still hanging in there, #openresearch week 2

Warning, this is messy…

Well, I think I mentioned that I felt lonely in week 1. But somehow I got used to it now… and am ok with it. Being lonely without feeling loneliness. Maybe lonely is not the right word at all. It is more about being ok with being with myself and focused?

Is this a bad thing? It feels strange saying this now as I totally see the advantages of social learning. However, maybe often we force (don’t like this word but it is a reality!) people to learn with others when it actually can’t work for them, they don’t want to or they don’t see the point? My thinking is a bit messy, I recognise this, and I am not sure what I am trying to say. My thoughts are leading me into little alleys, to explore, to question… Social learning has different faces and it can’t just be visible social learning in digital spaces, it can’t be. Learning doesn’t stop when we switch off the web. As long we are curious, as long as we question, as long as we have the desire to learn and uncover, we will learn regardless… wherever we are.

I think we all need some time to look inwards and make our own decisions and come to our own conclusions. Often this happens as a result of working and learning with others. We do need this external stimulation! To challenge and be challenged. But if we just follow the masses and their thoughts and ideas blindly, without critical engagement, we will loose track of who we are and who we want to become…sometimes(?) this might mean swimming against the stream… and this is not easy. What we need to ask ourselves is “Is it worth it?”

Giving learners choice is vital and can make engagement more flexible and learning more manageable. I was reminded of this during a recent research interview! If we want to  bring people in, if we want others to connect with our ideas and we with theirs, we, as a collective, learners and educators together, need to accept, respect and recognise what people bring and create hooks and connections based on what we share, an interest, an idea etc.that will help us grow and grow together as individuals and as a collective.

I think the Open Research course offers varied opportunities for engagement and the human scaffold is there if needed. There is no pressure to be there all the time and visibly engage. But I am now wondering if openness creates a sense of urgency or need or an expectation to be seen, to be present all the time? A false expectation we have of ourselves and often others too? Interesting behaviours are emerging and I would like to find out what psychologists are saying regarding these… For me it is important to make meaningful connections with the subject and others. Seeing meaning is really important and will give depth and commitment to the relationships we form.

After week 1, the plan was to start engaging in the online discussions but I didn’t. I tried this in another course and it didn’t work. When you just appear and disappear randomly and irregularly, you are not part of the community and it is much harder, I have found, to create these social hooks that will help you make some personal connections and come back for more and feel part of what is happening outside your own little world.

Time has also been running away from me…this is not an excuse but a reality and I am often the one that talks about making time for what matters. And I think in my case here and now, what matters now is to engage with the resources and know that there are ways to ask questions and have access to existing conversations, even if I don’t participate in these. I have accepted this reality. The course scaffold has been useful and enabled me every day, well late evening, to do a little something and help me reflect on my current practice. This is what kept me going!

And while I do feel that I am missing out on valuable conversations and I know that the opportunities are there, I didn’t invest enough time and energy from the outset to be there and participate more visibly. I wouldn’t use the word more actively, because in my mind I am participating actively. Too often in online settings we think that when people are invisible or less visible online (as everybody can be tracked these days…) they are not there, they are not engaging… is this a healthy assumption? For me online learning doesn’t just happen online (even if you do an online or open course, learning happens all the time and everywhere, in the digital and real jungle where we can smell the flowers and the rain and other things too). Not all learning or engagement I should say, is visible to others but we know when it happens, when we make it happen as it will trigger a change in us, which might or will often remain unnoticed by others unless we share this.

Again running away with my thoughts here…

Ok, what have I done this week? I have accessed and engaged with the resources for this week and carried thoughts around with me about ethics… all week long. Especially on my daily train journey, I did think about ethical dilemmas. There were many activities on the course site and I read them all, every evening a little bit, but didn’t complete any of them, I have to admit. I used them more as thinking triggers. Am I a bad learner? Am I a typical learner? And if I am a bad/typical learner what does this mean for teachers who put such learning packages together?

a colourful mess of opportunities, image source: https://chrissinerantzi.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/2455f-ballofwool.jpg

Ok, what did I actually want to capture here about week 2? Messy thoughts are in my head and I am still not clear enough about open research ethics. I guess I need to do some more reading, discussing and actually applying? There are opportunities for this and I am already thinking about it in the context of BYOD4L for example as we will be offering this again in January. I liked the idea of open data and the transparency this brought to the Open Research course but also felt a bit uncomfortable about it? Only after typing in my registration data for the Open Research course, and accessed the spreadsheet, did I realise that anybody could see what I had written and I also saw other people’s responses. While this creates really valuable new opportunities for all who access this document, I am wondering how we could reduce the risk of using the data inappropriately? In non-open data research we re-assure our research participants that all data will be fully anonymised before use. In this case, everything was there from the moment it was saved to the form… what if I suddenly realised, actually, I shouldn’t have filled out this form or I don’t want other people see my name and discover who I am… I am now wondering about open data when we deal with humans… Is there something else that needs to be done to ‘warn’ people about the openness of data. I am sure there was a statement somewhere on the course site, but when I saw everything in bright day light in front of my eyes, I couldn’t remember seeing a reminder for this. What if my data included sensitive information that would expose me and others?

Who are you? Does it matter? image source: https://drawception.com/pub/panels/2012/7-25/h6WnpOYktX-12.png

If we get ethical approval for a project from our institution, we specify how we collect, analyse and disseminate the data and make an ethical commitment to all potential research participants. Not sure how institutions react, would react, if they would see open data in the ethics form, especially if there is not a strong tradition or support for this open research within the institution. Would this influence open research or is open research something that can sit fully outside the institution? But then again, if researchers are attached to a speciific institution, what are the implications for open research? I am also not sure how it would work when the researcher is not part of an institution. I realise that I have now even more questions… which is good as I have found further gaps in my understanding and need to study this further. I think I am now at a stage where I need to discuss the above with others and hope to find ways to make this happen.

Thinking about BYOD4L again, an informal cross-institutional collaboration in the open as we also carry out open research linked to this. Our ethical statement can be found here and we also have a note about social media which we thought would also be useful to share there. Are we doing the right thing? Is there anything missing?

Looking forward to week 3!

catching up or at least trying to… #openresearch week 1

I decided to participate in the open research course organised by the OER Research Hub – perfect I thought and signed up when I first heard about it, probably via Twitter or a newsletter, I can’t remember now. A while ago, Martin Weller organised the Gorilla Research workshops and I really wanted to participate, but the dates never worked for me, unfortunately. So, now I am hoping that I will learn something in this course. Ethics is something that interests me and how to do this properly. Writing this, I just read the OER Research Hub’s ethical statement and it reminded me of what we included on our BYOD4L site. Perhaps somebody can comment? I see some similarities, but I need to have a closer look and see if there is anything else we should have included!

I feel that I need a buddy in this. I am already behind and feeling lonely. Also just noticed that registration for the course is closed. But all materials and the site itself is still visible and open? I like that. What I don’t know is what it means that individuals can no longer register? Perhaps the form we filled out? The registration form? Is this correct? Perhaps somebody from the team could respond? What is the reason behind this? Is it for research purposes? I am guessing here and have various scenarios in my head…

Ok, I am late and I don’t like that at all. It makes you feel that you are behind, that you missed something important and that you are trying to catch up… this is how I feel. Yes, also feeling a bit guilty after saying hello, I disappeared… The truth is that I haven’t had the time to study properly any of the resources yet but most importantly engage in any of the conversations. It is good that the discussion threads are linked to the activity pages (if I can call them like that). It helps keep things together but the comments are not visible instantly… but it is good that I can just access on a mobile device and pop in and out when  I have a minute or two… or a bit longer… ideally. Well, I started looking through some of the resources and discussions since last night. I decided that I am going to focus on the bits that I need most at this stage and hopefully I will be able to come back later. I understand that the course site will stay for a bit longer. If I learn a little something each week that is great. I just need to keep going. What needs to happen so that I commit to this? I know that I need to learn more about open research but is this enough? I could just access the resources anytime… the value of doing it within the facilitated version is the opportunity to connect and share experienced, thoughts, reflections and potential challenges with the facilitators and other learners. So, I think I need to make some time to stick to it. I have done it before, when I did the CMC11 course and I have thought many times why this was so special. It was a personal experience for me and I managed to connect with the facilitator (there was only one, Carol Yeager) and a few of the other learners and we had conversations. But I do remember that I worked hard and actively engaged throughout. Some of the connections I made continued beyond the timeline of the course and some of them have turned into professional friendships and collaborations.

Learning is still personal even in the digital jungle. I think it will always be? Don’t like the word always and am ok with the idea of everything changing all the time. As learners we also change – as learning is change. But as an experience we will always feel learning at a personal level, even if among hundreds and thousands… right?

When I started writing this post, I actually just wanted to respond to 2 questions from this week but as soon as my fingers started hitting the keyboard they connected with my brain and  all the words and thoughts escaped through my fingertips… weird!!!

Anyway, looking at week 1, which is now almost over (writing this on Saturday)… I think it might be useful to respond to the following 2 questions raised and as I am in visual mood and mode at the moment, I will try and answer these using images and the captions you will find under these. Do they make sense to anybody else? Can you relate to my metaphors and what are yours? Perhaps we could ask this question on Twitter or on the p2pu course site?

Number 1, What does openness mean to me?

sharing goodies with others while travelling to uncover, recover and discover! >>> image source: http://www.gq.com/images/food-and-travel/2012/08/ice-cream/ice-cream-628.jpg

Number 2. How do I understand open research?

beams of light, a gentle hug for more light >>> image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/Sky_over_Washington_Monument.JPG

Not sure this new WordPress editor works properly, or I still have difficulties using it. It doesn’t seem to save everything and I now seem to have lost the text that followed the last image… am I blaming the tool? Very possible. 😉

I think, what I had here is a reminder to myself that I will be back to the p2pu site over the weekend and try and read some of the comments there. The plan is every week to do a little something. This week, I started thinking a bit more about my current practice in the area of open learning and research. Hopefully I will get better as the week’s progress.

It would be lovely if you could comment and share your thoughts with me here so that we can engage in a conversation. If this is a monologue there is little value, I think…

Speak again soon,

Chrissi

All about choice #melsigljmu

… getting into songs again it seems. Wrote the above and the song “All about love” popped into my head… but this is not about love or is it? Looking back at yesterday’s MELSIG  Event at Liverpool John Moors University makes my mind focus on the idea of choice and the impact this might have on student engagement and learning.

Choice: Is this what we really mean?

Would this lead students staying within their comfort zone or would they see it as an opportunity to start were they feel comfortable and more confident and then lead them to progressively adopt more adventurous and perhaps less familiar learning strategies that would lead to new discoveries? Boosting students’ confidence is vital. Tutors and peers play an important role in this. Teachers showing real interest and care for students can make a big difference to students, increase their self-belief, self-worth and confidence.  Having a voice and the strength to move on as they will start believing in their abilities helps them see the potential what they can achieve. Providing choice might be seen as a demanding task for tutors, other might completely disagree that this is a good idea! I think it is a fantastic idea to give individuals choices. But how can we make it happen? It is not an easy job and a lot of planning will go into it. A lot of it will look, feel and be very messy. What is wrong with that? Learning is messy anyway! It doesn’t happen in a linear way. Or does it?

Our extra efforts to bring in choices are really worth the trouble as there are potentially huge learning gains. We all know it teaching is not really possible. What we can do is help people think for themselves, inspire them and facilitate their learning. Doing it our way or imposing even our way can be catastrophic… and lead to disengagement. Are we getting carried away sometimes or even often? Are our own learning preferences or habits driving what we set-up for our learners? How we organise learning for them? I am guilty of this myself… How can we avoid this? I think providing a learning menu, will shift the responsibilities and ownership of learning. Learning belongs to the learner. It is something the learner does. Nobody else can do it for them. It is not a passive act! Some will find choice challenging in the context of their own learning practice. Perhaps only initially, though as they expect perhaps to be told what to do, when and how and act perhaps more in a robotic fashion… because this is what they know, this is what they expects, this is what comes natural to them and is considered normal and accepted. It has worked for them in the past… but how has it worked?

Ok, becoming an autonomous learner is not an instant thing. Do don’t wake up one morning and say “I am an autonomous learner now”. It needs time and a scaffold. Yes, we do need scaffolds and we do need helping hands too. But we also need to learn when times comes to let go, as learners and as teachers. Getting to know our students and what makes them tick is really important and will help us create learning communities. Only then will we be able to draw them in and enable them to open up, connect, share and challenge their own beliefs and preconceptions. Trust is a vital ingredient in this process. Learning is change but we can’t force anybody to change in the same way, we can’t force anybody to learn…

if this is true, how can learning not be?

Choice might be the vehicle to lead learners progressively out of their comfort zone to voluntarily experience discomfort… not suggesting that throwing learners in at the deep end, borrowing Phil Race’s words, is something we should avoid. When we have recognised and normalised perhaps discomfort as an important ingredient for learning, when we feel safe as part of a learning community, we can be more relaxed, take a few more risks and be more playful and creative. All this means letting go of control and being out-of control often… Some might think what has all this to do with the recent MELSIG social media event… well, it was never about the social media… more about the people who use these to come together to learn about themselves, others, the world and grow.

Thank you Andrew, Sue, Peter, Mark, Tim, Carol an all for such a rich MELSIG exchange!

BTW I actually think it is all about love, the love of learning, the love of helping others to learn and the love to make this happen for ourselves and others. Feel free to comment if any of the above makes sense, you have questions or if you oppose to any of my musings. My writing captures raw reflections which need to be discussed with others.

It is all about love as love puts you on fire! Love what you do and/or do what you love! Learning doesn’t only happen in the mind.

Who says students don’t want to learn? #lsp

Haleh Moravej, a senior lecturer in nutrition at MMU and I did a little experiment the other day. We wanted to find out if we could engage a tutorial class of 1st year undergraduate students in a unit evaluation process linked to Nutrition 21 using a pan-participatory, qualitative and playful approach beyond paper or digital surveys or even interviews or focus groups.

Our focus was on identifying what helps Haleh’s students learn and less about how satisfied they are from a consumer point of you. And I guess this is where we divorce ourselves from some of the surveys that are around and used more widely… I am using the term ‘consumer’ here to create a contrast in my thoughts but also to highlight that the focus of our investigation was student learning, students’ conceptions of learning and their thoughts around what they felt helped or hindered their learning in a specific unit. We were also interested in their ideas to make learning happen more effectively and naturally for future cohorts of students on this unit. So students in this context were more taking the role of collaborator and co-designer for their own learning.

Dear Plato said:

“We learn more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation” – could this be true?

We played for 2 hours! Just imagine how much we learnt about each other!!!

We wanted to gain a deeper insight into the student experience of a whole group on the unit and find out how students  felt the unit could be enhanced for the next cohort. We wanted to do this in a relaxed atmosphere that would foster opening-up! reflection and self-and collective discovery through making and sharing.

We decided to use the LEGO Serious Play (LSP) method. I have used LSP before in different learning and teaching contexts with students and teachers also in conference workshops and have found it a useful method to make individuals and teams feel more relaxed, engage in something that is playful and unusual while also having a pedagogical value that helps individuals deepen their reflection but also seems to increase their critical and creative thinking capacity and connect themselves and their ideas and thoughts with others.

I was really pleased that Haleh embraced this playful approach with passion when I suggested this during a chat we had about her new unit and she shared with me that she was looking for a meaningful way to evaluate the unit with her students. As Haleh and her students were willing to give LSP a go, nothing could stop us!

LSP is thinking with our hands, a series of activity through which we create models, or visual metaphors of our internal world made out of LEGO bricks triggered by a specific question that makes us reflect, think and build meaning through actually building a real model. We could say that LSP is a process to open-up and externalise thoughts, ideas, beliefs and fears and other stuff and share with others creating opportunities for dialogue, further reflection and learning, individual and collective.

It was fascinating what we experienced and I think the students were also surprised with themselves and what they disclosed and shared with their peers about themselves. I could see it in their eyes. I could hear it in their voice. I could see it in their body language. Some might have been skeptic, at least at the start but this is fine. It is healthy to be critical and think about what we are asked to do and what the value of this would be for us. I think it did help explaining why we choose LSP, what we could achieve and how but also said a tiny bit about the underpinning theories behind it. In a way this takes part of the magic away, I suppose, but the real discovery comes when actually experiencing LSP in action. And there were definitely some lightbulb moments for all of us…

Ok, so what happened. Desks and chairs got in the way. We decided to sit on the floor and created a magical circle so to speak. After the LEGO warm-up activity, students were asked to reflect reflect on their learning on the unit and create a model that would capture how learning on the unit looked like for them and mark with a green brick what worked and with a red brick something that didn’t work so well for them. During the second part of the session students were asked to think about how learning would look like on the unit if everything would be ideal. They did this initially individually but then connected their ideas in sub-groups and shared with the whole class.  It was fascinating! All students highlighted very similar things as important factors to make learning happen. Haleh was taking notes throughout and responded at the end of the session which  brought everything together.

making a start (thank you Dr Alison James for the bag idea) , image source: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7007/13463088623_2bfb319f8d_z.jpg

Students were really focused during the making stages and Haleh was surprised as this group is usually very vocal. Students were concentrating and connecting their thoughts while making their models. I really loved we were all sitting on the floor, around our LEGO campfire and ideas and thoughts emerged, took shape and were shared. Students showed interested in each other’s stories and were asking questions and commented on each others thoughts. Students opened up really quickly. I think it did help that the group knew each other and they felt safe perhaps?

I was impressed with the maturity of students and their commitment to learn and become professionals in their chosen area but also that they acknowledged that they needed support and guidance by their peers and tutors to achieve their goals. Their stories provided rich evidence for all this.

So what came out of the LSP process?

  • Students love variety.
  • Students get bored when they just have to sit there and listen to stuff. They switch off.
  • Students want to understand the usefulness of what they are learning and how it relates to their context and interests.
  • Students want to interact with others.
  • Students want to learn with others.
  • Students understand the value of reading but they want want to do stuff. This seems to be very important to them, the doing part!
  • Students also love to learn through visuals, images, videos etc. we live in a very visual world!
  • Students want to start from the application, experience and practice to develop theory instead the other way around.
  • Students want to be involved in all sessions.
  • Students want also time for themselves. We need to remember this.
  • Students want to know how bits fit together, how they are connected. Just focusing on individual puzzle pieces is not helpful. The bigger picture is important and this needs to be made clear.
  • Students need help to see and make connections as it is not always obvious to them.
  • Students need help understanding why some bits are important, even if ‘boring’ – what is the value of learning these and how do these fit into the bigger picture?
  • Students want the engage in authentic learning.
  • Students want lecturers that have a passion for their subject and inspire them!
  • Students want to learn and they need help and support by their tutors and peers.
  • Students get distracted by their own technology! This was a very interesting confession they made!

Haleh reminded me afterwards that I said:

When we don’t understand something, we get frustrated, some get angry or defensive, others switch off.

I think it is important to remember this when interacting with others, in our everyday life but also in the context of learning and teaching where this is also very relevant. Haleh commented on this: “I think what we did was a revelation and a great experience. You possibly opened up one of my flaws as well for switching off when people don’t get what I mean or what I want. So I think while students were learning I was learning not just about them but about myself too!” (published here with Haleh’s permission)

After students shared their ideas about their ideal experience on this unit and while Haleh was quietly taking notes of the stories students shared – I think she filled loads of papers and was not participating in any of the activities, it was Haleh’s opportunity to share her first thoughts in response to what her own students had said in the last two hours and what her first thoughts and ideas were to tailor learning and teaching on this unit further to help future students. I loved the openness and the transparency of the whole process. Students and the tutor showed enormous respect for each other and were really interested to find solutions that would work for all.

powerful thinking with our hands image source: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7381/13463125553_51d503834e_z.jpg

All students engaged in the session and found it valuable. They noted that it helped them share inner thoughts and ideas but also found out about how their peers felt about learning on the unit and how they could move forward together. Some suggested that a similar LSP activity would have been useful at the start of the academic year and I can see the value of doing this to speed-up the process of opening up and create learning relationships and community. If anybody would like to try this, please get in touch and we can arrange this.

Learning about myself and others, image source https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3784/13465642385_bfb3e88e7a_z.jpg

The first year students I spent two hours together during the LSP workshop definitely wanted to learn. They were motivated and cared for each other, they felt that they were belonging to a learning community and wanted to succeed in life and become excellent professionals in their chosen field. They recognised the important role of the teacher as a facilitator and supporter of their learning but also as somebody who is inspirational and a role model. The stories they shared definitely confirmed to me that they want to be in a state of being switched on. How can we educators help them?

Could we have got the above from a survey, an interview, a focus group or using another way? I think we could, to some extend. Perhaps we wouldn’t get the richness of responses and we definitely wouldn’t be able to create the atmosphere for opening-up and sharing and creating opportunities for peer bonding and a sense of community which did happen naturally without being forced and created new opportunities for peer-to-peer connections and learning. One of the students said in an email afterwards:

We did some Lego play yesterday and we now know each other much better. I realise that currently the tutors change each year, but we don’t want to start from scratch with somebody else and a new group (as we know each other so well after our Lego therapy) when we already have such a strong bond with Haleh who is so creative and has been supporting us personally and academically. We have all built a really strong relationship both with Haleh and each other, and feel like it would be a shame to lose the dynamic and foundation we have built together.” (used here with student’s permission)

 

The true power of learning relationships. What are your thoughts on this?

What students said about the LSP approach image source: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5156/13463089295_08331d9bf1_z.jpg

Learning relationships are important for learning and can be powerful motivators. I think, no survey could have achieved what we achieved in 2 hours together. No interview, no ordinary focus group. The playfulness of LSP and the depth in thinking and reflection that surfaced made it so valuable for all involved and so meaningful and useful. Individuals felt safe, opening-up and made connections with themselves and each other. Students in this group developed a stronger sense of individual and collective identity.

Thank you all for joining in and making this work. I look forward to finding out how the outcomes from the LSP session will be shaping the next iteration of the Nutrition 21 unit.

Thank you for reading.

Chrissi

ps. first draft

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?