While I agree (sort of 😉) with Nick Cave, that “now is the time to be cautious with our words” when considering the cultural and societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard not to consider the possibilities given how different everything seems. Not least when you step outside into quieter, calmer streets; greeted by the sounds of nature literally calling out a song of reclamation.
David Byrne, on the site ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ has been considering the potential for change after taking a “long bike ride”…
“I ask myself, is there something we can learn from this, something that will prepare us to better weather the next crisis, some different way of being that might make us stronger? Is this an opportunity to change our thinking, our behavior? How can we even do that? Are we capable of doing that?”
Such existential ruminations may seem trivial as we try to come to terms with our new existence amidst this global crisis. But, it is hard not to dwell on such notions when you are isolated, alone with your thoughts; faced with a daily increasing count of the people who have died; and no end in sight.
That said, there is hope and reason to be cheerful. People are coming together in solidarity, as Byrne notes…
“It’s ironic that as the pandemic forces us into our separate corners, it’s also showing us how intricately we are all connected. It’s revealing the many ways that our lives intersect almost without our noticing. And it’s showing us just how tenuous our existence becomes when we try to abandon those connections and distance from one another. Health care, housing, race, inequality, the climate — we’re all in the same leaky boat….”
“In emergencies, citizens can suddenly cooperate and collaborate. Change can happen. We’re going to need to work together as the effects of climate change ramp up. In order for capitalism to survive in any form, we will have to be a little more socialist. Here is an opportunity for us to see things differently — to see that we really are all connected — and adjust our behavior accordingly.”
The response to the pandemic in the UK has given me hope. A government that favours privatisation and decentralisation has been forced to unite the country and recognise that the well-fare state is a very, very “leaky boat”. Over, half a million people signed up to help the NHS when the call was put out. That is not the voice of a people who still believe in Thatcherism or the false ideals of Brexit. On the contrary, it is the chorus of a nation who recognise that our socialist values and institutions sit at the very heart of our society. And, in a time of crisis, they rely on our interdependence. After all, it is doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers and bus drivers (to name a few) who will get us through this crisis.
Byrne closes his article by asking the vital question:
“Are we willing to do this? Is this moment an opportunity to see how truly interdependent we all are? To live in a world that is different and better than the one we live in now? We might be too far down the road to test every asymptomatic person, but a change in our mindsets, in how we view our neighbors, could lay the groundwork for the collective action we’ll need to deal with other global crises. The time to see how connected we all are is now.”
It remains to be seen if there will be lasting change but the selflessness of the British people over the past week has restored my faith in humanity and filled me with optimism for the future. I’ve seen the altruism and solidarity first hand in the actions of my colleagues. They have been nothing short of miraculous, keeping school open for a small number of children whose parents are key workers; emailing out hundreds of voucher codes for pupils on free school meals; and making calls (on the phone and in person) to check-in on our most vulnerable pupils and families.
This article by Kevin Gannon has been ruminating around my mind since I first read it. Not only do the four lessons that Kevin shares chime with my experiences as an Assistant Principal, but they can be applied by anyone to any situation: work, relationships or life in general.
Not every disagreement is a call to arms.
How and when I use my voice matters.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Be good to people (including yourself).
If one of the above lessons speaks to me the most, it is the third. Whenever I mentor someone new it is the first piece of advice I offer. On the surface, asking for help, seems both obvious and simple. However, when you are placed in a position of authority it can feel far from simple. Asking for help requires the individual to remove their ego from the equation. Fear and/or arrogance are powerful character-traits but they will only hamper long-term success.
Appearing to have all the answers and can help you to demonstrate confidence, which is a much-needed trait in leadership. However, you will ultimately be judged on the success of your projects or areas of responsibility, and if you do not deliver as expected questions will be asked. It is here that cracks will appear and mistakes will be recognised. What often comes out in these situations is that you could have asked for help. Instead, you chose to see such an action as a sign of weakness and were willing to risk the success of the project to massage your ego.
In Gannon’s article, he contextualises this by considering the following common classroom conundrum. Should I admit to my students when I do not know something?
As a teacher, one of the most powerful things I can say to my students is “I don’t know,” because it shows them that I’m still learning, and it usually leads to us saying “let’s find out.” ~ Gannon, 2016.
I have long evangelised the need for educators to free themselves of the title of ‘teacher’ and to be open about their shortcomings. It is folly to present yourself as the fountain of all knowledge, and far more rewarding to experience your students’ learning journey as a collaborator. Learning is ‘interdependent’. It requires constant inquiry and is not nor should not be viewed as a one-way flow of information between educator and learner. When defining ‘connectivism’ in 2007, Stephen Downes stated:
At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.
In very simple terms, learning happens through the connections we make with a number of different individuals across a number of different networks. Combining and connecting these various sources of information enrich our understanding of a topic or idea and free us of the belief that knowledge is derived from one single authorative source.
Within leadership this approach can be applied to the notion of asking for help. Effective administrators and leaders understand that ‘asking for help’ is not a sign of weakness but is rather a sign of strength. Great leaders surround themselves with trusted advisors. Similarly, students writing their Masters or Doctoral theses are encouraged to have a critical friend. We all need a network of people who we can turn to for help; people whose views we trust and value. Even better, people who are prepared to challenge us and ask difficult questions.
Weak leaders surround themselves with yes men who are afraid to argue with them. ~ Knapp, 2012.
Strong leaders do the opposite. They look to those whose views differ from their own in order to fully appreciate the implications that surround a decision that needs to be made, or better define the pros and cons of moving a project forward in a paricular way.
In essence, asking for help is an acknowedgement that before a decision is made or an action is taken, due consideration is required. It is not a weakness. It is a necessary step in ensuring that the decisions you make are well-informed. A decision made in this way is one that you can justify and explain with clarity. Fear and arrogance have no place in such an approach and like the educator who is prepared to say “I don’t know”, an effective leader is prepared to do the same.
Before I could join in with Day Four’s activities, I decided that I needed to better understand the concept of ‘Connectivism’.
Stephen Downes states that: “At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” Which in my mind, could easily be describing my experience in using Twitter to develop a personal learning network (PLN). Through Twitter I have connected with a network of individuals, shared and aggregated resources and ideas, which has resulted in both learning and the (co-)construction of new ideas and resources.
He goes on to outline four process that are integral to connectivism:
Considering this list closely, it would appear that connectivism is very similar to constructivism, particularly given that these activities encourage sharing, creation and collaboration.
However, Downes et al., see connectivism as a distinct model of its own. In ‘What is the unique idea in connectivism’, George Siemens explains that “learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.” While this sounds very similar to Downes’ interpretation, Siemens emphasis on the “creation of new connections” implies that the learning occurs through networking as opposed to the act of construction. Artefacts created, either individually or collaboratively during MOOCs are, to some degree, a byproduct. The dialogue and connections generated before, during and after their creation is where the learning occurs. The network is the essence of connectivism; the essence of the MOOC.
Siemens continues, asserting that “Coherence. Sensemaking. Meaning. These elements are prominent in constructivism, to a lessor extent cognitivism, and not at all in behaviourism. But in connectivism, we argue that the rapid flow and abundance of information raises these elements to critical importance.” This is certainly true, and within MOOC MOOC this has been more than evident. However, for some participants, the sheer scale of information generated by the network can be overwhelming. Therefore, I would argue that, to be successful in a MOOC, you have to be well-versed in the use of tools that can help you make sense of the information. Moreover, as I have previously written, it is important for participants to be willing to plot their own paths and not feel that they have to read/do everything.
Moreover, connectivism, is a pedagogy that places significant emphasis on interdependence. Perhaps then the most important facet of the MOOC acronym is ‘openness’. Relatively free from geographical, economic, social and cultural constraints, the cMOOC gives rise to democratised, networked-learning that emphasises participation and collaboration.
Day Four’s task was to consider participant pedagogy. I entered into this having not really had time to look at the reading, but with some strong views about learner participation and the student/teacher paradigm. In my own words
Learning is and should always be in the hands of the learner.
The discussion covered a number of related topics:
the pedagogical models found within the cMOOC/xMOOC dichotomy;
the position of teacher/lecturer and the way that we (educators) view education/learning;
the problems with systematised education (sage on the stage, teach to the test culture);
participant pedagogy, including the problem of the teacher/student paradigm
As I suggest a number of times during the discussion, I believe that the dichotomy of the traditional student/teacher relationship is a false one; based on an out of date system of education. If our goal is to foster a love of learning, then I believe it is necessary for educators to position themselves as learners, facilitators, guides; not as experts. A scary prospect for some.
Critical pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century because critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power… Digital tools offer the opportunity to refocus how power works in the classroom. In its evolution from passive consumption to critical production – from the cult of the expert to a culture of collaboration – the critical and digital classroom emerges as a site of intellectual and moral agency.
This is certainly a thesis that I can support, given that I would describe my own classroom in similar terms. However, I am left asking whether or not such an evolution requires ‘digital tools’ to achieve such equity? Can learning not be democratised within traditional educational settings, without the influence of technology? Does this not, have more to do with shifting beliefs and values about pedagogy and the student/teacher paradigm?
A teacher and a student, when presented as text on the screen, look exactly the same. They are just text. The internet is the Great Equalizer not only because it provides the world with a seemingly unlimited amount of information, but because it reduces us all to font, to pixels, to bits of sound and noise that only begin to approach our full complexity.
Perhaps… although I think this is a naive view. Technology, in this case ‘the internet’, is being given far too much credit. Social status, expertise and power are in no way absent from the world wide web. Blogs and social networks may have given everyone a voice, but that does not mean that everyone is listening.
Technology, itself, does not have the power to improve education. Nor does it have the power to democratise it. The participatory pedagogies alluded to by both Rorabaugh and Bishop require a change in values and beliefs on the part of not just educators, but society as a whole. Moreover, they require a dramatic shift in the priorities of educational institutions. It’s better economics for institutions such as Stanford and MIT to proffer xMOOC style courses, as the investment in participant-based co-creation and the development of networks is labour intensive and difficult to control.
Earlier in the article, Bishop asked what I think is a more important question: “I’m in a position where I can do my best work, and inspire the most dialogue, by openly not having the answers. Do teachers have that luxury?” Yes they do, but they have to be prepared to take risks; to be willing to redefine their role within the classroom. As I shared in the Hangout, I do not consider myself to be a teacher anymore. I am a learner, facilitator, and guide.
On reflection, I wonder to what extent teaching Media Studies has impacted on the way I view education and my role within it. Media Studies is in a continual state of evolution, built on theoretical ideas rather than absolutes; responding to a changing landscape, influenced by social and technological developments. There is always something new to learn, to understand, at no point would I therefore, profess to be an expert.
Jesse Stommel (on Twitter) shared: “Every semester I teach at least one book that I’ve never read before. I read it with the students and actively under-prepare.” Within his words, there is a clue to a deeper philosophy, a belief in shared, interdependent learning between teacher and student. I take a similar approach with my own students, wishing to participate in a ‘learning journey’, where the opinions of student and teacher are of equal value.
Of all of the reading that was provided to support this part of the course, I found Howard Rheingold’s article ‘Toward Peeragogy’ provided the most compelling narrative. Reflecting on the development of what he has coined “peeragogy”, Rheingold draws out, what I believe to be, key tenets in encouraging independent/interdependent learning in any classroom.
In retrospect, I can see the coevolution of my learning journey: my first step was to shift from conventional lecture-discussion-test classroom techniques to lessons that incorporated social media, my second step gave students co-teaching power and responsibility, my third step was to elevate students to the status of co-learner. It began to dawn on me that the next step was to explore ways of instigating completely self-organized, peer-to-peer online learning.
In his classroom, both online and in the lecture hall, Rheingold’s “peeragogy” is built on ‘openness’, ‘social media’, and ‘student voice/choice’ – the same three tenets advocated by Catherine Cronin during a presentation at #EdTech12. Three tenet that can easily be applied to cMOOCs.
The Role of the cMOOC
Returning to one of the articles, from day one of MOOC MOOC, I would argue that Siemens is correct. c“MOOCs are really a platform”, out of which an interdependent network is built. A network that encourages, openness, social connectedness/collaboration, and voice/choice. The cMOOC is nothing without its participants and its participants are in control of the pedagogy.