Nearly there! In 2015 a group of my university students and I had an extraordinary adventure as we set to make a dream that would take us 5000 miles away to work with a group of students in California into a reality. It was one of those things that on paper just wouldn’t seem possible. We had no resources or experiences, but a whole lot of sheer enthusiasm and belief. It did happen and it was the most amazing time – from planning, learning, baking, laughing, packing, travelling, daring to go further, doing new things, teaching, meeting new people, going new places, asking, becoming a group, and saying thank you.
It was one of those happenings that really had an impact on people, myself included, and good things came of it. People kept saying to me, you should tell the story, and so I have. With encouragement and help from those who were with me, I have written it all down. We always planned to document our trip, and so had lots of recorded and documented conversations. The draft text is pretty much done – at around 200 pages, and it’s different to other educational books. It is a combination of an autobiographical story about education, but not theory, not something in the classroom, it is about life and real, meaningful, experiential learning. It’s also about our individual stories, and the commitment and perseverance it took to make it all happen.
We’ve kept both the lovely bits and the struggles to make a very honest account.
It includes the perspective of those who were with me – my students and the teachers have all contributed to writing this book.
As a learning situation, we were all in it together: learning, teaching, and supporting one another, and it happened completely outside the box. …started in the box and burst out pretty quickly…
Have a peek at the 1-minute trailer to have a glimpse into the story:
These are all words that, for me, are synonymous with aspects of good teaching and learning. I didn’t always use all of these in the context of ‘open’ the way I do now. Why the change? I was never against the idea, and I think I always practiced both connected learning and co-learning, but at some point I was introduced to different technological tools, techniques, and then I was encouraged. I’m a student too – always learning to teach better, differently, and part of that for me involves reaching out. I hope to be an encourager for others and perhaps to introduce a few new things…
On January 20th I have the privilege of running a workshop on ‘Embracing Open‘ at the University of Chichester for the Higher Education Academy. It is a day long event that is free to attend for anyone who is a Fellow of the HEA, and there will be points in the day where we invite anyone from around the globe to join in. We’ll be exploring aspects of blogging, Tweets, Google Hangouts, Open Source Learning and CC content, collaborative activities and how all these can be used in different everyday teaching situations across disciplines. There will be opportunities to ‘have a go’ at using all of these, and the day will be dotted with real-time connections with teachers and learners across the globe. Students will be involved too. We’ll be Tweeting with the hashtag #HEAOpen and you are more than welcome to join in! Read more
Today I had the absolute pleasure of speaking at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar event on ‘Technology in Higher Education ‐ best practice, skills and the student offer’, which was held in a lovely room in Whitehall, London. The morning was scheduled in two halves, each with keynotes followed by a panel of speakers and then questions. There was a very wide representation of the HE sector both on the platform and in the audience. The first session was hosted by Baroness Morgan of Huyton and the second session, where I spoke, was hosted by Lord Holmes of Richmond. He began the discussion by complimenting the delegates – that there were so many doctors in the academic audience and he had never begun a PhD…. but somehow I am sure that there were no other Paralympic Gold Medal winners in the room (let alone someone who had won Gold 9 times). He chaired knowledgeably and with grace.
My topic was:
Supporting students and enhancing skills ‐ using online sources, social media and other technologies to assist learning
and I had 5 minutes to cover it.
Here’s what I said:
My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, I am an advocate of technology in learning at the University of Chichester – from creating videos with Panopto, files on Moodle, to the material that I self-host as an Open Sourced Learning supplement to an undergraduate module about creating a curriculum, designed to connect students and engage them with their skills across a range of media and technologies.
Today’s learners do not need encouragement to engage with technology, it is every bit a part of the fabric of their lives, just like tea and toast. Universities provide VLEs or LMS- which could be Moodle, Blackboard, or any number of platforms. Academics sometimes refer to these as different to the World-Wide-Wilderness of the internet. The internal ‘walled gardens’ are intended to be a safe environment for students to interact and develop their learning.
So why are some students reticent to engage with an internal system and seemingly more ready to use something like Facebook, which has a wholly different purpose?
The underlying issues are not always obvious. With an internal platform, (hopefully) the institution is aware of the controls, of who can see files or posts, and as a result of this, where data posted might end up.
Wider social media sites are commercial enterprises and often we, the users, are the product. This does not mean that external sites cannot be used effectively to forward learning, but it does mean that people- students and educators- need to be aware.
I for one am not aware of all the repercussions and ramifications of the way my data is used when I post online. Finding out those details is difficult, and even more challenging is understanding the fine print. If you think you know what you ‘let out’ for the world, go to the website www.takethislollipop.com and see what it reveals. An unrestricted advocacy of using anything out there is at the very least misinformed and at worst can be honestly dangerous.
Data, security, and the morality of informed consent aside, why might students favour various platforms and how can we encourage engagement?
To answer this, I will draw upon my experiences over the last few months…
Where I worked with 5 students on a collaborative project separate from their coursework. To do this we formed a closed group on Slack, which is a team management tool for business. When we began, these students did not stand out as early adopters of online learning or new technologies- in fact, one had actively avoided the internet, but, with a purpose, they became driven to accomplish goals and learned to use technology to their advantage – Tweeting, posting blogs, even exploring Kickstarter. The various avenues helped them develop, reflect on, and take forward the skills learned in their Instrumental / Vocal Teaching Music degree, for example Pete gave online Skype sessions, Victoria made instructional videos, and Jess mentored an American high school student Omar, who wanted to learn to be a songwriter. The music profession is changing, the way young learners experience music is changing, and teachers need to move forward too. In those three months we collected over 4 hrs of audio, 50GB of video, and over 50K words of planning, and correspondence, not to mention the associated links, files, recorded Skype calls, and the deliverable of an accepted abstract to present about their collaboration and use of technology at the Researching, Advancing & Inspiring Student Engagement conference this September.
Beside the physical engagement and digital literacy, they have gained confidence and experience that extends beyond the walls of any classroom. This became vital when we made the online collaborations face-to-face with a visit to the people we had been working with, north of Los Angeles. A high point was recording Omar’s first original song, with vocals, guitar, and strings.
Has technology played a big role in this? Most definitely yes.
Facilitation, openness, and integration beyond the formal learning space has enabled the learning processes and the transition from learner to practitioner to unfold organically.
Going back to my earlier question of internal vs. external and engagement:
Having the capability to shape the learning landscape of the platform – to make it their own – impacted my students greatly. In my experience, a key ingredient to participation and engagement with technology in learning is having a genuine sense of collaboration – at all stages. This includes being a co-creator, co-author, and co-learner – and then the platform, along with all those who use it – both teachers and students, will come alive.
We had 26 cellos playing together as an orchestra, and throughout the two days there were classes and workshops that stretched every one of us- from classical, to pop, folk, and contemporary sounds, here are some visual highlights of the moments we had during the two days…
We ended Day 1 with some relaxing cello yoga with Maria O’Donnell:
Workshops on Day 2!
…a fun break with Jess and Pete:
(yes we learned the cup song from the film ‘Pitch Perfect’)
Reflections on my surprise visit to the two-day Expo at Coventry’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab. I presented a session over the lunch break on day two that truly disrupted people – we did an orchestral flash mob, and although they (mostly staff) could see the instruments arranged and on display all morning, they were completely unaware that they would be the people playing them.
Throughout the morning people became curiouser and curiouser, and watching their reactions was lovely.
As I wasn’t on the printed programme, I had a sort of secret license to not follow traditional rules – this was a conference and speakers were respectfully introduced for other sessions, but it was also in a place that was actually named a ‘Disruptive‘ Learning Lab. So when Kate Green, who was coordinating my visit began discussing how I might be announced or how to let people know what was going to happen, and I said that I would just disrupt whatever people were doing and announce that there was something happening now…. *that was fun!
I walked into meetings and said ‘excuse me, please may I disrupt you?’ (good thing I have no clue who most of the people were or I am sure I would have been daunted) I invited them all to take part – invited the IT man, the cleaner, the Deputy Dean, staff, staff’s bosses, and their bosses, and the students. See, in this session, in my flashmob, we are all in it together and it’s about working together to realise yet untapped capabilities. I don’t know who you are, and I am not going to pre-judge what you can or can’t do. My job is to give you a chance, believe in possibilities, and show you that you can believe in yourself too. I hope that came across to the people there on that bean-shaped ‘hill’.
Everyday, as teachers, we put our students in situations where we want and expect them to learn, and that means they are vulnerable- vulnerable to failure (both public, and private failure). With a clear approach that fosters achievement and supports their beliefs that they CAN do what is being presented or asked, then somehow they (and we) tend to exceed expectations. In short we learn not to get in our own way. So in this very short 45 min session, I presented a full version of a pop song that we as a group would play, gave them a whistle-stop instructional tour of the basics of holding the instruments, gave them graphic scores for the song with their parts on it (we divided into sections, like in an orchestra). They were responsible for 5 different parts, and I took the remaining two parts, with the help of my loop pedal.
We only had time for one full run through of the song, but it worked! Along the way there were some supremely good ‘failures’, which after all is what happens when we learn. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT mean they actually failed, but in music the act of creation is something that is ‘out there’, it is sound, and unlike thoughts or even typed text, that can be kept private until polished, sound is obviously exposed. Certainly in this group setting, all of the initial workings-out and explorations were very public. Those who sat there and did it, the bosses who willingly found their notes and squeaked alongside the students and their other colleagues, they deserve a HUGE well done. It takes guts, and it was exposing and it was a risk – and the joyous thing is that they all did it with a smile. There was a sense of I CAN, and there was laughter, and they were playing – both in terms of violins, violas, and cellos, but also in terms of playfulness. It is a real privilege that I was allowed to bring that in the middle of a very nice buffet lunch.
I won’t pretend we produced a concert performance, but I thought everyone did really well, and did achieve. Afterwards I told them they were both brilliant failures and brilliant successes. I sincerely hope they understood that I meant they were great learners, they allowed themselves to be vulnerable, to learn, to co-learn, and to be open, and as a result they were able to grow and achieve.
Many thanks to Crostóbal Cobo for the short video clip and the group photos.