Authentic cultural base

Authentic cultural base

by Jim Bruce -
Number of replies: 8
I have an almost subversive interest in this topic. I have lost most of my hair and its colour as a public school teacher, and have taught at a Band School. My overall conclusion: conventional educational pedagogy fails for everyone, but the cultural environment in contemporary Western society compensates for its failure. Example: if you have an environment at home that stimulates physical activity, reading, and a healthy social lifestyle, school is really irrelevant for you any ways, but you cope with it for the paper qualifications, and because of a need to compete with the kids across the aisle, and to maintain access to post-secondary options.

For the First Nations this is simply not the case. The methodology of artificially scheduled competitive learning that is devoid of heartfelt context strikes out almost immediately.

In the age of the global village, I believe there is a move towards a global tribalism, under which online learning has an opportunity to be effective where traditional pedagogy has failed. It has some massive obstacles to overcome to arrive on the scene realistically, however.

In reply to Jim Bruce

Welcome in rather than rule out

by Jim Bruce -
One of the hidden paramaters in contemporary education is that it motivates people through threat of exclusion. If you don't register by this date, if you don't pay the fees, if you don't have a 3.5 gpa, if you dont' have the pre-requisites, if you don't pay the fees by this date, if you don't attend by this are out, bro.

You can see this everywhere in contemporary society, so it is no wonder it is part of the fixed educational landscape. When you attend a concert, you have to buy your ticket in advance, when you get there you face an iron turnstile and someone behind the glass who is prepared to reject you. However after waiting in line you feel the overwhelming pressure of those behind you.

Value is only the teaser in our economy, we rely on the collective pressure of those who would gladly push us out of the way to have our opportunity. The destination must have value, or why would so many be on the same path?

If you have ever been to a pow-wow, you will find it very rare to have admission charged. Even charging for parking is frowned upon by your organizing commitee.

Learning took place when people who were moved by interest gathered around the elder, the hunter, the cook, the craftsperson, and said, "how do you do that?" You learned until you "had enough" for now, and moved on to something else.

This should be the attitude of online learning. We should set it up to welcome everyone, and instead of "gatekeeping," the entrants, we should just accredit those who become competant through producing the desired outcomes.

This doesn't mean we mis-represent our post-secondary status. Up-front we say, if you want this credential, the college has these restrictions. If you want to just come to learn, great. That is what we are really here for. Those who want the paper have some extra obligations which are irrelevant to our course design, but can't be helped at this time.

What I believe we will find is that we then attract "true learners" whose positive attitude will drive coursework for those who please the registrar's ofice by competing to buy gpa achievement.
In reply to Jim Bruce

Value up front, value to give away

by Jim Bruce -
Traditionally, Aboriginal peoples (and probably everybody's distant ancestors) observed crafts and skills in action and surrounded the source of wisdom and skill.

If you admired a hunter you went walking or riding by their side and your helpful and cooperative efforts were eventually rewarded by instruction. Similarly you might hang with the storyteller, the carver, the cooks, the nursing mothers, the wise elders, and so on. The value of the instructor was on display and up front.

In contemporary gate-kept education our instructors are hidden. We wait outside the gates and fight to pay our money to get in usually without any knowledge of our teacher.

With online learning there is a potential to war on this abominable practice. The efforts of the instructor and students can be made available for examination. Further, the efforts of students and instructor should be to produce value for all, not just the class. Work should be posted and given away to those who need it.

In a sense, our instruction should go "open source." The value of our instruction is NOT in the marks we give away, NOT in the forced assignments, NOT in the framed junk on our walls, it is in the contribution to "the tribe," its just a little larger group!

There is, of course, value for the producers, the students and instruction. The open-source methodology develops incredible expertise and builds valuable networks. The instructor becomes "master instructor" recognition, is paid to speak, write and meet. The student adds value to his or her resume and also builds a future employment network.

In reply to Jim Bruce

Technological gatekeeping

by Jim Bruce -
Technology, unfortunately, functions as a built-in gatekeeper. If you don't have the computer, the Internet, the bandwidth, the peripherals, the keyboarding, and the general software knowledge you are dead before you start.

We have a cultural obstacle here too. It is not generally considered respectful to clamour for assistance when you meet an obstacle, technological or not. At the risk of stereotyping, my observation has been that the non-Native population is better schooled in pushing through obstacles, even when it requires being a little disagreeable.

That necessitates a team effort at overcoming the technological barrier. At NVIT I have suggested that when a course is offered to an offisite location, the first visitor would be an IT person to locate a computer lab and set it up with all the necessary tools and access. Secondly a trainer goes in to work with the class and get them familiar with overcoming common obstacles (the logons, the passwords, the links, the email system, the contact information the help desks, the related software, etc.). The third phase, when possible, would be an onsite presentation by the instructor to generate face-to-face relationships that will help when the going gets tough.

In reply to Jim Bruce

The literacy gatekeeper

by Jim Bruce -
Everyone bemoans the lack of advances in Aboriginal and (to a lesser extent) non-Aboriginal literacy. Massive expenditures are being made and I suspect that little of it will bear fruit in the long run. By its nature, literacy is achieved with prolonged exposure and experience.

Anyone who has observed Aboriginal life knows about the legendary Moccasin Telegraph. Pow-wows, weddings, feasts, and ceremonies that are of interest seem to be well attended even with a minimum amount of formal notification.

Unknown to many, this has much to do with oral communication functioning so well. People with important knowledge are fairly quick to communicate to the people who need to know, and word spreads mouth to mouth.

The gap is in written literacy, and to various technogical literacies.

There are many who want to raise a "literacy gate," through refusing to pass on those who don't meet the criteria for written literacy. A great deal of moaning is done over students found at advanced levels who can't write in the way we maintain high-school seniors to write.

I don't feel that guilt should be felt in this area. To take an adult and make them literate is like taking the same person and making him fluent in Hungarian in a short period of time...simply not possible.

What can be done is to enhance the velocity of communication. People need to be enouraged to dump thoughts out and circulate them for comment. Some of the best writers we have among young people are the messenger and facebook addicts. They get comfortable with a keyboard, and expressing their ideas in writing. The mistakes they make cause amusement and comment by friends, and fluency results as a natural consequence.

I feel that Messenger-like chat services are well suited to do this, because where the class fails to communicate, outsiders will fill the gap. It doesn't' matter if the chat is sometimes about social life, communication is its own teacher, and literacy is the product. In fact, perhaps our course ware should accommodate commerical chat services. Privacy of communication is only necessary person-to-person, otherwise all should become accustomed to public forums.

To put it in a historical pespective, the elder did not teach the child how to be orally literate (I know, that's something of a contradiction), that was learned family to child, child to child, and community to child. Much learning was "watch and do". In contemporary eduation we have more "write, read and do". The reading and writing communication may be of a higher level, but it builds on a foundation of literacy provided elsewhere. A Ginn-reading-program spokesperson, once told a group of instructors I knew that only a tiny percentage of vocabulary growth took place because of basal readers, the bulk came from personal reading.

In a nutshell, we need wide-open communication in our on-line instruction, and we cannot be made to be the scapegoats for lack of overall dissatisfaction with literacy rates.

In reply to Jim Bruce

Re: The literacy gatekeeper

by bronwyn hegarty -
I love your descriptions of the pow wow and the attraction to the knowledge of the elders. I agree "wide-open communication in our on-line instruction" is just so soooo important.

The use of blogs in language learning is working well where I work - the lecturer has a course blog which is chatty and friendly and encouraging and each student has their own blog. The big driver for this is so their families in Japan can see what they are doing and stay in touch more easily. It helps their reading and writing skills no end as well as their digital information literacy. When helping a group of students set up their blogs one lunchtime, however, they were blocked from accessing blogger. Timely words with the IT folk have now addressed this.

So far I have not experienced reticence by First Nation people to be involved in open ways of learning - it appears to be more of an issue related to the need for a big shift in attitude for academic staff - in other words a cultural shift away from the power stance provided by traditional learning and teaching. The teacher knows all, the students do the learning and assessments to pass.

Learning through the use of a reflective blog shifts the power base to the students. The teacher who keeps a blog becomes one of the participants and the course blog is used for announcements. The class becomes more open and communicative and connected.

The digital information literacy skills of academic staff are improved no end by keeping a blog and I teach in two courses using blogs. The participants have control over their blog and their learning. They have free expression to write about what they are learning. Because the blog is assessed and progressive it is a very powerful learning tool.

Surprisingly there are still some academic staff learners who feel threatened by "exposing" themselves to the world. I have found once you "get over the hump" it is a fantastic way to communicate ideas with colleagues and students.
We now make it compulsory in our courses, and explain the importance of the medium for communication and connectivity; the blog is used to develop projects, plans, ideas etc for assessments. So no longer are students working in isolation on assignments, they are openly sharing their ideas and writing. I have two questions, I hope someone can answer:
  • How can we can we help the really reticent students "get over the hump" and connect?
  • Have people come across situations where blogs cause cultural exclusion?
In reply to bronwyn hegarty

Re: The literacy gatekeeper

by Paul Left -
Nice to see you here, Bron!

You asked:

How can we can we help the really reticent students "get over the hump" and connect?

For me, a warm and welcoming affective environment is really important - perhaps that links to Jim's emphasis on 'heartfelt context'? I think it's important for all learners, but those belonging to a cultural minority group can be quickly switched off if it's not present. And it can't be faked!

Also, I think that institutions don't always provide learners with enough information about the process, let alone consult them in decisions about it. This is a topic that I've been thinking about quite a bit lately (eg 'Making learning processes explicit') and I feel quite strongly that we can't expect true engagement and commitment unless we provide some convincing justification for the learning activities we ask of learners.

You also said:

Learning through the use of a reflective blog shifts the power base to the students. The teacher who keeps a blog becomes one of the participants...

I think that second sentence is key... the teacher modelling a commitment to being one of the participants and engaging in the process herself is crucial to getting learners involved and committed.

Bron, thanks for sharing such good practice...


In reply to Paul Left

Re: The literacy gatekeeper

by bronwyn hegarty -
thx Paul
as you can see I got rather waylaid so this response is probably right out of kilter.

I agree totally about the need to provide students upfront with the course expectations and part of this is to have a transparent schedule, and easily accessible content.

As an example, let me tell you about a new approach to open learning we are trying on WikiEducator. This is for a course called Designing for Flexible Learning Practice.

As well as formal enrolments, we welcome informal enrolments. We provide a weekly schedule with the activities and resources embedded in the schedule. as well as a cohort/community approach with communication around individual blogs which the students keep as part of the assessment, we also encourage self-paced learning. This helps people who are falling behind due to workloads, illness etc.

This might fit with your ideas Paul on open teaching and the need to make learning more explicit.

We are trying to be open, inclusive and flexible, so far so good the students are enjoying it. We welcome feedback on this model.

In reply to bronwyn hegarty

Re: The literacy gatekeeper

by Paul Left -
Bron said: As well as formal enrolments, we welcome informal enrolments.

Does that mean anyone can just join in the online activities etc without going through the institutional enrolment procedure? That's great - not many institutions would agree to that!

I agree the weekly schedule is valuable, along with the opportunity to work at your own pace if required.

The mediawiki-based course presence looks great...