Posted in Learning, Schools, Studying, Teaching

What future for education

A week or so ago I decided to sign up to do a course called ‘What future for education’.

It was the title of the course that caught my eye as I am working through a period of deep ambivalence about education and thought this might provide me with some answers, or at the very least give me something else to think about. You know how I like to think!

It is an online course like many others: there are lectures (and in this instance, they are brave enough to call them lectures – I like that), there are readings, there are discussions to be had, activities to complete (an entry on a Padlet wall – some of you may remember adding to a Wall Wisher Wall in your own studies … it’s now called Padlet), and a tweet or two.

And a blog post. Hence my presence here today.

I could have started another blog and used that just for the course, but decided against that. Mostly for pragmatic reasons; I have a collection of applications that I’ve signed up for because of various studies I’ve undertaken and many of them I don’t use once the study is finished. Or once I decide to stop studying. And so I thought I’d write my blog posts here and you can be be amazed that I still haven’t learnt to read the unit outline and take any notice of deadlines. This blog post was supposed to be in yesterday, for instance.

But I’m supposed to write a 200-word blog post on: Based on your experience as a learner, what do you think you will be able to get out of this course? And what ideas do you already have about the future of education? So here goes.

What I will get out of this course … that’s an interesting way to phrase this question. Does that mean the same thing as ‘what will I learn from this course’? I’m going to say yes, and so will reword the question and write about what I expect to learn by completing this course.

I expect to learn about a range of perspectives on education – what education might look like in the future; how we might shape education; what education is for; why we educate. I want to learn what others have to say about education, others who aren’t politicians, others who know something about education and have ideas about it. I expect to learn how education can move away from the abyss of commodification and towards a focus on learning.

What ideas do I already have about education? I’m going to imagine that the term ‘education’ here is used to mean ‘formal education’ whether that’s in a school or university.

  • I see a distinct shift towards education being a commodity that is bought and sold, with as little effort made by the ‘consumer’ as that required to buy a lipstick.
  • Education has less to do with learning and more to do with a qualification or a result that allows the student access into other areas of education (from Year 6 to secondary school; from Year 12 to university), and then into the ‘real’ world.
  • Education has become enfeebled by a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of developing learners (people) who can engage in creative, critical, and ethical thought (and action).
  • Teachers (including university academics who teach) are increasingly stymied in their efforts to encourage learning, instead being forced to focus on assessing (there’s much more weighing than there is nourishing).
  • School teachers are little more than automatons – delivering a curriculum that is divorced from their students and developed by outsiders who have political points to make; being handed scripted lessons to deliver; having very little say in what is taught and how it’s taught.
  • The future of education is bleak.

 


 

So, for what it’s worth, that’s my less than cheery summation of the future of education.

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

Random observations and thoughts

A pirate sits in his car, texting with his eye patch up, while the news blares from his radio.

A silver and a pink balloon float above a fencepost at a house around the corner.

A car does a U-turn outside the house, crunches against the curb and comes to a complete stop. It seems perplexed.

***

My dress is ready. I’m on my way to the dressmaker now. I’d been walking past the Red Cross shop a few days ago and felt compelled to go in. There it was. A grey wool dress with a touch of black satin at the neckline and cuffs. Simple. Elegant. Beautiful.

Size small.

I tried it on anyway.

Max Mara, the girl with the German accent told me.

It needed a little re-stitching.

It’s ready now. I try it on.

It’s beautiful.

***

I sit in the downstairs section of the library. I’d ignored the signs saying staff and students only. I am neither a staff member nor a student of this particular institution but I figure that if I look confident no one will notice me.

I find a table in the group learning section. I don’t have a group. I sit at the table alone, surrounded by groups of students, with my laptop open, marking.

Conversations swirl around me. Ideas, concepts, understandings, clarifications, possibilities. Multiple languages. Multiple disciplines. Maths. Graphic design. Nutrition. Engineering. A glass wall covered in formula. Portfolios scattered across tables. Laughter. Swearing. Questions. Comprehension. Propositions.

Intellectual and social and professional engagement.

I wonder about the spaces we create for online students to engage in these rigorous conversations.

Tim says: I’m going to the city with my camera.

I let other thoughts go. They are puzzles for another time.

Now is the time for wandering.

 

 

Posted in Learning, Schools, Teaching

On success pt. 2

Earlier this month (October) World Teachers’ Day was celebrated around … well … around the world. Did you hear about any celebrations? Did you take part in any? If you have school age children did you do something nice for their teacher/s? If you’re a teacher, did you celebrate in some way, or were you celebrated/acknowledged by others?

When thinking about success yesterday, I began to think about what it meant to be successful as a teacher. How is success measured? What does a successful teacher look like? What do they know, what skills and understandings have they developed, in what ways can they communicate their ideas, knowledge, understandings, thoughts, feelings, views? What are their values and what do they value?  Can you ‘see’ teacher success by looking at their students? Is there a link between a successful teacher and successful students? Is teacher success a sum of individual students’ successes? Is it simply a matter of addition … successful student A + successful student B (and so on)  = successful teacher?

We sometimes talk about students as if they are pieces of machinery that can be weighed and tested to see if they fit a certain list of pre-ordained specifications. Even if they are, would the teacher be the only one responsible for ensuring they meet those specifications, or are others involved too?

The structure of the school, for instance, has a part to play in student success – the kinds of programs the school offers, the number of lessons scheduled each day (and therefore the amount of time students have to work on things that matter), the relative worth of particular subjects (what’s more important and therefore how much time is spent learning Physics, English, Drama,  Maths, the capital cities of the countries of the world, the canon of English literature, History, driver ed, pet care, sustainability …?). And when there is only so much time in the day, what’s given priority? What’s missed out? And ability to ‘do’ which of those subjects would constitute success? If you can do quadratic equations but not name the poet who wrote The rime of the Ancient Mariner and discuss what it’s about in a coherent way, should you be considered successful?  If you cannot name the rivers down the eastern seaboard of Australia, but be able to parse a sentence correctly, are you a success? And for how long do you need to know this information? If you could parse a sentence when you were at school, but couldn’t now to save your life … were you really successful/was the teacher?

Different people will have different views on these questions and I doubt there will ever be any agreement. You might think that there is no question, that surely everyone would agree with your perspective, but ask around. What do others think?  Do they agree with you? On what points do your views diverge?

So the ways schools work has some impact on student success and our understanding of success has some influence on whether we deem students successful or not. The culture of the school – which is often established by the principal and leadership team  – also has an impact. If the principal says, at the end of lunch, ‘Okay troops, back to the trenches’ then she is putting a particular way of being into place. The teachers are soldiers and the students are … the enemy? Language is important, and it is to our detriment that we ignore the power of the metaphors we use and the influence they have on our own and others’ actions.

Of course, parents also have an influence on how successful their children are at school. Parents’ attitude to education and to teachers will be communicated to their children even if they don’t say anything to them directly.  Some parents will be in a position to take their children overseas and provide cultural experiences that other parents will not have an opportunity to provide; some parents will nag their children to do their homework, while other parents will have the view that schoolwork should happen between 9 and 3 and there should be no requirement for children to do school work out of school hours. Some parents will hold that view and still nag their children to do it! Some parents will talk to their children and in that way support the child’s capacity to communicate with adults; some parents will buy books for their children and establish a routine of reading to them at bedtime each night; some parents will limit time on the Nintendo DS and the iPod and how many hours of cartoons/video games/internet porn their children watch and will encourage them to become involved in sporting, cultural, community, and/or social activities. Some parents will speak to their child’s teacher and show an interest in the child’s education and progress.

But not all parents will do those things. Does that mean that some students get a head start? Or are better placed to be successful in schools?

We can’t discount the influence of teachers, of course, but we should remember that not all teachers are the same. They will have different motivations, different ideas about their role in the classroom, different ideas about the purpose of education, different ideas about how best to manage the classroom and its resources, how best to motivate and engage students, how to interact with children to allow them to flourish. Some teachers won’t even think about student flourishing. Some teachers claim that they teach subjects (disciplines) while other teachers claim they teach children. Some teachers are critically reflexive and question everything they do and question why they do it in the way they do it; some teachers don’t. Some teachers go to PD on a regular basis and continually learn; some teachers don’t. Some teachers leave as soon as the bell goes at the end of the day; others stay at school for hours, planning and marking and finding resources. Some teachers take their students on camps or walk the Kokoda Track with them, spending hours preparing themselves and their students for the trek.

Education is not a level playing field – not in terms of the children, their families, the schools they attend, or the teachers who teach them. But neither is it a factory, where a raw product is off-loaded in the loading bay, put on an assembly line, moved through a series of processes that are done to it over a number of years, evaluated at the end of the process to see if it measures up, and sent on its way – that ‘way’ being determined by how it measures up.

I have a hard time thinking of children as products, as things that need to have processes “done to them”.

And so I have a hard time determining what constitutes success when it comes to teaching. What does a successful teacher look like? What is the outcome of their success? Is it a group of children who all know the same things because they’ve been through a standardised/standardising ‘process’? Or is it more than that – how much more? What does that ‘more’ include?

And how do we know when a teacher has been successful? A teacher’s success may take years to be realised – there are countless instances of students who get in touch with their teachers many years after leaving school and recount a story of the impact the teacher had on that child as an adult. Success may not be immediate. Does that mean the teacher is any less successful?

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this. What does it mean for a teacher to be successful? Can success be measured and if so how? Against which criteria and whose judgements? Do we all have the same understanding of success and are we confident that we’re measuring apples against apples – if we agree that there is some way to measure teacher success?

Let me know what you think. I’m sure there’s a body of literature out there – people who have conducted studies on this very issue, but I’m interested in what you think.

And if you do think, then perhaps you should thank your teachers!

Posted in Learning, Studying, Writing

Being …

This year I took on a new identity … not, I hasten to add, in a witness protection kind of way. Nothing that dramatic! … but a new identity nonetheless.

I could say that I took on a new role … but with new roles comes new identities. We can choose to define ourselves by our new roles/identities, and thus think about ourselves differently. Being an academic means particular things. Being an under-graduate student means almost the polar opposite. We may choose to act in ways that are consistent with our new role and that might lead to inconsistencies in how we portray ourselves to the world. Will I be student today, or teacher? What does it mean to be a student in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my teacher or my peers; when I don’t get to hear their voices or even see what they look like? It’s a disconcerting experience. On the other hand, what does it mean to be a teacher in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my students, when I don’t get to hear their voices or see what they look like? Experiencing that as an online student heightens my awareness of that ‘disconcerting experience’ as a teacher of online students. 

In addition to thinking about myself in a different way and considering if I will act differently to signify this new role/identity, others see me in that new role and make different kinds of connections with me, or think about me in particular ways and so have their own view of who I am (which might not bear any relation to who I am when inhabiting a different identity/role).

My university tutors do not see me as a colleague; as someone who, like them, teaches in an online environment. They see me as a student – a distant one, it has to be said: one who doesn’t appear to be very engaged, who forgets to read her unit outline, who leaves assignments till the last minute, who doesn’t follow the requirements of the task as closely as she should, who doesn’t engage in conversations online, who hasn’t made connections with other students in the online environment.

For those of you in the know, why didn’t you tell me it would be like this? 🙂 If only you’d told me to read the unit outline carefully and repeatedly, or that I’d need at least 10 hours per week per unit to do full justice to the work I needed to do, or that learning to use new software is time-consuming and requires a great deal of independent learning and commitment and energy, or that coming home from work and having to study till late is exhausting, or that trying to find information when it’s in ten different places in the online environment is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience (it really isn’t all that difficult to put all the information required for weekly activities in the one place), or that reading all the other students’ posts can be mind-numbing and take up all the time I’d set aside for study (and seriously, do 18 year olds really like talk in that like annoying way where they like say a lot without like saying anything at all, you know, sort of, I guess, do you get me? Despite my student status I am still a teacher and despair over the abominable use of language on public discussion boards).

Not that it’s all bad of course. In one subject (Writing Professionally – actually I don’t know if that’s the name of the subject because for some reason I haven’t looked at the unit outline properly to even know what the unit is called), the tutor gives general feedback on our ‘writing watches’ (which are assessed) and on two occasions has encouraged other students to read my work for its ‘quality and depth’ (you have no idea how embarrassed I feel writing that). We had to do three ‘writing watches’ across the course of the semester – responding in a systemically functionally linguistic way to something we’d read. I chose to respond to:

1. an article in a photography magazine

2. an essay by Richard Flanagan which appeared in The Monthly (the article was on David Walsh and MONA which I’d just been to, so it seemed fitting)

3. a blog post titled The oddest English spellings, part 20: The letter “y” from the Oxford University Press’s blog. It was interesting. Seriously!

These writing watches were practice for our exam. Yes, you heard that right – exam. I had to sit an exam.

Why didn’t someone tell me how stressful that is?! That you spend days and nights thinking about what the questions might be, what the text choices might be, what you know (or rather, don’t know) about systemic functional linguistics and how you’re going to write “pages” on it in two hours?

But I did it and wrote (typed) five pages of blather about an advertisement for Income Protection titled Confessions of a financial adviser. An interesting way to spend a day, particularly when you’re at home and the phone keeps ringing just as you think you have the modality worked out!

We also had to do weekly ‘word watches’ (which were assessed). We had to find two unfamiliar words each week and write about them: what they mean, where we’d read/heard them, their derivation, and we had to use the words in a sentence.

At first I found this difficult. I don’t want to sound like a pompous git (unlike some people I know), but in the everyday, normal, regular reading I do I don’t come across too many words which I don’t know. So I determined to try harder.

Here are my words (you, clever reader, are quite possibly aware of their meanings and already sprinkle them through your everyday conversations. I, on the other hand, did not).

  • Eupraxis (thank you David M)
  • Conation (actually, I did know what that meant because I’d written about it in a journal article published last year, but until I wrote about it I didn’t know what it meant)
  • Heuristic
  • Prevaricate (actually I wavered on this quite a bit)
  • Mendicant (it had been in the news – Tasmania is a mendicant state apparently)
  • Noetic (nothing to do with Christmas)
  • Rendering (a word from my Graphic Design unit)
  • Misandry (its opposite had been much in the news)
  • Chirographic
  • Contumacious (if my mother had known this word when I was a child I’m sure I would have heard it a lot!)
  • Whovian (my sister is a mad one of these)
  • Gonzo (I’d been to MONA and learnt this word while wandering the subterranean halls. Tim already knew it. He’d read Hunter S. Thompson apparently)
  • Metaredound (don’t ask me)
  • Analogous (I actually had heard this word, but I wanted to use it in a way I hadn’t used it before and that was in relation to colour: analogous harmony)
  • Indigent (thanks Germaine)
  • Calumniated (and again)
  • Emic
  • Etic (yes, they are related)
  • Eschatology
  • Ratiocination (I had to listen to this a number of times to get the pronunciation right. Thanks YouTube!)
  • Contingent (used in a way I didn’t understand – of all people, by my husband, in a journal article we wrote some time ago. I hadn’t told him I didn’t understand the way he used it as I didn’t want to look stupid!)
  • Hegemony (with a soft ‘j’ sound for the ‘g’)
  • Picayune
  • Ludology (nothing to do with Ludo as it turns out … although …)

So there you have it. New words to pepper through my dinner-time conversations. Feel free to use any of them, particularly in ways that are inventive and thus deeply satisfying.

I am a student and I am learning things. That’s what students do isn’t it? Isn’t that the purpose of being a student? It’s why I decided to be a student: to learn something/s. And even though I’ve said ‘the message’ countless times, it’s always different when you’re on the receiving end of it. The message is: learning can be hard. And it isn’t always fun.

But it is satisfying.

Being a student not only challenges my own identity (I have to flip between student and teacher on a regular basis and I am very conscious of not being a teacher in my student role – which is partly why I don’t engage on the discussion boards: I don’t yet have the student language down pat. I’m too caught up using teacher language and saying teacher things and I don’t want to do that as a student).

Being a student also challenges how others see me.

Some people, on first hearing that I am a university student again, thought (and said) “are you mad?” and other equally dis/en/couraging words. My new role was something they wanted to reject – it was ludicrous, or unnecessary (especially at your age), or just plain silly. I have a PhD, why would I want to be an under-grad again? That’s something young people do. I should do some serious study, not a bachelor degree in an area I potentially know a little bit about. Why, for instance, am I doing Professional Writing (that’s its official title – I thought I’d better check) when I have had a number of journal articles, book chapters and conference papers published?

I guess I feel that I can always learn more – and I did. Heaps in fact, and that’ll help my writing when next I write something for publication. 

On hearing that I am a student again, other people saw me differently. They made a different kind of connection with me. Some, because of their own identity as ‘student’ (or perhaps, student-in-the-not-too-distant past) applauded my decision – I was now one of them, a member of a community of adults who are (or were) university students. For those whom I’ve taught – who have been my own students – the connection is even closer. Their teacher/lecturer/colleague is now in the same position they recall so clearly and thus our connection is strengthened. There’s a shared understanding … and as I give advice quite freely about being a student, I also imagine there’s a little bit of mirth around my stumbling attempts at student-hood.

But I have finished the semester, completed teaching and learning surveys (and been very honest – in a professional way – as all students should be), and am eagerly awaiting my final results.

I have also determined to be a better student next semester. I have already created folders for my two new subjects (one is Production Planning; the other is Visual Storytelling), downloaded the information from the course and unit handbook, looked up information about textbooks (I don’t have to buy any), and worked out what I do when I procrastinate (I work … yes, on my study days!).

Being a student: challenging, stressful, but ultimately satisfying.

What’s your experience?

Posted in Learning, Studying, Writing

Postcards … an assignment

Last week was a big one for me.

I submitted my first assignment. The task was to develop a series of four promotional postcards for the town/city in which we live. We had to “photograph places or things that you find interesting”, while the postcards “are aimed to appeal to a youth/young 18-24 demographic, so please create postcards that you believe would appeal to this audience”.

Quandary #1: I’m not 18-24 – how do I know what appeals to that audience?

Solution: I asked my students. They all said “the beach”.

Quandary #2: The beach in Burnie is almost always deserted and taking a photo of an empty beach possibly wouldn’t make an appealing image for an 18-24 year old.

Solution: Go to the beach when surf lifesavers are training.

Quandary #3: Surf lifesaving championships had been held in another part of the state the weekend before, and only a small handful of people came to train on the only day I could make it to the beach.

Solution: Take a photo anyway!

Below is what I came up with. The water doesn’t look very inviting (that’s possibly my projection: I think it’s always too cold to swim in Tasmanian waters), and that could be a mark against me, but I’m willing to take that chance.

We had to include text of some sort and I wanted to keep it simple on the front and leave the explaining to the back of the postcard.

Beach Postcard

As mentioned, we not only had to design the front of the promotional postcard, we also had to design the back. Betty, our tutor, had indicated that the cards were not to be ‘touristy’ and so I decided against having a place for a stamp and a message. I wanted to use the back to contextualise the front. Here’s what I came up with:

Beach-back

Continuing with the beach and ‘come and play’ theme I also photographed the marine creatures that feature on the beach foreshore. These creatures have added extra life to the newly renovated beachfront.

Octopus

Octopus-back

While we were to take a thematic approach and ensure the four postcards were a ‘series’ I decided to have two themes. The second them is ‘make it in Burnie’. Burnie has taken on an identity as the ‘City of Makers’, and I wanted to capture this in my postcards.

Burnie is famous for making paper (although if you know Burnie you’ll be amazed at the absence of a pulp and paper mill), but it also makes other things. There’s a big Caterpillar factory (or a number of them) in the city, but also smaller companies making big machines for export to the rest of the world. Haulmax is one of those companies and while it isn’t technically in Burnie, it’s close enough to be captured within the instruction to take photographs of “your environment and/or its surroundings”. I figured that East Wynyard is a surrounding of Burnie!

Haulmax Postcard

Haulmax-back

I couldn’t discount the importance of paper to Burnie’s history and identity, so on the day before the assignment was due (I’d been in Sydney for the week before, which is why I had to leave it to the last minute!) I visited the Makers’ Workshop to see if I could find some paper.

It’s all handmade now, of course, and the papier mâché sculptures that Pam Thorne makes are amazing, but I couldn’t capture any of them in a way I liked, and, wanting to keep the images simple, I simply did this:

Postcard-paper

I thought I’d get into trouble for moving different piles of paper from their allocated shelves, but if anyone saw me they didn’t take any notice. I put them all back in their right places!

Here’s the back:

Postcard-paper-back

So, my first assignment submitted – on the day before it was due no less!

Feeling pretty happy with myself I re-read the task description.

It said “students must upload regular updates of their design/s. These regular updates are very important – they demonstrate the on-going development of your work prior to final submission. Be advised that if you simply upload work the day before it’s due (without posting any earlier entries or consulting with your lecturer) this will affect your final mark.

Whoops!

Oh well. Even if I don’t get a good mark, I still learnt a lot.

Posted in Learning, Writing

Excitement/trepidation/learning

It’s the end of the first week of semester for me as a lecturer, and almost the beginning of semester for me as a student.

A range of emotions course through me when I allow myself to think about being a student: excitement (yay, I’m going to be learning about writing), and trepidation (I’m going to be learning about writing, and I’ll have to write, and I don’t like writing … except that I do, just not journal articles and conference papers). I read a little from my textbook on writing and realise that I’m doing it all wrong.

I don’t give myself enough time, I expect it to be perfect as I type it, I am impatient for the right words and want them to be the first words that emerge rather than the fifth or seventeenth. I want the ideas to tumble out of me as soon as I sit down to write, and that they will tumble in a logical order. I want insightful, inventive, wow-that’s-an-interesting/humorous/creative/original-way-of-saying-that, phrases and thoughts to roll directly from my imagination to my fingers without the need for agonising over each word, each idea, each choice I know I need to make.

I want it to be easy.

I expect it to be easy.

And then I realise/remember/am reminded that writing is a skill, a process, something to practice and develop, something to take time over, something to learn. And learning is a process – I told my students that last week during Orientation – it takes time and energy and commitment and can be frustrating and challenging and emotional and downright painful. Whoever said learning is fun needs to be sat down and given a good talking to! It isn’t fun. It’s hard. And it’s work. (But obviously worth doing.)

So, I’m feeling in two minds at the moment: me the teacher/me the learner.

As the teacher, I wrote a unit outline for my students, re-worked the learning outcomes, designed the assessment tasks, wrote introductions to each section of the textbook I put together from other people’s works, articulated my teaching philosophy, made my expectations clear, designed my online unit in a particular way (a way that is clear to understand, clear to work through, clear to follow).

Or so I thought.

As a learner, reading a unit outline that someone else has written puts a different slant on the idea of clear. I know what’s in my head (most of the time) and so my unit outline is clear to me. I read it and know what I mean. But I don’t yet know what is in my lecturers’ heads and so I read the unit outlines for the two units in which I’m enrolled and things are not immediately clear to me.

Questions buzz like wasps: where is; what is meant by; when do I; who will; where do I find; how can I; when should I; who should I; how does; why …?

They’re the questions of anxiety which can quickly morph into frustration if the answers don’t come immediately.

There are other kinds of questions though. Questions of excitement and exploration: I wonder how; I wonder who; I wonder when; I wonder what …?

Maybe I should start asking those questions. That would require me to step back, take a few deep breaths, know that I don’t have to do everything (all the readings, all the assignments, all the learning) in my first week.  I can give myself permission to learn rather than to worry; I can take my time knowing that learning will happen if I relax a little, ease the tension, free up some space in my mind from the anxiety and allow the curiosity and excitement I know is there to overtake the fear and trepidation.

There are plenty of things I don’t know in relation to the units I’m studying – but that’s why I’m studying: to find out. To learn. To be in that place of not knowing and know that it’s okay to be there. To know that over time, and with commitment and application, I will know.

Over time

Note to self: learning is a process.

Let the process begin!