Monthly Archives: August 2014

Designing the Learning/Teaching Space in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

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This is the concluding blog in the 12 blog series answering two questions for the final design project. The only drawback for this format is although I’m writing this forward unless you scroll right to the bottom you are reading it in reverse.

This is the disclaimer to understand before reviewing the answers to the two interesting questions posed by HarvardX Leaders for Learning. I have so enjoyed taking this class and the content, format and delivery has been beyond my expectations! I certainly would recommend both Leaders of Learning from HarvardX and http://www.edx.org to others without reservation. It is well oganized and the modules are manageable especially with the one week ‘catch up’ included in week four. I really appreciated this.

As I have already mentioned, my life/professional/personal circumstances are quite different that my colleagues still ‘in the trenches’ working at the various early, mid or later stages of their career. As a happily retired teacher of 30 years standing I have the luxury of more time and fewer demands to do a considerable amount of self reflection both upon my past professional life and what the early years of retirement has evolved into. And this has been just one tremendous benefit of this class apart from the opportunity to earn a certificate from Harvard!

For one thing, since I am neither a ‘lady who lunches’ or a avid golfer like many of my retired teacher colleagues what I have embraced in these early years of retirement is self employment and volunteerism on both sides of the border here in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada and later this year starting November 1rst for six months in San Miquel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.  In both places I facillitate an enhanced book club using a trilogy of artistic recovery books called ‘The Artist Way’ by Julia Cameron. I have just finished leading my ninth and most powerful group for the third book in the trilogy, ‘Finding Water, the Art of Perserverence. We had a circle of twelve ‘believing mirrors’ journeying together through the twelve week program.

For this session I was able to secure an off site (non church) setting in a private oceanview penthouse condo in downtown Nanaimo. As you can see by the pictures this was a spectacular learning/teaching locale which started as hierarchal collective but evolved into distributed collective as was the original creator/writer’s intent. Julia Cameron never franchised the Artist Way and it was always intended to be a grassroots learning and support network. Hence it is a perfect example of a learning network that I have been involved with and continue to be involved with into my retirement years when I actually have more time to develop and adapt it for circumstances on both sides of the border.

So that’s the collective situation for learning/teaching. Personally, with the use of my new HP laptop with webcam and Windows 8.1 I feel like I am no longer in the ‘break down lane’ on the electronic highway! This particular model even still has a DVD/CD drawer for maximum versatility. Certianly, one of the motivations for purchasing a new laptop was http://www.edx.org and the newly discovered http://www.coursera.org. I knew about edx.org but not about the second MOOC. As a lifelong learner, AND a happily retired professional I am free to explore realms yet to be imagined as a result of the immense networking capability of my post elementary teaching life.

Designing the Learning/Teaching Space in San Miquel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

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As a newly retired teacher and six month a year snowbird in San Miquel de Allende I enjoy the best of both worlds on both sides of the border to be sure. The previous posting described my North of the Border situation which includes a quiet space in my bedroom and also the dining room in the evening and late at night to read, reflect and work on my assignents. This is perfect in keeping wth the hierarchal or distributied individual style of learning that I have utilized since my earliest memories at kindergarten when I loudly announced one day to my mother that I was dropping out because we weren’t reading and writing and it wasn’t ‘real school.’ At that time kindergarten wasn’t part of the public school system so I was allowed to drop out with impunity to await the official start of first grade in the middle class suburb that I lived in at the time.

So fast forward over fifty years later and I’m still self directing what I think suits my learning needs best. Although I enjoy f2f classes at bricks and mortar universities,  with my mobile lifestyle and now with a new laptop the whole wide world of learning is mine once again. I did post some comments in the discussion forum from time to time but really, since I have left public education behind in the rear view mirror a lot of what was being discussed either wasn’t relevant or did not interest me…any longer. Three, four five years ago…yes, but no longer.

I have moved into adult seminar teaching in small groups of up to 12 either on site inside an established church where I live or off site in my home or a lively wifi cafe..

In my South of the Border situation, I will continue these group seminars as a meet up group named, ‘Continuing the Artist Way in San Miquel’ which is the title of this blog. Come January of 2015, I will establish an actual web presence via http://www.meetup.com and also on the Civil List in San Miquel de Allende where i have rented a townhouse for six months from November to the end of April. At that time, it is my intention to organize artistic creative clusters or learning networks on an informal basis either in the living room of my townhouse or in an off site location like the Santa Ana Cafe at the Biblioteca, the library and hub of both expat and local Mexican life right in Centro, the heart of the city…

Hence these two distributed collective learning spaces will be in two locations. Because it is a loft townhouse I also have one more ideal space both for online learnng BUT also to enter the totally new frontier of paid not volunteer Teaching English As a Second Language ONLINE to students located in any part of the world! I’m still working out the nitty gritty details but working for international companies providing struction in English as a native speaker apparently is in high demand in countries like Saudi Arabia, Korea and China. To work out the ‘bugs’ in Skype, webcams and audio, right after I hit the submit button I plan on contacting a former student in Guadalajara. As part of my practicum for my TESL Teacher training this retired military gentleman was attending English school so he could travel to English speaking countries with his wife.  I hope that Mr. DeSilva will consent to being my very first online English conversation student!

Earlier this afternoon, I led a small but diverse group of students from Japan, China, Korea and Thailand practice English in a conversational setting. I believe that I am experienced and skilled enough to establish myself as a paid online English teacher. This would be tremendously helpful in supplementing my partial teachers’ pension. And I am totally confident that I would do a fabulous job! And yes, I will also be available to provide volunteer sustitute teaching for local agencies like the Nanaimo Literacy Centre north of the border and the San Miquel School of English in Mexico.

Networks are the New Classroom Physically or Virtually

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When I heard that networks were the new classroom I intuitively knew this to be true! As a newly retired teacher, new resident to Nanaimo and new snowbird in Mexico what I have found that through the use of various networks I have learned things and met people that formerly would have taken years and years and years.  The networks that I have used successfully are (and in no specific order of importance.)

Facebook and Twitter

WordPress, of course and other people’s blogs

Local resident online bulletin boards and Yahoo groups

Meet up groups  www.meetup.com

It is the last online network that I wish to discuss as it cuts across a few quadrants in terms of the four sector model we have studied.

Scot Heiferman, the CEO of Meet Up tells his story and explains the phenomenal success of such a simple idea that the worldwide web has carried around the world to connect people with similar interests.

What I am planning to do and have set the wheels in motion already is export this blog south of the border to San Miquel de Allende where  will be spending six months this winter. As a tourista, I am not allowed to work but I know enough writers and artists of all ilks like my blog’s title that may be interested in ‘continuing the ArtistWay’ via a San Miquel de Allende meet up group. This meet up group can take place in the living room of my lovely townhouse rental or in the Santa Ana Cafe at the Bibliotica or any number of spots around town with or without wifi.

If you go to http://www.meetup.com  and put in San Miquel de Allende in the new year you will find the existing Sustainable Living Meet Up Group and mine/ours entitled, ‘Continuing the Artist Way in San Miquel de Allende.’  When I return to Nanaimo, British Columbia in May I’ll simply change San Miquel de Allende to Nanaimo and carry on! As you can see fortuitiously, I chose an inclusive blog name, CanMex Artist Way.

Hence my learning/teaching design has north of the border and south of the border interpretations. And this suits my current lifestyle very well.

Content, Sources and Teachers are Everywhere

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Now that the internet is creeping into places global previously unconnected or even restricted it is fairly accurate to say that it is the number one innovation in education where the students are leading the way and traditional learning institutions are struggling to keep up let alone fully utilize the tremendous potential of this largely unregulated, largely unharnessed force.  And now adding smartphones to the mix and the whole situation becomes a ‘runaway train.’

Or not.

It is really up to the educational leaders of both traditional and innovative learning places to lead, guide and mentor what 21rst century is going to look like. Because, clearly, the center is not and cannot hold. With waves and waves of boomer age teachers retiring in droves it will be up to the next generation of leaders to step up to the plate and reformulate and reconfigure what schooling will look like five, ten, fifteen years from now.

As a happily early retired teacher and lifelong learner I am still periferally interested in the amazing and creative things that going on in schools these days but only from the sidelines.  My classroom teaching days in public school are over.

Slam the door.

So why am I here? that’s an excellent question and one that I will endeavor to explain in enough detail that it is comprehensible. For the last ten years of my elementary teaching career I spent a considerable amount of time, money and effort to pursue various avenues of interests that would help me segue into the golden retirement years.  Every summer, I tried to explore some interest and one magical summer I was accepted to attend documentary film school in Cuba!  I spent a month of my life making an eleven minute documentary film about one balsero in Old Havana who agreed to tell his story on camera.

But I digress. One other avenue that I started pursuing while I was still teaching full time was facillitating Artist Way groups first of all in the dining room of my home in downtown Penticton , B.C., Canada, then through the Unity Church in Nanaimo when I moved there and also when I was south of the border spending the winter in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico I led a group right in my living room which culminated in my apartment being one of the locations for the Ajijic Socieyt of the Arts Open Studio Tour.

Hence, right now as I have concluded my ninth Artist Way group, this time in an oceanview condo penthouse I am interested in exploring other venues in the city of Nanaimo where I now live. And speaking of where I now live. I am presently residing in a spacious home in the Hammond Bay area and have two spots set up for learning. One is my boudoir where I like using my smarphone and where I have a canine companion and one is the living room right next to a patio door where I can go for breaks or to enjoy either the sunshine or the night air. Being a natural night owl this present situation is ideal!

Especially wth my new Hewert Packard laptop sporting the newest 8.1 Windows Operating System. Blazing fast, this laptop is far from being the latest and greatest (and most expensive!) but it certainly is a quantum leap forward for me compared to my creaky Window XP laptop that wouldn’t even display the HarvardX course videos. I had to watch them on my smartphone on the small screen.

No longer.

Learning Can Take Place Any Where and at Any Time…

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In my retirement years,  I am using my transferable teaching skills in radically dfferent settings especially with the advent of increasingly ubiquitous wifi. Learning groups or communities can now easily convene in private homes, restaurants or coffee shops. In fact, many places that previously did not welcome ‘loitering’ now have books, newspaper and board games so that patrons feel that their establishment are now an extension of their at home living space. Certainly, for decades, writers have written off site in coffee bistros and absinthe bars but now it is quite common to observe gatherings of learners day or night.

To illustrate this concept, here is an example of an innovative and creative Coffee Shop Learning/Practicum Space at the University of Iowa:

http://clas.uiowa.edu/socialwork/resources/wild-bills-coffeeshop

Taking full advantage of the time zone and geography free 24/7 internet, learning and teaching have few barriers anymore. And those that remain like the technological glitches we experienced last Thursday in UnHangout will no doubt disappear completely in the very near future.

The term ‘playspace’ in a Ted Talk by Pamela Meyer refers to the social/relational space that adults cocreate in the now, in the midst of individual or collaborative creativity, learning and involvement in topics of interest.

Meyer, Pamela (2010) Workplace to Playspace: A Mindset Shift, TEDxPeachtree

Besides teaching English to adult learners face to face at the Nanaimo Literacy Centre downtown, I am actively exploring how to do this in an online setting on both sides of the border for fair renumeration. I now have upgraded technology, more know how and most importantly a great space in the upstairs loft of my upcoming rented townhouse for the winter months in San Miquel de Allende. My plan is to employ this quiet space filled with natural lighting for one to one English instruction and the downstairs space for facilitating a ‘Continuing the Artist Way’ Meet Up group in San Miquel de Allende starting this November through to the end of April when I will switch the locale back to where I am presently in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. I can also convene this proposed meet up group at any of a number of welcoming coffee places (including Starbucks!) or restaurantes in Centro.

In conclusion, I would have to say that people learn best when they are actively engaged in topics and material of interest, and the demands are aligned with their current lifestyle be it full time student, part time student, working professional or muy feliz jubilada like myself enjoying a sunny bi-country lifestyle!

Mi gusto HarvardX!

Enough Preamble: Time to Answer the Two Questions

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Question Number One

Start wth your theory of learning by completing the sentence;

People learn best when… the learning environment and content design closely sync or match their individual learning style and modality be in visual, auditory, tactile or a combination therein. This class has definitely opened my eyes to new possibilities for teaching and learning in my post professional retirement years. Since I’ve only been retired for two years I was still interested in what is going on in innovative educational innovation but only to a certain point.

At 59, I have little or no interest in getting reinvolved in public education in any capacity especally with young children. However, I have moved into Teaching English as A Second Language to adults and find this both engaging and highly challenging. And I also am extremely happy to have discovered both EdX and Coursera because these two online learning consortiums will keep me pursung many different interests for years to come especially now that I have adequate hardware (a new HP laptop with Windows 8.1) and emerging opportunities to move into teaching English online to supplement my partial teacher’s pension.

In my previous experience with onlne university education at the University of Calgary in a Masters Level program in the specialization of Educational Technology a decade ago it was all about the grades. Distance online graduate school was an expensive undertaking and I had to make the most of it, no matter what. Well, fast forward to 2014. Both the monetary factor and the grade factor have been removed but I find myself just as involved and engaged because of the excellent design of this course. I especially appreciated the ‘reading week’ to catch up on the content which at first glance was a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

Even thought I went through my entire schooling in principally a hierarchal individual or hierarchal collective mode in my undergraduate and especially graduate studies I was exposed to a looser more distributed individual and distributed collective way to organize learning from my fellow students as well as the professor. Unfortunately, there are still some technological problems to work out to truly cross the ‘digital divide’ in the accessibilty sphere with the distributed collective quadrant.

Cyber Kindergarten HarvardX Style…

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Un Hangout HarvardX

This shows my first posting which ended up as a sketch a message because of the technical problems yesterday for the UnHangout. Well, good to know that there are doodle pads in cyber space when all else fails!

But I digress. Back to the task at hand which is designing an optimal learning/teaching environmnent for my present needs as a retired educator who spends half the year in Nanaimo, British Columbia and half the year in San Miquel de Allende, Mexico. As a life long learner, and with the acquisition of a new HP laptop with a built in webcam and Beats Audio I am entering a brave new frontier in the world of online learning in 2014 and beyond. About a dozen years ago, I started an online Masters Program at the University of Calgary in Educational Technology and it’s fascinating how much the hardware and software has evolved but alas there is still exists what has been termed a ‘digitial divide’ in terms of type of computers available to the masses even if the masses are offered the tantalizing opportunty to take top quality university courses from top universities including Harvard for free.

The free aspect does need some work as a common and minimum level of computer capability is necessary. Otherwise, the frustrations of yesterday’s UnHangout will prevail. Things can and will go wrong and I do have to give Dr. E credit for rallying and providing an ad hoc mini lecture that served as an interesting way to wrap up our six week study!

Note to self: Research the acquisition of a good quality headset for the next online learning or teaching experience. One of my motivations for taking this class was to bring myself up to speed in the technology world by upgrading my ancient, obsolete laptop with one that was lighter, faster and ran the Windows 8.1 operating system. So yes, the experience of taking this class despite the minor glitches certainly was worth the time and (indirect) cost involved. Viva HarvardX!