Dienstag, 9. Dezember 2014

Mahara Tutorial Updated

Quite a few things have happened since the initial launch of our handbook. A couple of graduations and system updates later we managed to release a new version. I wrote a blog post about the release of the handbook a while back.

Since then both my colleague and I graduated and our Mahara system has been updated as well. I don't actually know if there were any plans for an update, but through my work at a different seminar and university I took a look through it again. Granted, while we were working on the first version, we were kind of doing it on the side since our regular study schedule was still in place. I mention this, because upon looking through it, I found quite a few small mistakes that I was not really proud of.

The students at the seminar to whom I recommended it were also complete rookies, meaning they had never used Mahara nor any sorts of e-Portfolio software before. And this can even turn smaller mistakes in the handbook into big ones for the students. The good thing is that this tutorial was a passion project for both of us, so before the Masters program started, we took a bit of time out of our schedule and managed to fix the mistakes and also update it. This update was important regardless, because the first handbook was released about 2,5 years ago, meaning that there were quite a few things different in the newer Mahara versions.

Although there aren't any new features in use for the practical training we would have had to add, it was nonetheless important to update the language, a couple of explanations and pictures. If you are interested you can find it here, and feel free to let me know about any other mistakes you find!

Freitag, 28. November 2014

Quotes on Quotes - Think to Start/Start to Think

I’m way behind my intended blog-writing again. I actually started to write this post some time ago in September. Honestly I don’t know what happened, October came quicker than expected and all the new and exciting things overwhelmed the things I wanted to write about.

Anyway, the main reason for this post was the new challenge I was facing. The last couple of months since I graduated from teacher training have been exciting and fun already, but what came next was without a doubt another step up. I enrolled in an MA program. It is not only a distance learning program, but I also get to dive deeper into a very interesting field of education research and technology use. The program is called Education and Media: eEducation.

Before everything got started, we received a package with our scripts for our first term. Although I got them later than I would have liked, in terms of being able to prepare beforehand, at least I got them. Included in this package where some pretty cool quote-postcards, which kind of were the first prompt for this blogpost.

For me personally, they offered a great starting point: it meant that we had to turn on our brain again. I posted the picture above and the best possible translations into English below:

Grey: "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."
Red: "Educated are the ones who see parallels where others see something all new"
Light Blue: "Everyone can do anything, but he must also be ready for anything."
Dark Blue: "Those who set high goals, have a lot of room to grow."
Orange: "Education comes not from reading, but from thinking about what has been read."

Before even taking a closer look at the books, I started to wonder which one I liked the most, which one did I think was the most important one. Obviously all of them are good and important, but it is an interesting thought experiment. I think usually I would go with the red one, because from my experience, a lot of times it is about perspective. Education is one of those fields where everybody has an opinion. I'm not talking about teachers or researchers, I'm talking about anybody on out on the street. If you go out and ask a random person about his or her thoughts on education, I'm pretty sure you would get a somewhat passionate answer and explanation. Still most of the time, it is about getting to know all of the angles. Education is such a broad topic with way too many variables, but it is nonetheless important to be able to connect and understand different opinions.

Instead I thought about the Orange card the most. It might have to do with the influence my previous education program had on me, but the reflection implied in this quote, is one of the most important processes for development. I wouldn't count reflection as a key for learning necessarily, but the part about thinking is invaluable.  Regardless if you are teaching kids, youngster or adults, getting learners to think about the topic and not just regurgitate it, should be atop the list of goals. And in this case, it also makes sense for higher education. It is not enough to just read the books and studies about certain topics. A priority must be to understand what has been read, but you can only understand it if you are willing to think about it.

I will definitely come back to these quotes, because the first two months of this program have been more than interesting, to say the least. But in the meantime, what would be your favorite quote and why?

Montag, 25. August 2014

Connecting Theory and Practice

This is one of my favorite teacher-education related questions, because most of the time, it seems like this is what it's all about (or at least, what is should be about, and also what a lot of people want it to be). It often feels like certain issues already arise during teacher training, and instead of them being worked out, they just foster and later come out when the teachers are in school. The problem with that is - if they aren't fixed right away, they will be really tough to iron out when it becomes a real issue. New teachers have a lot to worry about, they can't just take some time off and think about their mistakes and try to fix them. Usually, there is also no time for lengthy consultation, not that there is no help and support available, but rarely can every party involved actually take time for that.

For me personally, there are two examples of how theory can be connected to practice seamlessly. Although I was regularly made aware of it during the last couple of years, it got me thinking again a couple of days ago. I might have written about this topic while I was in Sweden, but it randomly came up again this week. I was talking about someone who apparently did some sort of mediation course as an addition to his regular studies. The point was, that this person really enjoyed that course, just like I did when I attended a conflict handling seminar at the university. He talked about how he could use it more and more for his regular work. Although the demand for that specific help wasn't that high, it kept getting better and better, but that is not the point. 

The point for me was simple. He talked about how much this course actually helped him in his private life. This is where I remembered the time in Sweden, where I was attending this course pretty much simultaneously to working at a couple of schools. The combination of these two happening if you will, was the best experience I could have asked for. One day, I heard about all this stuff at the university. (This is especially interesting, because it was a course designed for teachers, it was conflict handling in pre-school and school.) And the next day, I could, or to be more precise, I had to use the techniques I was taught the day before, in real-life situations. I crack a smile to this day thinking about how it all came together, it couldn't have been any better. As someone who wants to become a teacher, nothing is better than getting to know some techniques and being able to immediately use them in a real-life. Before I get into this connectivity more, I'd like to share another experience.

The second example is also nothing new or surprising. In my experience, schools and/or countries have different approaches when it comes to substitute teaching. I can't say which one I think is better, I can only compare the two forms that I know of. I assume the more common way for substitute teaching (at least in Austria), is that if one of the teachers can't make it, somebody else from the teacher group has to step in. That obviously means that whenever somebody has an open spot, and still a few hours "left to spend", that teacher gets (has) to take that lesson. 
Now a different approach is to have 'external' substitute teachers coming in and replacing the missing teachers. It is basically an on-call situation, where if someone can't make it, they give a substitute a call and ask him or her to come in and take that one, or possibly even more lessons. I was lucky enough to experience the latter, not only that, I got to experience it in a different country. I must admit, being a student-teacher and always looking for additional ways to gain experience at that time, I was more than excited to being able to do that, even though the age groups were not really the ones I was studying for. Upon coming back, I had a chat with one of my colleagues, who, similar to my story, started teaching a couple of hours at a school in his second year (out of three). We agreed on quite a few things. 
Mainly that there is nothing more valuable than being thrust into the fire. Compared to "teaching practice", being a substitute teacher means that you are on your own, and that it is REAL. There is no mentor or guide who will help you if you get stuck during a lesson,  you have be quick to adjust and think on your feet. The responsibility is all on ones shoulder. And since reflection is the basic tool for any student-teacher, not even that is lost, because, and I say this from experience, you really WANT to reflect about the lessons you had.

In thinking more and more about these stories, the question for me became about how a real connection can be made between the two, without turning the whole system upside down, especially because there are a lot of efforts to improve the educational system, on every level. Lower secondary schools in Austria have started to incorporate more and more team-teaching in the main subjects. I really like this approach, and it offers a lot of possibilities to make life better for student-teachers. 

The way it is set up now, it could very well stay the same. For the first term, all student-teachers are only observers in the classroom. Starting with the second, they take on more and more responsibilities. The biggest difference would actually be from the universities side. The teaching student-teachers receive should change, so that it really reflects what they are already experiencing at school. 

Like I already mentioned above, the connection has to be made at a different stage in the process. Now with the help of team-teaching, there is room for a different approach. Student-teachers could learn very specific practical things in their own education, and with the support structure of another teacher, who would just keep going with their own teaching, the student-teachers could work on their own. That way the up and coming teachers could try out stuff and have an experience similar to what a substitute teacher would go through. Maybe the idea would be to incorporate many different methods and ideas into the practical teacher education. It would mean that student-teachers take part in mostly seminars, where there is constant communication and collaboration. There is no need for old-timey lectures where student-teachers sit and listen for hours on end, because that is not what they will need in school. The most important thing they should be able to do is communicate. With communication comes collaboration. In my opinion, there can never be enough seminars. The need for smaller groups is there, and makes it easier to connect with each other. It would help with the practical training as well, in seminars there is the possibility to work out things together. The groups get a topic they should teach the next day, but since not everyone is in the same situation, there has to be some change in the method and the approach. The best way to figure out what to do, is talk to somebody else and get their opinion, in the end maybe they can use this method in their own teaching. 

The good thing is, both issues are relevant. There is already something in place for both, the intriguing thing would be find out how they really work, and if there are means to improve upon them. There are many opportunities out there for change, and the easiest way to improve the educational system is by improving its teacher.

Dienstag, 22. Juli 2014


The last couple of seminars came and went, the stress to get the final few grades in time was mounting, but it all soon disappeared into a calm and somewhat empty feeling - it was actually time for the graduation.

I wanted to write something after it was all said and done, but it actually didn't feel like it would have been possible, or even necessary. We finished our teacher training program after three, now seemingly not so long, years. It started slowly but nonetheless exciting. It felt like the right choice and everybody was eager to learn, improve, reflect and go on the way to become a teacher. The more time people spend with the teacher training program, the more they get to know how everything works, which is obvious - but in this case, it was not a good thing that you could peak behind the curtain more and more.

Although I spent my second out of three years studying and working abroad, my classmates and me started our last year with a similar opinion of everything. It is kind of amusing to think about that - my opinion changed because I encountered a whole new world, while studying abroad and my classmates just got fed up with everything that kept coming their way at home, but either way, we both ended up at the same waypoint. 

The closer you get to the end, the more the motivation creeps back in. At the end of the day, you still want to finish and graduate on time with everything in place. Added motivation came from the fact that apparently only a pretty low percentage of classes actually graduate within the time frame given for this Bachelors program. So if you have an opportunity to be part of this special group, you change to a different gear.

When it was all said and done, there was a strange feeling - it felt just like before. Nothing has changed. I guess that happens when regardless of the qualifications you receive, you feel like you just want to leave the institution as soon as possible, especially when you feel like it doesn't actually prepare you for your future as well as it should. 

My biggest motivation and moment of happiness were the new challenges that lie ahead. These last two terms felt like a basic course, and even there, a basic course that doesn't even offer you any good basics. Now that this is out of the way, I'm looking forward to a different study program. I will be able to focus more, almost solely, on the educational topics that have been the closest to me the last couple of years. 

So in a sense a Glad-uation means that you're both glad that you managed to finish your education, as well as being glad to start with the things that are in your wheelhouse and more advanced. Either way, it has a positive connotation.

Sonntag, 13. April 2014

Topic round-up: performance assessment, law, content and a change

Since my last post we have reached a new waypoint. We are so close to finishing that there are actually more days off for official holidays, than there are days where we have to be present at the university. With this shift in direction came the interesting change in demeanor and/or mindset for quite a few of our teachers. Before, I often wrote about my general issue of not enough real-life-related teachings for us, but since the last term has started, it feels like there is somewhat of a panic creeping in, with the realization that a lot of the student-teachers are really going to be in schools ‘teaching’ in around 6 months.

In the three years of this teacher training program, just now at the end, we are hearing about performance assessment. For me this brought up two thoughts: Is the actual performance asessment really that important for student-teachers? Shouldn’t we only learn about didactics, methods, how to teach and communicate properly with kids, rather than focusing on the end-result? But this is something we have no real control over, since most of it is the 'law'. The second issue that’s bothering me is that we get stuffed full of all these assessment-topics in almost every seminar. This can get annoying real fast, especially if you get to hear the same exact thing in consecutve seminars. Now I’m not entirely certain if that is because of the lack of communication between the teachers themselves, or just simply the problem of teacher-education-policy. Either way, it is frustrating. Even taking it a step further and truly focusing on the content, you don’t get very far because of the regulations that are school-law. In our classes (lower secondary school) there aren’t that many different assessment methods that you can use, because in order give the kids grades, there are a couple of regulations you have to abide by. 

Working through the school-law for grading and performance assessment, painted a much clearer picture on why teachers tend to have a somewhat high burn-out rate. It is not easy taking everything into account, which is why it feels so wrong to have this big of a focus on not true-to-school-life related topics. While we were going through this law, we often heard that we also have to take into account how parents would react, and that it has to be made clear for all the participants how it works. I think all this can be really tough on beginner-teachers, it would be helpful to have some kind of a guide or mentor that they could contact when they have issues.

Like I already mentioned above, it has been fascinating to see how the teaching went away from plain content to ‘how would you teach that in class’ more and more. But it also brings me back to my other point, why just now? It has to be their conscience whispering to them ‘do you realize these people will stand in front of a class in less than 6 months?’ I find it somewhat amusing, but more disturbing. And again, I wouldn’t want to blame our teachers entirely, I think everybody has their part to play, some do it better and with more effort, some don’t even bother looking up the ‘rules of the game’ or thinking two steps ahead. Whatever it may be, soon it will be all over for us. Regardless (or in spite of) all the troubles through the last couple of years, there is already a sense of relief in the air, which will quickly change for many people, when they are thrust into action just a couple of months from now.

Mittwoch, 12. Februar 2014

Prepared or not, here wo go

We are closing in our final couple of months as student-teachers, soon we will be actual teachers. Our current teachers somehow always manage to squeeze this reminder in, every seminar or lecture. Even though they keep reminding us about the fact, they still don’t seem to actually do anything particular to prepare us well enough. It might be my current state of mind, because of certain seminars I’m attending right now, but through various discussions with colleagues, more times than not, there seems to be an overwhelming notion that we’re still not doing close to enough that would make our life easier, as soon as we are in class.

Sometimes it feels like the closer we get to the end, the farther away we get from learning things that are practical. Most things that stand out to me right now, are things that are negative. I seem to keep hearing things like, “almost no school can actually support this” (in terms of using computer or similar) or “we can’t do anything about it, it is the law” or “your students probably won’t be able to do that”. Now the more you keep hearing about this, the less fun it gets thinking about entering this world for real, in a couple of months. For most students-teachers, there is a general feeling of just wanting to leave the institution and finally learn from the real-world.

I have written about teacher-education a couple of times, and I have always been critical, but sometimes it gets really tiring to complain about it, because there are so many things that make you uneasy. It is recommended to us from the beginning on to reflect, be it about our teacher training or just seminars - but then almost none of our own teachers reflect about their work - some would even call this hypocritical. Sometimes, I don’t understand the reason for people to do this, because I would think that if I’m educating future teachers, I would want to form the best teachers I possibly can. It can seem like lecturers and teachers just want to feel good themselves, because they did some teaching. Obviously, it is not easy with all kinds of different sets of rules and regulations that are all politically motivated, but I’m still often disappointed, about how little self-awareness or situational-awareness people seem to have.

One of the reasons this problem occurs, is because the levels of the participants are so different. Here comes the real fun part, just like I mentioned above, one of the key topics we talk about, is individualizing and differentiation in our teaching, and focusing on the specific learning needs kids have; but no ones focuses on individual student-teacher-needs. We are all treated the same way, even if you already have experience or great ideas - it doesn’t matter. My second issue with this is that most of the student-teachers are grown ups, so in some sense - they are supposed to behave and think like adults. I understand that this is not always possible, but especially in this profession, you have to grow up fast, if you are not already there, because you need a strong character. Now even if that is not the case, you are not going to help this, if you are treating those people like teenagers. They will certainly not become more thoughtful and mature with that kind of treatment.

I don’t want to go on more about this topic, because my thoughts and feelings might change throughout these final months, but one of my favorites quotations a friend told me, when discussing a similar topic, puts things in perspective for me: “Common sense is not as common (as you think)”.
The addition in the bracket is what he added to the original quotation from Voltaire, but I put it in, because it enhances it even more, and its great to think about...