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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Monday, 5 February 2018

New Year, new adventures.

I spent hours on Friday and Saturday this week in Groningen - one of my favourite places. Of course, I was teaching in Warwick too so my attendance at the EVOLVE kickoff meeting was virtual but no less real.

Here you can see my colleagues: Elke, Gosia, Sake, Mirjam, Fran, Sarah, Tim, Shanon, Steve and many more. All experts in their fields, a dream team. I feel honoured to work with them. We share a commitment to a plan - to scale up virtual exchange in order to increase international understanding in a world where barriers to empathy are rife, where "America first" (insert nation of choice) has become a slogan which justifies hate speech and discrimination. 

Of course none of us in the room (whether in real life or virtually) think this will be easy. We are all experienced in the trials and tribulations of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). We are nonetheless up for the challenges. This new project reaches across disciplines, it brings expertise in conflict resolution and social justice together with linguists, learning technologists, researchers and practitioners. We recognise that together we can have a greater impact. We are all heartened by the knowledge that scaling up virtual exchange is seen by the European Commission as a feasible model to support intercultural understanding and to create more cohesive societies. 

We will each be recruiting in our institutions, offering free online training and accredited participation in virtual exchanges, not just in language learning contexts but as an integral part of university curricula in order to show that academia realises the importance of global dialogue above and beyond local interests. Participation supports the achievement of SDG4  , it upholds the rights of all (including those who cannot participate in physical exchanges due to cost or personal circumstances) to engage in sustained, transformational learning experiences. To use today's tools to make the future a better place.

It's good to try to make a difference, especially when everything around you in bleak. I heard that when you are feeling at your lowest, it helps to give to someone in need. It makes the world a better place. 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

More stories of connection

And so to phase 2 of my Clavier story for Simon +Simon Ensor 

When you look at the literature around the use of technology in education you will soon come across references to disruption. Having been an early adopter of technology in language teaching I have experienced this and my Master's research (on the user perceptions of voice over the internet) also identified that embedding technology in learning design does require a return to first principles if it is to be embedded successfully. As such it is a useful mechanism if you need to focus teacher attention on why we do what we do. This perspective from IMS Global on disruption clearly assumes that there is something inherent in the existing status quo in education which needs a shake up and gives an industry insight into learning technology in the business of education. Many of us working "at the chalk face" felt that disruption was "a good thing" I'm sure. After 30 years in education the never ending re-invention of wheels and flow of buzz words takes its toll. However, taking a more critical stance we need to challenge that underlying assumption - what do we value about education that needs to remain in place?

The next phase of my Clavier journey saw new connections, collaborations and co-creations. (This story is not chronological you may have noticed, it is thematic). The serendipity of networked practice together with a heightened attention to the importance of protecting the place of human interaction in education resulted in many conference presentations and publications . The Clavier experience had ignited a spark which fed an intellectual curiosity. Central to this was a realisation of my own agency in progressing educational opportunity for all. I decided to be an open educational practitioner and again my network - an international collection of educators in many different contexts - were reliable in getting involved. This internal event about teaching excellence at Warwick saw staff exploring physical and virtual spaces, connecting virtually with Marcin Klébin @makle1 in Poland; the doors to the EuroCALL conference were opened this year thanks to collaboration with Maha Bali +Maha Bali and Virtually Connecting, my students have created open educational resources and even contributed to online conferences, the WIHEA #knowhow project (see https://storify.com/WarwickLanguage/warwick-window-on-teaching) produced resources and connections to help others decide on a path to opening up their work. Having found my voice in the academic community and a means to engage in the meaningful deployment of my abilities across institutional and national boundaries thanks to the open internet, I have made yet another career "modification" - one where I can pass on a new perspective to students considering teaching languages.(https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/modernlanguages/applying/undergraduate/crossschool/ln306/) I do not wish to be a "teacher trainer" but rather a co-learner in order to support the sustainability of a profession which I have loved throughout my career. Clavier has been part of that unexpected sequence of events and the network which has stretched around the world has seen me working with colleagues in Egypt, Poland, Sweden, Australia, the USA, Spain, Finland, Canada and the UK! 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Stories of connection

The paths we take as we travel through life are sometimes the result of conscious decision making, sometimes the inevitable result of our behaviours, sometimes directed by others, often a complex weaving of all of these and more. Simon has asked me to reflect on my Clavier journey and as I have captured much of it through my writing, publications and discussions I have decided to weave it here in my first blog. 

CLAVIER is more difficult to define than the acronym may appear, as I recall Simon and I discussed the choice of letters as I traveled back from a trip to London for a UCML meeting. At that time I was working with this umbrella group for languages to support communications using social media and to raise awareness of the need for better government support for languages in the UK.  I have always been a passionate advocate of language learning, although my understanding was irrevocably changed when my first son was diagnosed with a language disorder back in the 1990's. 

The first connection with Simon came (as you can see in the artefact shared at the top of this post) in 2011. A supportive intervention in what was becoming a rather bad tempered exchange online. This serendipitous meeting on Steve Wheeler's blog back then was the spark that led to the creation of connected network at a point when I had recently developed an online space using moodle for supporting the teaching of languages at Warwick's Language Centre. The opportunity therefore to connect our student cohorts meant that we could set about creating a shared, large scale virtual exchange

The background to the years since then has been the "elevator music" of the skeptic. Public discourse full of condemnation of social media, a "bad thing" for promoting trolling, anti-social behaviour, even terrorism. I have to say that apart from the negative physical effects of all the time spent sitting working on a screen (which I should have counter balanced more actively through resistance and greater emphasis on physical wellbeing) the connected approach to learning and teaching has been overwhelmingly positive for me. In 2014 I reflected on the happenstance arising from digital connectivity.  

My background coming to this project was quite different from that of Simon. Language teaching has been my career since I left university, I completed my Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) back in the 1980s at Warwick and I had worked for 15 years in secondary education rising to a leadership role before joining the Language Centre as a part-time tutor when my children were still young. I had been an early adopter of learning technologies and when I returned to Warwick I was able to complete further learning including an e-learning award and a Masters in Post Compulsory Education which had provided lots of opportunities to reflect through blogging. I reconnected with the EuroCALL community finding Graham Davies online (sadly now passed away but not before he agreed to deliver some staff training through his Second Life presence, a real highlight for me) and this inspired me to research through my teaching and this community. The learning was further extended through becoming part of the Association for Learning Technology where I have increased my technical and theoretical perspectives in learning technology. 

So that's phase one of Clavier for me...the next post will cover the next phase. 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

CMALT review: from now to 2020!

With thanks to @davidhopkins for prompting me to write this!

Last summer I was delighted to get confirmation that my CMALT status has been extended until 2020. With it came the suggestion that my submission could have included reflection on where my career will go next. Well, that really would have required greater powers of prediction than I have. We all know the question don't we: "Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?"

From when I first started out in teaching back in the 1980's I have always been very aware of the importance of setting career goals and I have had what some might call a successful career. I moved into teaching management early on, becoming a Head of French after just 2 years in the job. I have been very deliberate in managing a portfolio of my work in order to navigate my way through the many challenges of having a family, balancing their needs with my own. I took the risk of changing sectors - hence la modification , investing time and energy in professional development, learning and contributing to my communities, supporting and mentoring others. It has been this approach which more recently has shaped my goals, which have become less about my career and more about what I believe to be important: addressing social injustice and working for fairer access to education for all.

Perhaps this means as I have got older I am less interested in being driven and more interested in who is driving! That's not to say I have decelerated my career though. When I became a teacher I was very aware of the privilege of becoming a member of a professional community. I have been shocked by the drive to de-professionalise my profession, successive politicians have undermined the importance of real people working as communities of practitioners, focusing instead upon target setting and league tables. Forgetting the humans at the heart of human learning. As a result there is a huge recruitment crisis in education and a real risk that UK young people will not have access to the learning they deserve. Social inequality is greater in the UK than ever with 4 million young people growing up in poverty.

So my personal career progression seems rather unimportant by comparison. It would probably also rely on completing a PhD. This would mean diverting financial resources away from my family to achieve an ambition. That's a club too far. If I do get there it won't be through the UK system as the financial cost is too high.

I take greater pride in these developments:

  • being part of the EVOLVE project a 3 year project to scale up virtual exchange
  • continuing my commitments to the ALT and Eurocall communities on the Open Ed Sig and the CMC sig
  • the creation and delivery of a new module for the School of Modern Languages and Cultures: LN306 will focus on Developing Language Teaching to provide a new generation of creative language teachers who will pick up the challenges of the digital realm. 
In 2020 I will be 60 years old. I doubt that I will grow old gracefully, never been my style!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Living in the wild

Tomorrow is the final day of the #eurocall2017 conference. Time for a few reflections. The conference has had a packed schedule as usual and there are a few things I have noticed this time which indicate a greater level of technical engagement from participants. Clearly the focus of this conference is technology enhanced language learning but the shift is towards greater use of "wild" technologies. It may just be my impression but I think there has been a mood of determination that what we do is important. I think Graham Davies would have been proud. There was:

  • lots of interest in social media and web tools
  • a dynamic group of MALL (mobile assisted language learning) CMC (telecollaboration etc)  VW (virtual worlds) users and lots of PhD students too
  • a real interest in open practice as we are all keen to continue to connect and collaborate despite travel bans, brexit and other threats to mobility
  • great examples in the keynotes of how the web has transformed learning
I have two further sessions tomorrow. 

A session on CMC in the open

A Virtually Connecting session to reflect on the event before we all bring this year's event to a close. 
I have a feeling that the connections will continue through social media in the coming year too...watch this space!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Working in the open

A post shared by Becky Skrine (@beckyskrinee) on
Currently I'm at the #eurocall2017 conference and wanted to put together a couple of posts around my experiences there. Firstly, like the video image above I spent yesterday afternoon as a virtually connecting onsite buddie and it was very gratifying to be able to provide the means for those who couldn't attend the conference to speak first hand to our first keynote speaker Steve Thorne who was generous with his time and engaged passionately with the network, providing additional insights into his presentation. You can view this session here.

If you are not aware of the virtually connecting network take a look at their blog. Co-directors Maha Bali and Autumn Caines set up the organisation as a way to help those who don't enjoy the freedom to attend conferences for whatever reason, most of which will affect all of us at some point: family commitments, financial or visa restrictions for example to get a flavour of the conference proceedings and get up close and personal with keynote speakers. Everything is managed on a voluntary basis through Slack channels and the resultant recordings shared openly through YouTube.

We had a great session and there is another on saturday with Shannon Sauro and Kate Borthwick sharing their reflections on the conference so join us!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Do you grow out of playful learning?

A selection of my language games

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (The Bible,  1 Corinthians 13.1,2).

This post was inspired by a #creativeHE post by Will Haywood published on his blog yesterday. Will raised the point that perhaps once we move to teaching in a different context (e.g. from school to HE) games and play in learning get a little left behind. I have been teaching French in HE for 15 years, with students who are often highly motivated, some on accelerated courses where they have to make lots of progress in a very short time. I need them to listen and imitate sounds accurately, using their voices with a new rhythm and tuning their ear to a new musicality, they have to make new connections quickly in order to acquire lots of new vocabulary in order to react appropriately in a language and culture that is not their own. Not unlike the process we all went through as little children. I try to make it fun. I describe an early lesson activity here where we play with the sounds we make, a playful ethos is crucial to the success of this activity. 

The toybox shot above shows a range of the games I use in class. Word cards and dice allow us to practice tenses and rhyming sounds, board games and role play help us to exercise our memory and strengthen the links between individual lexical items and meaning. The inflatable globe has lots of uses and often flies around the room to reduce focus on how silly you may feel making strange utterances in front of your classmates. There are lots of commercially made games too but I have found that the best ones are the ones that meet a specific learning outcome. More important than the game itself though is the establishing of a playful, non threatening ethos to play together. I remember a particularly exciting CD-ROM game I used in schools which was called Granville. It was an early form of SIM (simulation) where students had to navigate a small town in France (virtually of course) with a small set of coins, type the correct language into the computer in order to get what they needed (buying food, tickets etc) and then get back to base before time ran out. This was back in the 1980s though so it was not terribly sophisticated by today's game standards. You could even pay to hire a bike but you had to return it (using the correct words) or face penalties. The sort of thing you could do in a virtual world these days as long as you don't mind learning to move "in world" first. You can easily spend 20 minutes below the sea or stuck in a tree somewhere!

There's always a tension when you are designing learning using playful techniques - or serious games - between the time invested and the learning achieved. As a practitioner you get to judge this with experience and feedback from your students. So, do we need games less as we get older? I don't think so, indeed I would argue that we need permission to connect with our inner child even more if we are to free up the headspace we need to learn effectively. The biblical quote above may be misleading. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (if my rusty memories of bible study are correct) because he wanted to remind them of their responsibilities towards each other. As teachers we have a responsibility to support effective learning, that may well include the wise choice of a suitable playful activity or two. Laughter has a place in a classroom as it does in life. When we are older we can also reflect and analyse how the experience can help us break out of our learning ruts. Asking learners to create a game can be a really useful way of challenging assumptions about learning too. Play can support teaching excellence even in Higher Education.