Friday, February 9, 2018

What shines out.

It has been almost seven years since I first met, on the 24th March 2011, Teresa Mackinnon on Steve Wheeler's blog "learning with e's".

In April 2011 we met up with Claude Tregoat at Warwick to agree to launch a telecollaboration project for 600 students from Warwick and Clermont universities.

We had no idea where this would lead.

We were curious, or foolhardy enough to want to discover.

This would become CLAVIER.

Initially:  Clermont and Warwick Virtual Intercultural Exchange Research.
Afterwards: Connected Learning and Virtual Intercultural Exchange Research.

Retrospectively, what shines out from this meeting are our shared values as educators

It is this which keeps me going.

It is not coincidental that the following quote prefaces a "CLAVIER History" document:

"It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young"

Bertand Russell

We share, I feel,  a resilient desire, to use the means available to enable people to meet distant peers, to develop communicational skills, to build an awareness of the benefits that openness can bring, to exchange interculturally and to be changed as a result.


Desire, shared values, respect, curiosity, need for learning, hard work, a strongly developed sense of humour, empathy, patience, acceptance of (our) limits, enjoying each others' company, having fun.

Going to the pub.

OMG if we never had any fun....

There have been many times when my/our resilience has been sorely tested.

Failure of communication.

Failure of tech.

Failure of teachers.

Failure of students.

Failure of organisation.

Failure of exchanges.

Blimey, that's a lot of "Failure".

There are times as a "telecollaborative teacher" you wonder whether it is all worth it.

Then you take time to reflect.

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

Winston Churchill. 

Seven years on.

Where do they speak about the ups and downs of human existence in academic publications?

I couldn't for the life of me write this blog post.

"Oh what's the bloody point of blogging..aagh...blah, blergh."

I couldn't think.

I had no desire to be online.

I could only vegetate.

I have got used to this fallow state.

Oh, this drear.

The nature of things.

I just let things go.

I just let things be.

I just let myself be.

I came back to working on this reflection this week.

One of the posts here on Touches of Sense..., tagged with CLAVIER is called:

"Keeping up. LOL"

Resilience entails acceptance of our limits, listening to oneself.

I just let things be.

I just let myself be.

I find a tweet from Teresa.

Faith. It will get done.

I know not how.

I feel renewed drive to do this.

We will be attending a telecollaboration conference in April 2018 to speak of CLAVIER.

Controlled Flashbacks

As a classroom teacher, we can rather easily overestimate our power, our control over learning.

I used to plan in microdetail what I, what the students would be doing.

I learnt to get the students to change formation:
mingle, pair, line up in rows, group, circle, back to back, scavenger hunt.

Was I a teacher or a choreographer?

I learnt to get the students to speak on cue:
read text, stop, now you, answer question, ask question, now discuss, now present, now sing, now chorus.

Were they enrolled in the army or a member of a choir?

I learnt to follow teacher book instructions:
first look at picture, then read text, then listen to cassette, then answer questions, now play game, now write paragraph.

Was I a teacher or an operative?

All that technique works. (enough to keep them in order)

(Most) people do what you ask.

They play the game.

Tell them to learn a list of words.

They are (mostly) compliant.

They are trained to be.

They get a mark.

They go off.



So what?

Was that it?


"I am not doing CLAVIER this year, it doesn't work." (anonymous teacher)

Some teachers' patience for what they consider as time-consuming experiment

What they want is something that "works".

Then they give them marks.


I look at the photo above, a group of students from different countries, smiles beaming at the top of the Puy de Dôme and I feel some sort of satisfaction...vindication even.

I remember a conversation with the director of my service.

"A lot of people were asking me why I supported that project. They were sceptical. I see now that I was right to have done so. It has brought the service a lot. Thanks to you."


I look at some numbers.

Over 5000 students have participated in CLAVIER over seven years.

Students and teachers from institutions in the UK, France, Poland, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Finland, the USA, Japan, have participated.

Over 30 teachers have been involved.

Over 60 students have visited each other in their respective countries.

I am curious.

"How far can this go?"

"Will this work?"

"How many teachers can I get involved?"

"What happens if we try this?"

"What if we have an open community?"

As an individual teacher, I have been stretched to my limits.

As an individual, and ex-rock-climber, I like being tested to my limits....

As an individual I like being on the edge...until I start telling myself that I hate it.

I am curious.

"Why do these people work but those people don't?"

I suppose I have always been drawn to research  "à ma façon."


I have always been drawn to research.

I have been a reluctant academic.

I have been much more readily drawn to creative writing, to doodled artistic expression.

I have often looked at academics, with their long words, competitive impact ratings and dry prose with circumspection.

Who should we treat with circumspection, with fear, with flattery, to get on...?

OMG, where's the fun?

With experience, a good deal of exchanges, doodling and circumspection my views have become more nuanced.

I look at the exchange between myself, Another and Teresa from Steve Wheeler's blog in March 2011.


"academics have a job to do, part of that involves noticing emerging phenomena and naming them - get over it."


"LOL, thanks for that utterly pointless input Teresa.

You may as well just have said 'Whateva..!' 'Still can't upset the holier-than-thou academic can matter how little some of you may know."


"Thanks to your comments I am getting a bigger picture. As a language teacher, I would like to praise the inventors of new words. It is not because we can't see the subtlety of snow that the Inuit and their expertise should be laughed into demise.  I look to academics to inform my work,  and to help me to think more widely about my work, it's not because I am not a horticulturalist that I can't benefit from their expertise in the garden.  Thanks to this blog post and your comments, I have learnt a lovely new word: Cyberbalkanisation. Let's accept our ignorance. We are all ignorant about something - that's the big picture. Together, if we give ourselves time, we might just learn...respect."


"Thank you Simon, the voice of a fellow linguist brings clarity :-) I didn't even know I could do impressions LOL."

Research Network

Research was always meant to accompany our action within CLAVIER.

Mainly, cos we didn't know what we were doing...much.

I was very fortunate to have been put in contact with Christine Rodrigues at the local research lab who helped me learn Inuit (IOWs wot academics write innit).

An initial adventure in Sweden to Eurocall brought me new contacts.

We set out to work with colleagues in Sweden, Poland, Germany, Japan.

I have learnt that initial promise doesn't always bring fruit even after hard labouring.

"It doesn't (always) work (out)."

I have developed resilience...

I met Marcin Kleban who has become a close colleague as both teacher and researcher and a friend.

I discovered Maritta Riekki, who has become a source of inspiration and a friend.

A second adventure in Portugal to Eurocall reinforced contacts and I met up with my friend Teresa.

Discovering limits.

A third adventure in the Netherlands to Eurocall was cancelled due to lack of funding.

"Where's Simon?" some friends were reported to have asked.

"Discovering how an institution's limits define you, your work, your access to networks."  I might have replied.

Others, less privileged than I, know other(s') limits which define them...and their access.

This thought keeps me going.

Others need superhero levels of resilience to continue their work or just to get the water to survive.

This thought keeps me going.

I have become little by little more integrated within the academic community, for the past four years, an associate member of a research laboratory.

Research, when you have a full-time teaching post, over-time, is at times unfeasible.

It is easy to fall into; "They, those others, have it easy."

It is a waste of energy.

It is to disrespect those who have nothing at all.

You do what you can, with what you have.

Hours spent setting up partnerships with teachers in institutions can result in:
  • no exchange project at all (even after finding partners for 200 students - this has happened twice in seven years) 
  • no activity between students (after setting up synchronous video conferencing with Japan for example)
  • abandoning of partnership due to career change, retirement, change of program, 
  • incompatibility of level (of expectation/of language/of competences) and abandon after a year.
I think back to a conversation with a teacher from Salford University in 2010.

The exchange program was planned to start in September 2010.

Then she changed university.

Back to the drawing board...

I look at an image of CLAVIER exchange partners in 2015

Four of the partnerships have stopped.

One of the partnerships is ongoing but in a different form.

I look at a list of teachers that were key colleagues in CLAVIER development.

Five of the colleagues have either left or are no longer able to invest their time in the same way.

Constraints, and opportunities are constantly fluctuating.

New partners have appeared.

I have become more aware of the complex ephemeral nature of our ever-moving institutional contexts.

Without recognition, without funding, enthusiasm may wither.

On the other hand, a few irrationally determined, connected leaders and you can have whole departments engaged.

Research interests.

Publication, I have discovered, has more currency for the research laboratory, than it does for me, at least at present.

I write that, then I think about that PHD.

Then there's those funded apply for.

Where's the time going to come from?

I just let things go.

I just let myself be.

I am getting past worrying.

Funding, funding.

Like much in education, this telecollaborative project and its associated research functions to a great extent on good will and unpaid work.

"Oh that's great, could you help us set up a telecollaborative project?" two heads of department ask me.

I ask for funding to enable me to have my work recognised (IOW to get paid).

"No we don't have the funds...."

I just let things go.

I have reached the limits of what I can do to set up partnerships for now....

It seems.

I hesitate on writing that.  (typical reaction to challenge)

Telecollaboration is an add on, quite nice, but not essential.

Until it is.

And someone (else) finds themself at the right place at the right time.

Recognition for the work which is necessary, to take this to another level.

Research, resilience and me.

Research, I have decided, today, nevertheless, helps one to become more resilient.

Researchers can look at "Failure" and "Success" "Limits" "Constraints" and at "What works" more dispassionately (particularly when it is their job to do so).

Gradually, now, I am beginning to see that this autoethnographic blogging and that academic writing may not be entirely incompatible.

There is an emerging method behind this madness that is "Touches of sense..."

Research dissemination data.

I look at some numbers.

I suppose they count.

15 conference papers which concern CLAVIER.

8 book chapters or articles which concern CLAVIER.

1 European report which uses CLAVIER as a case study.

Behind the numbers, there are stories of  trust, interdependence, friendship, hours of work.

This blog post joins those of my colleagues.

What does CLAVIER mean to us in our different contexts?

I look at one concise academic description of CLAVIER.

"A Moodle course."

I sigh.

What shines out.

Last year, virtually all the 30 students of two classes managed to meet up with their correspondents to interview each other via video conferencing.

The students talked of the interest of the activity.

This year, two hundred students were doing the same professional tasks (of the 800 involved).

I interviewed about 50 of the students, we didn't have the same percentage of successful communication as we had had the year before.

Ask any teacher, if you do the same task with two different groups you can get wildly different results.

Those students who managed to make contact with their partners speak in largely positive terms about the experience.

A number of the students are continuing to communicate with their correspondents after the task.

One student announced that rather than doing one session, she had done six video conferencing sessions of one hour each.

She added that she had organised a visit to the UK in the coming months.

Such results justify largely the investment in the telecollaborative exchange.

It works...

"It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young"

Bertand Russell

How does one express distinctive personalities, team-work, faith, resilience, desire, joy, fun, life, hope in a research article, I wonder?

I realise that I am coming back here to reflections from a previous article: Insoumis.

How do you represent the hybridity of our digitally saturated environments?

Pictures may speak louder than words.

Neither pictures nor words, nor videos suffice really.

Seven years on, Steve Wheeler has retired from his university but continues working and blogging.
Teresa and I continue to work together on CLAVIER (Connected Learning and Virtual Intercultural Exchange Research Network) and come together via Twitter, video conferencing, conferences (Eurocall, Unicollab), ALT, MOOCs, and Virtually Connecting.

Marcin and I are working on another conference presentation with Christine Rodrigues.

Marcin and students will be going to Warwick University to meet up with Teresa and Claude.

Maritta, Marcin, and I have an project somewhere down the pipeline...

Teresa, Claude, myself and Marcin will be co-presenting findings from our autoethnographic study in April at a telecollaboration conference.

We share, I feel, a resilient desire, to use the means available to enable people to meet distant peers, to develop communicational skills, to build an awareness of the benefits that openness can bring, to exchange interculturally and to be changed as a result.

We have all been changed by these benefits of openness.

In a second blog post, I will look at the complexity of entanglements which constitute CLAVIER.


  1. Simon. One of the great joys of life is to be able to look back at the journey, as you have, and say, "That all happened because of what I and a few others did". Those pictures of students gathering are probably a small sample. Most of those people would not have met without your efforts.

    As I read of your 7 year journey I see many of the same frustrations, and rewards, as my own journey over the past 28 years.

    Keep going.

  2. Thanks a lot :-)
    Like Simon, I too have retired with just minimal intervention in a Grenoble / Japan exchange these days.
    This year it wasn’t going so well, and I was on the point of entering ‘not my problem’ mode, when reading you musings has got me back in the zone.
    so the thanks are definitely authentic :-)))

  3. well, they both start with S .... silly me