In 2006, at the start of our SCEPTrE project at the University of Surrey, I commissioned an artist (Julian Burton) to draw a picture on our wall to provide us with a vision of the world we were trying to prepare students for. The picture is the product of his talent and imagination as he interpreted the conversations we had with him. It took me another 18 months to realise that in order to meet the aspirations in this vision we had to embrace the idea of not only lifelong learning but also lifewide learning. To prepare ourselves for the complexities and uncertainties of our future life we needed to draw on the learning, development and achievements we gain from all the experiences in our lives - the lives we have lived and the lives we are living. This epiphany led me to the idea of a lifewide curriculum to embrace educational designs that seek to empower and enable learners to create and integrate their learning and development from any aspect of their life and gain recognition within their higher education experience. In this article written for Lifewide Magazine I reflect on why a lifewide curriculum is essential for the future learning.
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This week as preparation for a meeting with students enrolled on the Lifewide Development Award I invited them to complete a 10min a day diary during the week and at the end of the week reflect on various dimensions of their experience. I felt obliged to do the same and in doing so the words of Kielsgauard Sorenson came to mind - 'we live our life forwards but we make sense of it backwards'.
It's not been a typical week as last weekend we journeyed to see family in Norfolk - grandma, aunts/uncles/inlaws, and cousins/nephews/nieces. My wife's first husband's family is large but fortunately many of them live in the same place. I have been accepted into the family as if I was one of their own and I'm very grateful for this. So my learning log reflected three days of travelling and being with family - which was fundamentally about renewing our bonds and reaffirming our relationships as members of the same family. It was great listening to grandma talk about her childhood growing up in London in the 1920's-30's and outlining the background to the families fruit and veg business and then tracing the family roots through the west country and the channel islands to Normandy. The older I get the more I appreciate our ancestry and this connects to my research into my own families history. In fact when I got back waiting for me in the post was my own grandfather's marriage certificate which someone helping me at UKinfo helped me locate. It proved his father's name was Tom which until now I had only been able to infer from my searches on Ancestry.com. It gave me confidence in the other inferences I have made about my grandfather's ancestors.
My activity log this week also reflects the time I spent with my own daughter's children. Its half term so I looked after all three grandchildren on my child care day. I don't mind admitting that it is hard work to have sole responsibility for them between 8am to 5pm but it's also a great joy. I also had my older grandson for a sleepover, swimming and generally being together. It's rare that we spend 1:1 time together so for me it's a real treat to do so.
I did other things this week but looking back these acts of being a member of the families to which I belong and acting as father, step-father, grandfather, brother in law and uncle was by far the most important thing I did. It seemed to me that this was another manifestation of commitment drawn from long lasting relationships with people I care about and love who I want to influence and be influenced by. Who are willing to involve me in their lives.
Through commitment we do things for each other. We stay connected and we listen and appreciate each other's stories of how our lives are unfolding and how our past histories contribute to who we are and to the existence of our offspring. The commitment to family means that we can stay connected to our children and help them in the caring and development of their own children. And it is deeply satisfying to see our children learn the value of extended family and continue this process of commitment that binds us all together. Family is an important dimension of our wellbeing and the cause of unhappiness when there is discord or conflict. Family This is one of the important ways we grow into our village and help our children and grandchildren grow into their village.
Returning to my visit to Southampton, I was pleased with the way the simple aid to recording and reflecting on the way a week of life unfolds provided the basis for a good conversation about what was important and meaningful in the students' lives. Interestingly, they also extracted far more meaning and personal significance in the things they had done, than the learning they had gained from their activities. Perhaps that is a fair reflection of their relative importance in everyday life.
To commit to something is to harness your own willpower to pursue and engage with a purpose, a cause, a problem, challenge or opportunity. By committing to something you are reducing your freedom to engage with other things. Fundamentally committing to something is a choice - we may feel obligated or coerced but we are still making a decision to engage with something conscientiously and to the best of our ability. We usually commit to something because we care about it and it's personally meaningful and or has deep intrinsic interest or value. Commitment to something is deeply relational whether it is with people, ideas, objects or enterprises. When we commit to something we usually know that it will involve us over a significant period of time.For some things we want to know exactly what are commitment will be before we agree to getting involved but for other things, particularly involving relationships that are most significant to us, we are willing to enter into a commitment without knowing the detail of the obligation.
Developing something is a major focus for commitment. It requires us to commit time, energy and effort (physical, intellectual and emotional) and it usually involves reducing our involvement in other things. Life is never simple and all the things that are important to us require our commitment so we end up with lots of commitments that jostle and compete for our attention - our families and relationships within them, our jobs, our own interests and aspirations. So everyday life is made up of lots of commitments that connect and span our lifewide experiences. Our commitments are closely associated with what we perceive are our purposes which are ultimately the things that drive us and give our life substance and meaning. By taking on new commitments we are extending our learning ecologies.
These thoughts were prompted by my recent involvement in an on-line 'course' called 'bring your own device for learning' (BYOD4L) designed and organised by Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham. When I reflect on the experience as a development process commitment seemed to very important - perhaps because by joining the course I was adding to my existing commitments and that required effort above and beyond what I was already doing.
The course required commitment to sign up, familiarise myself with the design and expectations, engage with the resources and the learning opportunity (in my own way), and try to record my own learning process and what I think I gained from it. The commitment to try and apply what I learnt and to keep trying even when something didn't seem to work and overcome the inevitable barriers of using these new forms of social media for someone who is not particularly adept.
During the course I was conscious of juggling this new commitment with my other obligations - like the two days I look after my daughter's twins and various work obligations and I was conscious of the opportunity cost in engaging with technology initially to be competent and confident in using it and then to apply it. I had several instances during and immediately after the week when what I tried didn't work and I felt frustrated and demotivated because I hadn't made the progress I had hoped for and these feelings of negativity had to be overcome.
I was thankful that one person tweeted that they had had trouble with an app. I often have trouble trying to make things work and this aspect of learning often gets glossed over in the enthusiasm for the technology. The things I valued most - that encouraged me to persist and therefore facilitated my development were:
1 The resources. Sue's collections of tools and the introductory videos are a great resource that I have embedded in my own website for future use.
2 Examples and illustrations of the use of the technologies.. these were great in showing what could be done. In particular some of the curatorial tools like scoop.it and paper.li. which I have tried to apply.
It was also great seeing the enthusiasm, commitment, teamwork, care and attention and personal support the facilitators gave to the process and the people in it. A real lesson in the energy, passion, care, dedication and expertise necessary to make these sorts of learning experiences work. And hopefully I could use the experience and insights to design my own on-line learning experience. I was particularly appreciative of the fact that I was able to navigate through the resources and prompts in my own way. There was a structure but no one forced me to follow the linear pathway. I could chart my own 'course'.
Offline I had some good conversations with my son who managed to spend a bit of time looking at the resources and tuned into the twitter conversation most evenings. So it achieved that objective.
I did try to reflect on my own thinking and practice in the contexts of my own circumstances and I set up a dedicated BYOD4L blog for this.
The proof of learning is in the doing. It's one thing to know how to do or use something but another to apply that learning. Since the course I have continued to use paper.li and develop 'lifewide zine' a twitter-sourced companion to Lifewide Magazine. I also felt more confident in using twitter and I spent more time on it. I felt that I understood it much more. I taught myself how to embed twitter feeds and tweet buttons into our websites and then populated resources like e-book chapters and magazine issues with tweet buttons in the hope that when people come across them they will retweet.
I also 'played with' paper.li With Chrissi's help I set up a Lifewide Zine as a twitter-based companion to Lifewide Magazine. There is still lots to learn but I got over the initial hurdle. I also continued to develop my use of explee animation software creating and embedding several animations in our websites.
These three tools - twitter, explee and paper.li have opened up a whole new area of communication for me that if I had not committed time, energy and effort would have remained hidden. The value of commitment to personal development is in being able to do something I couldn't do before and in this way improving my ability to continue working with my higher purpose - to promote lifewide education.
To develop my understandings of how I learn and develop through all parts of my life by recording and reflecting on my own life as it happens.
I have a rough plan but most of what I do emerges from the circumstances of my life