Thursday, March 8, 2012

Swings and roundabouts.

April 2011. A swing somewhere in Central France

One year ago, I was sitting on the swing in the garden, relaxing in the spring sunshine. The goats were wandering in the fields opposite, the kids were playing tig in another part of the garden. I connected with my iPhone to a streamed conference in Plymouth and chatted on Twitter with @bellaale. We had no idea where we were. I sort of assumed he was in Plymouth...

I can't really remember if I had planned to attend the PELeCON 2011 conference on-line or if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time (on a swing in Central France in the afternoon in April.)It was quite possibly an example of Serendipity (my favourite word of 2011). What is sure is that the year before, I wouldn't have been able to attend as I wouldn't have been connected to any Twitter stream or have had any inkling of the right #'s. Indeed, I had no idea what a hashtag could be...(something one eats for a very full breakfast?)

Was attending PELeCON part of a professional development program? No! I was sitting on a swing, at the weekend, having fun. I was delighted to be able to combine a moment of pastoral relaxation with a creative conference in Plymouth. Was the space important to my learning? Yes! It was lovely to attend a conference in the warm spring sunshine! Would I have attended the conference on my computer, netbook, iPad? No! These different tools might have convergent uses but do not have the same affordances, the connected device which is most adapted to my play-ground swinging was undoubtedly my smartphone.

As I followed the Twitter stream, a certain @simfin became a recurrent voice/tweep?. I have no idea at what point I followed a shortened bitly link (another new discovery in 2011) and a #pelc11 to one of his blog posts. The title, I found again today, was to the point: Plymouth Elearning Conference 2011... it must have stimulated my curiosity. There followed a review of the conference which for me captured its essence. Its reading, I would recommend, particularly if you are hesitating to attend #pelc12.

I felt moved to comment:

April 9, 2011 at 7:55 am

Even glimpsed from afar through intermittent video/twitter stream and blog posts like this one, I have the feeling of connecting with a community in which I feel enriched, encouraged, challenged. Continuing to teach differently and to challenge the institutional norm is a lot easier connected to this stream. Thanks to this community I don’t feel alone , I feel together. This experience underlines for me the benefits of social media as a means to scaffold change and to enhance learning and well- being. Thank you

A short time after I was joined by @bellaale:

Alex Bellars says:

April 9, 2011 at 8:47 am

Couldn’t agree more with Simon, Simon! (?!) And in fact I “met” Simon (Ensor) out in Clermont-Ferrand via Twitter during the conference, while languishing on my sofa with a chest infection… Pretty unusual conference etiquette, but it exemplifies the beauty of Pelc and other such events (yes, there are others!) starting to snowball across the digital landscape. I feel like I have extended my PLN considerably over the 3 days, have COUNTLESS links to sift through and check out, and a myriad of ideas and challenges to try out. And I agree wholeheartedly with Simon (Finch) that the fact that the (student) LEARNERS were at the centre of Pelc was a superb coup. Thanks so much to all concerned…

As I am preparing to attend PELeCON 2012 in the flesh (as it were), and to speak and to tweet again, I can feel much excitement mingled with just a little apprehension. 

I am sure that it will be an awesomely inspiring, challenging, fun event. I will be able to put a face and a voice on @simfin, be able to thank @timbuckteeth face to face (again), meet up with lots of new friends and tweeps. 

I fear feebly that that good old British weather will disappoint. I have been in France much too long. I must admit to a certain nostalgia for swinging through #pelc11 in the spring sun. I will miss hearing the kids playing tig on the other side of the garden.

Nevermind, I am reconciled by the idea that one way or another I will learn. One must learn, after all, to accept that life and therefore learning is always a question of swings and roundabouts. 

Might I suggest the introduction of a conference play-ground for #pelc13 or perhaps a partnership with #slidetolearn?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Noman's land.

The lines are drawn up, the roles are defined, the territories are determined.  At one side of the class-room, stands a teacher. The students are grouped together waiting for any lull in the content offensive to engage leisurely conversation.

The teacher draws up a plan of action for the new campaign on the board. The exercises are ready, the instructions are well-rehearsed, the number of future failures are statistically modelled. Survival is for the fittest. Success is for the elite. Cohorts of students are evaluated, streamed, trained, tested, decorated. Competition is good for the character, team-work is carefully regimented, unsupervised collaboration is suspect.

I was a reluctant RAF cadet, the uniform was scratchy, I was a poor shot, I loathed dehumanising drill. Taking orders from a teenage moron who gleefully made us march into a brick wall killed  off my Action Man dreams of becoming a commando...  

A breezy Anglican church school, the bravery of fallen heroes in the World Wars was celebrated here, the dates of battles were memorised; critical analysis was viewed dimly. 

Glorious were the victories on the rugby field, the cricket pitch,the hockey shore!

Somewhere else,further afield, Paolo Freire would write,

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Technology plays a vital role in enabling the change of relationships in society. With the railways came massive industrial expansion, the public school, the public holiday. With the machine gun and heavy artillery came the trenches, the Somme.  With the railways came mass-mobilisation and monumental casualty counts. The 'in between' enemy lines, countries, or classes  would become 'No man's land.' 

  • No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is   under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. Wikipedia  

This space, allotted for daily butchery during the Great War was also spotted with odd outbreaks of peaceful dialogue. Bizarre truces would be negotiated when troops from the opposing sides would exchange presents, souvenirs and a passion for football. Such events remain eery tributes to the absurdity of a system. 

With new technologies come new challenges, new opportunities for transforming societies or maintaining conformity. Ubiquitous connectivity enhances peer to peer communication, disrupts old hierarchical organisations, blurs the lines between work and play, challenges the roles of teachers and learners. It is not sure that we are for the moment in any way freer.

If drones have replaced soldiers, shiny interactive tablets might deliver expertly conceived global uniformity to hungry pupils. Games which let you win engage. Such edutainment however seductive does not necessarily enhance independent criticism or creativity. If predictably achieved 'educational outcomes' are reassuring for the stake-holders, they may be useless to the individual in the long-term. Curiosity requires peace to develop. 

Should we venture into the Noman's lands which exist between individuals, between informal and formal learning, between physical and virtual presence,between generations and cultures, we might aim to imagine a more diversely sustainable future.

"Through dialogue, the teachers-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teachers cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-students with student-teachers."
Paolo Freire.

Learning together, Noman's land might just become Everyman's land. Lines can diverge~converge. Conversation, however leisurely will inevitably be more essential than content.

Paolo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1968