J is for James

 Owing to time constraints on my behalf and James, the following interview is presented in a transcript. James has kindly agreed to participate another time with a podcast, time permitting.

Ana Cristina:  James, you are from Canada which has been a leading country in terms of telecommunications, internet activity and research. I’d like to ask you whether and what are the differences you have seen – if any – between classroom practices, when using technology,  in the Arabian Gulf and in Canada?

James Buckingham:  There are two important things to mention before answering such a question –

Canada is a big place, jurisdiction for education rests with each of Canada’s 12 Provinces, even within Provinces the scope of educational practices and resourcing can differ widely. As a result, there really is no one common answer available for the question.

I’ve also been away too long to be in the know about what really is happening in the educational system in Canada. However I do note that from my limited exposure to others who are working in education back home, things are moving forward and many of the same issues that educators are dealing with in the UAE are common there too. Namely:

  • adoption of ICT in the classroom

◦                inconsistent (or even unavailable) professional development / training / support for educators on the use of ICT in the classroom

▪                typically the result of funding issues

◦                search for solid emperical evidence to justify expenditures on ICT training for educators

  • recognition of the need to pay attention to and capitalize on the needs and interests of today’s students… and from current business trends

◦                push coming from students themselves (because more and more of them are tech literate (whatever that may mean)

◦                there is a realization that this needs to be tapped into, to make education more relevant and interesting for today’s students,  not to be overlooked is how today’s ICT tools are likely to be used by students as they graduate into the world of work

Ana Cristina: With laptops and even iPads now becoming more widespread in schools and higher education, (well, at least in richer countries), how do you see the role of the learner and the role of the teacher changing – if they are indeed changing? In other words, are there role changes of learners and teachers in a digital classroom?

James Buckingham: Great question! For now, we continue to plod along using a tried and true paradigm in education, which includes the following:

◦                as an educator, know the purpose or goal of what it is that is to be learned .. and then identify measureable objectives .. then design instruction that is relevant to our learners:

◦                this often is interpreted to mean being “educator” centric

◦                this means identifying objectives, inviting students to practice meeting those objectives, then assessing student mastery of those objectives.

◦                ICT is often seen as simply an “add on” .. a way to increase student involvement..

◦                .. but ..  along the way we become witness to its other possibilities such as:

▪                individualized instruction

▪                self paced / self directed learning

▪                multi modal delivery of content

▪                student voice

What is really changing is how more and more educators are questionning this paradigm … largely in response to a review of the future needs of today’s students and through witnessing first hand the potential of ICT to be more than simply an “add on” or supplement to education.

  • more and more educators are beginning to realize that students themselves need to be more and more involved in this whole instructional design process .. if they are to be successful (meaningful) contributors to society…. if they are to become lifelong learners
  • perhaps not all at once but at some point students need to at least be acquainted with their “learning processes” so that they can take control of them  .. to ultimately realize their own aims, objectives and desires .. and to structure their learning to achieve them

this means

  • reflecting on where they are now (i.e. what do I know and what do I still need to know?)
  • determining their own objectives (i.e. clarify what do I want or need to learn)
  • demonstrating how they have mastered what it is they needed to learn (i.e. collect evidence of my learning),
  • seeking out and assembling resources (i.e. tapping into teachers as facilitators and community workers as experts to help find those resources)

Thus the role of an educator may be more and more about facilitating a student’s journey through phases of and mastery of learning – initially assuming the role of director (i.e. you need this .. so follow me) to mentor (i.e. I can give you my opinion or feedback to reflect on).

Concurrently, the role of a student may also go through phases – from pupil (i.e. tell me what I need and I will follow you) to leader (i.e. I can innovate in my use of the information and skills provided to me to realize a better understanding of today’s problems and thus potentially finding useful solutions to those problems).

I can see a day when we share the various methodologies for realizing that learning.. (i.e. rote learning, problem based learning, case study learning, constructivist learning).

ICT is a major factor in how this will be realized.

  • ICT has the power to help students on this journey … by facilitating like never before

◦                access to a rich and ever expanding list of resources (via online searches, conversations, discussion forums)

◦                targeted, frequent, relevant feedback (via the construction of meaningful and purposeful communities)

◦                meaningful reflection (via journalling and evidencing online one’s learning journey in a personal, social and/or global context)

◦                construction of possible solutions to today’s issues (via identification of needs through participation in online communities, social networks)

◦                purposeful contributions to community (via sharing and having tested ones ideas with peers in online communities of professional practice)

◦                connecting students with other students of either similar interest or with different skill sets different to realize collaboratively what might not have been possible on their own

Ana Cristina:  This new academic year has begun with some interesting changes; for example, in Abu Dhabi children beginning school were given an iPad for their school studies. How do you see education changing in the next 3 years – if at all possible to make such predictions?

James Buckingham: It is debatable if we will really be able to measure change in such a short period.

  • the optimist says that

◦                the Ministries of Education throughout the UAE at least, recognize the need for reform, have investigated success stories in realizing effective educational reform in other parts of the world, and are putting in place similar policies and resources that realized reform and so improvements to education are coming.

◦                many of these reforms are more fundamental than just introducing new technologies (i.e. a change in teaching methodology so that it is more inquiry based and less rote based) ..

  • the pessimist says that
  • when I think of the costs associated with realizing such reforms on their own without the integration of ICT .. then I am less optimistic that those sorts of changes are likely to include  ICT
  • why?

◦                the current economic climate

▪                evidence of tight control of costs

▪                demographic profile which suggests that already tight resources will be directed towards meeting more fundamental education needs .. of which ICT may be seen as a lower priority

◦                note the ease at which ICT tools can often be bought .. but not quickly and effectively integrated .. as seen in various other parts of the world.

Ana Cristina:  Focusing now more on changes in language learning,  what does it mean to be an EFL professional and why is that important? (English as a Foreign Language)

James Buckingham: what is professional behaviour first of all….

  • conducting yourself by putting the interests of your clients first (not acting in self interest i.e. tutoring to make money first)
  • staying current .. by learning about and using current best practices
  • contributing to your professional field by sharing your own findings

The importance of demonstrating professional behaviour is

  • for your personal well being – growth as an individual
  • for your professional well being – staying current .. potential for advancement
  • for your profession’s well being – demonstrating that it is a vibrant profession that warrants respect and recognition from others

◦                this can mean an invitation to policy making etc.

And  how does one demonstrate professional behaviour?

  • staying current – reading about current issues, advancements, trends
  • reflecting and adapting what has been read to one’s current practice
  • contributing to the profession

◦                sharing your ideas, listening and supporting others ideas

◦                working with your peers to identify good or best practices

▪                testing the ideas of others

▪                contributing your own ideas for testing & critical review by others

▪                publishing those best practices

Ana Cristina: How can one become a better EFL instructor and demonstrate their professionalism here in the UAE?

James Buckingham: There is the  traditional approach –

  • reading professional journals
  • involvement with TESOL Arabia

◦                conference attendance

◦                chapter events

◦                special interest groups

And then the non traditional –

  • participating in

◦                online communities

◦                social media related activities

Ana Cristina: What are you offering through the TA Education Technology SIG that can help an EFL instructor , or someone aspiring to demonstrate that they are an EFL professional?

James Buckingham: Well, I would recommend they

  • become involved with the TA Education Technology SIG
  • that can start by

◦                becoming a member of the SIG’s Ning – and participate in its online community

◦                joining us at face to face events that are held in various locales throughout the UAE

  • here you will have a a chance to

◦                connect with other EFL practitioners / professionals from across the region

◦                help contribute to the building of an EFL practitioners community of practice..

Of course the focus is on how to use ICT in one’s EFL instruction; by doing so .. you have a chance to grow professionally in the general ways I noted earlier.. but to be more specific, you can grow by

  • contributing to discussions on EFL and ICT topics
  • sharing resources with colleagues that you have found to be useful in guiding your own practice here in the region
  • sharing ideas to invite review / feedback / testing / challenging from your peers  .. in an effort to improve upon them
  • contributing resources of your own .. to show ways of doing things that can help your colleagues realize (lesson plans, methods)
  • identifying and collaborating with your peers to discover common and best practices for EFL educators in the region
  • reaching out to your peers for help on learning an ICT skill or strategy
  • presenting  your findings through formal presentations to your peers
Thank you James for your time and reflections! If you would like to know more about James’ work, do visit his site and of course, the TA Education Technology Ning.

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