Cristina Costa’s learning journey……..
Cristina Costa’s learning journey……..
The last few weeks have been extremely hectic but also rather exciting with participation in some EC projects, the writing of a new module for our Masters in Education and participation in events both in and outside my institution. I promise to translate those experiences in blogpost during the weekend [There you go. I've declared my intentions in writing, now I have to do it!]
Meanwhile I want to share the diagram below from mentoringminds.com because I think it’s a very useful one to have in mind for my future courses.
My dear friends Linda Castañeda and Jordi Adell have just published a new book on Personal Learning Environments: Key aspects of an online educational ecosystem (my translation for Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red)
- It touches on very pertinent aspects of teaching and learning online. With a focus on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), the book goes on to explore several interrelated themes such as Flexible and Open Learning, Pedagogical Approaches to PLEs, Technological possibilities, and the future of PLEs, just to name a few.
- I also like the fact that the book is divided in 4 distinct parts:
- There is an open access version of the book that is super easy to navigate and use. (Like… it a LOT)
- And as a bonus, it is licensed in Creative Commons! It’s a winner
Well done Linda and Jordi, and all the authors as well. It’s a great project.
Ricardo Torres and I also wrote a chapter for the book Professional development, lifelong learning, and Personal Learning Environments.
Thank you 3 for the opportunity!
Many people have asked why I decided to use Bourdieu’s work in my research. I have often jokingly said it was because he “spoke his mind and that I liked that”! There’s some truth in it. I think Bourdieu used his position well, as a French intellectual, and tried, in his own way, to inform, critique, and sometimes even contest, the social realities he studied and was interested in. This led to studies in the most varied areas… as many as the areas he was interested in, I guess.
This post comes as a first reaction to a new book I am reading:
[This book just came through the post! I have been waiting for it to arrive for weeks now. so I was really excited to see that there was a book-shaped parcel for me this morning!
Please note that this post is *not* a review of the book, as I still have a lot to read and digest before I can provide my impression on the book. However, my first reaction to it is: thumbs up! ]
The book focuses on the work of the 4 social theorists mentioned on the book cover and thus aims to present us with research lenses through which we can examine social phenomena. As you might have guessed, I have started with the chapters focusing on Bourdieu’s work (!). It was just easier to start there. I will need more time to read the articles on the work of the other theorists [i.e, it will take me longer to digest the ideas presented as I know less about their work!]
I have just finished the chapter on Bourdieu and educational research: Thinking tools, relational thinking, beyond epistemological innocence by Rawolle and Lingard.
It is definitely a good read! For me the highlights of this paper relate to:
[f]or Bourdieu, scholarship and commitment go together, but in terms of the researcher participating in political struggles, he argued ‘the most valuable contribution a researcher can make to the political struggles is to work, with all the weapons the science offers at the moment in question, to produce and promote the truth’ (Bourdieu, 2010, 271) (Rawolle and Lingard, 2013, p132)
This takes me again to the topic of academics as public intellectuals and the role social media can play in stimulating this collective and open debate. (something the authors also stress given that “Bourdieu argues the necessity of academics becoming collective intellectuals… ” (ibid)
Bourdieu suggests an openness and vulnerability, indeed honesty, in the presentation of our research in both oral and written genres
because as Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992, cited in Rawolle and Lingard, 2013) state
A research presentation … is a discourse in which you expose yourself, you take risks… The more you expose yourself, the greater your chances of benefiting from the discussion and the more constructive and good-willed, I am sure, the criticisms and advice you will receive.
I think there is resonance here with the principles of digital scholarship. And with that also scope to apply Bourdieu’s thinking tools in order to understand the relationship between the fields of academia and social media …
just some initial thoughts in the form of note taking!
… looking forward to reading the other chapters!
Graham Attwell just posted this video and I thought it was interesting to share it [ ... also for my own sake, as note taking kind of a thing] because it stresses some very important points regarding the facilitation of learning.
If we believe that learning is anchored in engagement, then we really need to design for engagement. I think this is where creating learning contexts becomes key. I think that the role of the teacher is to create challenges that encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning because that activity becomes enjoyable, appeals to them, they can identify themselves with. Hence, it becomes fun. It is not a hahaha fun, but rather a I am hooked to it kind of fun!
The video also resonates to some of the discussions Professor Gráinne Conole has started around presence and deeper sense of connection online environments are able to convey. This obviously only makes sense to those who really immerse themselves in these online environments and use social tools as a common means of communication. I don’t know why this is so, but I suspect that writing as a medium can me more powerful, and maybe even more expressive, than speaking face to face. I don’t know about you, but I am always more eloquent in my mind (when I prepare a speech, organise my thoughts…) than I am when I deliver my ideas to an audience. [ ... sometimes I even manage to go accent free ... in my dreams!! ].
I think the medium is important. As I write this, I am sharing my inner thoughts with you…maybe a facet of me I am (consciously or unconsciously) less prone to share in a face to face situation with a larger group of people. Yet, developing this confidence online also translates into a more confident self face to face. So one feeds into the other…
We can also argue that online communication lacks the meanings body language may convey. Nonetheless, I think we have developed a sophisticated system of graphical signs, like smiley, that convey mood, sense of humor, personality… all of that helps with communicating and sharing traits of our personality online. [I am sure there are studies on this... I must do a search on this topic. Fascinating!]
In short, we need to try these environments for ourselves. We need to set the tone of participation…sometimes via assessment too. And we need to design for context so learners can give more of them and take ownership of their learning opportunities. In my own experience, this is not always easy. At the beginning this is not usually learners’ cup of tea (!), but the more they get involved in it, the more they perceive the value of being main actors of their learning experience. Eventually. they like it! It’s all about trying it. As educators we need to try it too so we can fully grasp what it means to be (work, shop, socialise, etc) online.
This week, Times Higher Education published an article about the salaries of University Professors. The article entitled Professorial pay rises twice as fast as rest points out that professors’ salaries have rosed considerably more than salaries in other academic grades. The article attributes this phenomenon to the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF); an exercise that aims to assess the “quality of research in UK higher education institutions”.
For people in Academia this is not really news. In the past year or so we have seen how fiercer the game has become and how institutions are competing for the “best” senior academics, which in REF terms, or better said, the interpretations institutions make of it, means to hire individuals with numerous publications in high rank journals, an outstanding and successful record of research grants, and, if possible, evidence of how their research can demonstrate impact.
For those who trolled job websites in the past year or so, as I have done, it was impossible not to notice that the ” the hunt for the professor” was on. Several institutions promoted their daring, million pound strategies, appealing for the “brilliant minds” of the world to join their departments or schools. It almost felt as if they were playing at FIFA level. Players moving from one team to the other with the wealthier teams acquiring the best, hence more expensive players. The trend has got so big that even other academic posts suffered from the same influence as the job specifications got more ambitious.
But the effects of REF are not only felt in research as one of the areas of academic activity. The focus on REF inevitably forces academia to differentiate between the importance it places on research and the one it puts on teaching, engagement and widening participation (other elements of scholarship). And, I’d dare say, that as a side effect, it discourages the innovation of practices. In this sense, Digital Scholarship still has a long way to go. Will it ever prevail in the presence of exercises such as REF? … I hope it will. I think it will. But I think it will take time and effort to influence policy.
People say teaching and other areas of scholarship will get the prominence they deserve once we get through this exercise. I also think this will be the case… for Early Career Researchers this is already the case. [ There, now you know how I managed to get the new job... research was not the only item that weighed on their decision to hire me, and so I am enjoying a very friendly environment where people are supporting my teaching, research and knowledge exchange. I am very happy to have landed in such a supportive environment.]
My concern however is that once REF comes around again in 5 years time we might still be focusing on publications as the main measure of research quality. If HEIs are supposed to be incubators of innovation and centres of expertise for the knowledge economy, shouldn’t our digital activity count too?
As pointed out in my research – here comes the PhD again! - institutions shy away from supporting digital scholarship because their interpretation of research exercises such as REF does not privilege digital scholarship. Hence, it becomes very easy for institutions to default to classic forms of producing and communicating research. One can argue this “preserves” practices. Yet, that has never been the role of academia. The role and duty of academia is to advance knowledge and inform practice to improve and influence the current society.
Translated into Bourdieuian language this means that the strategies adopted by the field (in this case, institutions) to be at the top of their game (in this case, to acquire as much symbolic capital as they can in the form of prestige and economic capital, i.e., power) seek to standardise the practices of scholars so they can be measured by the benchmarks institutions stipulate as research excellence based on the interpretations they make of the exercises (REF in this case) to which they submit their research. This means that the habitus of digital scholars have little chance of becoming established practices, despite of it offering pragmatic answers to questions posed by speeches concerned with the digital and knowledge economy. I fear that the innovative approaches digital scholars are exploring for the creation and dissemination of knowledge will have little effect in the years to come if future exercises such as REF do not take the habitus of digital scholars seriously and see them as meaningful practices making a significant contribution to the real world.
So my question is: what can we do to make sure that exercises such as REF become aware of, and pro-actively support, digital practices?
This is just a short post with some thoughts about a paper I have been asked to write for the Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research. The working title is Learning and Teaching in Context… with a little help from the web
With it I aim to explore how the social help can help educators and learners to experiment teaching and learning through contexts that the classroom is unable to provide. I am using examples of my own practice as a teacher to support this. And one of my main arguments is that the social web is a place for innovation of practices, for the invention of contexts that aim to stimulate new forms of (lifelong) learning. The skills acquired, the networks that are formed, the knowledge that is created, and the way people are enabled to learn can be transferred to other situations and experiences. All it takes is to believe this is possible. Thus it is important that educators experiment that for themselves so they can perceive its true benefit. (yes, I know, I have said this many times over…!).
Hence, there is a need to make research “real” to practitioners, at the same time that it is crucial that practice informs new research.
For some time now I have been looking at action research as a methodology that enables to connect research with practice and vice-versa. This is a much needed approach in our changing society. It is necessary to understand how practitioners are changing practices, or if they are not, why that is so. There is also a screaming need to test new ideas… and in talks with my dear friend Dr Sakina Baharom I also found Design Based Research: an emergent research methodology that has a specific focus on establishing partnerships between researchers and practitioners with the main goal of developing innovative practices.
During the DIALOGUE symposium these methodologies were not forgotten. Professor Hiller talked about the need to promote reflective practice and enable the translation of tacit knowledge into more explicit one.
Another Speaker, Berni Brady, Director of AONTAS, also made good points regarding what research should be:
This, to me, comes to justify the need to a more pragmatic view of what research should be and what it should serve: Practice. This again, takes me back to Professor Anderson’s concept of the university as a place of useful learning.
As I am writing this paper, I am looking for more examples of how people have used action research/ DBR to change, improve, transform… their practices. If you have some examples, please share them with me .
This is what, in my opinion, every University should be and what research should also support. This is also the vision and goal of the University of Strathclyde; the reason why it was created. And I must say that it goes very well with my own vision of what a University should be about. So I am well proud to be part of it now.
The University as “a place of useful learning” ~ Professor John Anderson
This Friday I attended the DIALOGUE symposium which Dr Rob Mark, my line manager, hosted at the University as part of his involvement in a project with the same name.
The DIALOGUE project is seeking to improve the links between research and practice in lifelong learning by promoting a dialogue between researchers, practitioners and policy makers. The project is highlighting models of good practice as well as exploring ways of involving practitioners in research. Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, it is hoped the project will lead to new ways of working and improvement in the transfer of knowledge both within and outside the university.
The project is also seeking to promote a research-practice dialogue around 4 themes:
Access and progression
Quality assurance and enhancement
Learning and guidance
The event started with talks from a group of guest speakers who shared their views and experiences in bridging the gap between research and practice. Some of the talks inspired very interesting debates.
I especially liked Prof. Yvonne Hiller’s presentation. Not the least because she went straight to the point and talked about issues that we all face and which need addressing, especially at policy and strategy levels.
Professor Hiller, who launched the Learning and Skills Research Network in 1996, mentioned something that is no longer news to us, but which somehow still puzzle us:
practitioners don’t read academic journals!
I would say that there are different reasons to this: firstly, the culture of reading academic papers by non academic audiences is not there; secondly, access to academic papers by practitioners is very limited; thirdly, the register and style used in academic papers is probably more complex than it needs to be. Let’s face it, academic language is no one’s native language. (we could also ask, what do researchers read besides academic publications?)
The questions that immediately sprung to my mind:
why do researchers elect academic journals as their main means of dissemination?
Why don’t we choose other channels of communication that are more accessible?
Why aren’t all researchers blogging, for instance?
(…I had to introduce the technology, didn’t I?)
Open blogs allow to spread knowledge wider and farther. And bloggers can use a less formal, more fluid speech that may appeal to one of their main target audiences: practitioners. As a ripple effect practitioners could also blog and as a result of that both parties might as well find a common ground through which they can achieve a deeper understanding of each other. And if not blogs, why not networks, or whichever way it is easier for both parties to establish communication?
But none of this is as simple as it may sound. A suggestion to something that seems so obvious these days, such as a blog, is not a quick win amongst researchers, and I would dare say also not necessarily that popular amongst practitioners.
As I tried to make sense during my PhD…. the use of the social and participatory web to produce and disseminate knowledge and create conversations implies a deep change not only in terms of practice but the philosophies that support those practices. Old habits die hard and blogging, for instance, doesn’t come easy. It becomes even harder when there is no strategic vision supporting it.
Take REF as an example (You’ll probably have a similar system in your country…?). Formal publications are a core element in this research assessment exercise. The *one* element people are more focused on and concerned about. Since there is no explicit (I mean, spelt out) mention on the way the participatory web can have a positive influence on how research is communicated, may reach larger and more diverse audiences, and/or generate impact (aside from being published on a webpage), no one (or shall I say only very few) are taking (what they consider) risks. People (are persuaded to) follow the same, old conventions, i.e, what has worked for them in the past. A publication in that hard to publish journal often does the trick. The problem is that the journal is not only one that is hard to publish in, it is one that is hard to have access to! This does not generate innovative ways of working, and it certainly doesn’t close gaps between research and practice.
I guess what I am saying is that we not only need to make an effort for research and practice to meet, we also need to promote changes in policy if we want the partnership between research and practice to work. Change cannot come only from top-down nor merely from bottom-up. Both need to meet half way through the process of implementing measures that will inspire the development of new approaches and practices. For this to happen we need to achieve true communication between all parties involved. Policy included. This is what I hope the DIALOGUE project will achieve.
Can the Web be a place of useful learning?
I think it can help achieve that goal. Now the question remains:
How do we go from here?
Many more questions were raised during the symposium but I will leave them for future posts since this is already a long blogpost. Meanwhile I would love to know how you deal with these issues in your country/institution.
After the PhD, came a new job… and this delayed the restart of blogging! I know, I know, excuses, excuses …!
But I am happy to announce I am back! I will not promise to write every other day, nor every week, but I hope I get back to the routine of blogging, because it gives me voice. It also helps me clarify my thoughts and as a result of it ask more questions. You also help me develop my thinking with your comments and that is why I like it here. I enjoy the conversation. So, I am back… and I hope you don’t mind my staying in the blogsphere for a bit longer!
P.S. I started a new job at the University of Strathclyde as a Lecturer in Lifelong Learning (TEL) – a joint appointment between the Centre of Lifelong Learning and the School of Education. After 6 years in Salford, where I knew and worked with a great deal of people from the different schools, I am the new kid on the block. It is both refreshing and nerve wrecking to move jobs. But I am glad I did it. I am excited about the new opportunities. And my plan is to enjoy every single minute of it. I look forward to reporting about my new adventures in Scotland.
I made it!
I still can’t believe it, but I actually finished the PhD.
After 5 years of studying, almost giving up, and starting from square one again, here I am, with one more degree.A PhD. Who would have thought it would be possible. Very few. For me this is a great achievement at many levels, as I hope to explain in future posts. Above all, this achievement is special, because a close look at my historical and family background (a substantial part of my cultural capital!) would let you know this was never on the cards… so I am very happy to have gone places where no one ever expected I would or could. What I really what to say is that anyone who sets their mind to it can do it. I am a living proof of that.
Below, you’ll find a copy of the acknowledgements featured in my thesis. I want to make sure these people get the credit they deserve. I will also add a link to the abstract (… as I read it again, I think it could be better…). As soon as I manage to get the thesis uploaded on to the repository, I will share the link… just in case you ever feel like reading such a lengthy document. You never know! !
I was, and still am, the first person in my family to have graduated from University. For some people University is a family ritual, but for me it was often a dream beyond my possibilities. Throughout the years I have dared to make this dream come true, and I grabbed all the chances I was given. Slowly, I have managed to arrive here. However, my achievements are as much reliant on my efforts as they are on the generosity of those who crossed my path during my academic journey. I would like to give thanks to those with whom I worked or was fortunate enough to meet in the last five years.
First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor, Frances Bell, for supporting me throughout this incredible journey with her patience, expertise and questioning mind.
I would also like to thank my colleagues at the University of Salford, particularly my former line manager Professor Jocelyn Evans who supported and encouraged the beginning of this journey, and my dear friend Dr Victoria Sheppard who patiently listened to the constant personal dramas of a PhD student, me(!). She also went out of her way to proof-read this thesis.
I am most grateful to friends around the world for providing me with a platform for discussing ideas. I want to thank Graham Attwell for the long discussions during the initial phase of my research; Professor Carol Haigh and Dr Lisa Harris for taking an interest in my work and inviting me to join some of their projects at their respective Institutions; Dr Ilene Dawn Alexander and Dr Pascal Venier for the ongoing mentorship; Dr Linda Castaneda and Ricardo Torres for the joint writing opportunities; and Dr Ian Willis and Jaye McIsaac for their words of wisdom.
I am in awe with the kindness and the support I received from my extended networks online. Your encouragement kept me going.
I would also like to thank my friends and family for all their support and for tolerating my absence at important dates. I would particularly like to thank my mother for respecting my immersion in this project and giving me the space I needed to finish it.
Last, but by no means least, I would like to thank all of those who participated in this research. This thesis would have not been possible without your contribution.
My PhD Abstract
This was the theme for the ALT module this past week (week 4).
For this week I created a mini collaborative activity that aimed to get all ALT Module participants to work together on the development of an online guide of Manchester. They were given a recorded message from a friend of mine reporting about their visit to the city and describing the habits and tastes of the different members of the family. This aimed to give ALT participants enough information to come up with a rough structure of the guide, which aimed to be the tangible outcome of this collaborative venture. I also provided a task brief that can be downloaded here. Yet, the focus of this activity was not so much on the content they would put together as it was on the context they would create for learning and collaborating on the open web.
“This is your mission, should you decide to accept it“
The challenge was a bit of a Mission Impossible activity in that ALT participants were provided with the background information about their task. Yet, they were free to devise their own collaborative strategies as well as to decide what to include in the guide, where to publish it, etc. I wanted to give them that autonomy, but this seemed to have generated some confusion and frustration amongst the ALT cohort.
Collaboration online can be messy
Collaboration can be a messy process because it relies on different people with different ideas, personalities, aptitudes and experiences. Yet, these differences are the strength of any collaborative venture, in that we draw on the “specialities” of each member to learn and move a joint project forward. Hence the importance of negotiation and distribution of tasks. As part of that a leader from within the group usually emerges. I felt this happened in this occasion. A couple of days prior to the start of the task one of the ALT members attempted to define three tasks – one for each group within the ALT cohort. This is an important step in the negotiation of the different components of a collaborative task. but there are other aspects that are as important when starting a collaborative project.These may include the following steps:
Keep Calm and Carry on!?
Panicking is a common reaction at the start of such activities. This has probably to do with the lack of structure it is first given or the idea that the challenge posed is a huge task that is impossible to carry out in a 3 hour slot. And in that sense, it’s true. No one puts together a touristic guide in such a short period of time. But, then again, that was not the purpose of this task.
Frustration with technology often discourages people from carrying on such activities. Yet, my intention had been to enable the use of technology in a meaningful context in which ALT participants would be able to learn from each other. I felt that the focus that was put on the creation on content undermined this aspect…
Many people reported that they felt overwhelmed with the amount of information they were being exposed to as they navigated through different sites and communication channels. The flow of tweets was too fast at some point and, from what I was told, this seems to have generated some anxiety in the people using twitter to communicate whilst collecting data from other sources. Clay Shirky talks about filter failure instead of information overload. Based on people’s accounts, I think this is what may have happened. In an information rich world it is important to define the scope of our activity, and sometimes less is more. I also think that defining what our role in the project is helps make our contribution more effective, because it enables us to narrow it down and focus on a specific aspect of the task that will complement it instead of having the entire group working on the same thing. Collaboration is a bit like the creation of a quilt. The different patchworks we develop for it constitute the whole picture; yet each patchwork (each individuals’ work) is a special(ised) contribution to the overall project.
In that vein, I had anticipated that ALT participants would have made use of their own resources and (online and offline) networks to create a guide that was highly personalised. I had imagined that they would not only reuse content from the web – which they did and even observed the Creative Commons guidelines – Well done! -, but also create their own content by sharing, pictures, videos or even personalised accounts of a city they know so well. I keep wondering why this didn’t happen. … maybe I could have provided that hint!?
Have I failed you?
…maybe I have! Maybe I should have provided more guidance? Maybe this should have been a face to face activity?
Although I cannot say that this task was a success on my part, I hope it was still a useful learning experience regarding how we navigate the web, source out information and communicate with others as part of a collaborative activity.
My idea in developing this activity was to enable learners to decide on their role and thus negotiate what their single and group contribution to the jointly developed product would look like. The activity did not aim to assess the quality of the content; rather it focused on the development of a context for collaboration based on the principles and ideas we have been discussing for the last 6 weeks, if we include the pre-induction activities. These include participation, networked and communal learning, creative commons, etc.
What I would like to learn from you is:
I would really welcome honest feedback!