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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.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-15-39

Reading outside the lines

Continuing my thoughts…. This is the second part of my post for the first two chapters of the book We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. I am still doing this like an open can of brain, if you can imagine reading and someone eating alphabet soup as the thoughts are forming in your/my brain. It is a complete indulgence for me to allow myself time to think and an unbridled space in which to do it. My thought garden. (7 min read)

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