Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Forums for Transformation - Who Killed Benny?

“Benny was a woolly mammoth who was found frozen solid in Siberia. Benny died thousands of years ago in July. This year Benny appeared in the movie 'The Day After Tomorrow' - although his acting was a little stiff. Benny had a smashed hip, a broken leg and still had buttercups and flowering beans in his mouth that he was dining on for lunch when he was killed. Thousands of mammoths and other animals died with Benny. Who or what killed Benny and his friends?

This year saw record participation in our school’s online ‘Mystery Forums’ designed to promote transformative learning experiences for adolescents.

Why transformative learning? Until recently transformative learning has been the province of adult learning theory but there are several reasons to consider its inclusion for senior-secondary students transitioning into early adulthood.

Firstly, the transition to adult life often involves personal transformation as students move from a safe school environment to take on complex work, study and social responsibilities. Transformative learning equips students with the concepts and understanding necessary to make a success of this transition.

Secondly, when students are led to a deeper understanding of concepts and issues their fundamental beliefs and assumptions may be challenged leading to a transformation of perspective or worldview. Students who understand the nature of transformative learning may be better prepared for this process.

Thirdly, as we ask students to develop critical and reflective thinking skills and encourage them to care about the world around them they may decide that some degree of personal or social transformation is required. Students will need the tools of transformative learning in order to be effective change agents. Otherwise students may feel disempowered, become pessimistic about the future, fear change, or develop a degree of cynicism towards those who promote change.

Finally, we are living through a period of transformational change in society and culture. Students will be better able to deal with such change in their lives if they understand the nature of transformational change and the impact it has on individuals, groups, organizations and nations.

One of the many triggers for transformative learning experiences is a disorientating dilemma – a paradox, enigma or anomaly.

The popular ‘mystery forums’ allowed students to playfully question assumptions and worldviews through 10 dilemmas in an online forum. For example “Who Killed Benny?” is about the demise of mammoths in Siberia, Alaska and S. America thousands of years ago.

Students spent several weeks considering a wide range of possible scenarios from over-hunting to snap freezing to tsunamis to climate change to pole-shifts to disease and more… During that time they realised that there were many unquestioned assumptions and unchallenged worldviews underpinning the science and critical inquiry surrounding this issue.

Other dilemmas included:

In a chapter titled Learning to Think Like an Adult in Learning as Transformation Mezirow claims that transformative learning leads to greater competence in:

mindful learning
autonomous learning
self-directed learning
reflective discourse
dealing with change, transformation and uncertainty
dealing with "meaning perspectives" and worldviews
social responsibility
decision-making and problem solving

Most, if not all, of these are highly valued in emerging “21st century” curriculum for adolescent learners. I believe that online "mystery forums" can provide a useful, playful and safe learning environment for some aspects of transformative learning for adolescents.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 10, 2005

U Turning a System

This week sees the end of the second year of our curriculum review process and there is a definite buzz in many yr 11/12 campuses around the State as future possibilities begin to emerge. Our consultative review process appears to be following the 'U Process' described in Presence by Senge et al.

Sensing – knowing the whole system as it is
Letting go - of historical processes and perspectives
Presencing - taking time to reflect
Letting come - allowing new processes to become realised

We have spent a year (2004) sensing as we looked at best practice and issues of concern - all the time trying to let go of our preconceived assumptions about the form that the educational provision for year 11/12 students should take. Instead we concentrated on establishing a set of shared values and purposes among all teachers, students, parents and the community.

This year we took time to reflect on the learning, assessment and teaching principles based on our shared values and purposes.

In 2006 we move to allow new forms and processes of educational practice to emerge through trialling project ideas that have recently begun to surface from teachers. At this stage most campuses don't plan to implement any significant changes until 2007.

It hasn't been easy to follow the U Process. In the beginning many people had definite ideas about the "causes of problems" while others knew how to "fix the system", and still others argued that nothing need to change.

Now two years down the track most teachers and administrators are reasonably comfortable to move toward the realization of all our new curriculum values, purposes and principles without any clear view of what it will look like...

I think the challenge for 2006 as we move up the 'U' will be to let the system (which is all of us) transform as new forms and processes emerge. The danger is that we might latch on to a "successful" trial project as "the solution" before other unexpected and more interesting possibilities emerge.

We certainly "live in interesting times"... :-)

Labels: , ,