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There’s a Mastodon in the room.

Pull up a chair. This is an invitation the the first impromptu, un-conference to be held for educators, learners, teachers, people, and well – for you. Where, how, when? (2 min read)

The #MastoParle Event: Feb 14-17

It will be held on Mastodon. Mastodon is a relatively new platform that was introduced last November by a developer called Eugen. Please don’t switch off at the mention of a new platform – give the idea a chance and read on – I’ll be brief, promise. It is an open source, chat platform that appears to have many similar features to a commonly used bird site, but there are differences. A small group of academic-tech-friendly-type people happened to find Mastodon when it first came out and it was the strangest surprise party where people from across the globe met on what happened to coincide with the American Thanksgiving weekend – so people had time. -perhaps that was why it began with such a flourish. The door is open and ‘us’ is inclusive –

This community feel, has been described by users as a coffee house, or parlour where people could wander in and out freely, and there is always seemingly a chair at the table, no matter how talkative or quiet you are. That community feel is worth building, ESPECIALLY at a time like now, when there is so much noise and angst about. This is not to suggest ignoring current events, no no no, but we as people, as teachers, as learners, as humans need to still live and nurture hope and the spark that sustains us.

So please join in-

Mastodon, as a platform, has been developed, and continues to develop in response and conjunction with it’s user community. Want a new privacy feature – suggest it, and like magic, it happens. Want to sort how to tag/follow/thread a conversation? Let’s hash that out as a collective and if you can code, jump in and suggest specifics. Now the nature of development is a high-end feature that separates Mastodon from many other platforms, but there are also practical differences that work on the ground level.

A big difference is 500 characters instead of 140. Sounds simple? Remember many of the greatest inventions are simple, and with hindsight seem terribly obvious. 500 characters gives space to provide context, space to tag a dozen people, space to explain without endless strings of 1/ 2/ 3/ with half sentences and using every replacement character – instead of forcing ppl 2 go w/out, ifysim? It becomes a conversation, and feels like a c o n v e r s a t i o n where people pause to digest, breathe, and perhaps have time to consider before replying. Within the education people there is certainly an aspect of blue sky thinking, and because the community is, as of yet, small, there are very valuable conversations happening across a range of topics – from daily happenings, to ponderous reflections on learning and the world around us.

For this event we’ll use the hashtag combining Mastodon and Parler (as in to talk) #MastoParle and you can think of it as the mingle time at a conference or before a concert or lecture or whatever event – that chat time where very often valuable connections happen.

The MastoParle Event via https://mastodon.social/about

Feb 14-17

Drop in when you like, say hello. If you are completely new, use the #mastoparle tag and hopefully someone will welcome you – don’t be alarmed if there isn’t an instant response – remember there is breathing time in these conversations!

Image by Seth Youngblood CC BY-NC-ND

Featured image by Kevin Harber CC BY-NC-ND

I, myself, as a tree

(3 min read) My son used to go for long walks with us and his grandparents and as we followed the footpaths through the woods he would look up, stretching through his open fingertips and say, ‘tall like a tree!’ It is an enduring and lovely memory of mine. Today I asked my class to do a related activity, having to do with the concept of self, and we nearly had enough time to discuss the takeaways. My university music students paired up and set about drawing their partner as a tree, or some form of vegetation of their choosing. The instructions were to NOT tell or show the other person your drawing.

This caused much hilarity with my room full of music students. It began with a few people saying, but I don’t know how to draw?!? but despite the lack of formal training, everyone got on with it and there were smiles and giggles and there were a few questions – what about? How do I? I assured them that there were no wrong approaches or wrong drawings. It was fine.

After a few minutes, when they had finished, I asked them to use another piece of paper and this time to draw themselves as a tree or plant. Oooh, this was more challenging. I had in mind a couple of iterations – but we only had time for a first drawing. If we had longer we could have drawn ourselves as our ideal tree, or as the tree we think others perceive us to be. As it was, just the act of drawing a tree-self-portrait was perfect for today.

Lastly we went around the room and showed, first the self-image and then the other person’s portrait. They were always different, and some were heartwarmingly thought through.

…She is an iris, because it is beautiful, complex, and a lot stronger than it looks…

and that self portrait was of a cactus in a pot.

How often do we tell people the good we see in them?

Without communication, there is only guesswork, assumption, and potential for misunderstanding. So much of teaching is about communication.

I didn’t have a partner as there were an even number of students, but I did draw a tree and also asked the internet what sort of tree I would be, and I got two replies, one in words and one in ink. My tree was mainly lines, and it went off the page. (I think of myself as a big tree, with old roots, and outstretched branches.)

“A fairly tall tree with many different sized branches growing in different directions with a sturdy trunk that holds the branches together and also moves gently in the breeze.” – Blinkey

by Ronald_2008

Applied imagination: Are the walls real?

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on the Applied Imagination module at the University of Warwick. Imagine, a two-hour session in a studio that was a copy of where performers stand in a play, with lighting rig all around, a catwalk above, black brick walls and everything that makes a stage – except the audience. What a setting. This was our stage.

The class consisted of 18 from across the different disciplines offered at the university, and our session began with a recap from them (for me) of their understanding of working within a discipline and branching out to cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and even trans-disciplinary. They used the analogy of boxes. (I thought of shoe boxes) One discipline stays within the box, cross jumps from one box to another, inter uses the boxes to make a linked fort-type structure, and trans- that’s when I piped up and joined the discussion with the analogy that you just tip all the boxes out and make a pile in the middle.

This class was like that – we were a mix and were all together. I didn’t even introduce myself beyond: Hi, I’m Laura. They had all read the chapter ‘Whole Students’ from my book, and so they did know something of me. I didn’t need to be put into any other boxes. I began with telling them that when thinking of all these boxes – oh there are so many boxes, in life, in education, in people’s expectations of us, the list could go on – when thinking of these boxes, the walls aren’t real. Are they?

(gosh that was heavy. Did I really say that?!?)

(I did)

Of course the walls are real, but very often they are built by people and sometimes even built by us. That was something to keep in mind, in the background as we went through various activities and discussions. The overall themes were:  Read more

Standing up and showing up

This post is about hope and standing up for one another. The unfolding events of the past six months or so have troubled me. Nobody likes to see a bully or a hater normalised. Nobody likes to see bad news. Nobody likes to be told and shown how destructive … the negativity is all over the place, like a cancer. Well it’s not really all over. You can choose not to watch the tv, choose to block the ads, choose not to sign up to the tolerances and looking the other way, but that is not easy. It takes choice and action – some might say agency.

(featured image CC BY-ND by Mike Keating)

Last night, Jan 20th, there was an event at my university, initiated by one of my students, and we organised it together. It was a positive event to change our perspective and combat all the ugliness that can invade and cloud our vision. We wanted to celebrate unity, love, and join together in solidarity with one another and with the extended community. We did this with words, song, poetry, music, and by being physically present. It was more than a conversation and went beyond agreeing or disagreeing with something – we were doing something. Everyone there showed up and stood up -All manner of people were represented in those taking part – multiple nationalities, various mother tongues, students, teachers, administrators, senior management, alumni, people from other universities, able, disabled – in a wheelchair, blind- old, young, men, women, and we came together. Voices were heard to speak for and represent those who were not there, but wanted to contribute. We sang together. We sang the March of the Women by suffragette Ethel Smythe, a song she conducted with a toothbrush, through the jail cell bars while imprisoned. Original songs and poems were shared about loss, healing, distant friends, and about expression, hope, and unity.

One brave gal stood up, and before performing said, I don’t play on my own (I don’t think colleagues knew she played at all) and she sang about sending hope to friends on distant shores, with the wonderful lyrics, ‘give me a smile and I’ll send you a rainbow.’ Someone else sang a Woody Guthrie song acapella – about a plane that crashed as it was flying ‘unwanted’ workers to Mexico – ‘deportees’. We were invited to join in with the refrain – ‘adios mes amigos… you won’t have names on the airplane, they’ll just call you… deportees.’ Quiet voices could be heard singing softly in the cold chapel, darkness all around outside.

It was enormously moving. There was hope – with Maya Angelou’s ‘A brave and startling truth’ and some very moving words about the motto from Trump’s maternal family clan motto, from Scotland (his grandmother was an immigrant): ‘Burn without being consumed.’ The speaker reminded us that this is something for us, now, to stand with one another, to stand for one another, -and I thought of the candle that passes it’s light to another without diminishing- we must not allow ourselves to be consumed, certainly not by ill.

We took our turns and everyone played a part, and after having arrived feeling the weight of- well feeling melted and consumed by events across the globe, we left with smiles and laughter, and even hugs. We left with hope and strength.

It wasn’t quite planned to have that outcome, but it happened, and it wasn’t a nation-wide, county-wide, or even city-wide event, but a small gathering. What I most hope to convey in telling a little about it is the amazing feeling that unity and solidarity that standing with one another brings. And what gifts of talents, words, research, and personal inspiration come forward to support peace, togetherness, and hope when an offer is opened and people are invited were truly unexpected.

I encourage you to consider doing something similar, or coming up with your own idea, and even if there are 5 people present – never underestimate what good can be achieved.

Here are some of the things that were read out:

Image CC BY by Rhett Maxwell

 

Making time to create together

I have time; it is a priority.

 

This is a short reflection on Chapter 5 of the book We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire as part of the book club created by Bryan Alexander. (3 min read)

Paulo: “But we can also create space inside of the subsystem or the schooling system in order to occupy the space.” (p.203)

Zoom in on that sentence:

We can create space.

We can create.

We can.

We.

It is so powerful, affirming, and inspiring. To me it says there is possibility. Stravinsky put it well (I included this quote in my book. Needless to say, it’s a quote I love.):

“Well, in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure, constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom consists in moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.” (Stravinsky, 1970, p.65)

Back to Paulo’s sentence: yes we can. Yes we can create. –and it isn’t impossible, we CAN and it isn’t something to be done alone. We is plural. You and me, and others: we.

Read more

Cello Weekend 2017 – Join Us!

It’s time to think ahead and book for this year’s Cello Weekend! This is a chance to come together and study at the University of Chichester campus for a weekend with teachers and students from the university as well as cellists from across the wider professional musical community. Cellists of all ages are welcome, and there is something in the programme for everyone – from the orchestral experience of playing the classics of Mozart and Bach in an all-cello orchestra, to exploring aspects of performance, practice, and technique, to having a go at experimenting with modern techniques used by folk and jazz players as they go beyond just playing the notes. You can even have a play on a 5-string electric cello… or you might stick to the classics and watch others perform.

This year we welcome two outstanding professionals: Angela East and Kay Tucker. Angela will lead a musical surgery entitled “Any Questions? Your opportunity to find the answers to issues that have puzzled you for years!” Angela is inviting every participant to submit a question in advance of the weekend. Kay will be speaking, of course, about String Babies! and how our approach to reading and understanding music impacts all of us.

We also welcome two fantastic student-professionals who are both currently studying for their MA in Performance at Chichester: Nikolai Krinitsky and Joe Chilcott. Each of these people brings insight and understanding that will give you a fresh look at your own playing and at how you understand music. Full biographies and information about our guests is listed below the poster (scroll down!).

There are opportunities at the Cello Weekend to learn, explore, play, and meet other musicians. For more information, please contact me. My email is on the poster below. Local accommodation is also available for those travelling to get to the weekend.

AngelaEast:

Angela has combined playing and teaching throughout her career. At first, she taught in a number of schools including Haileybury, Leighton Park, Epsom College and Eton, where she taught the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. She also taught adult beginners at the City Literary Institute, where she had the largest classes in the music department. At this time she was freelancing as a modern cellist, mainly with the London Mozart Players.

In 1979 Angela acquired a baroque cello and became co-principal cello with the English Baroque Soloists under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Known for the ‘elemental’ style of performance (The Times), Angela East is highly regarded as one of the leading continuo players of the Early Music Movement., having played with many of the foremost baroque orchestras in London including Principal Cello in the first performance on original instruments at Glyndebourne under Sir Simon Rattle.

Angela trained to become a Suzuki cello teacher in the 1980s and is a level 5 teacher and a teacher trainer. As her playing career developed, she began to develop her home teaching practice and has taught numerous children, some of whom chose musical careers and many of whom still play.

In 1997 she became a member of Red Priest. As well as having performed all over the world in some very interesting and unusual countries, this group has provided her with the opportunity to perform as a soloist, to make arrangements of unlikely repertoire such as Handel’s Messiah and she has been a partner in Red Priest Recordings, with whom she made two solo recordings, one of the Bach Cello Suites and one called ‘Baroque Cello Illuminations’ that includes pedagogical material. This CD was chosen as CD of the Fortnight by Classical Music Magazine.

In 2005 she enrolled with the Brighton School of Alexander Technique and graduated in 2009, providing an extra string to her bow. As well as teaching young children, she now teaches beginner adults by combining cello with the Alexander Technique and, on the other hand, gives Alexander lessons to a number of professional cellists. She has now devised a course and is writing a book for parents of children who wish to learn an instrument (any instrument, any teacher) and her self-run teacher training courses are now in their fourth year.

Angela gives regular recitals; one of her programmes is entitled ‘A Tale of Five Cellos’ in which she plays the viola da gamba, the bass violin, the baroque cello, the five-stringed cello and a Ventapane cello of 1828. Her repertoire extends into the 20th century with the Kodaly Solo Sonata and a number of jazz pieces by Aaron Minsky and Mark Summer. She has performed many times on radio and television, including Open University programmes and has been awarded an ARAM for her distinguished services to the music profession.

She has contributed articles to journals such as Arco and Early Music Today, has published editions of the Donizetti String Quartets and her book ‘Play Baroque’ has been published by Stainer and Bell, with several pieces having been chosen for the ABRSM syllabus. She has contributed articles to Early Music Today magazine and to ESTA and Suzuki newsletters. She has taken part in over 200 recordings including some by the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and Eminem, and has founded two groups of her own – the London Baroque Soloists and the Revolutionary Drawing Room, with whom she recorded eight CDs of Boccherini and Donizetti, one of which was chosen by Stanley Sadie in his ‘Critics’ Choice’.

She has been a member of ESTA since the 1970s.

Kay Tucker:

An alumni of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Kay has been playing the cello since the age of 12. She gives recitals both as soloist and ensemble player and is a professional cello teacher. In 2002, Kay was invited by Trinity GuildhallExamination Board to select cello repertoire for the 2004 strings syllabus. She has recently completed setting the cello repertoire for the new Trinity Guildhall syllabus, running from 2007. As a member of the British and International Federation of Festivals, she has adjudicated at well over 100 national & local festivals throughout the UK. She is a Music Mentor for the National Festival of Music for Youth

Kay is passionate about the cello, and in teaching others to play well, whatever their age. She strongly believes that establishing a sound technique is fundamental to maximum achievement and enjoyment on the instrument.

Kay is widely experienced in teaching cello at all levels and to all ages. Over the years she has organised and given masterclasses & workshops. She is also a deputy teacher at the Royal College of Music. Students have gained music scholarships and exhibitions to independent schools and a number have been awarded places at the leading conservatoires. Most of Kay’s students have continued to enjoy the cello well into adult hood, some professionally

Kay encourages all her students to participate in chamber music and orchestras. Students have gained places in the West Sussex County Youth Orchestra, Surrey County Youth Orchestra, Brighton Youth Orchestra and the National Children’s Orchestra. Kay has had a number of works composed for her and her students; most notably ‘Mellow Cellos’ by Howard Thompson, and ‘Deep Space 5’ by Douglas Coombes.

Joe Chilcott:

 

Joe is a singer/songwriter who plays the guitar. He has just started playing the cello, but his strengths lie in his creativity with the use of his guitar. Joe is able to imagine a world of sounds and to create these on his acoustic guitar, using every part of the instrument. You can listen to some of Joe’s work here. He is studying for his MA in Music Performance at Chichester and notably, he was in the semi-finals of the UK Open Mic competition in November 2016. I promise his session will produce smiles and beautiful music.

 

 

Nikolai Krinitsky:

Is a cellist who comes originally from Moscow. He studied in Moscow, and completed his undergraduate degree at the Royal College of Music. He is now studying for his MA in Music Performance at Chichester. Nikolai possesses an impressive level of technical skill, and surprisingly, also a great humility as a performer. These two do not always go hand-in-hand. He is gentle and approachable, and has a way of encouraging performers to find the joy of the music they are playing. His insight comes from years of performing and also from his own skill as a composer for the instrument. He has composed many cello studies, caprices, and a sonata. His performance class is sure to be inclusive, encouraging, and full of genuine appreciation for music making.

 

Teaching to let go

(3 min read)

“…the delicate relationship between teaching, giving knowledge, and learning knowledge”

This comes from Chapter 4 of We make the road by walking, a book of conversations between the educators Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. Paulo goes on to elaborate this quote, talking about going beyond the knowledge that the people bring to a situation. (p.151) I am struck by this book, how much it resonates with me and I sincerely wish I had been able to meet these people in person. It’s my holiday read, part of a book club, and I suppose this is my post about Chapter 4. It is a short one, not because there is less that inspired me, but because there was one paragraph that leapt out for me. Paulo speaks about this balance between teaching, knowledge, and learning and adds the authority of the teacher.

“The other mistake is to crush freedom and to exacerbate the authority of the teacher. Then you no longer have freedom but now you have authoritarianism, and then the teacher is the one who teaches. The teacher is the one who knows. The teacher is the one who guides. The teacher is the one who does everything. And the students, precisely because the students must be shaped, just expose their bodies and their souls to the hands of the teacher, as if the students were clay for the artist, to be molded.

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to be­ come themselves. And in doing that, he or she lives the experience of relating democratically as authority with the freedom of the students.” -Paulo, p.181

This is so true, and a difficult one to learn. As a teacher it is a huge apocalyptic epiphany to know, not intellectually, but to really understand that you (or I or anyone) cannot change another. Read more

2016 in Review

A review? I thought – ‘nah… and how could I crystalise a year in a few words?’ but then it began to form, and here is one of the shortest posts I’ve written:

2016 was the year I believed myself – listened to my own thinking/teaching.

Some context: 2015 was the year dreams began to come true. Where I said ‘why don’t we…’ and it happened. I wrote my first book – all about how to make those dreams happen for students – how to embed the self-belief in their learning, to enable them to achieve, so they could do what they dream. I told them yes you can! -In 2015 I wrote it and I taught it.

In 2016 I began to believe it for myself. There is a difference between knowing and believing and believing is nothing without doing. I became more of an active learner than ever. Lots of doing involved (for example I wrote another book), and lots more doing and learning to come, but it is amazing what can even begin to be accomplished when you (I) don’t get in your own way.

How will the seeds you have planted grow this year? 

 Image by me 15 Oct, 2016 CC-SA

Featured image titled “Leaves from the book of life” CC BY-NC-SA by Walter A. Aue

Meeting on the road

(5 min read) I’ve been reading a book. –reading for pleasure, for my own growth, not for research on an upcoming project, but to stretch my mind. I love that. And I’m a bit behind. The founder of this book club, Bryan Alexander, did his post on Chapter 3 nearly a month ago! I really do read so slowly. Let me give you an example – my daughter has started reading funny tweets to me because she reads fast and gets impatient when it takes me longer to read it than it takes her to say it. The point is, the rest of the book club kind-of finished the book, but it’s a little appropriate that my post on Chapter 3 from We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire comes now.

Myles says: …can’t teach people, they have to learn. Meet them where they are & go together. …So while I insist on starting where people are, that’s the only place they could start. …I can start somewhere else. I can start where I am, but they’ve got to start where they are. (p99-100)

So here I am. This is also the core of everything. Rather like a Dr. Suess illustration, we are all on our own path, somewhere. Paving the way through a series of ‘nows’ as we go. We can carry the paving materials with us, plan for, and mix the mortar to set the stones, but we do in the now and it is impossible to teleport someone to where we are and somehow skip their own road-building. From my experience, when you try to do that, it just means that sometime, somewhere along the journey you have to go back and rebuild what you tried to skip. (Image source http://seuss.wikia.com/wiki/Dr._Seuss_Wiki)

Myles says: Education is abstraction. It is stories that connect. It is the catalyst that entices you to think. (p.100)

Yes, and the stories help to be relatable. If we accept that we are each on our own roads, then it would be impossible to have ONE moving sidewalk for everyone, but we still need the building blocks. Tools, facts, skills, these are separate, they alone are not education, but are both context & mortar in the synaptic creation we build.

Myles: My quest is not to go alone but to go with the people. (p.101)

I have a responsibility to provide whatever light I can on the subject and share my ideas with people. (p.105)

Oh, yes. –but not in a blinding torch in your eyes kind of light, but hopefully more like the glow of the approaching dawn. Well, that’s the ideal dream. That gives people enough light to look and see for themselves and find….

Myles recounted a student telling him: “When you’re talking, you aren’t learning.” (p.114)

And don’t teachers need to be reminded of this. How many have job titles of ‘lecturer’? Language has impact on thinking. It is our translation of thoughts, and as Bandura says, thought mediates action – and I believe that. What you think is powerful. You might not be learning while talking – just as you cannot listen to two conversations at once (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocktail_party_effect )…but you do learn in the in-between times. After, before, in conversation, in doing.

Reading on… there came something very powerful which begins to crystalise the understanding of education vs. organisation. This is often something that I think many educators feel or sense but haven’t been able to articulate, certainly not with such grace:

Myles: One of the examples I used to use got me in trouble and still gets me in trouble when I use it. I’d say if you were working with an organisation and there’s a choice between the goal of that organisation, or the particular program they’re working on, and educating people, developing people, helping them grow, helping them become able to analyse -if there’s a choice, we’d sacrifice the goal of the organisation for helping the people grow, because we think in the long run it’s a bigger contribution. (p.115)

My first reaction is (wow, yes), and the parenthesis are because, yes, it is something usually thought and not discussed, but then I did think on it and realised that this is less controversial than it sounds. – and we see it in practice all the time. Goals of big organisations and then that we are not aiming to become a machine, because we deal with people – with students, and they are people with their own futures. Then we learn about learning and realise it cannot be done to people – as in a machine, and it has to be about developing people. Sometimes people within the machine mistakenly believe that caring for the individual means you are somehow against the goals of the larger unit, but it is from within that we find strength, it cannot be imposed. That scales on any level, from the individual who either needs the strength of courage or of muscle, they both need time, experience, patience, nurturing, and diligence to build. You cannot impose true strength on anyone, and to teach individuals is a great privilege.

Freire: Education is before, is during, and is after. It’s a process, a permanent process. It has to do with the human existence and curiosity. (p.119)

Yes. Just yes. Freire goes on to explain that an organisation can solve problems, but education is a process. That is such a good thing to remember and be reminded of. There are not answers to problems. Sometimes students expect to learn ‘IT’ and then they will have ‘IT’, but there is no ‘IT’. Oh there are aspects that help you find something. It takes me back to a game I obsessed over as a child. In search of the most amazing thing (ISOMAT) certainly had primitive graphics (compared to today’s games!) with mostly line drawings, and you moved at a rate of pixels across the screen, but intellectually it was amazing. Travelling around the universe, meeting different cultures, learning about their food, their music, their art, and learning how to barter for clues to get to ‘IT’. ‘IT’ was everything. I kept all the clues written on special paper, folded and labeled by country/species in a little glass box with a leaded outline of a butterfly on it. These clues were more precious to me than jewelry. Rings and neclaces didn’t go in that box, my paper clues did. In the end I nearly solved it – I was told by the wise old Uncle Smokey that – the most amazing think was you kiddo! And then there was the quest to get the B-liner (your ship) home through the mire crab desert, but you lost your navigation system and then my floppy disk got corroded after sitting in the basement for 20+ years and I never finished the game. That has been a lesson to me as well. (you can download the dos version of the game here: http://www.myabandonware.com/game/in-search-of-the-most-amazing-thing-2c )

You never finish the game. There are no finite answers. The most amazing thing is you – me? You? Yes. And we are always changing. Nobody can put us into a bottle, and label us, and define us, and neatly compile us into a catalogue. Even this book, gives a glimpse into those conversations between Horton and Freire, but it isn’t them. It is just a glint, a hint of a slice, and how magical to catch that dazzling sunbeam, but it would be foolish to then walk away announcing ‘Ah, I know now.’ There is so much more…

…and as Myles says: Now there’s a big difference in giving information and telling people how to use it. (p.129)

I’m going to leave it there, even though there is more to say, because it’s Boxing Day, and the last day of my holiday in Mexico, and I need to do some more imperfect, inelegant (supremely fun) handstands on the beach and look for turtle tracks in the sand.

 

Internationalising the curriculum

This post is a transcript of my speech at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar:  Innovation in curriculum design – internationalisation, employability and inclusivity, December 7, 2016

(5 min read)

My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, respected colleagues,

Twenty years ago as a student at university I experienced two types of curriculum: one stemming from a traditional textbook and a sage-on-the-stage, and the other based on praxis which was completely bespoke and co-developed. Perhaps I was lucky that this was not an uncommon feature of studying music performance.

Then in 1999 the Boyer Commission produced an Academic Bill of Rights. Its preamble states that a college or university should provide ‘maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative development’ of its students (p.12). The first right is that students should have ‘opportunities to learn through enquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge’ (p.12). These are both essential.

Since that Bill of Rights, enquiry that crosses intellectual and physical borders has become an everyday reality at our fingertips, and Internationalising the curriculum is one way to expand our student’s experience, encourage and develop connection, and prepare our future graduates to successfully meet the demands of a continually developing workforce.

I will outline how I do this in my own practice as Teaching Fellow at the University of Chichester, and present various methods and tools that can be embedded within your own curriculum, no matter what the discipline.

Definitions of employability have expanded from the outdated view that simply developing the required skills or knowledge is enough, to now include an array of wider, and less discipline-specific qualities: from organisational and management skills to self-beliefs.

The ‘USEM’ model of employability: (Knight and York, 2004) includes

  • Understanding
  • Skills
  • Efficacy beliefs
  • Metacognition

And it reinforces the importance of enabling student experience and engagement with applied processes. It reframes knowledge as understanding and recognises an element of deeper learning. Metacognitive processes underpin many aspects of strategic and self-regulated learning, and without efficacy beliefs these could not be combined into successful self-management, academic achievement, or eventually into effective employee performance. (see Brigstock, 2009; CES, 2009; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton 2012)

The Institute of the Future, a California think-tank, recently published an article containing this infographic about emerging ‘new’ types of jobs, born out of our on-demand economy. These resonated with me, as in music, graduates seldom have a singular fixed professional destination.

I use internationalisation in a way that amplifies individual creative development and intellectual enquiry, addressing:

  • Gaps between institutional life and the working world
  • How students transfer their knowledge…into something relevant to their professional lives
  • How to develop employability and entrepreneurial thinking

These are derived from benchmarking goals in the Polifonia Handbook: Combining a research orientation with professional relevance, published in 2014.

I embed teaching methods within the curriculum that foster international interaction between and across disciplines, such as using technology to connect to other learners and teachers. I believe it is essential to engage with students, peers, industry partners, and the wider community across the globe. Specifically in my teaching I use:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-07-41Public outreach and engage students via Twitter,

    because it is a platform well populated by professionals, and allows students to engage either as themselves or with a pseudonym of their choice.

Connecting Classes began with Jonathan Worth and his use of the hashtag as an educational tool for his photography class #Phonar. With this methodology, short videos or audio are shared online and people are invited to use a specific tag for discussions. Students Tweet their notes, comments, and questions, and often draw other professionals into large-scale group discussions. This provides students with a rich resource for further research.

  • I also use webinars and hangouts featuring student-led discussion with international practitioners.

An excellent example of this practice established for the educational community is Virtually Connecting, which brings keynote speakers from international conferences into contact with other teachers and students across the world through live, online hangouts. Maha Bali co-founded Virtually Connecting. She lives in Egypt and recognised the need to connect and the practical limitations of travel and cost that affect educators and learners.

Virtually Connecting sessions include people ‘on-site’ as well as a virtual room full of guests- teachers, students, people from across the world. This real-time interaction and engagement with professionals across disciplines is invaluable for all involved.

  • And finally an example of a change to the curriculum itself is my International Experience Module.

This development was driven by students. They wanted to go beyond technological connections, and formalise these interactions, making them face-to-face. Students led the first iteration of these trans-continental experiences, and that trip served as a proof of concept and model for the module that now runs as part of the undergraduate Music with Instrumental or Vocal Teaching Degree.

Students are responsible for the details from planning the logistics of travel to the content of what happens with partners when abroad. Moving away from a textbook based curriculum, they now have to consider, plan for, and anticipate aspects of inclusivity, communication, and cultural sensitivities they might encounter in practical settings. My current group includes a blind student, others with dietary allergies, and of course, musicians from different stylistic backgrounds. There is a host of planning and management skills on top of the musical preparation required, and the students relish it.

Stepping outside the classroom provides immersion and means that:

  1. Students have ownership of their learning and actions
  2. Learning is integrated into life, where theoretical knowledge is applied and tested through experience
  3. Students actively reflect and practice real-time accountability as they learn.

Although when my students travel with me to America, English is a common language, there are distinct cultural differences when traveling to any other country, and effective relationships and communication take forethought and sometimes situations required careful navigation. Embracing differences of those beyond your ‘home’ community can facilitate promotion and reflection on civic agency, another important quality for us and our students to develop.

Not every programme can be expected to include a full international experience module, but there are certainly elements of both cross-discipline and cross-cultural communication that can be embedded into any curriculum, whether through a project like Connecting Classes, using hashtags on Twitter, or through other bespoke online projects.

Connection, communication, and learning all encompass far more than theoretical subject-knowledge. Within music, sound, and playing the instrument is a small part of teaching and professional interaction. Music requires confidence – self-efficacy beliefs, communication, everyday organisation, management, and interpersonal skills. By building and applying transferable skills alongside the discipline-specific skills, students are more prepared to step out and carve a niche in their future professional world. What better way to do that than as an active participant in various international fora? It does mean that we the teachers need to do significant networking, learning, and groundwork in order to fully participate and keep abreast of the changing landscape. It is worth the effort.

The world is a constantly developing place and even those we perceive as most distant to us are actually closer neighbours than we know.

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