Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Day 3 - el dia de monstruos! #mmtic1

Today I attended a class of trainee infant school teachers. This was the day they were presenting their finished group projects - animated videos about "monsters" to be shown to infant school children. They have had some basic introduction to the necessary tools - like audacity and movie maker - but after that they were on their own. The results were colourful, quirky and exceptionally accomplished stop motion animation with handmade clay figures or pencil drawings. In a discussion with the teacher, Malle, after the class, she echoed something that Linda had said to me the day before: that having started out giving very detailed instruction on the use of technology to their students, both teachers had come to the realisation that students learnt more when given very little information about the tools. Instead the teacher indicates a couple of likely platforms that might be helpful, then leaves them to it, simply offering to be on hand if needed. Initially the students complain and despair but gradually they accept the situation and eventually embrace the technology and adapt it creatively to their purposes.

Over lunch I discussed with Linda the need for teachers to occasionally not know, to be fallible and to look foolish in front of their students. Linda and Malle are both willing to put themselves in this uncomfortable place and this is what I feel inspires their students to "have a go" at new and scary things. In their turn, as infant teachers, they are modelling to their pupils how to learn - through trial and error - and how to live with the anxiety that process invokes.

The monster videos had a common theme of overcoming fears, feeling fallible and succeeding with the support of others. This is very much what I see happening in the classrooms this week!

I have been facing monsters of my own all week too. Being here at a strange university is one thing, but being here alone and not being a native Spanish speaker is quite another. Every evening has been a challenge for me, finding my way around Murcia, discovering places to eat, negotiating menus.

During the day, in between classes, there have been meetings which bring challenges of their own as I struggle to keep up in a different language, my brain simply becoming exhausted after the first couple of hours, but always I feel supported by the patience of the people around me, their willingness to help and their tolerance of my mistakes. Today I had a meeting with the Unidad de InnovaciĆ³n - the Innovation Unit of the University. Just that name is magical! and what they do - supporting the teaching staff to become creative with technology, even undertaking support roles in the University's MOOCs - is really transforming how teaching is done here. Without the support of such a team,to help them overcome their fears, to give them the time and the tools with which to innovate, it is very difficult to persuade the average university lecturer to change their approach to teaching and learning. Each year the unit puts out a call for bids to propose new projects and that forms the basis of their programme of work. Up to 80 new projects are being supported at any one time.

I have to add - as a final irony - that the wifi continues to be the biggest challenge of all for me. Whether it is sitting propped against the bathroom door in my hotel as I constantly refresh my log in details or the painfully slow signal in my temporary office at the University, I have been beset by techno gremlins all week.

Finally - today has been a big day at the University as all the staff and students voted in their new Rector and a new team of Vice Rectors (the equivalent in UK of Vice Chancellor and proVice Chancellors). The democratic process has much about it that is to be admired but the campaigns are also deeply political and divisive and changes to the current management may mean the end of innovation, the end of mobile learning and even the end of wifi here at the University. For some parties, it seems, teaching with technology is the scariest monster of all!

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