“Computers are useless. They only give you answers”
This quote by Pablo Picasso may seem obsolete in the 21st century – but is it?
The fact is that we now live in an age where we can take information for granted. There is no lack of information. In fact, many people complain of being bombarded by avalanches of information overload.
So, what good is this information and what do we do with it?
What good are answers if we can’t find the questions?
Computers are actually completely useless if we cannot utilize them to improve our minds. My foray into online teaching has given me many opportunities to experiment with educational technology. My goal is always to see how a tool can aid language learning.
Here is a list of criteria for a webtool that might be used for educational purposes.
1) Easy to use
2) Has potential for both linguistic and artistic development.
3) Incorporates multi-media regarding visuals, audio and video.
4) Instead of acting as an information generator, it enables one to generate ideas for linguistic expression.
Self -expression is the ultimate state of being/learning and creating. Any tool that maximizes ability to express oneself linguistically from an artistic backdrop will succeed in
‘speaking to the parts of a learner’s being which are otherwise untouched’, as Ken Robinson says.
The evolution of unprecedented creative opportunities in education in the 21st century has far-reaching potential.Emerging from the tools themselves and our digital empowerment are the learning experiences provided by environments and communities.Environments can be educational platforms, virtual classrooms, break-out rooms, learning management systems, social networking sites, wikis, blogs, skype or google hangouts.
They all enable connectivity, and the possibilities are only dependent upon how you may wish to merge international hearts and minds into unforgettable learning experiences. I have experienced group dymanics in the WizIQ virtual classroom through games, music, poetry and story-telling. I have seen waves of inspiration ripple across groups on facebook. I’ve seen students from nowhere suddenly appear on a page with a poem or rhyme spontaneously erupting.
Yesterday, I posted a simple word cloud on facebook, inspired by another teacher called Mark Hurlin Shelton who was pondering my question about ideas versus thinking. I wanted to see what people would do with the words. Here is the thread which inspired a creative, heartfelt piece of poetry and rhyme by Feten Redene Raissi from Tunisia. It not only practices the vocabulary intelligently, but shows layers of deep engagement with the language.
“English for me is sooo kind,
loving it invaded my MIND,
this language improved my REFLECTION
and typified it with quick action
as an English prisoner I was caught,
and about this kind condition, I’ve never THOUGHT,
Now I’m keen on my COGITATION
I’m able to speak in any nation
I’m enhancing my PROCESSES
making English even my kisses
and my level of INTELLECT,
became characterised with quick react
Due to my innovation & IMAGINATION
My thesis could be appreciated by any nation”
Communities are the magical result of a new departure in teaching as a sharing concept. I have seen time and again where teachers who work together online can have a manifold impact on the learners. Informal ‘team-teaching’ interactions bring about extra responses from students and higher levels of effort and engagement. This has been evident in our global poetry collaborations with international learners, as well as in PLN networking.
Language learning communities are everywhere online. However, I feel that true engagement is still a hit and miss affair, though I’m grateful for all of the inspiring ‘hits’ I’ve experienced so far. If we can engage students around the world on an adhoc basis, imagine if we brought our real classes onto the networks. We could set up safe groups in private mode firstly, and then lead a reaching out campaign – where learners could safely network artistically and creatively across the globe. This would eventually create a new kind of tolerance and appreciation of humanity as a force for good. When learning comes from the heart it is beyond intellectual. Your whole being is engaged in discovery.
Technology and connectivity will take us beyond mere intellectualism and beyond mere testing, though we will become more adept at both. This is because ‘ learning is what happens when the teacher is busy making other plans’, in the word of David Deubelbeiss in his book, which I highly recommend; called ‘Zen and the Act of Teaching’.
‘Primitive technology’ brings us back to ourselves.
When I was preparing for my presentation on ‘Creativity in Technology’ for the Virtual Round Table Conference, it struck me that the tools I most like to use or play with are the ones that spark off my own creativity. It’s kind of like being naked. I mean that when you remove rules and information overload, you are left with your own mind and inner nature. You’ve got the blank canvas and some nice tools to create anything you want. The analogy of cave art sprang to mind, as this is a perfect example of art produced by minds which are free of intellectual clutter. Just as primitive tribes also painted their bodies without hiding their nakedness, we can paint our words without hiding our souls.
The top six tools I favour for this language exploration of the soul are:
1) Eduglogster – blank canvas with multi-media tools, and a learning management system for teacher to manage environments and community.
2) Prezi – Beautiful blank canvas, with laterally designed right-brain stimulation. I feel like a baby with this tool and have only touched on 1% of what I want to develop with this. It is simple, yet profound in its potential. It is a collaborative tool also, so groups can make prezis together.
3) Story Bird – this is a community of artists and writers in the style of a social network. You can write beautiful stories using artistic visuals which have been ‘donated’ by real artists.
4) imind or the free mindmaple – for brainstorming and discovering what’s secretly going on in that mind of yours. Mindmapping makes concrete representations of the connections your neurons are constantly making – true cave art mingled with neuroscience. Ideas connect and flow to help you with writing, poetry, grammar, vocabulary etc.
6) ClubEFL for video quizzes and lots more.
Influence is a measure of true learning.
I see the future of language learning, and all learning for that matter, as a cascading interplay of experiment and influence. We have already seen that on You Tube, students are reaching out to each other. You Tube has become many things to many people. A student of mine from Saudi Arabia told me that You Tube has been embraced by the youth of her country as a place to share learning and creativity on video – it has replaced televison almost entirely.
Just doing your homework for good grades has lost it’s appeal.
Today, learners want to share their creation across learning environments and communities.This is a great thing. As I mentioned in a previous article about global learning;
“Connecting online breaks down cultural barriers. If we want to end violence, racism, and extreme nationalism or if we want our children to escape the daily diet of government controlled political brain-washing, we can have them grow into citizen journalists of the world.”
My final thought is that societies have been worshipping rigid belief systems for too long. The true ‘Holy Grail’ is the creativity that we have been haphazardly nurturing with dubious results. Lets learn through our hearts and allow technology to give us tools to reunite with our own genius.
I’ll leave you with a metaphor beautifully expressed by Ken Robinson