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Sunday, September 25, 2011

A little inspiration

Today in the shower (where I do my best thinking, incidentally), I was listening to CBC Radio's Fresh Air with host, Mary Ito.  Just as I was I was getting a good steam going she introduced two "mature students".  This past week has been particularly trying in terms of keeping my commitment to my studies, and these folks were just the inspiration I needed.   Click here to listen.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I wasn’t sure if I was going to share this right away or save it for next week, but I just can’t wait.  hooks talks about the classroom as an “exciting place, never boring” (p. 7, Teaching to Transgress).  I’ve had that experience in a number of classrooms over the years, particular as an adult learner and as a student in the adult ed program at Brock.  But since wading into the world of online learning, I’ve often wondered how you could achieve that level of excitement, particularly in a course that is delivered in an asynchronous format. In fact, when I read about excitement in hooks’s text, I wrote in the margin, “Yes, but how do you do this in an online environment?”.  Then, later on in the week, one of my fellow learners gave me an excellent example of the art of infusing excitement into the world of online learning. 

The assignment was to relate how a piece of poetry, a film, or any other form of art of our choosing had an impact on us and what it told about our persona.  I related my experience with the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the film of the same name by Sean Penn and one of the songs from the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder (that may be a later post if I get around to it and/or if someone is interested).    

Waffa, a classmate of mine, posted a video link to Boonaa Mohammed reciting his poem, Beautiful.  I quickly read her post explaining what this said about her persona and moved on to the video link. I have to admit that I read Waffa’s post with only a passing interest but after I viewed the video, I felt like I needed to go back right away and read it again. You see after I viewed the video, I had this feeling of excitement that was building inside my gut.  A visceral response to what I had just witnessed and an increasingly desperate need to understand it on a more personal level.   As soon as I re-read her post, I started flipping frantically through our readings and then I found it: Jack Mezirow's idea that adult education fosters perspective transformation (Finger and Asun, p. 58).  That's what Waffa did with her post and videolink.  She provided a treasure map to an alternative perspective.  And equally important for me, she affirmed that, no matter what the medium whether it be in a classroom or online, learning is exciting.

With her permission, I’m including Waffa’s post below followed by the video.  Thanks again, Waffa. 

"I am a Muslim- Canadian who wears the headscarf (hijaab). I have lived in Canada all my life but I decided to wear the hijaab permanently 5 years ago. When I decided to wear the hijaab, most people assumed that I was oppressed and I was being forced by my father or brother to wear the hijaab, which is unfortunate because the media portrays that Muslim women are oppressed. Most people don't understand the reason behind the hijaab other than believing what the media says, but a Muslim woman wears the hijaab to guard her chastity and to be modest. A woman shouldn't be seen as a sex object; rather she should be respected for who she is. A woman is like a gem and is precious, therefore she should be protected and protect herself. Music, movies and society have totally degraded a woman's worth. I find it heart breaking when I see young girls dressed so revealing and go on major diets since the music industry promotes that you are beautiful only if you’re skinny. I think most of us women can relate to weight issues and always feeling like we are being judged by our weight or how we dress. Just remember that as a woman, you are beautiful no matter how fat, skinny, tall or short you are. A man should love you for who you are and not how you look."

Why not?

This week we explored the introduction and the first chapter in Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks.  During these pages, hooks relays her first experiences with education as a “black girl from [a] working-class background” in “the apartheid South” (p. 2).  She tells of black teachers teaching black children with a fervor and commitment more akin to the pulpit than to the classroom.  She says that “teachers worked with and for us to ensure that we would fulfill our intellectual destiny and by so doing uplift the race” (p. 2).  With such a beginning, you would think that the explanation of the latter half of the books title, Education as the Practice of Freedom, would be self-evident.  But as I read further, I came to discover that her message is at once more elemental and universal.  That is to say, you don’t need to suffer institutional oppression to the scale of apartheid to appreciate the liberating effect that education can have on the mind, body and soul. 

hooks writes that “home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be.  School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself” (p. 3).  When I read that I thought to myself, “Really?  ‘Cause that ain’t the school I remember.”  I remember a lot of conformity to images, ideas, and methods of doing things.  Yes, there was the odd teacher who, in my formative years, let me be in charge of my formation.  But they seemed to be few and far between in my recollection.  One of those neo-hippie, substitute teachers who wasn't really around all that long but long enough for the regular teacher to ask upon his/her return, "You didn't cover this?"  But then I remembered a specific teacher who taught me the idea that even though school may give you the formula there is no reason why you can’t question it and even design your own.  That teacher was my Dad.

As a senior in high school, my Dad, a high school physics teacher, thought that I would “enjoy” calculus and convinced me to select it as one of my electives.  I enjoyed it so much that I ended up taking it twice.  One day, I brought my calculus homework to my Dad so he could share in my enjoyment.  Never having taught calculus (or at least not in his recent memory), he reviewed my text and the handout from my teacher that detailed the formula to use in order to solve the problem.  Now my Dad is a pretty smart guy and I understand that there is a relationship between calculus and physics (don’t ask me what – I didn’t enjoy it enough to find out).  But, I watched in amazement as my Dad worked out the problem in a different way and said to me, "Why don't you try to solve it like this...".  Until that moment, I hadn't considered that you could "do" calculus a different way than the way that I was taught.  I said to my Dad, "You can't do that".  His response to me: "Why not?" 

I think that what hooks is saying is that the very act of teaching and learning should be liberating; that is to say teaching and learning should not be about memorizing and reciting "facts" but rather, recognizing that fact can be influenced by bias. Teaching and learning should be about questioning, being encouraged to have the stones to say, “Why not look at it this way…”.   Why not, indeed. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My readings...

Take a peek, if you will, at my "Readings" - just to the right of this post.  This is a list of books that I have been assigned to support my learning in the two courses that I am currently taking online through Brock University.  I should note that I haven't read all of these books but I expect to before the end of the term.  A bit of a challenge for me as I am a notoriously slow reader.  Anyone in my family would attest to this fact.  

I come from and have married into a family of readers.  When a new book enters the family, particularly a good one, it gets circulated throughout all of the members, kind of like a book club with only one book to share.  Well, I'm always the last on the list.  There have even been times when I have received a book as a gift and before I get a chance to crack the spine, it has already been absconded and is in circulation.

Anyway, I'll try to add to this list as time goes on. I'm already thinking about a few....

As an aside, thanks to all of you who have read my first blog and the feedback that I've received.  Again, I welcome your comments.  Just checked my stats today and my blog has had a respectable number of views (although I don't have anything to benchmark that against).  One from Germany even.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My first blog

Okay so this is my first time blogging. My first blog. I should probably give you a bit of background first. Why am I starting to blog and what am I going to blog about? Well, in response to the first question, I'll first direct you to my "About me" section on my blog. There you'll note that I am working towards my degree in adult education at Brock University. I completed all of my core courses nearly 7 years ago. Then, a little more than a year ago I decided to finally complete the rest of my requirements. Well, a lot had changed in my life during my time away from my studies - marriage, mortgage, kids....  And a lot had changed in adult education as well.  In particular, distance education had become more accessible and the options more abundant. 

Case in point: when I took my core courses, the university offered them at a satellite campus close to where I live.  I took all of my courses with the same cohort of learners, meeting every Saturday over a period of more than two years.  When I decided to start working on my electives, the university didn’t have much to choose from in my neck of the woods so, with direction from the academic advisor, I researched my options via Canadian Virtual University.  I ended up taking a traditional distance ed course from Thompson Rivers University.  Fast forward 18 months and now the university offers a number of electives in the adult education stream that are available online.  So, I can sit in the comfort of my own home at in the morning enjoying my cup of joe and plug away at my coursework while the kids are happily entertained by the latest exploits of Handy Manny and Dora the Explorer. 

I am currently enrolled in two online courses this fall, having taken my first online course this past spring.  As you can tell, I enjoy the online format.  And it’s not just for the convenience of working in my pj’s. I also find it more challenging than face-to-face learning.  I can’t just read a bit of the chapter, show up to class and fake it.  I actually have to read, reflect, and formulate coherent and credible thoughts before posting them online.  However, my experience with online learning has also highlighted my dismal understanding of the role of technology in adult education. So, after my last online course, I started on a quest to learn more about the technological tools that are out there to facilitate learning.  This (finally) leads me to why I am starting this blog. 

One of the courses that I am currently taking has given us the option of recording our learning journals (if any of you have read anything about adult education, you’ll know we love our journals) in a blog format.  One of the issues that I have had with journaling is having the discipline to persist with it after I finish a course.  My hope is that having a journal that is viewed by others will keep my feet to the fire, so to speak. 

So what will I blog about?  Again, if you are familiar with adult education you know we love critical reflection even more than journaling about it.  So, this blog will often be about my reflections on my course readings and other learning that I experience.  But I expect that it will be more than just my musings about adult education in the global context or power and pedagogy.  As a neophyte to technological tools such as blogging, podcasts and the like, I’ll likely be reflecting upon my experience as an adult learner, exploring these new ways of teaching and learning.  And, if all goes well and I begin to get some feedback, sorry, comments, on my blog, I’ll likely reflect on those as well.