I recall a story I shared with my students, one you have probably heard before; of the blind men and the elephant. As the story goes, each man was touching one part of the animal and using what they felt to create an overall impression of the animal; this led to arguments. Each person was convinced that they were right and the others were wrong. They were unable to listen to anyone else’s point of view. The discussion I had with my students centered around only seeing one perspective and not opening your eyes to other perspectives; being blinded by beliefs. This idea of perspectives and blinded beliefs has intertwined itself through many of the research papers, class discussions, my blog posts and my many late night ponderings.
We always start somewhere. My start was with a pile of enthusiasm and a jarful of ideas and biases I held about research and social media, amongst other things. These were not verbalized or highly passionate ideas, they were simply beliefs that resided quietly in the periphery of my mind only coming to the forefront as we began to explore ideas. My ideas about research were simple. Researchers researched to gather data and information that created knowledge. Quantitative and clinical studies were superior, the best and most trustworthy sort of research, and qualitative, perhaps they shared some interesting ideas about people’s thoughts, but they were not the gold standard and were certainly not as rigorous and valid. The researcher along with their research were the most important aspect of all this; I liken this to “Folke on his towering chair in the corner of Isak’s kitchen in the movie Kitchen Stories.
My ideas about Social Media were apprehensive and filled with a combination of wariness, untrustworthiness, and a conviction that it was a waste of time. I had no interest in putting myself out there on Twitter and couldn’t see any reason to do so. Shortly after, I found myself reopening my Twitter account and talking about PLN’s. A what, I thought? Personal Learning Network. What do I need that for? And now a blog? Okay, and we can choose to make it public or private, and we can choose to go on Twitter or not. And, I begin thinking and remembered that I came into this program to learn, to try new things, to take risks. So, I and my jumbled piles of ideas and beliefs, jumped on. We jumped into exploring research with new lenses, we jumped into new ways of thinking about learning and teaching and sharing through social media.
I began working through papers and connecting on social media. I remember the nerves around sending the first tweet; Is there a, “this is a terrible tweet” button? Can I delete it? I recall discourse around social media and privacy and open learning. I recall one of the first presenters we had, Dr. Christine Younghusband. She talked about creating an online presence and the importance of including an image and some information about yourself. So I added these components in.
I remember reading through the first few research papers on Research Diaries and Autoethnography and my discussion around journaling and writing; how this can lead to greater reflection. I made some interesting assumptions with regards to my discussion around the written word; now when I look back I can see some of my biases connected to the written word. Were I to read this article now with the understandings I have gained, I believe my response would reflect this changed point of view. I would hold the spoken language in as high regard as the written. I might also argue that each has its own inherent value and that they should be examined independently rather than compared to each other.
I recall the visit from Dr. Shauneen Pete, the discourse about her work, and the impact this made on me. I had never thought about indigenous perspectives this way; I had never thought of myself as a settler. And I began to wonder what other knowledge I was missing. I recall the inspirational visit from Jeff Hopkins that had me looking at education with a new lens, that had me wondering how I could try this out, how I could find out more.
In the midst of all this, in the midst of learning about teaching pedagogies and educating students about digital citizenship, I suddenly realized that I was tweeting and asking questions and beginning to connect with others online. And, I was enjoying it; I was seeing the benefit of it.
I then recall the visit from John Willinsky and the public knowledge project (PKP) and how my mind opened up to this idea of open access. And I thought; yes, research should be public; globally available to all. This is amazing; amazing for learning, for sharing, connecting and researching. Research is so important for improving practice, for opening minds. To have open access, what an impact this can make!
In one of the last classes we looked at Métissage reading, the idea of braiding by breaking apart, by breaking pieces down and then taking these pieces and re-braiding; creating something new. And I thought, this is what this learning has been like, I think back to the ideas I came in with and the ideas that were broken apart, and the new ideas that began to enter and the re-braiding of these new pieces.
The end and a new beginning
I was introduced to new ideas and ways of thinking, of sharing and of learning, the community within the class, the new community I am building on line, the discourse that keeps me thinking and wondering, the new teaching pedagogies, the learning from research, the new types of research that I didn’t realize existed: the mixed method studies, the action research, the narrative research, phenomenology. The different perspective’s; the 4 R’s. Through all of this I learnt about myself, what I want my teaching practice to be. I learnt that there are multiple ways to understanding and of understanding and viewing. I reflect back on a quote that really impacted me from the reading, “Indigenous knowledge systems and science and technology education: A dialogue”,
“ I am suggesting that the two systems are different and therefore require different forms of verification. These verification methods and processes can actually be equated and be made to be of similar standards, however they have to be appropriate for each system, otherwise we would compromise one system at the expense of another and in the process lose the beauty of what the two systems could provide alongside each other.”
Onwu,G & Mosimege, M (2004)
When I think about my teaching, I realize this quote applies to my students as well. The work and assessment that takes place for each student needs to be appropriate for each student; it does not need to be the same. I reflect on the beauty of teachers and students working alongside each other. And I am suddenly brought back to the elephant story told at the beginning and I wondered…
What if in fact, these people talked to each other and shared their ideas. What if one man said, rather than you are wrong because I am right, what if they said, take me, show me what you feel. Show me what you see. Tell me what you see.
This same idea is illustrated beautifully in the following statement taken from the podcast below.
“We’re always coming from a mindset of where we know best and we have an answer, and we’ll consult on it, but it’s what we come up with. And so to me, until we can actually say ‘We don’t know what this answer is. What do you think?’ and talk together to build something… I don’t know if that’s even do-able. I mean, obviously it’s a very scary thing.”
Duration: 34:08 minutes
Had the individuals feeling the elephant used this idea, had they said, I don’t know what the answer is, what do you think? Had they talked together, they may have been able to build the whole elephant in their minds. For is it possible to know the other side if your voice is the only voice you listen to, and the only voice you hear, is your own? In my teaching, this connects to listening to student voices, to think, is this what I think the students need or is this what the students need?. It’s asking, what do you think?, It’s saying, I don’t know, let’s see if we can find out, let’s see if we can find someone who does know, and, then it’s building together.
And I reflect again on research and on social media and I realize that both allow for the listening of other ideas, both allow for the voicing of ideas, both allow for the creation of new meaning and understanding; the creation of a voice online, a practice informed by research. Both build connections. This simple word with so many meanings. And I looked back at the picture I had just changed on my blog’s header. The picture that, to me, seemed to communicate both knowledge and technology, but was missing the essence of teaching, the essence of learning. And, I found a new image, one that showed connectedness, community, communication, and collaboration because this is what ties it all together. This is important.
I am filled with excitement. Excitement for how I will learn and grow over the next few months and years. Excitement for how this will impact and change my teaching. Excited for the questions I want to pursue; excited, scared and apprehensive, I’m not sure what this will look like at this point, I’m not sure how messy it may get, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about any of it, but, as a friend once told me, “at times you may feel uncomfortable, lean into this as that is when your growth will happen” (Burnham, L).