This is the home of EdContexts, an informal network and community of teachers, scholars, students, researchers, and others interested in promoting conversations about education in and across contexts around the world. You’re welcome to contribute blog posts or join us through any of the social media linked on the side.
By Clarissa Bezerra, Brasília, Brazil
EdConteXts facilitator Clarissa Bezerra shares her reflections on the value of portfolios as an assessment tool – and potential cultural challenges for implementation in her home country, Brazil.
Portfolios are a formative assessment tool which looks to place the student in the center of his own learning. Isabela Villas Boas cites a classical definition of portfolio in her very instructive post The Power of Portfolio Assessment. As cited by Isabela (highlights are mine):
“A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection” (Paulson et al., 1991, p. 60).
Reading in between the lines of this definition one may find that a powerful learning opportunity arises in the process of compiling a portfolio, for it presupposes the development of complex habits of mind, such as self-reflection and constructive self-critique, the application of which yields deeper learning experiences. Intellectual and academic self-knowledge will therefore be natural byproducts of the portfolio process.
Isabela also writes about her feeling that teachers might not embrace portfolio assessment because they think it to be too complex and difficult to implement. I share that feeling with her, and I would like to explore yet another level of such “resistance”, one that is cultural by nature, and which involves all agents in Brazilian education: teachers, students, parents, and educational leaders. It is my view that we Brazilians generally tend to avoid overvaluing ourselves in front of others, in the sense that it is not culturally desirable to showcase ourselves as unique individuals with unique talents. Let me make it clear that this is my personal view, and one which I would like to explore in an attempt to find possible ways by which such resistance might be overcome, so Brazilian students and teachers may come to enjoy the deep learning experiences offered by authentic assessment practices, such as portfolios.
Examining the definition above, we see that some key terms come to the fore, such as ‘student participation’, ‘judging merit’, and ‘student self-reflection’. How do each of those terms relate to the traditional educational culture in Brazil? I have shared my view of the Brazilian educational context in EdContexts before. Brazilian high school students are exhaustively trained for national standards exams, as well as college entrance exams, the latter being the ultimate goal in their getting an education in the first place. The college entrance process in Brazil does not entail student portfolio appraisal, as is common practice in the U.S., for example. To the contrary, all they need to do is get a certain score on a test, which will get them a spot in university, preferably a renowned federal or state university, such as UnB and USP to name a couple. Which is to say that the main goal of Brazilian high schools is to get as many of their students into university; therefore, there will certainly be lots of teaching to the test. With such an enormous amount of pressure on both teachers and students for high scores, where does ‘student participation’ or ‘student voice’ go in the process? Fortunately, there are a few Brazilian schools and a handful of educators pursuing authentic assessment practices, such as projects and portfolios with their students, but that is far from becoming a trend, in my view.
The terms ‘judging merit’ and ‘student self-reflection’ are closely connected, in that they depend on one another in the portfolio learning process. Again, students need to feel comfortable and confident in judging merit, which will ideally entail the adoption of authentic, collaborative assessment practices, such as peer revision. This is a behavior which is not culturally natural for us, Brazilians. We have a natural tendency of being complimentary to others and will normally react quite humbly to praising from others. In other words, Brazilians are very self-conscious about coming across as feeling any type of superiority. If there is something Brazilians dread it’s looking entitled in any context. Such behavior might partly have religious roots, but I don’t intend to pursue that here. These cultural behaviors will naturally favor a hierarchical order in the classroom, with teachers being the authority figures and students learning what they are told to learn, whichever way they are told to learn it. It reinforces the current discussion around the type of education our youth needs in the 21st century.
Which takes me to the role of teachers. Having been students in the same context, Brazilian teachers will need to become prepared to facilitate that process, overcoming this cultural barrier themselves first. That is no easy task. Teachers definitely need support and modelling from educational leaders. It is my view that once teachers become better acquainted and more comfortable with collaborative, networked professional development practices, as opposed to a top-down approach to teacher training, their self-confidence in adopting such collaborative and formative behaviors in the classroom will certainly increase. Once teachers feel empowered by a portfolio experience themselves, they might feel moved to encourage their students to pursue that path, encouraging their academic and personal growth by cultivating a portfolio. Anyone who blogs, or who has a digital portfolio of some kind knows the feeling of empowerment which comes from being read by an authentic audience, as well as from exploring their own voices on matters that they are passionate about.
What it all comes down to is this: if we ever hope for our students to enjoy the richness in learning that hinges on portfolio culture, we need to enable our teachers to feel the power that cultivating a personal portfolio may bring them in terms of self-knowledge, personal and professional development. It is the duty of teacher trainers and educational leaders in general to bring together the elements that will make up collaborative, teacher-driven professional development frameworks. In my recent experience, educational technology has been a potential catalyst for teacher engagement in their own professional development. Innovative teacher training practices will model innovative teaching and learning practices. We need to inspire teachers to take back their learning, to claim their own professional growth, and in the process, gain the pedagogical expertise, as well as develop the cultural behaviors and habits of mind which might enable this new learning culture to thrive in and out of the classroom.
How do you view portfolio culture in your context? How might we encourage teachers to engage in self-reflection by creating a portfolio of their own, and how might that impact our students’ learning experiences?
Share your reflections with us in the comments below.
By Heather Thaxter (UK) and Suzan Koseoglu (USA)
Heather and Suzan met for the first time at the Digital Pedagogies Conference (2015) this year. Heather chose the metaphorical title, “Connectivism: Plugged in or turned off? Does Connectivity equal Inclusivity?”, for a paper she co-presented with her colleague, Jane Hunt, in which they critically examined inclusivity in connectivist learning environments. In this post, we use the same metaphor Heather used in her presentation – being plugged in and turned off – to refer to our understanding and use of digital technologies in general.
Since the conference, we have exchanged many e-mails and Twitter messages discussing issues around inclusivity and digital literacy in connectivism, connected learning, and networked learning in general. Through our conversations, we discovered that we shared similar educational visions and concerns with regard to learning on the World Wide Web. We decided to open this conversation to a wider audience because as Freire noted:
Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. (p. 72)
In this post, we challenge common assumptions about digital literacies and access to technology in the 21st century classes based on our experiences. We hope you will join the conversation too by leaving a comment.
Are you plugged in or turned off? What is the impact of technology on your teaching and learning? If you are like us, you feel simultaneously plugged in or turned off. No matter how hard we try, we still may not be aware of the bigger picture of how digital technologies can enable learning in so many different ways. We seem to be running flat out to keep up with emerging technologies whilst desperately trying to respond to the growing consensus that traditional learning theories are either obsolete or, at the very least, need adapting to meet the evolving needs of the 21st century learner.
Quite rightly, there is a sense of urgency to bring education into the digital age, but we believe caution is needed when introducing new digital technologies and learning theories/approaches aligning with those into our classes. We refer to the assumptions surrounding the digital literacy of our students. Our experience is that the 21st century learner may not be as connected and as technological savvy as one might think. In addition, even if students use digital technologies in everyday life, this doesn’t mean that they are comfortable or experienced in using them for their learning. This highlights the fact that the affordances of digital technology are not being fully utilised or indeed understood by a proportion of the student population. So what are the reasons?
In Heather’s experience of a widening participation context: primarily non-traditional students (mature, low socio-economic demographic) studying at a university centre in the UK, there are students who are the first in their families to enter higher education and are still very much finding their voices. This directly links to having the self-confidence that they have something to say and, perhaps more significantly, that others will want to hear it. This seems to be more evident in mature students who are often less familiar with the affordances of emerging technology, especially in relation to learning. That is not to say that this is true of all students within that context. One digitally literate student used Twitter very effectively to garner opinion concerning the educational policies of opposing political parties and then after critical analysis, incorporated the results into a poster presentation. This student was confident both in terms of using technology as a learning tool and already having an online presence. Whilst he is certainly not unique perhaps this is where we are in danger of cultivating a one size fits all mentality, despite the fact that not all students, or indeed lecturers, are keeping up with the pace: their digital footprint is barely visible in some cases.
Mature students in particular who have not been born into the digital world (in the context of widening participation), generally have certain fears and expectations about their return to education. Their educational biography is often shaped by a bad school experience, external social/familial/economic pressures and lack of opportunities, which sometimes results in learning anxiety. Often a student who has previously had a less than ideal educational experience and has taken the life-changing step to return to education will be hoping for, if not expecting, a nurturing, supportive experience the second time around. Learning anxiety may be further exacerbated due to economic disadvantage because contrary to common assumptions not everyone has the financial means to buy digital devices or connect to the internet. Therefore, if we are to introduce theories which are more compatible with the digitally connected world in which we live and learn, we will need to take such factors into account. The Connectivist approach, for example, promotes self directed learning where the onus is on the student to build a strong, individualised learning network because ‘learning and knowledge is distributed across nodes’ and then the student has to have the skill to make immediate decisions regarding the currency of that knowledge because the “capacity to know is more critical than what is currently known.” Whilst Heather acknowledges the potential of students plugging into a network which enables them to engage with and analyse diverse perspectives which they would not otherwise have been exposed to, she has also identified challenges that may turn them off. If the student is digitally illiterate, or digitally disadvantaged, this theory may be further alienating which, given the premise of connectivity and collaboration, is quite ironic.
In Suzan’s experience of teaching completely online courses in her program area (learning technologies), her students’ expectations are not that different from Heather’s students. We think this is remarkable considering the differences in the two contexts. Suzan’s courses are highly social and encourage students to learn in a community via a social networking platform. Most of Suzan’s undergraduate students (US) have been born into the digital world and are affluent users of social media, but they too have challenges in using technology for their learning. It is common for undergraduate students to take more than four classes during each academic semester (typically equivalent to 12 credits; the expected workload for each credit is 3 hours a week) and work part-time to help with the high costs of college tuition. Students generally choose to enroll in online classes because they offer the flexibility they need to juggle work, study and social life. It is not uncommon for Suzan to see her students responding to discussions and working on class projects late at night until the early hours of the morning. Not surprisingly, many students have limited time to figure out new technologies on their own and need ample time and support to familiarize themselves with their course site and its structure.
The challenges are not merely technical or due to a lack of experience and/or knowledge. Students also have learning anxieties that directly tie into the traditional culture of teaching and learning in higher education. For example, they might feel the pressure to earn a good grade or feel deeply concerned about how they present themselves to others in class discussions and openly shared class projects. For some students using a highly structured classroom management system such as Moodle or Blackboard is more reassuring than a social networking site with loosely defined boundaries.
Last semester, Suzan taught a class in which students explored youths’ use of social media from an educational perspective. Inspired by David Wiley’s call to end disposable assignments, and to encourage students have hands-on experience with an emergent technology relevant to the focus of the class, Suzan asked her students to create a blog (optional; the blog could be open on the web or visible to course participants only) for their independent research projects. But it was challenging for Suzan to explain to her students the ethos of blogging and the necessity of creating something that would have value outside of “class walls.” Some students posted long traditional essays for their blog posts (with course descriptions at the beginning and paper-based citation formats), some students copied to their posts large chunks of content from other sites, some students created beautiful designs ticking every box for the minimum requirements for the assignment, but nothing more. Suzan was struck by the diversity in how students approached blogging – getting rid of the disposable assignments wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Students had blogs but not everyone had a voice in them – it hadn’t become a space for them to be present on the web.
How can we help our students have a voice in a networked learning context, informally or otherwise? How can we facilitate a welcoming and a suitable environment for our students: a space which enables each learner to get the most out of their learning experience?
These are not easy questions to address, but we argue that we can at least start by critically reflecting on our assumptions regarding the digital literacy of our students. To be precise, we should not assume that our students have easy access to the Internet and tools/devices; are technologically competent; and are confident in using digital technologies. To be “plugged in,” we have to ensure everyone (teachers included) has access to the tools and competency in using them efficiently. Perhaps, more importantly, we have to nurture students in this process so that, hopefully, they will gain the confidence and willingness to use technology effectively for their learning, and rather than being “turned off,” their learning will extend beyond the confines of the classroom into the connected world.
Without dismissing the need for scaffolding strategies, being connected implies partnership and we believe the best guidance happens when we work alongside our students, when we see ourselves as learners as well. Suzan, for example, could have blogged along with her students to model writing for a public audience on the web and engage in a more authentic dialogue with her students. That way perhaps she could better help her students “develop the awareness, skills, habits and dispositions necessary to take full advantage of the affordances of the web.” Heather could strengthen her own digital presence and become a node in the network, thereby providing a familiar starting point for her students, whilst guiding them to other nodes.
It is important for students to know that we don’t know everything and are still learners ourselves especially with regard to technology. Showing our willingness to explore and attempt new things…sharing our failures as well as successes…learning with and from our students… These are the types of things we might consider in our teaching because we (students and teachers) are all in the same boat with regard to navigating the open sea of numerous, unimaginable possibilities. There will be waves that may threaten to rock the boat or even capsize it and the fear of this (setbacks, failures) is often at the heart of the resistance to change/reluctance to explore those possibilities but connectivity – the idea that we are learning together – offers a lifejacket.
About the Authors: Heather Thaxter is (about to begin) studying for an MA in Literature and Digital Culture and has a background in English, specialising in literacy. Having taught in further and higher education, most recently on the Initial Teacher Training programme at University Centre Doncaster, Heather’s research focus is on digital literacy in the context of widening participation. Heather is currently researching connectivism through the lens of inclusivity. Suzan Koseoglu is a PhD candidate in Learning Technologies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota. Suzan's research focus is on online education with an emphasis on pedagogy and socio-cultural aspects of learning. Suzan has taught classes on the ethics of online technologies, youths’ use of social media, and online learning communities.
By Maha Bali and Shyam Sharma, edcontexts co-founders and facilitators
Can we safely say that xMOOCs, for the most part, reproduce privilege? The privileged elite universities that can afford to create them, the privileged star professors who have the resources to build them, the privileged mostly Western point of view they perpetuate, and the privileged learners who can access them?
But can we also say we see a glimmer of hope in initiatives such as connectivist MOOCs that decenter authority (e.g. #rhihzo14, #rhizo15), MOOCs from non-Western origins (e.g. the Arab Edraak) and people who are able to challenge the xMOOC paradigm even while offering their MOOCs on places like Coursera (the Universiry of Edinburgh people who do #edcmooc and Jesse Stommel et al who did #moocspeare and Cathy Davidson who did #FutureEd)?
We (Maha and Shyam) are writing a book chapter with the title “Envisioning the Postcolonial MOOC” and we would like to solicit ideas from people everywhere on what that might entail. We do so because while we have our own ideas, part of our vision involves diversity and inclusivity. We also didn’t do a formal research study because we hope you are willing to make your responses open and attributable to you.
How do YOU envision a postcolonial* MOOC?
[* we understand postcolonial here broadly to mean anything that challenges the legacy of colonialism/imperialism, or even neocolonialism)
Let us know in the comments here, or tweet to #pocoMOOC or write a brief blogpost and link it in the comments here or on Twitter using #PocoMOOC. We will curate on edcontexts.org and hopefully find a way to use these ideas in our book chapter, attributing you appropriately.
Unfortunately we are only giving you one week (because we don’t have much more time) – even a one-line contribution can be valuable. So what do you think? You have until August 18. Go 🙂
Thanks for taking the time!
Image “Magical Town of Tepotzlan Mexico-16″
by Christopher William Atach, retrieved from Flickr under CC-BY-SA license
By Gregory (“gz”) Zobel (USA), Elizabeth Lenaghan (USA), Sarah Honeychurch (Scotland), Robin DeRosa (USA), Christina V. Cedillo (USA), Maha Bali (Egypt)
Although some might argue community does not equate to learning, we claim just the opposite: community functions not as a methodological approach toward a set of outcomes but as the outcome in and of itself.
The Context & The Players
Recently, fifty-one people—including us—found themselves competing against each other for a job. In and of itself, this may not sound overly unusual, but there were a couple of unusual things about this particular competition. First, it was for a job that doesn’t pay a dime: an editorship at Hybrid Pedagogy, an online journal dedicated to exploring the intersections between critical and digital pedagogy. Second, the job interview was an online course with open elements. In this course (#hpj101), all potential editors shared communication, editing, and writing skills as they were evaluated by the journal’s directors and managing editor. Job offers would come at the end. Yet this is not actually a story about who received the final rose. This story is about how aspects of the course (alongside our participation in it) cultivated a sense of community (rather than competition) amongst us, so much so that we began collaborating on this piece mere hours after the course ended. So, in sharing the reasons we have collectively and individually identified as to why and how this sense of community was created here, we hope to provide educators and learners—particularly in online courses—with ideas for how to foster similarly enriching experiences.
What is Community?
What do we mean when we talk about community? Perhaps something like this from Wendell Berry:
“A community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness. If it hopes to continue long as a community, it will wish to—and will have to—encourage respect for all its members, human and natural” (Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, Berry, 2000, p. 120).
The key themes that Berry identifies here are themes that have arisen regularly for us both during and after the course. Trust, goodwill, self-restraint, and compassion were all present; however, we believe that trust is the key factor that permitted the other dispositions to adhere.
Trust is especially important because community cannot rely solely on similarity or uniformity. Communities encapsulate diversity, too, and variation provides valuable learning opportunities for intellectual and emotional growth as we seek to bridge the gaps between one another. Even in the small group writing this piece now, we reflect a diverse cross-section of both the world and the academy, in terms of nationality, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, discipline, and academic rank, among other things. Trust allows us to make strategic use of our differences in perspective, experience, and standpoints as points of connection. As bell hooks explains, “Creating trust usually means finding out what it is we have in common as well as what separates us and makes us different” (hooks, p. 109).
Acknowledging the centrality of trust, as well as how it was cultivated throughout #hpj101, has been key to our emergence as a community of learners who feel enriched by the wealth of knowledge and ideas we can now access through this community.
Creating Trust Via Diverse Media
As hooks indicates, it was important for us to find out what we did and did not have in common in order to create trust. The conditions for such discovery were built into the prompts for our initial introductory posts within the course interface. Some of the prompts were:
- Don’t list your publications, your accomplishments as an editor, your credentials, or your pedigree, unless you can do so in a limerick.
- Don’t tell us where you live, unless you’re going to include images that will hold our fascination.
- Do tell us what moves you, why you care about students, what you love.
- Do give us random facts we can come to know you by.
- Do submit a video introduction using the nifty Record/Upload Media tool in the toolbar (looks like a bit of film).
Such guidelines facilitated our initial encounters in several ways. First, they required us to think outside the “standard biographical narrative” box and trust that communicating something of our emotional and ideological selves would provide more insight into us than any earned credentials. Second, they provided an impetus for play. Limericks and random facts helped us see new angles and points of connection. Finally, prompting us to create videos and employ images, they facilitated expression and interaction beyond alphabetic text. The guidelines’ spirit created plentiful opportunities for cultivating trust through identifying both common interests and uncommon beliefs and practices. Strangely for a job interview, we did not feel compelled to follow guidelines to the letter. Few of us actually did limericks; in fact, Maha didn’t know what a limerick was and didn’t try. She also didn’t create a video intro simply because she didn’t have the infrastructure to do so at home in Egypt, and used images and sound instead.
The multimodal nature of these introductions also set the stage for the variety of media and platforms in which discussion would take place both inside and outside the course interface over the course of the week. The course required us to connect in order to conduct mock collaborative reviews, but collaboration spilled out beyond that instrumental purpose. These collaborations took place on multiple channels and at multiple times since participants were literally spread around the globe (we here live in Cairo, Glasgow, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, and New Hampshire). Instead of only working in the Canvas platform, participants used Twitter (beyond the official course Twitter chats), Facebook, and email for many of their conversations, thereby cultivating community by inviting each other into pre-existing social media circles.
These conversations also helped uncover points of similarity/difference that bolstered our sense of community beyond the course. For example, several of us discovered that we shared a love of punk music, and we are now working on a collaborative project about how punk music has informed our respective critical pedagogies. Others of us, feeling at ease, acknowledged that we wished we knew more about particular theoretical topics and have established an informal Twitter discussion group.
Trust was also built within the course requirements by having smaller groups of participants (3-5 people) set out to work together to practice collaboratively editing a set of documents. This activity not only helped us to get to know a sub-set of people differently, but it also helped us to better understand the type of work that we would be engaged in as members of the Hybrid Pedagogy editorial community.
Once You Have Trust Flowing in Multiple Media Channels, Community is Easier
This collaborative atmosphere was further enhanced by the community building efforts of the extant Hybrid Pedagogy staff. Periodically, the #hpj101 facilitators were available on Twitter and Canvas, answering questions, offering direction, or clarifying any confusion, as well as engaging in discussion. Often present, too, were others from the larger Hybrid Pedagogy community such as authors or reviewers, who understood part of the processes; they were able to help explain some materials or answer some questions. Apart from offering clarification, Hybrid Pedagogy staff and writers appeared to work intentionally to ask questions for development of statements on Twitter and in Canvas, “What do you mean?” or “Could you say more on this?” kinds of prompts. In other cases, they worked to include or connect people making similar questions or comments either in the Canvas Forums or on Twitter. Such modeling helped to set the tone, a tone familiar to those interested in progressive education: making others feel welcome and connecting with each other. Thus, rapidly, a number of participants worked on sharing common threads that they saw in the comments and connecting people through their work and non-work related interests. These mixed interactions: synchronous/asynchronous, quiet/chaotic, personal/dispersed, clarifying/confusing, reassuring/risky: all served to build a coherent and strong community that was also creative and dynamic at the same time.
Closing the Door on Alphabetical Modality’s Domination
Community is a term that is bandied about quite regularly. We can’t afford to allow the term to go stale. Instead, we need to–no, we WANT to (and we hope you do too since you’re reading this article!) proactively create, nurture, support, and participate in multiple diverse communities (online and in person) because, as Berry, among many others, indicates, community has a vital role.
“The indispensable form that can intervene between public and private interests is that of community. The concerns of public and private, republic and citizen, necessary as they are, are not adequate for the shaping of human life.” (Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, Berry, 2000, p. 119).
In other words, community is another way of thinking, being, seeing, and organizing together. It’s not fully public and it’s not private, either. Instead, it’s a bridge between the two. For a journal that works towards social justice and is based on critical theories and critical pedagogies, this is an important positioning. It’s important because aside from the direct work that the journal undertakes–publishing–around that work, social networks and communities (two different things) form. This means that the critical, social justice work is not going to be limited just to the journal topics or the content; instead, those involved with the journal are working to bridge and connect with the public and make those changes.
A Critical Note
We are aware of factors outside the official course design that contributed to community building: we all already had shared interest in critical digital pedagogy, and the journal Hybrid Pedagogy itself, and were likely to be open pedagogy advocates. Some of us already knew the journal closely (as writers, MOOC participants/facilitators) and some of us knew each other (from close friendships to merely following on Twitter). This meant there were power differences amongst us in the community, but because the nature of the course was collaborative, we were encouraged to support each other in areas in which some of us were more comfortable/familiar. For example, several participants mentioned to one of us that during #hpj101 they had thought she was already HP staff, rather than one participating to apply to be editor.
Several of us, being open educators, naturally took on facilitator roles, helping answer questions, welcoming others in, suggesting solutions to problems–all to build relationships and community. We recognized, for instance, that not all people were equally competent/comfortable with Twitter, Canvas, Google docs, etc. Not all people were equally comfortable using video and text. But this is also where the multimodality helped different people to shine in different spaces. For a journal that uses these tools in its activities, it was important for facilitators to see how potential editors would fare in various spaces.
Finally, we recognize that for some people, life got in the way of fully participating in the course’s community building. If someone was traveling or had a sick child during the particular five days when the course took place, they likely missed out on much of the activity. Those are the restrictions of any semi-synchronous online event. The facilitators expanded the course from its original length of two days to five, and intentionally scheduled Twitter chats at times workable for various timezones. This was accommodating on their part, but there is probably no solution that would work for every single person.
Having said all this: think about what a regular job interview is like. An hour, two? Three interviews over several days? Few job interviews will both build community and coach participants in the process of selection. We were able to relax, be ourselves, and show who we were and what we could do–all while enjoying each other’s company.
Not all of us became editors of Hybrid Pedagogy. But we are still in touch, right here writing this article, and planning on more. Those of us who did become editors feel like we hit the ground running. We already felt we were amongst “our people”.
By using multiple modalities and vehicles to build relationships among participants, by expanding upon and beyond alphabetic textual relations, we found that trust can be developed more quickly in some situations because multimodal communications let us see multiple facets of one another quickly and readily. And when we converse and share in semi-protected spaces, like moderated Twitter chats or forums, we get to see how others interact and thus help define what it means to be community members there and then.
One thing we did realize is that community is not one thing–it’s not a thing at all. It’s an ever-evolving process that shifts its shape as its members travel through and converse across its networks. In this sense, even this article is an extension and a new offshoot of our community. We welcome you to join us. Catch us on Twitter, or comment below, and be a part of where we go next!
About the Authors: Gregory ("gz") Zobel (@drgbz) is a budgie-loving bibliophile who teaches EdTech at Western Oregon University. He lives in a library in Oregon's Willamette Valley surrounded by iris and orchids. He is inspired by ravens, Gysin, Fanon, Lao Tzu, and Nutella. He blogs at http://zobelg.posthaven.com/. He is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy Elizabeth Lenaghan (@Lenaberts) is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in Northwestern University’s Writing Program, and she also serves as Assistant Director of Northwestern’s Writing Place. Her teaching and research combine her backgrounds in Communications and English Literature to explore the ways that new media impact literacy as well as our reception and production of “old media” such as printed books. She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) is a Learning Technology Specialist and Philosophy TA at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She’s interested in how peer interactions stimulate learning and how educators can help facilitate that. Her blog is http://www.nomadwarmachine.co.uk. She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy Robin DeRosa (@actualham) is Professor of English and Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University. An early Americanist by training, she now researches and writes about public university missions, OER, and open pedagogy. Her website can be found at www.actualham.wordpress.com. She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy Christina V. Cedillo (@DrCCedillo) is Assistant Professor of Writing at University of Houston--Clear Lake. Her research interests include embodied rhetorics and critical education, especially how these are influenced by race and gender, and access to technology. Maha Bali (@bali_maha) is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She is co-founder and co-facilitator of edcontexts.org, co-founder of www.virtuallyconnecting.org and columnist & editor at Hybrid Pedagogy. She’s a MOOCaholic, Writeaholic and passionate open and connected educator.
By Sushmita Maryam, Bangalore, India
Patriarchy is deep rooted in cultures around the world, in all kinds of social institutions, including education. It qualifies male gender to be the head of the family or society reflecting the belief upon which it stands – male is superior of all genders.Most societies function within the patriarchal framework. The idea of male superiority is fed into the human mind at a very young age- primary feeders being the parents, immediate members of the family and teachers. Children imbibe rigid ideas of gender roles based on patriarchy that eventually become their psychological make-up and foundations of their identity as they grow into adults; men- the primary decision makers and women – the primary homemakers. They live by it further cementing the social structure and propelling biological and social evolution in that direction. The human mind has thus evolved for generations’ now preserving patriarchy; it has become the fundamental structure of living – in subtler forms in some societies of course, but always present.
Links to some interesting blogs that look at the origin of patriarchy, as I was researching the topic are here and here. Most studies point to gender roles as the origin of the patriarchal system and not to natural biology of human race. This lays bare the belief that biologically male is the superior gender suited to lead and so patriarchy is the natural order of being for humankind. Superiority of male intelligence is more an idea than a fact. No studies have been able to conclusively establish it. There sure are biological differences in the way a man’s and a woman’s brain is, structurally. Studies suggest that these differences could also be attributed to the way human brain has evolved, both biologically and psychologically owing to the repetition of roles the genders have been engaged in over generations.
It seems that gender roles in the ancient times emanated from the then circumstances when survival and sustenance were the aim of life for humans. A woman’s life was attributed more value owing to childbearing and nursing – for sustaining and further building the human community, while men were considered more dispensable in that context. Hence they were in a position to put their lives at risk fighting threats in the wilderness in the egalitarian (gender equal) hunter gatherer societies.
These roles however when extended beyond those times in which they were relevant, gradually solidified into a psychological social structure. Along the way the idea of male superiority might have set in because men may have been more visible outdoors in the wild, as the face of family and the voice of decisions in the community. This social structure that originated from need based gender roles of the past however began determining gender roles of the future, firmly hinged on the idea of male superiority, sustained by the elements of power and pleasure, spreading its roots in the human psyche as the norm.
It is only reasonable to state that man is not superior or inferior to other genders. He is, as they are. Patriarchy framing him in the image of a superior being has almost irreversibly affected human relationships and not in the best way. It has piled up the expectations of a man to unreasonable levels, coercing him to alter his sense of self, reducing it to an idea that is not realistic and does not exist. The superhero movies are exaggerated reflections of the image of the male gender and of the expectations from him– the savior, decision maker, the problem solver, the charmer, the powerful, and the doer etc
The constant pressure to live up to being the ‘man’ is a lifelong one for men. This entails hiding his natural self behind the image of a ‘super human’ and struggling to live that disconnected identity and live up to the expectations from himself and everybody around him. It is most suffocating also because it is disguised in the cloak of superiority. And that blinds him to what it does to him. To me that is the one of the biggest challenges of patriarchy; why society as a whole and men themselves are much less aware of how patriarchy impacts this gender.
The typical expectations of men (e.g. in India) are disguised as the privileges that come with being the head of the family or society. Some of these expectations, depending on which part of the world he is in, are to be the breadwinner at any cost, to financially provide for the immediate and extended family, to live with an unduly inflated ego and aggression, to be smarter and more intelligent than the girlfriend/wife, to seem superior to those around and, the worst of all, to suppress ‘human’ emotions.
Having to suppress feelings and emotions is the most unreasonable of all expectations – also because the other expectations mean that he is in a constant state of stress and confusion – a state which is not as obvious as a state of conflict because of its constancy and normalcy. Constantly suppressing emotions is a contradiction to being human and hence a prime source of inner conflict. Also severely stressful is to live a life disconnected from self to prove to oneself and to everybody around one’s worthiness to belong – in this case to one’s gender. A huge part of male aggression may be generating from this intense inner conflict which may even have become inherent to the male psyche through evolution. And what could be powering the aggression further is his resorting to his ego, reminding himself of his superiority to justify it all.
Fear of failure in conforming to the social image of ‘man’ because it would invariably lead to his rejection otherwise, may be seen as a dominant emotion that drives his action and the action of those around him. My ex-colleague was asked by his earning wife to leave home for his inability to earn a steady income; my friend and her mother bully her spouse for her not having the freedom to give up her job as his career is unstable; my friend who is well placed in his career is always struggling to reach a higher goal, compromising on his peace of mind, his present and his relationships – because he needs to be the best, as he was brought up believing. Action that comes from fear and insecurity is bound to create conflict within oneself and within one’s relationships.
Domestic abuse, dowry crimes, pornography, rape, gender discrimination, female foeticide and infanticide, prostitution, honourkillings are some of the most visible manifestations of patriarchy. The passive conflicts that patriarchy fuels, causing relationships to breakdown, whether within families, in work spaces or elsewhere, are rarely given the attention they deserve, although every person has suffered and suffers it – it is everywhere – a reflection of how deep rooted it is in the human psyche. Unfortunately, despite this, patriarchy is not explicitly addressed by educational curricula in most places, but it is an elephant in the classroom nonetheless.
One of the things that have limited the seeing of the real impact of patriarchy on relationships is looking at it through the lens of women’s rights alone. It promotes the general and popular view that patriarchy is pro men. Unfortunately, not understanding this structure and its manifestations in its wholeness is inadvertently limiting relationships, blocking the emergence of sustainable solutions for a more coherent world.
Patriarchy is as imprisoning for men as it is for women. The only difference is, as previously mentioned, for men the superiority disguise makes it almost impossible for him to see that it is imprisoning him, and in his case in his ego. To add to that the conveniences of not having to take as much responsibility for the physical aspect of raising children and not having to take equal responsibility for the chores around the house make it even more difficult to acknowledge it, even if he might see glimpses of what he is stuck in. For women it is as clear and direct as it can get when she is told that she deserves less because of her gender, that it restricts her freedom to be the person that she is.
Also important to note is, transgender persons are completely invisible in the patriarchal system, one of the probable reasons why they are not represented or actively considered in the policies and laws of many countries, and are not visible in the eyes of many people.
What is the point in patriarchy when it is completely blind to a gender (transgender individuals); forces a gender (men) to live a life of illusion and coerces a gender (women) to be the subservient one – stealing everyone’s basic freedom to be one’s own self; locking all in a lifelong struggle to cope? Individuals have different capabilities which are irrespective of their gender. However, they are to live by the rules that patriarchy lays for them – altering and manipulating their capabilities, skills, sense of self and perceptions to suit these gender norms. What is even more baffling is women and men are then expected to come together and form ideal families and build peaceful and stable societies on this shaky fragile and rigid foundation. Relationships cannot get more twisted and complicated than that, can they?
Looking at the relevance of social constructs and ideas in the context of human relationships is imperative because quality of our life is dependent on the quality of our relationships– whether with oneself or with others. We tend to discount that the chaos and conflict in society or the world is reflective of conflicted and chaotic human relationships.
Patriarchy at some point in the past may or may not have made sense; there is no way to establish the certainty of that.Spending time and energy, dissecting the past or imagining the future is not as effective in finding sustainable solutions for the challenges that we live with in the present. Let us look at situations in the present because that is where we are all the time.
Is patriarchy making sense in the present?
Is it not time that educators and other responsible adults around the world began addressing this elephant in the room?
[Editor’s note: readers may be interested in reading bell hooks’ perspective on how patriarchy affects men as well – her book The Will to Change is highly recommended — MB]
------ About the Author: Sushmita Maryam is a Mediator and a Conflict Resolution Practitioner who has co-founded the ‘We are Peace’ network that works with Educational Institutions in facilitating awareness of conflict and peace using tools of dialogue and skills of mediation among teachers, students and their parents in an effort to awaken youth to being peace promoters their personal lives, homes, communities and the world at large. Sushmita is the chosen participant from India for the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) summer school 2014 that brings together 75 youth from across the globe, to address pressing global challenges, within the context of cultural and religious diversity.
This post is republished with permission from Sherif Osman’s blog, and we invite readers to use the hashtag #IfMalalaWasMyStudent on Twitter and their blogs, and Sherif and Edcontexts will compile responses and storify them, then publish here.
by Sherif Osman, Cairo, Egypt
I was watching the Jon Stewart show [the other day] and he was interviewing Malala, interestingly enough we were just talking about her at work that morning. It got me thinking, what if Malala was a girl in my class? Would I realise her potential? Would I encourage her? Would I be intimidated? Would I differentiate for her? Would I modify my teaching?
A better way to think about this, if one of your students was a Nobel peace laureate and has an international fund raising organisation dedicated to education access and educational reform. Would you feel you had to up your game? If so, does that mean that teachers need students that will challenge them in order to excel? What does that mean for ‘low ability’ group settings? Is that beneficial for students or teachers if that’s the case? Hmm…
As I continued to watch the show, I was intrigued. Her knowledge and vocab were excellent for a student her age; you could tell it wasn’t something she’d practiced, her wit and confidence shone through. I’ve met many students who surprised me with their knowledge, or their passion, or their confidence, or their attitude, or initiative, but rarely all those combined. I began to remember certain students, and wonder what they were up to now and if they had realised their potential? Are they enjoying what they are doing?
Earlier this year, a colleague at work asked me to write an article about an incident that happened to me as a student and how that affected my teaching. Since writing that article, I frequently started thinking about my time in the classroom as a student and what I can learn from it now as a teacher.
This got me thinking that I am who I am today because of my interactions in the classroom for a large portion of my life. My interactions with the teachers and other students have had a massive impact on my life and hence who I am today. That then begs the question, could I have been much better at something had my teachers or one of my teachers realised my potential in a particular area? A more positive way to look at this, have I excelled at something because someone helped me realise my potential? Who where they and what did they do differently? Perhaps this reflection can help me help my students.
When speaking to a colleague at work about this post idea, she suggested that I follow this post up with several posts where I reflect on those incidents and how they affected me. She then jokingly suggested I start a twitter movement #ifMalalaWasMyStudent where people can post their views on this. I liked the idea so much that I am going to do it. So I invite you all to share your stories or reflections on this hashtag. I will try and compile all the responses in a blog post to follow this up.
About the Author: Sherif Osman (@the_sosman) currently works as part of the Pedagogy & Assessment team at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo. He also teaches a range of courses at the Professional Educator's Diploma, a teacher education program at the same institution. Sherif has a rich background that encompasses academic and professional experiences in education. He holds a Master of Arts in Education along with the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from the UK where he also taught in a range of schools. Teaching in different cultures and contexts fuels Sherif's passion towards education and educational research.
by Sherri Spelic, Austria
When something happens gradually, over time, it can be easy for us not to notice significant changes until we are confronted with a circumstance that surprises or shocks us. Through my readings about schools and education I find that I am often flabbergasted at some of the policies, initiatives and outcomes which document myriad ways in which student well-being and equitable treatment seem to be among the least considered priorities. Particularly in North American K-12 and higher education developments, I notice how business terminology and reasoning have entrenched themselves in our conversations about how schools should function in order to achieve the best outcomes for the economy. In this rhetorical space, education’s highest priority is to produce qualified and skilled members of the workforce.
As an educator, parent, and citizen, I fear that we as a society or even collection of societies put ourselves at risk if we fail to question and put a halt to this instrumentalist type of reasoning with regards to education. The rhetoric of brutal global competition is eroding our capacity to focus on asking what truly matters in providing our children and grandchildren with what they will need for their futures besides jobs and income. In all of our lip service to “21st Century Skills” we still pay more homage to the holy grail of what our offspring may earn rather than to how well equipped they will be to avert environmental, financial and/or social disaster by adopting and practicing those skills. We say that we want them to be critical thinkers and adept problem solvers while assuming, consciously or not, that their greatest challenge will likely be finding a job that pays well enough to free them from thousands of dollars of crushing student debt. “To get a good job” would appear to be our society’s best answer to the question “why school?” if we ever dared to pose it.
Dan Haesler recently wrote about the consequences of this phenomenon in Australia:
Our system is being guided by a perceived need to “compete” with Finland and our Asian neighbours in the education ‘race’. This leads to systems focusing heavily on comparative scores in standardised tests, which in turn puts pressure on teachers to get children ‘across the line’.
He notes a widespread disengagement among students in schools in addition to increasing unemployment levels among young people at both ends of the spectrum of educational attainment. Clearly, the focus on getting students “across the line” is not achieving its intended results.
Kentaro Toyama, in an article for The Atlantic, “Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools” asserts
In America, much of our collective handwringing about education comes from comparisons with other countries…” and he adds, “We all know that our schools are unequal. Less acknowledged is that this inequality is responsible for our lack of global competitiveness.
Our societies find themselves in a race and we, its citizens, need to prepare ourselves and our progeny to win, to keep pace, or at all costs, not to fall too far behind. That’s the going rhetoric in many of our societies. Seen in this light, education exists strictly as the means to very narrow ends: securing and perpetuating economic growth. And in a neoliberal worldview, this path is the one to take.
Until I read a book review of Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos my understanding of neoliberalism as a political worldview and playbook for political action, lacked coherence. In “Neoliberalism Is Changing Our World Without Our Even Noticing,” reviewer Hans Rollman offers readers an excellently concise guide to neoliberal thinking and practice based on Brown’s work. In one passage he illustrates how neoliberal doctrine which advocates for unfettered markets coupled with the least possible governmental regulation has become so ensconced in our popular thinking that our attempts to counter this line of reasoning employ much of the same language and mental models.
The danger, in other words, is that efforts to resist neoliberalism are increasingly being expressed in such a way that they serve to entrench and legitimize neoliberal values – economization, efficiency, capital enhancement—rather than questioning or challenging the desirability and social and political consequences of those values in the first place.
This rings especially true when I think about recent debates about school reform in the US. Our narrow definitions of school and student success through standardized test scores, college admissions (rather than completion), and relative income levels of graduates illustrate the extent of the dilemma. Lois Weiner describes the juxtaposition of education’s purposes and how this plays out in American society in a review of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools:
Ravitch does not address the contradiction between schooling’s non-economic purposes — its role in educating the next generation of citizens and nurturing each individual’s potential — and its use as a sorting mechanism to allocate a diminishing number of well-paying jobs. Unfortunately, neoliberal reforms resonate with many poor, minority parents precisely because they want the same opportunity for their children to compete for good jobs as middle-class children have.
Weiner speaks here of a contradiction between the economic imperative and what I have called education’s “higher purpose.” Her example underscores the slipperiness of neoliberal framing of public education in popular thinking. The fear of not being competitive is of course heightened for members of society farthest from the top. The certain and potential long and mid-term costs of entering the race under these conditions typically goes unmentioned.
In the neoliberal model, we lose sight of the individuals who make up our institutions, our neighborhoods, our body politic and their contributions to our communities. We become blind to the difference that volunteer efforts can make, or to the desire of many to pool and share their resources in order to benefit a greater good. We ignore the value of the resources and qualities in people which do not lend themselves to easy measurement. We put ourselves at risk as people and societies by doing so.
Education is a field which holds miraculous potential to uplift rather than sort and separate individuals and groups from each other. On a hopeful note, Dan Haessler concludes:
We need an education system that is equitable – not necessarily equal. It must be devoid of silos, rich in partnerships that bring together the corporate, academic, research, not-for-profit, community and education sectors to design a model that best suits the students in their care. Teachers must be empowered to go into schools to do what they went into teaching to do – help children – not to beat Finland.
I agree. Our schools need a higher purpose than merely feeding the global economic machine. Without questioning the prevailing ethos of competition, of celebrating winners while blaming the losers, our schools will not improve. Our schools will not become nourishing places for children until our societies decide that children are more than future members of the workforce. Our societies will not prosper unless we educate our children to understand and appreciate that nations constitute much more than their gross domestic product.
Author Peter Block captures best what I would wish for in reinventing education systems which nurture and sustain us as a society rather than squeeze us for a designated output. Speaking about the ways in which our thinking in terms of the exclusively practical and doable ( the how?) tends to hamper our willingness to engage on questions of larger purpose and general well-being, he writes:
Whatever our destination, it is letting go of the practical imperative that is most likely to guide us to a larger sense of where we want to go and what values we want to embody in getting there. What matters is the experience of being human and all that this entails. What will matter most to us, upon deeper reflection, is the quality of the experience we create in the world, not the quantity.
(bold: Block’s) Peter Block, The Answer to How is Yes. Berret-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2002, p. 37.)
As members of results-driven societies, we appreciate the certitude that quantification appears to provide. As humans, however, we search doggedly for precisely those qualities of life which defy objective measurement: meaning, belonging, purpose, autonomy, happiness, to name a few possibilities. That our education systems strive to become more human rather than less rings true both as my deepest wish and our mounting challenge.
About the Author: Sherri Spelic is a leadership coach, education blogger and teacher based in Vienna, Austria. Understanding and unraveling the mysteries of human relations particularly with regard to learning, leading, following and failing are recurring themes in her writing which appears most frequently at http://edifiedlistener.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @edifiedlistener.
by Joanna Joseph Jeyaraj, Malaysia
When I was first asked to contribute to this blog all I could think of was how I did not have a story of inspiration. Instead, my story is one of struggle and despair. However, as I think about all the challenges I am facing as a new academic, I am beginning to see that amidst these struggles, lies immense opportunity – and that I should be transforming these challenges into productive pathways.
I teach in a university in Malaysia and started about six months ago, eager and excited to begin my career in academia. Before coming here, I lived in New Zealand, where I pursued my doctoral studies in higher education. My research focused on English language teachers in higher education who used critical pedagogy in their teaching. As you may know, critical pedagogy is generally attributed to the ideas of Paulo Freire and has a strong agenda for social change and justice through the development of active and engaged citizens (Freire, 2005; McArthur, 2010; Crookes, 2013). Thus, having read the scholarship in this area, I came to strongly believe that education should bring forth societal reform and that my role as a teacher is to nurture intellectual development as well as social activism among students. My research explored the experiences of critical pedagogues from different parts of the world who sought to transform society through language education. After listening to numerous stories of how these teachers strove to make a difference in students’ lives and the communities that students lived in, I was inspired and motivated to do the same in my own teaching.
Instead, my eagerness and perhaps naiveté was quickly replaced with frustration because I felt restricted in the higher education environment that I had entered. Viewed from the perspectives of critical pedagogy, many things in the new system seemed to make education less meaningful and purposeful. The first big challenge was teaching a course that was so focussed on assessments; it seemed to take out the joy of the whole learning process for students. Students were piled with assignments and exams, and teachers were mostly required to prepare students for these various assessments. After a few weeks wallowing in self-pity, I decided to contemplate and reflect on what I could learn from teaching in this environment. I believed that I could turn my struggles into a learning experience for students, and find answers and solutions to their problems. So, here are just a few of my thoughts and observations that teachers in similar situations may find useful:
1. To “do” critical pedagogy, you have to struggle. Freire struggled. In the process, he was accused of being subversive and subsequently jailed and exiled. Although my struggles are not as extreme as Freire’s, still critical pedagogy is all about facing resistance. Sometimes, it comes in the form of facing opposition from the institution that one is in, or even from other colleagues or students. The path is not an easy one, and if I want to take the critical pedagogy route, I should be prepared to persevere and keep on fighting to create a legitimate space for critical pedagogy.
2. In many educational systems around the world, creativity and autonomy are destroyed in the name of ‘consistency’ and ‘standardisation’. To ensure teachers mark fairly and consistently, certain standardized processes are put in place. For instance, although I had worked with my students over 9 weeks on their research topics, their reports as a rule are marked by a different teacher. This allowed no flexibility and I found myself wanting to stick strictly to the prescribed syllabus as it is expected of all teachers. There were times when I felt stifled and constrained, because having to focus almost exclusively on preparing students for their assignments and exams often clashed with my pedagogical values as a teacher.
However, there came a point of realisation that helped me feel less powerless against a system that limited my students’ and my own creativity. I remembered the words of a TESOL teacher educator whom I had interviewed for my research project on critical pedagogy. Although our interview took place some years back when I was still a graduate student, his words could not have rang truer as they do right now. He told me that he constantly reminded his students: ‘… no matter how many constraints there are, you have to find ways to subvert the system … you are trailblazers in this area’. I was keenly aware that the structure of the course I was teaching differed greatly from a typical critical pedagogy class which Shor (1987) mentions is dialogic, creative and invented in-progress. I realised that learning was not student-driven and knowledge was not negotiated and co-constructed between the teacher and the student. When knowledge is jointly created, students have the right to co-develop and evaluate the syllabus (Shor, 1993). Instead autonomy was restricted because students were assigned research topics and many were given strict instructions on how their research topics should be interpreted. And yet, I started realising that if I tried, I could find small ways of engaging students in critical discourse, motivating them about the content of the curriculum and helping them master the skills to be successful within the current system.
3. Oral feedback is just as important as written feedback, and it should be provided by the person who has marked the assignment. One problem I found was justifying another teacher’s marks to my students. Many came to me and asked why they were given a particular grade, and I noticed myself saying ‘Maybe the marker thought…’, or ‘I think the marker did this because…’. There were some rare occasions when I could not understand why students were marked down, especially for things that were not specified in the marking criteria. I understand that in mass-higher education, managers put certain systems in place to maintain standards – but at times, good intentions become an obstacle to learning. Perhaps another alternative would be to have a moderation system – where teachers grade their own students, but another teacher moderates to ensure consistency.
4. Whatever the intentions may be, technologies like ‘SafeAssign’ (a text-matching detection tool) and stringent ‘plagiarism’ policies too often frighten and intimidate students. My students are right out of high school – some in their second semester of university while others in their first. Throughout primary and secondary school, students mostly write guided and creative essays. The world of academic writing is something new that they encounter only at university. From conversations with students, I learnt that they were neither taught nor encouraged to paraphrase in high school. Instead, most teachers would tell students to copy or memorise ‘model’ essays and phrases for examination purposes. These conversations brought back memories of when I first started teaching. I encountered students who would blatantly copy chunks of text and not bother paraphrasing or citing sources. I initially became very frustrated and thought students were deliberately being lazy. But after talking to my students, I was told that this is how they had been taught to write. Many students, especially those who studied in Chinese vernacular schools were often asked to copy ‘good’ pieces of writing. To alter the words of another writer was deemed inappropriate – it would not be acceptable to change the words of the original writer who is perceived as being the knowledge source and expert on the subject. However, upon entering university, students are expected to unlearn the way of writing learnt in primary and secondary school. Many students find this challenging, especially because they have not been taught the necessary skills. In university, students are suddenly confronted with the big ‘plagiarism’ word and there is suddenly so much distrust. For the subject I teach, almost everything (except for mid and final exams) is SafeAssigned – questionnaires that students send out to respondents, PowerPoint presentations and even speech outlines. Most students are so petrified that they would be called in for a plagiarism hearing and be penalised and many attempt to change important keywords and generic phrases just to avoid text matching. Oddly enough, one of the reasons why I think there is a high SafeAssign text matching rate is because of the very structure of the course. Research topics are recycled year after year and student intakes are large each semester. While there is no easy solution, perhaps new topics should be introduced or students should be given the freedom to choose their own topics. I believe that giving students the option to choose their own topics will empower and enable them to develop their own ideas and voice.
It is my first time teaching this subject and maybe these struggles are just part of the difficulties that beginner teachers face. For now, I plan to turn my challenges into opportunities. Hopefully, I will continue to find ways to engage and empower students in spite of the challenges. I may not have answers and solutions to all or even most of my challenges, but I will use the perspectives and inspiration of critical pedagogy to keep striving for a more equal playing field for all involved and make teaching and learning more connected, purposeful and relevant to students’ lives.
About the Author Joanna Joseph Jeyaraj currently works and lives in Sarawak, land of the hornbills. She is interested in researching critical pedagogies in English language teaching and is eager to make connections and collaborate with others who have similar interests.
Crookes, G. (2013). Critical ELT in action : Foundations, promises, praxis Retrieved fromhttp://otago.eblib.com.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=1157739
Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum
McArthur, J. (2010). Achieving social justice within and through higher education: The challenge for critical pedagogy. Teaching in Higher Education, 15(5), 493-504.
Shor, I. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: Dialogues on transforming education Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.
Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics : Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. In P. McLaren & P. Leonard (Eds.), Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. New York: Routledge
By gz, USA
What moves me as an educator are contexts where participants – teachers, learners, citizens, anyone present – are engaged and care about the content. As an instructional designer, I’m engaged when the material and the content shifts from connecting with the learner, to scaffolding knowledge and engaging with the learners and where they are at, and then progressing further. As a human being, I’m engaged when people speak to me and treat me as an equal, as a peer. Finally, I am engaged as a teacher, instructional designer, and human when individuals or groups synthesize attention, learning, inspiration, and ethics in short, powerful pieces.
Conflict, an anarchist class war punk band from England, do all these in tracks across multiple albums. Unlike most punk bands (commercial or underground), Conflict does not limit themselves to breaking taboos, challenging authority, critiquing power relations, celebrating intoxication or property destruction, or promoting having fun for it’s own sake. Given punk’s history – over 40 years now – the movement and the history is far richer than a sentence or paragraph can cover. What is notable is that a majority of Conflict’s fans are or were drawn to punk out of anti-authoritarianism, interest in the “lifestyle,” overt leftist or anarchist politics, or simply a desire to participate in a scene where music and politics blended together.
When searching punk in the record bins or online, Conflict is rarely the first band you’ll find. They never get radio play. Their concerts sometimes ended with police rioting and attacking fans. To outsiders, Conflict are pretty niche: they are an early, aggressive, non-pacifist political band. This is a significant deviation from other political and anarcho-punk bands like Cr@ss and A.P.P.L.E. who were, of political punk bands, also peace punks and pacifists. Conflict was not pacifist. They encouraged confrontations with power, police, Nazis, and nationalists. As such, many of Conflict’s fans arguably have a good idea of what they want to hear: brash, aggressive music with anti-state and anti-authoritarian messages. While fans could find similar messages in some mainstream punk and almost all political and anarcho-punk band tracks, Conflict took confrontation to a whole new level. While some bands might match their aggressive stance towards police and fascists, for example Oi Polloi’s “Bash the Fash,” [lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/bash-the-fash-lyrics-oi-polloi.html video: https://youtu.be/f7mRG88KPbA ] and the first part of MDC’s “Dead Cops/America’s So Straight” [lyrics: http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/mdc/deadcopsamericassostraight.html video: https://youtu.be/L1DbydIMZuw ], rarely do these bands move past ethos and reaffirming their standpoint, into instruction and mentoring rebellion for social justice.
Throughout their albums, Conflict performs consistently like other anarcho-punk bands, pointing out fascist and police violence, creating solidarity to resist attacks, and engaging in abbreviated forms of political education for interested listeners. These tracks lyrically trash the state, oppression, big business, and colonization. However, Conflict moves past analysis and into education in at least one song, “This is the A.L.F.” [lyrics: http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/conflict/thisisthealf.html video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NZpEm_M5E8 ].
“This is the A.L.F. [Animal Liberation Front]”’s opening text explains what direct action is. Initially discussing dying children in Ethiopia and the cameraman who brought the story to the world, they summon up sympathy and imagery that some first world youth from the era of the album’s release would recognise. Conflict present a situation where a single individual, the photographer, is both moral and heroic. It’s an appealing role for idealists. After presenting this role model, Conflict ask the listener if they’re willing to do the same. While the initial example is on dying children, that pathos is then transferred to animals being tortured and the heroic role, the ethos and pathos, can be transferred from the photographer to the listener. The listener is instantly framed as potential hero, as liberator, to help free tortured animals.
For youth in a different era or different environment, these lyrics can serve to expand their understanding of oppression, violence, and corporate greed. Rather than thinking of corporate and government malice as a general malaise, references to specific abuses and atrocities help the listeners know more about the world around them. While entertaining and unifying their audience, Conflict is also educating some of them.
As an educator, we rarely have the chance to position our students as liberators, warriors for the good, or with the ability to save the lives of dying children or tortured animals. However, we can open up our lessons, either each week or day that we teach, with strong ethical and emotional appeals. Rather than relying on stolid, “Today we’re going to learn how to write a full-block business letter,” we could shift to, “You can use this if you are harassed at work to report the incident, to document workplace problems to your union, to file a complaint with your cell phone service provider, or to contact your Senator.” While filing a complaint or contacting a Telco does not seem very heroic or liberatory, by framing what we teach our students as forms for self-advocacy, conflict resolution or self-defense, we can do more than appeal to their interest. We can support their right and ability to claim autonomy, or at least a world with less harassment.
The second paragraph of Conflict’s track describes a multiplicity of physical and militant moves that can be used to destroy property of the oppressor or at least deprive them of capital. These range from gluing locks to not eating meat or wearing leather. Opening with the most aggressive moves keeps in tune with the angsty, fast, and raging guitar. Ending with personal options and choice allows those who are reticent about committing illegal, criminal acts of property destruction a way to engage with the song, with the movement, and with the feeling of supporting the Animal Liberation Front.
The third paragraph brings the direct action phase to a close and suggests a strategic approach or working in groups. It also reminds the listener of the opening appeal, that doing work in support of ALF is part of a larger agenda for human freedom, and that freedom is close.
Few things may be as exciting or terrifying as direct action or physical conflict. Fortunately, these elements are rarely present in the classroom – at least in terms of explicit violence. What we can learn from the second paragraph is that Conflict differentiates instruction for the audience and provides multiple points of entry for the audience. Not everyone needs to glue locks. People can do what they think and feel is best. After a brief exposure to the variety of tools available, the listener is reminded of the overall goal: why they are being educated. The short term stakes for most of our students rarely happen at a level comparable with animal liberation. For example, some of the direct actions Conflict describes might lead to freeing a handful or hundreds of animals (rabbits, monkeys, cats, or dogs) from ongoing tests or experiments – many of which are painful. Other direct actions, graffiti or gluing locks, might be punitive and designed to cost the corporation or agency doing the testing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Saving scores of cats from torture surely feels more heroic and intense – and comes at a far greater risk – than learning proper business letter formatting. Thus, when we plan to engage with our students and look to outside models, such as punk performances and music, we need to understand that our appeal and ability to engage our students is less strong than Conflict’s are with their self-selecting audience. However, with some work and creative thinking, we can work with our students to identify applications which will likely engage them more than our current lessons.
Paragraph four presents the challenges: being labeled a ‘crank’, a crazy person, a political or social extremist. However, these challenges are small when compared with human freedom and liberating animals from pain. While the song’s hyperbole of “black v. white or the nazis versus the jews (sic)” is quite strong, it’s there to make a point: if you do this, you will be labeled. You will have problems. But the struggle is worthwhile. Rather than hide the challenges, Conflict makes them explicit.
As educators, we can learn a lot from this by reminding our students that everything will not be easy. That others will not agree with what they do all the time, that they will not be coddled by others, and that simply being present is not a guarantee of a good life. Instead, if they choose to be educated, to pursue their work, they will, inevitably, have confrontations. When these occur, we can get lost in the names and the hurt or we can remember why we are doing this. We need to remember to help our students prepare for pain, rejection, and potential abuse. Rather than training them to be obedient, we need to help them remember why, at core, they are learning or studying or choosing their path. We can also help train our students to be purposeful and constructive, to reject the aggression, and to defend themselves. By supporting students’ ability to identify solutions that align with their ethics, we can support students’ safe and smart engagement in meaningful social and political causes.
The final paragraph delineates animal testing’s crimes, connects it to human rights, and closes by claiming the moral high ground: “Compassion and emotion are our most important safety values. If we lose them, then ‘we lose’ the vitality of life itself.” Again, Conflict situates this struggle as one of supporting the ALF, and thus supporting human dignity, versus aligning ourselves with those who torture, kill, and profit from emotional and physical torture and abuse.
Just as the opening paragraph, or opening portion of our classes, could touch on the moral and social issues at stake in our environment – either local or global – we can close our teaching, our lessons, with similar points. Rather than just thinking about teaching or educating for a simple goal or content exchange or licensure, we can work on reconnecting our students to the world around them. We could brainstorm specific situations where a person might need the tool or tools we’re working on this week. We could ask, “When might being able to write a formal letter help?” or “When could you use pathos to help increase community?”
I listen to Conflict not just because it recalls my edgy days as a punk. I listen to Conflict because, nearly 25 years later, their music and lyrics still appeal to me. Once it was their radical message and anti-authoritarian stance. Now Conflict appeals because they not only challenge authority, they show their audience how they might fight for their beliefs. I listen to Conflict because, in under three minutes, they offer an educational structure, ethos, pathos, and logos, that is more effective than 95% of the courses taught in “proper” schools.
We have a lot to learn from anarcho-punk.
About the Author: gz lives in a library in Oregon's Willamette Valley surrounded by iris and orchids. He is inspired by ravens, Gysin, Fanon, Lao Tzu, and Nutella. He blogs at http://zobelg.posthaven.com/
By Yin Wah Kreher, USA; Singapore
I was born and obtained my undergraduate education in Singapore, “the little red dot” or “the Lion City.” In late 1999, I relocated to the USA and have had much adventure navigating cross-cultural zones of change. As a Singaporean Chinese, I am often perceived as someone from the Republic of China, which is not a problem or a bad thing at all. It is when I am expected to exhibit behaviors that go along with that misperception that things get awkward and challenging. What follows are little snippets of the faux pas some people have committed in an attempt to relate to me. These illustrations highlight the fact that there is substantial work to be done in the area of education and awareness about dealing with difference.
American White Male prof: “The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was wonderful. Those Chinese girls didn’t smile at all while performing.” (Looks at Yin to explain why.)
Yin: *scratches head* [couldn’t explain to prof]
Note: This is a faux pas that tends to happen because most people see me as Chinese, but I am a Singaporean. My grandparents migrated to Malaya (pre-independent Singapore was a part of Malaya) and then to Singapore.
American White Male: “You speak such good English compared to other Chinese. How is that so?”
Note: Again, this is a social blunder that happens because most people see me as a Chinese from China, but I am a Singaporean. And there is a presumption that Chinese internationals don’t speak or write good English. This is an overgeneralization. I’m always amused more than offended to see the shock on people’s faces when they read my writing or hear me speak.
American White Male: “So do you eat dog meat or cat meat?”
Note: This is a bad joke. The perception and assumption that I’m Chinese is associated with the idea that Chinese people eat strange stuff like monkey brains or dog meat. This is an overgeneralization.
International Female faculty client. I interacted with her substantially at our Center’s training sessions. I presented her my business card and offered to work with her. She subsequently chose to work with a Female White designer.
Note: This is not an indictment of the faculty decision. She has her reasons for her choices. I chose to include these next three examples because I want to highlight that sometimes, we may not be aware of our unconscious decisions. In Singapore, for instance, we were a colony of Britain and at times, the colonial mentality remains and is exhibited in some behaviors. Some Singaporeans consider Caucasians to be superior to Asians and look to them for solutions to their problems. It could work the other way too; people may be intimidated by the supposedly model minority, Asians.
Black Female client contacts African colleague to work with her on accessibility issues after checking out our web bios. She was redirected to me.
Note: People are comfortable with people who appear to be more like them. It’s human nature.
White Female client was assigned to work with me. Emailed me subsequently to say she was going to switch and work with another Female designer (who also happened to be White).
Note: Same rationale as above.
Invited to a large corporate firm for an interview which was then delayed for some time. At the meeting, interviewers made snide remarks about my being overqualified. I was subsequently not hired.
Note: This happened quite frequently to me and my international friends who were selected for interviews to meet diversity requirements. Unfortunately, I think this is how people play games to beat bureaucracy.
Diversity. Accessibility. Inclusivity. These are buzzwords in higher education. We hear them mentioned so often, I wonder if they lose their meaning for those in privileged circumstances. To me, diversity includes supporting accessibility, that is, the ability to access information and services. More often, it relates to the design of products and services for people with disability. Our VCU Institute for Inclusive Teaching planning committee regards inclusivity as a fluid concept:
Moving towards inclusivity includes an intention of reflecting on ideas and assumptions, and becoming aware of differences in order to gain insight and transform our practices.
How is accessibility related to diversity, many might ask? Individuals with disability are often not able to participate or have access to information and services because of differences that require special accommodations. When I think of diversity and accessibility, I include the discussion of people with disability too, because to some people with disability, disability is not pathological nor an impairment. It is an identity they proudly embrace and I support their desire to be a community of their own with their specific norms and values. Society is filled with individuals and groups with different traits, norms, values and ways of communicating, and it may be maddeningly chaotic, but perplexingly charming at the same time. It is okay to be different.
Personally, I was desensitized to these popularly used terms (that is, diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity), because I grew up in a multiracial society in Singapore and race was hardly an issue. I became aware of the need to be culturally responsive when I increasingly encountered these social blunders in America, began working on my dissertation and when I first got involved with a planning committee that does work related to inclusivity (which to us encompasses diversity and accessibility).
To be a tad more precise, I believe my advocacy and work for inclusivity began when I first taught a deaf student in Singapore just before I came over to the USA. I experienced first-hand the challenges of designing lessons for her without adequate training in inclusive design. Another watershed moment for me was when I worked with a faculty member to design his first online course. He had mobility and vision challenges, the severity of which I was ignorant of until I met him in person. Little wonder he took so long to reply to my emails! He had to use a screen reader and a screen magnifier which expanded small portions of text, a chunk at a time. With mobility challenges, he could not use the mouse easily. For those of us without any disabilities, such challenges are not the first things we think of when we wonder why someone does not respond to our emails. After all, we scan web pages and skim for content without much hesitation.
During doctoral studies, I joined the Access Project team, an interdisciplinary research and community education project directed by Professors Marjorie DeVault (my dissertation advisor), Rebecca Garden and Michael Schwartz (faculty members at Syracuse University and Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY). Combining perspectives from law, social science, and health humanities, the Access team explored communication access in health care (DeVault, Schwartz & Garden, 2011). Drawing from Schwartz’s research on deaf people’s perspectives (Schwartz, 2006), the team engaged in research and community outreach activities meant to illuminate and address the social and organizational barriers to quality health care for deaf patients. The central goal of the project was to engage healthcare professionals with deaf perspectives on the healthcare encounter, and our discussions raised questions about the most effective approaches to designing and delivering healthcare education in this area.
In VCU, I missed the opportunity to work with the community as I had done during graduate school. I was grateful to be invited to be a part of the Institute on Inclusive Teaching (May 18-22, 2015).
It is one work project that keeps me going, even on days when I feel irrelevant and wonder what all my 30 years of specialized training in Instructional Design is for. When I do anything, no matter how small, for the project, I feel that I’m making a difference, and I know that what I’m doing will have a ripple effect, through time. There are real problems to solve, awareness to create, educational sessions to design and facilitate. There is a reason why I’m there, in the committee. There’s a reason for all those years of education.
When I’m with the committee, I work less at making people understand the implications of diversity. I don’t have to negotiate so hard at the intersections. People in the committee have been misunderstood in some way by someone (unintentionally?), have lived experiences of these issues and thus know how important it is to be inclusive and to educate people to be inclusive. I am at home in such a diverse multicultural setting like Singapore.
“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” – Charlie Parker, musician.
Among my committee friends, I find myself. And in turn I can help others to find themselves and not feel lost.
The Institute focuses on issues of access and equity in education, core goals of education. We touch on issues of social justice, stereotype threats, solo status, inclusive learning design, international students’ acculturative stress and facilitate the transfer of this knowledge to instructors’ design of courses. A week is not enough time to learn everything there is about inclusivity, but we try our best to design and model a learning experience that has the potential to make participants rethink their perspectives towards making their classrooms more inclusive.
At the 2009 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Ed, the OECD Secretary-General said:
“The first priority is access and equity… the second priority area is efficiency and effectiveness [and] the third area is quality and relevance.”
– Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General.
Access and equity. These are two priority areas that make me get up in the morning to go to work. If I don’t find myself in a position to fight for these causes anymore, I think my work will have lost a significant bout of meaning.
By highlighting challenges of difference that many others and I face, I work at contributing to and becoming a part of the solution; at using education to create awareness. Working on the Access project with my professors, I saw that litigation could not resolve the complex challenges that deaf patients face; it could not narrow health disparities between them and other ethnic or minority groups. Addressing the top priority area of concern in education does not eliminate the need to work on other priority areas. As a learning innovation designer, efforts to innovate and transform education can also serve to improve access and equity. I look forward to a society that increasingly recognizes that difference is not a problem, but a beautiful gift that contributes to creative expression and transformative learning experiences.
About the Author: Yin Wah Kreher I am a learning innovation design specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University. A multifaceted border-crosser, I believe that breakthroughs happen at intersections! I like to look for the exquisite in writing, design, learning, arts, life; to explore cross-cultural/cross-field engagement, creativity, cognition, arts. Originally from Singapore, I've spent most of my professional life anchored in the field of learning sciences. I write about learning design, mind, culture and life as it unfolds at http://justywk.blogspot.com