This is the last post that has been written as part of an assignment for "Applied Practice in Context" paper which makes up part of the "Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning" at Mindlab in partnership with UNITEC
"We do not learn from experience....we learn from reflecting on experience" John Dewey
Time to sit down with a decent coffee and reflect on the amazing journey of the Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning.
How can I sum up my experience of the first ever Mindlab/UNITEC Post graduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning?
A: It has VALIDATED, STRENGTHENED, BROADENED and DEEPENED my thinking and practice and in turn my confidence as a teacher. I am now a teacher who is confident to take risks in the learning environment (modelling the expectations I have for my students) and try new future-focussed strategies, such as working collaboratively and increasing the use of digital media, with students. I feel I am so much better equipped at being able to prepare my students with transferable skills and competencies such as the "4C's";collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication that will help them across contexts in a future that is uncertain and unpredictable. The 3 biggest take aways for me, which I will reflect on) are:-
a passion for design thinking in educational contexts
"4C's" - collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication
take risks in your practice. They might just be AMAZING!
a passion for design thinking in educational contexts
Before Mindlab: Early in 2014 I was introduced to "The Falconer" by Grant Lichtman which set me on the path to learn more about questioning to help students have "deeper learning experiences". At the time I was exploring the maker movement and e-textiles. I'd heard about design thinking, did a wee bit of research (d.school, IDEO) and it stirred something within me.
At Mindlab: During the first two papers I was soo excited when I heard we were going to have a session on Design Thinking. It was like opening pandora's box; for me it was inspiring, exciting, it clicked, it resonated, I immediately knew that I could find ways to implement it into my learning environment. Conversely, some of my classmates didn't engage, didn't "get it" or didn't want to and appeared to feel very uncomfortable about the topic and couldn't conceive it's potential. This should have been a warning for me or at the least a "note to remember" when introducing the concept staff later in the year. Not long after this Grant Lichtman's second book #Edjourney came out and again I read about Design Thinking and then........I won a copy of Ewan McInosh's (2014) new book "How to come up with great ideas and actually make them happen". Around the same time, during Connected Educators Month (www.connectededucator.org.nz) there were a couple of webinars on Design Thinking that I hooked into. No surprises that this became a recurring theme for a number of assignments, particularly the research assignments.
After Mindlab: I shared my enthusiasm for Design Thinking with some colleagues and I got blank faces. Hugely disappointing for me. However, I should have been prepared for this after what I'd witness in class the evening before. I was not to be deterred. During our end of year professional development sessions I was asked by our school principal Barbara Cavanagh to run a focus group on Design Thinking. Scary because I'd only really read about it but.......it was only stuff I didn't know....yet! Part of the Design Thinking ethos is to "give it a go". I took the risk repeating the mantra "feel the fear....and do it anyway". And of course those fears were unfounded as a group of 9 of us had an amazing 3 day whirlwind of Design Thinking, visiting to schools that use Design Thinking and business incubator Biz Dojo. We learnt so much, we were converts but.....when we came to share with colleagues again there were mixed reactions. People may take it on board when they are ready or see some proof of the benefits, they may see it as the latest "teaching babble fad" and may never adopt the mindset and human-centred approach to problem solving. This year I've introduced a Design Thinking mindset and methodology into my Product Design class. The students seem to engage from the outset however, I am having to think creatively how to align the project with what is being assessed this term.
"4C's" - collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication
Before Mindlab: As a teacher collaboration might happen between colleagues in school, through cluster meetings, PD days or subject associations and generally revolved around sharing resources or deepening understanding of Achievement Standards. For students collaboration generally consisted of working together to brainstorm ideas and perhaps some peer teaching. On Impact Project days students collaborate more that in specialist subjects as they work in groups and have to liaise with people in the community in order to have a successful project.
At Mindlab: We collaborated on a range of activities during sessions and collaborated somewhat on the portal although this did fizzle out as we all became more time pressured towards the end of the programme. I would have liked to collaborate more on the portal but it often came down to time and what was "the best use of my time right now" and more often than not the students I'd be working with "tomorrow" got priority over online discussions. Oh for some balance!
After Mindlab: Thinking back on the programme I have come to understand that I am definitely energised by being around people (perhaps that's part of why I'm a teacher) and bounce ideas around with others is certainly beneficial to my learning. Of course we know have the technology to easily do this electronically. However, there is some magic ingredient when people get together in a physical space. Towards the end of last year I had another "feel the fear and do it anyway" moment and after a few technical hitches my year 13 class and I had a skype conversation with "Grant Lichtman" in the USA. By doing this once it made me realise that actually it's not that difficult and that the benefits far outweigh the fear factor. I haven't done this again with my class....yet but I definitely will. I would not have had the confidence to even consider doing this before undertaking the Mindlab courses. Since then I've had a google hangout with Mary Cantwell (DEEP design thinking) to further explore Design Thinking in the classroom and methods of assessment. This is something that will continue as time frees up post Mindlab. I've also collaborating with a technology teacher based in Christchurch who has a future-focussed outlook similar to mine and is working within the same NCEA assessment parameters as I am.
My composite year 11, 12 and 13 students are in a learning environment where they are being encouraged to work collaboratively where they are peer teaching, brainstorming, generating and sharing ideas and decision making together. They are all developing a garment that collectively makes up a class fashion collection. I've seem students across year groups communicating well together. The only minor disappointment I have with this project is that I thought students would embrace the opportunity to record evidence electronically however the opted that most evidence would be collected in a visual diary. This is something I will approach differently for their next project.
Through using a Design Thinking mindset in my learning environment I anticipate that I will be developing problem solving skills (by finding the right problem to solve in the first place) which will generate much richer experiences and deeper learning for students through (perhaps) solving real problems rather than just making a dress for a cousins "fictional 21st birthday" because they don't have anything to wear as has been the general "status quo".
Take risks in your practice. They might just be AMAZING!
Before Mindlab: To some degree I took what some would consider "risks" with my students in my teaching approach by co-constructing topic contexts and content within the parameters of NCEA requirements and really considering what the students interests were, rather than what pushes my buttons, yet still playing to my teaching strengths.
Post Mindlab:Through the experiences and associated learning and discovery journey of the past 32 weeks I feel so much more confident in stepping out of my comfort zone and trying different activities, tasks and techniques with my students. After, being on the edge of one's comfort zone is "where learning happens".
Time to wrap up as the coffee cup I sat down with at the beginning of this post has been drained a couple of times and what is left is now cold. The course has really brought home to me that we are always on a journey and that learning is enriched, for me, when I have opportunities to work with others, share ideas, consider the future of education and the changes we desperately need and challenge each others thinking. My next step is to grow my digital presence through blogging, twitter and google hangouts. Hmm! Doesn't this correlate with the "4C's"; collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication!