unzipping minds #flexcpd

The SEDA conference “Creativity in Educational Development” is now over and I still feel the buzz… in my ears, my eyes, my sole and my heart. I have really started feeling part of a supportive Ed Dev community where we can openly share, debate, support each other and grow – together. I had the pleasure to meet new and old friend and engage in fruitful conversations that made me think deeply about my practice but also educational development more widely.

It was wonderful that I could also be there for Prof. Norman Jackson‘s keynote around Creativity in Educational Development. Norman had contacted me a while back and asked me to contribute to his research project. How could I refuse? I really valued the opportunity to share my thoughts, ideas and experiences regarding creativity and I was looking forward to finding out what he had discovered about creativity in Ed Dev more widely. It was truly fascinating to hear. All related resources can be accessed here. Norman said that he discovered among others the following: “The greater the challenge, the greater the motivation to be creative” and perhaps this is why I have become who I am today. Reflecting on my journey through life I have to admit that I experienced a number of extreme difficulties that must have required great strength. I am sure we all have! For example, I had to learn to read and write Greek while attending secondary school and operating at that level academically when I was 12 and we moved with my family to Greece. Until then I was brought up in a German speaking environment and was attending a German school. From the top of the class in Germany, I touched rock bottom when I started the Greek school… I could only speak broken Greek we used at home for the 12 first years of my life… Suddenly another world became my new home and I felt a foreigner in my own country. I remember some classmates laughing about my pronunciation and I felt alone, excluded. I still feel alone today, sometimes, but for other reasons. I am sure we all feel and perhaps this is a good thing as it helps us collect our thoughts and discover who we really are. I wrote about this in my previous post. The challenge I faced when arriving in Greece was enormous. The rejection I felt was massive. Did this make me a more creative person? I don’t know. I guess I was resourceful and developed resilience. I wanted to succeed. Soon I was back on track.

Norman’s research, confirmed to me that ed developers thrive when they enjoy autonomy and can make connections, synthesise and implement creative ideas, when they innovate and are supported by colleagues, leaders, the institution and the wider community. We need to stop doing things that don’t work! Conservatism and resistance are blockers of creative practice and usually comes from people who don’t fully understand Ed Dev, according to Norman. Norman’s resources linked to his keynote are available here. I would highly recommend to access these if you are an Educational Developer. The resources and research findings are also extremely valuable for University Leaders as they provide an insight into the nature of Ed Dev, their people, aspirations and working practices but also the difficulties they are facing. Reading in between the lines we discover how we can truly support Ed Development in our institutions so that they flourish and help individuals, teams and whole institutions to trigger culture change and transform their teaching practices and the student experience. They provide rich food for thought, opportunities to re-think practices and find ways to empower Developers! If we learn to value what unites us instead of focusing on what separates us, we will be able to collaborate and achieve great things. My friend Carol Yeager says: On our own we go fast, with other we go further! This is so true!

in Alison’s LSP workshop

It was wonderful to met Dr Alison James, from the London College of Fashion. I participated in Alison’s LSP workshop and Alison in mine and we started talking about possibilities  to collaborate in the future. I am so pleased that delegates found both LSP workshops useful. Photographs from both workshops can be accessed here.

After some difficulties with the technology!!! my workshop started, thanks to plan B and the help of Andrew (thank you Andrew). During my workshop around developing reflection and engaging in reflective conversations using LEGO(R) I had a eureka moment. My ex-colleague Sian Etherington was brought into the session via Skype. I was holding Sian in my arms (this was pointed out by one of the workshop participants afterwards) via the iPad. A question from one of the delegates made me think and re-think deeply about the approach I used up until then related to the preparation for the Professional Discussion and what the students knew about the LEGO activity in advance. Something that Sian said as a response to a question by a delegate, helped me to identify that there was room for further improvement. I started talking out loud within the session and shared my modified ideas as they were developing. I came to the conclusion that in the future, I would avoid providing details about the LSP activity. If students knew details about the task in advance, they could prepare this and be strategic and less reflective. The model should also emerge during the process of making. So what could I do? I definitely needed to change the approach! Students could be told that there would be a task but not exactly what it would be. When they arrive for the Professional Discussion, a sealed envelope would be given to them which would contain the LSP task. Each task would be different and fully tailored to the specific student based on  tutor’s observations about this particular students from classroom participation and portfolio work. This way, the tutor and the external panel member, but also the student could focus in on specific aspects of the learning journey and provide more insight where needed. I am pleased that the question was asked during the workshop and that the response by the student made me think about how to refine the approach for future use. Always learning something new if we are open to new ideas and willing to challenge and be challenged.

we all build

It was a wonderful surprise also to see Prof. Sally Brown and Prof. Phil Race actively participating in my session.

Alison’s LEGO suitcase. Do you recognise anybody?

During the conference I had the opportunity also to discuss plans to join up CPD initiatives between MMU and Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). I really look forward working with colleagues from MMU and SHU on this initiative. Exciting times ahead. Other project ideas were also discussed with Sue, Kathrine and Ola (who doesn’t know it yet) and Alex. Overall a truly fruitful SEDA conference. Thank you everybody for making it such a rich experience.

Risky not to take risks and other thoughts around inflexible flexibility #flexcpd

I really don’t know where to start. Have you ever wanted to share every single moment of an experience with somebody… with everybody, and when the moment comes to do this, you struggle? You loose your words? They disappear? This is how I feel right now. My fingers touch the keyboard but I am not sure if they (my fingers with the help of my brain – is this learning through (automated) writing?) will manage to capture something that makes sense, something that captures my thoughts, reflections, excitement and discoveries. Whatever I capture here, will be messy, this is part of reflection and I plan to revisit what I write here. I don’t have a problem with this. This is normal but while I write the word ‘normal’ I actually seem to develop a negative feeling about ‘normal’ – this is very odd! Anyway, let’s stick with normal for now, at least. The messiness will help me organise my thoughts over time, and with others (so hopefully somebody out there will respond) make sense of my experience and move forward – to learn, to unlearn and relearn. I am super excited!

Now I have written a whole paragraph without actually saying anything… am I mumbling?

My head is filled with good stuff, loads of it. My developer batteries are fully charged so to speak.  Ok, so what actually happened? What on earth did this woman do (me) to get so excited? Some of you might ask… You will not believe this! Some of you will find this very strange indeed and not normal at all.  BTW, not normal, seems to work well here. It would actually be interesting to get your reaction, any reaction when you find out what put me in this state of super-excitement. Ok, I better tell you now 😉 because otherwise you might just click away from this post and I will have missed this great opportunity to share my story with you and engage hopefully some of you in a conversation about my experience.

Well,  I went to the HEA today where I attended (don’t like this word at all, makes my presence immediately very passive), participated in an event lead by Prof. Danielle Tilbury and Dr Alex Ryan around Flexible Pedagogies (the report was published today so feel free to access here). Yes, Alex and Danielle and their work, of course, are responsible for my current state of mind. I guess, I am also to blame as I have allowed this to happen. It was fascinating. I am unable to tackle the experience in a linear way, as my brain works better in pictures. To organise my thoughts, I look now into my notebook. I also did this on my way back (no, I wasn’t driving if anybody is wondering). Usually my notes don’t make much sense when I read them again, but I really could engage with these and they lid up parts of my brain and further connections were made between York and Glossop.

Where next?

I felt like a little Christmas tree. A lonely tree in the middle of a big and dark forest.  Another metaphor is popping into my head now… was I also Red Riding Hood. This is actually how I often feel. This is I think how creative people feel… often… too often. Red Riding Hoods (yes, plural, there are loads of them out there, I have seen many!) take risks, are not afraid to explore new paths. To make new discoveries.  But also mistakes. Curiosity is a good thing! The wolves (yes, plural also) are out there. Always nearby. What and who do they symbolise? Something we can think about. When I started writing this posts, I didn’t think about fairy tales, I didn’t think abut Red Riding Hood. Suddenly the story emerged, the fairy tale became real, was brought to life, and jumped out of the digital page I am typing and I find now that it actually links somehow in a metaphorical way with what I am attempting to say. The good thing is that fairy tales have good endings. I like that because the good will spread. For me it is not about winning. This is why I didn’t say ‘the good will win’. Perhaps winning over? Once upon a time, I used to be a translator, you see, and it is important to find the right words to be true to the original, to say the things we mean, to communicate a message properly and share how we feel, always respecting the original, the people. This is of course harder when using a foreign language… in my case English. Languages and cultures bring us together but they also separate us and are therefore exclusive. The same happens for other reasons, economical, social etc. We all have experienced exclusion, one way or the other. I don’t like this but it is not about what I like or dislike, but maybe it is. It is, I think, important to focus on the good for all, the wider community. And I would say that collaboration and open mindedness as well as flexibility are features we need larger portion of if we want to drive innovation. Isn’t this what universities are for? Am I getting anywhere yet?

Alex and Danielle talked about the need to focus on flexible pedagogies beyond just flexible learning (moving beyond pace, place and mode). And while they struggled a bit pronouncing the word ‘pedagogy’ it was not at all ‘all Greek’ to them! In the contrary! The researchers called for

  • learner empowerment (students as change agents – but also staff? We need educators who are change agents or educators as change agents, even better! Developers are frequently called change agents too)
  • decolonising of education
  • crossing boundaries
  • social learning
  • transformative capacities and
  • future facing education!

Wow!  How can we make all these things happen. Do we need to re-imagine higher education? Do we need to re-connect with our curiosity and drive for innovation? How do we support and reward innovators? And what about the risks? Alex and Danielle used the Socratic way to respond to a question about risks: “Anything outside the norm is risky. But can we afford not to take risks?” Can we afford to ignore the innovators? Can we continue pushing them to the periphery? Can we continue discourage experimentation? We all seem to agree that we do need some kind of framework to encourage creativity, adaptability and risk taking. In theory this all sounds fantastic and for me personally, I would love to see something like this implemented, yesterday, please. Is this possible? Institutions have responsibilities, they are the enablers. But also people within these institutions. Universities wouldn’t be anything without its people. But how can we change things from within and from outside? Academic development plays a vital role in this process. We Academic Developers push the boundaries and model innovative practices. Academic development is about quality enhancement and modelling disruptive innovation. Alex and Danielle agreed that Academic Development can have a transformative impact if we see and experience it as an open greenhouse for active experimentation, for research into our teaching practices, for collaborations beyond walled gardens. As Academic developers we work with people, ideas, concepts and pedagogies that influence and shape strategies and policies but also the people we work with. Alex and Danielle talked about the need to:

  • reframe academic relationships (students, teachers)
  • adapt a co-creation model of learning
  • focus on the application of knowledge in real-world scenarios
  • go beyond specialist expertise
  • use the virtual spaces that forster dialogic and collaborative learning and development
  • break down walls and open-up our practice
  • undestand global connections and embed diversity
  • develop the skills and behaviours to lead change and shape the future

We were reminded that “the technological mist is overshadowing pedagogical conversation” Experiences are fragmented and disconnected. What are the vital ingredients to deal with complexity and rapid changes, that will equip teachers and students for the uncertain future and put all the puzzle pieces together? What are the puzzle pieces? What do we really need?

#fdol132 unit 4 or about finding each other @openfdol

Feeling lost in the deep blue sea?

Just a(nother) pebble?

What brings us together?

What helps us open up?

We are not blank aubergines! None of us!

Food has the power to bring us together! No food online ;( What can make us click in the digital jungle?

How can we make that salad richer and enjoy it together? And why would this be good for us, each one of us?