught in the spirit of the times, I have tried and experimented as much as I could with the new ideas and tools, to help enhance teaching, and creation of resources. At most times, I did not have names or ideologies attached to much of my practices, except that I wanted to be a reflective practitioner, always stopping to think and improve, and develop better ways of doing things. And so now it is time to read the research conducted: those that have reviewed and tested the efficacy and effectiveness of the practices that have evolved from the digital age.
And the “Brave New Classrooms” is a great place to start as it looks critically at these developments, at the same time providing names and descriptions to things that have been propagated by various schools of thought. I have yet to finish reading the book but the chapter reviewing Socrates and Plato, in the elearning context is revealing. I have often wondered about the Socratic Method of questioning, which on the one hand seemed so progressive, but in reality it is set in the authoritarian mode, where ultimately, all questions lead back to what the teacher hold to be true and right. And Plato’s dialogues, although seems to encourage the multiply layers of questioning, at the background, propagates that education is only for the elite. These two ideas are contradictory to what the utopian view of widening access to all, and also the constructivist pedagogy of meaning making through the dialogue and participation. (Socrates and Plato Meet Neoliberalism in the Virtual Agora: Online Dialog and the Development of Oppositional Pedagogies, M Pegrum). Pegrum reminds me of the value of having a full understanding of concepts and ideas, as opposed to fragmented knowledge, which many of us could so easily be contented with. Even in the elearning arena, name dropping is prevalent.
There is more to read, but I will stop here now. Ponder, investigate and question more and I will be back with more reports from other chapters of the book.
Challenging eLearning in the University
I have been reading the book entitled ‘Challenging E-Learning in the University’ by Goodfellow and Lea (2007). Goodfellow and Lea, with background in linguistics, bring interesting perspectives and raise pertinent questions about what constitutes learning in University. They focus on the academic literacies required with the introduction of technology driven learning management frameworks which have taken over the landscape of University Education in the last few years. They highlight the tension that exists between the systems and the ideology of student empowerment that is created. And more importantly, they discuss the transformation of traditional roles of lecturers and universities to one that facilitates learning and knowledge. Although universities in the name of eLearning have embraced technologies into the delivery, assessment and management, there is little clarity on what constitutes knowledge. As linguists, they also bring into focus the text-centred modality, that still governs meaning making at this level. There are so many issues to be raised as to what we will accept as authority and also the divide that exist in this era. Despite the intention of policy makers to make sure that the digital divide gets smaller, Goodfellow and Lea remind us that eLearning is still very much dependent on written word. How does this impact literacy teaching in our classrooms today?
eLearning and Snow
“Which era in history would you like to be born?” I asked my tutee. After much thought, he said during the Stone Age! While he is constructing his arguments, I ponder about our era. This time, the dreaded arctic wind in the UK; some schools have been closed for a whole week now. Many school hours have disappeared, never to be recovered.
At the same time, the discussion in the news today is about provision of high speed broadband to the UK and it was reported that nine million people in the UK do not yet have access to the internet. Places such as Korea and Singapore have better connections than the UK.
Let us consider a future where schools are not solely dependent on physical classroom attendance. Think about some forward thinking education establishments in the Far East which have already been trialling this for years. And let us ask some questions whether teachers in the UK have begun piloting schemes of elearning as a way to complement teaching in the classroom effectively.
In 1996 when I was teaching History, I had my own website where schemes of work, lessons and tasks were made available online. My students used the site as a primary tool for reference. And I would like to think that if I was teaching in schools in the UK today, my students would be doing the same. In fact, they would be interacting with the content matter online with their schoolmates. My presence in the classroom will draw from discussion students have online, and I will introduce new concepts which will then to be followed up by online discussions. Perhaps then the closure of school for a week or two will not be much of a loss to curriculum time, as the relationship I have with my students and classes will be primarily be driven by the virtual presence.
Perhaps we are still very much trapped in the Stone Age era though the level of sophistication of tools and equipment surpasses any in the times lived by our forefathers.
Our world, connectivity and perspectives
I hover restlessly on the BBC website with the half hourly updates of the rescue of the miners in Chile. “I hope there are no accidents in between,” I think to myself. It seems the whole world is watching. Rightly as they say, we wonder how we would have managed in the same position. However I also think about the people in Pakistan and the Quechan natives of Peru and the people suffering under racist governments policies and societies in even the most civilised countries.
I ask myself these questions: Is it because there is no shared religion or culture involved that some issues are not as highlighted as much by the media? Shouldn’t BBC also focus on the plight of the indigenous people around the world especially where explorers and traders from the past have rattled ? Shouldn’t we also be educated about our responsibility towards those who been marginalised as a result of globalisation? Or is it just simply in our times of financial crisis, the story of hope is more welcoming?
The tune and lyrics of ‘the Colour of the Wind’ comes to me:
‘You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew’
If enough people stop to think about how we regard people who are different from us, the world will be a richer and safer place, perhaps?
And what can our networked technology, and elearning tools do that education cannot do in the past? Should we not be connecting these linkages about people, appreciating the cultures of the world beyond the comfort of our homes? All the pedagogies and androgogies perpetuated by academics and theorists, about building a community of learners, how many of these have looked at cross-cultural sharing of perspectives, attitudes and values I wonder?
I guess in many ways, BBC has done that through the live broadcasting of San Jose. But it can go further and focus also on issues from other groups of people who need the platform for their plights perhaps?
eLearning: Inclusive or exclusive?
I have been reading articles on using Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom and higher learning institutions lately, at the same time researching project management materials. I now have a lot of names and terminologies to use on certain practices and methodologies!
It seems a long time ago, trades were protected by guilds; years later things have not changed. To practise a trade, you need certifications and accreditation examinations to be inside the circle! We sometimes call this maintaining industry standards but it is also a way to exclude those who do not have the means to take those paths of recognized success. There is a lot to ponder about the world we inhabit.
So how is this related to Web 2.0 for teachers on the ground? Consider teachers in countries or schools that do not have access to computers in their classrooms: How are children and young people growing up in the latter environment catch up or compete with those in the more well off position? What are the realities of overstretched, under resourced teachers and under qualified teachers? In most cases, teachers prime concern is maintaining a sense of order in the classrooms, and getting through the year completing the syllabus.
In 2002-3, I produced a huge resource called Refuge Teacher’s Resource Pack, which allowed a selection of materials and activities for a classroom. This included films, a website and print materials. While some teachers found the resource extremely useful, I also had feedback from teachers who wanted something much simpler. A 50-minute lesson, all mapped out! I did a lot of thinking then, I thought perhaps my vision and approach had failed, or I was moving too fast in changing the methodology of learning in the classroom, where constructivist and problem solving approaches were still very new for many. However, not surprisingly schools are still purchasing the resource seven years on.
So it looks like classroom practices have moved along, but as a resource designer, I needed to be more acutely aware of what majority teachers will do, rather than the minority. Perhaps it is a lesson for instructional designers today for elearning: the need to think of teacher training needs, and the necessity to work with teachers and students who are ultimately the end users of a system or a product. We need to ask pertinent questions: Are we keeping teachers out of eLearning developments? Are we going to have to establish industry standards too that will then exclude many teachers from the eLearning trade?
Observations of user behaviour on eLearning sites
My reading in the last few days confirms a couple of things that I saw while going through an elearning course. While participants are keen to post what they think, sometimes there is a tendency to digress to something they are more comfortable with. So instead of commenting on the thread, it takes on a whole new life, and most of the time has little to do with the original post.
There are also differences in the way men and women respond to a discussion thread. However it is difficult to draw conclusions at this stage as elearning is rather new, and for us to depart from the traditional face-to-face interaction to an eLearning environment will take time.
There are a few studies looking at the quality of interaction and learning via eLearning and it seems clear that the pedagogy has to be different. This begs the question of training for teachers, students and elearning designers.
It will be interesting to see how the studies on eLearning would apply to younger learners. So far, most research on eLearning is very much focused on learning in Universities or Professional Courses.
Thoughts about water
I have forgotten how privileged we are living in Britain until I went to India recently. The very basic necessity of life – having clean water – was not something that was immediately available. Even bottled water can be suspect. We tried to dissolve cleaning tablets into it before boiling to drink, but it still gave us a very upset stomach for weeks.
I cast my mind back thirty years ago when there were frequent water rations in Malaysia due to burst pipes or droughts: We queued up with buckets hoping to get enough potable water for the family. Sometimes we even collected rain for washing. You can say we were frugal with what we had.
The clear substance that comes through the taps in the UK is clean. Even so when I was at the shop the other day my eyes were drawn immediately to water filters. I got myself a Brita Filter and now we have even tastier H2O without the chlorine, led or copper poisoning. Having just experienced India, my senses were heightened to anything that signified pure drinkable liquid!
Critically, my visit to this most populous democracy in the world has made me respect the basic right that we have. The sites and scenes of the countryside driving from Gurgaon to Agra come back to me often. Many who roamed the streets did not have access to the most basic facilities: some lived in tents, others in small tiny huts. I am not forgetting the more developed sites especially what I saw of Gurgaon where you could mistake its skyline for any big metropolis but that is something else.
There is much to learn from seeing different places and meeting people from varied backgrounds. It is these types of observations, reflections and ruminations that I hope we can encourage young children to appreciate through Writing Basics. Whilst they may not yet be able to travel across continents, they can share their own stories and experiences with one another.
User friendly and effective web design
If you have a business and you would like some web presence, it is not enough to knock a site together and get it published. There are a few questions to consider:
a) Are the colours I am using on the site soothing to the eye?
b) Are my font-size, font-type and font-style consistent throughout?
c) Am I using simple enough language?
d) Have I got someone else to check my content?
e) Is my website achieving the right results for me?
These are little things but it makes a lot of difference if we pay attention to details. Should you like eLearning Tutor to work with you on your website, please do not hesitate to contact me.