Dr. Paul Leslie
I have been revisiting the notion, coined by Marshall McLuhan (1964), that the 'medium is the message' in the light of what we might call 21st century media - that which is freely and readily available to most people, and certainly to teachers and students. In my own research around another notion of making our thinking visible to our peers, students and stakeholders, I am thinking about how to research and then promote our ability to display our thinking more thoroughly, or perhaps in a more readable manner.
I love to listen to a good speaker. I also love to read a good book. These are two media employed to convey thinking, notions and ideas. They are great and they are useful. However, they are also linear and perhaps not always the best way to convey an idea.
Medium is the Message
This concept map expresses the notion that the audience is central to our choice of media in supporting and shaping the message that we want to convey. We need to consider who comprises the audience, what tools they may have, even how much time do they have to devote to receiving the message.
During my research into displays of competency, the participating teachers spent a great deal of time to consider the media that they would use to design their displays. Although we had discussed the notion of the medium is the message, they seemed to instinctively focus on what media they should use.
Competency to Goal
As they progressed with their work, the teachers began to become increasingly selective about their media tools.
The teachers reported that they spent considerable time to determine just the exact media to use to demonstrate their various competencies. In these examples, the media in itself is a demonstration of competency as far as it shows their ability to use media to display various messages. They were also very clear in their descriptions of how they wanted their work to be perceived. The teachers were highly cognizant of the non-reflexive potential of the portfolio. They were aware that others would view their work without them present to explain the various features of processes involved in the work and so went to great efforts to ensure that the work represented their intentions as clearly as possible.
The teachers developed a very clear set of rules for demonstrating the various goals. Firstly, they determined that the evidence for any particular goal must not be dispersed through the portfolio. Stakeholders must be able to see the competency, goal, and evidence all at once. This highlights the need for the correct or best media for this purpose. They seemed very conscious of the fact that they were not just demonstrating a competency for the sake of demonstration but that there was a very ‘real-world’ consequence of this demonstration. Given the high-stakes nature of demonstrating these competencies, it is very interesting to note the attention to these details.
It is also important to note that this process was socially constructed over a period of time through the development of associated skills. They were determined to make the process easy in order to focus on the demonstrations of competency and not on the media. They were clear that the competency determined how the media would be chosen and used, and that the media would not determine how they demonstrated the competency. In a positive feedback cycle, the more adept they became at manipulating the media to their goals, the more motivated they became to learn about the media tools in order to give themselves better options for displaying their competencies.
The Medium is the Message
During teaching sessions, I place links to each course in the area where you found this link. Below you can see links to the blog entries for each of the courses I taught during the last semester at Sharjah Women's College.
Along with links to the semester courses, there are several other links. You can have a look at my video discussing just how the site works. Starting from the left of the menu is a calendar, which is in fact a Google (Google, 2014) product as are several other features. Click on it to see how easily the calendar embeds into the site and provides a practical access point.
The calendar is a very powerful administrative tool for use with students and for stakeholders at all levels. For example, the calendar is used to monitor teaching placement visits. Permission to edit the calendar has been shared with the members of the various student cohorts so that they are able to make appointments for me to visit them in their placements for formal, assessed observations. Since this calendar is publicly available, other students can see the calendar and appointments. They can then more easily plan their own dates for me to visit and in many cases, negotiate with students at other placements to arrange the schedule to their benefit. An added features of using the web calendar is that I can share and the ‘push’ the calendar to my students mobile devices in order to remind them of various activities that fall outside of our regular classes.
My supervisor also has access and since I use the calendar for all of my professional duties, I can provide a level of transparency to my actions that inspires confidence and trust. In fact, throughout the department in which I teach, the faculty have adopted a centralized calendar in order to manage these activities much more readily and to add a greater ease to collaborative activities. This simple tool reduces my administrative load considerably allowing me to spend more time in pursuits that are more productive or perhaps more socially constructive.
The series of numbers in the menu represent my classes, and each of these menu items links to a blog dedicated to that class. The class blogs operate in a standard blog format, placing the latest post at the top of the page for that particular blog, and pushing the last blog post down. Generally, I create blog posts weekly, but often update posts mid-week to reflect or add the ideas and constructions that were achieved during our class time. Students are then free to return to the blog at any point to review the notes or access comments that may have been explained during the class time. Each post can also hold downloadable documents or other files.
The students can also see the progression of an idea that was developed communally and perhaps take some pride of ownership. If they do not, they will certainly understand it more readily for having been the originators of some of the language in the notes and subsequently in the diagram. These blogs also contribute to, and may comprise a subset of the professional commentaries that support cognitive apprenticeship (Kopcha & Alger, 2014; Oriol, Tumulty, & Snyder, 2010).
Refined board notes
Following the course links, is a link to files that are shared with the audience using Google Drive (Google, 2014). Although this example highlights a Google product, there are a number of similar cloud storage products that are freely available. One advantage of Google is that they offer a suite of cloud products that help the less technically inclined users minimize the number of different accounts and tools they need to master.
These files include journal articles, administrative documents, and various other documents. One benefit of using cloud storage to make these documents available is that they are then available all the time, or at least until they are removed from the library. These archived folders are very useful for all concerned, especially the practitioner in order to provide them ready access to these materials during class time. Also, most cloud storage tools allow a synchronized copy to exist on the document owner’s computer. Thus, while there was some effort to create and make links to the library, once these initial tasks are completed, any of the documents therein can be edited from the convenience of the owner’s laptop, or from any access point to the cloud library.
A side benefit of these features of cloud storage is the ability to easily share assessment documents with students in an ‘assignment drop box’ arrangement. The instructor can simply make a folder in Google Drive and then share that folder with students. The students then create a folder inside the main folder and share their folder only with the instructor. The result is a password secure assignment drop box that show the date and time of the last edit or addition to anything inside the folder. Figure 21 shows how this arrangement would look.
The next link in the top menu takes the user to imagery that is produced either in class as board notes, or for classes in the form of concept maps or other graphics. Again, these images are stored in the cloud, in this instance, using a photo storage service called Flickr (Yahoo, 2014). Figure 22 shows the interface for the photo storage.
This library holds the board notes for all the classes. The strength of this process is that much of it is automated and can be done in one or two minutes with most photo storage services and with the use of a smart phone or web-enabled tablet. Since the album has already been embedded in the portfolio, it will automatically and instantaneously update with the new images. This feature also provides the practitioner with an instant recall of notes made in previous classes or tutorials, which can then be called up during class time for further support when explaining a topic. The fact that the students can see the actual notes made in class helps to trigger memories and understandings created during that class time.
The top menu also includes a link to annotated web links that have been accumulated through several years of teaching in this program. Reference lists, bibliographies and lists of web links are nothing new, but in this context at least they are consistent and familiar to the students. As many of the students have accessed this list before, they have become familiar with it and can benefit more readily from it. The page has been hit 2935 times since it was first created in September, 2012.
Recently, I was sent a few articles about Imagineering at Breda University of Applied Sciences, where my thesis supervisor holds a post. After reading these articles, I felt there were a number of similarities between the many associated concepts including 'Complexity Theory', 'Emergence', 'Narrative Modes', 'Design Research', and 'Value Creation' (Nijs, 2015) and my own work on the "Portfolio Approach to Teaching and Learning".
One of the main underlying concepts is that of complex problems versus complicated problems. The notion of complexity is similar to that of ill-structured cognitive domains and their realization in the classroom. A complex problem may be defined as one that is non-linear and that may not be solved by a series of reproducible steps to achieve that same result every time. Similarly, the processes at play in the classroom are complex in that they are often non-linear, interdependent and subject to whim and whimsy of the key players in that classroom. As such, they are difficult to manage and require great skill on the part of the practitioner, or teacher, to manage. As a result, from the perspective of the stakeholder, or in my case the supervising teacher, monitoring for assessment and feedback is very difficult and must be done within the context of each classroom.
The notion of complexity and ill-structured cognitive domains gives rise to the concept of emergence. In my work with practice teachers, I have found that the only meaningful way in which to engage in formative feedback is to allow the feedback to emerge from the discussion based on observed classroom practices. This is much the same methodology espoused in the Imagineering program. By allowing the participants, who are themselves stakeholders in the process, to actually participate in creating the feedback, that very feedback becomes much more meaningful and powerful. In this manner, I can discuss with the teachers whom I am observing and rather than comment on what I may have done in a particular situation, or on what I thouight they should do, I give them room to narrate to me the situation, impacting factors, and other relevant information to tell a story of that situation and what they saw happening. From that vantage point, we then can start to deconstruct the situation and arrive together at a opinion of what happened. More often than not, the student-teacher is far more critical of themselves than I would ever be and this leads to a much greater construction of knowledge for the student-teacher.
A narrative of learning
This type of emergent feedback is at the same time more beneficial to the recipient but more difficult to both participants, myself and the practicing teacher. In many cases, the student wants to receive a linear, step-by-step process for dealing with the various eventualities in their classrooms. When these are not forthcoming, uncertainty is induced. However, this very uncertainty is the what pushes us to seek better answers to our challenges. Indeed, the mentors also often prefer to resort to such feedback in order to save themselves that level of uncertainty and to deal with the challenge of leading all participants through the uncertainty to a better 'truth' at the end.
In support of the principle of emergence in relation to narratives of learning, I encourage my students to pursue a narrative mode in their reflective processes. Given the multitude of processes that are in swirl during a classroom event, in order to actually place each event in its proper place and significance, we must try to understand the sequence and impact of events and the unfolding of meaning as it develops through a classroom period. In the following diagram taken from my thesis, this set of processes is almost entirely that: process. Products are important in terms of finishing something, but even in Math class, you get more points for the process of working out the question, even if you get the wrong answer.
Process over product
From this understanding, I also guide my students through design thinking, an approach in which, "the innovation and creative process is as important as the final product, involving all the social actors in the construction and reconstruction of knowledge" (Camargo-Borges, 2015, p. 31). Part of the reflective process for student-teachers involves examining the days' events and seeking to make sense of what happened. In this example, the notion that the process is as important as the product cannot be understated. Given the range of social actors in any educational setting, the best we can hope for is to understand one particular set of circumstances, knowing that this particular set may not come together again. Similar circumstances may arise, but never the same.
In the classroom, the concept of value creation arises from the belief that we can contribute meaningfully to our peers both in real-time and virtually. This is one of the underlying concepts of my portfolio approach. By making our thinking visible to our peers through dialogue and the use of media, we can strive to pursue forms of 'parallel thinking' in which deBono (1999) tells us that the "emphasis is on designing (italics are mine) a way forward. (p. 4)"
deBono, E. (1999). Six thinking hats. London: Penguin.
Camargo-Borges, C. (2015). Designing for learning: Rethinking education as applied in the Master in Imagineering. World Futures., 71., 26-39.
Nijs, D. (2015). The complexity-inspired design approach of Imagineering. World Futures. 71., 8-25.
I was very honoured to be the first Taos Institute graduate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB - The Free University of Brussels). Taos members normally graduate from Tilburg University in Holland. I was actually registered there for the first few years of the program.
I received honourable mention in the November edition of the Taos newsletter. View it here - you will have to scroll down a bit.
However, the Taos Institute recently initiated a new agreement with VUB and my adviser suggested I switch. The benefit is that I now can have my PhD in Educational Sciences where it properly belongs rather than in Social Sciences, which is also accurate, but more general.
By the way, you can also view my dissertation and associated documents from the Taos site here.
Education is a community affair. To facilitate the creation of knowledge within our learning environments, we must make our own thinking visible and explicit to our community so that others may view our thoughts and feel welcome to share their own. Freire (1996) tells us that the truly reflective and liberated educator lets others see their ideas, and welcomes all reflections and differences of opinion. In this way, we create for our students and colleagues, “the possibilities for the production and construction of knowledge".
This philosophy is translated into action through my working portfolio at www.paulleslie.net where my thoughts and actions are made visible and explicit to my community. By welcoming others’ ideas into our community, I promote an environment of epistemological freedom. By making clear our community’s educational goals and aspirations, any student, from kindergarten to university, will be inspired to participate, because they will see how they can fit into the community.
I create in my educational communities and classrooms the opportunity for all participants to contribute their teaching presence to the community, which then drives the relational construction of knowledge. Teaching presence gives all community members not only permission to question each other, but demands from them that they challenge each other to push their knowledge and understanding forward.
Practically, I promote the use of technology to support our interactions, and to allow each member of our academic community to see what all other members are doing, and to contribute their own expertise and experience to the community. I believe that the use of technology as collaborative mind tools to support our interactions allows us to spend more time considering our ideas and less time simply gathering and manipulating them.
I also employ, and encourage the use of concept maps in order to let my community represent their thoughts in a non-linear manner. I try to explain all concepts that I introduce to my communities with maps to represent the interconnecting, sequential, non-sequential, concurrent and consecutive notions that make up an overarching concept.
I try to help my students, young and old, draw connections between their concrete, experiential knowledge and abstract concepts that attempt to make sense of their experiences. Relational constructionism tells us that we attach our own meaning to knowledge and in order to do so, we must be able to make connections in our own minds between experience and thought. Relational practice is reflective practice.
Each individual brings their own understanding to the world and it behooves us as educators to acknowledge and celebrate each individual and encourage them to make their thinking visible.
I use the following documents to support my applications for positions as lecturer or professor.
- EDU 4203 - Curriculum Development - Sample of curriculum document - lead author
- Professional Portfolios to Demonstrate "Artful Competency" - Sample journal article
The attached image shows the poster that advertised my PhD defense at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on October 13th, 2015.
On October 13th, 2015, I successfully defended my PhD degree against a panel of five professors from the VUB and the Taos Institute. See the degree here.
My wife, my brother and his wife and a great friend joined me at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (The Free University of Brussels) to watch me present my findings and then defend against the panel. The defense itself took over two hours.
I am very happy to report that it was successful and that I am now able to call myself, "Dr." Paul Leslie.