Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Looking at learner success through a cultural lens: Iwi and whānau 'speak'

Image of a koru Melanie Riwai-Couch opened the Te Toi Tupu hui by talking a little bit about the work she is doing with iwi. A lot of the things she is looking it is around iwi and whānau 'voice'.

Melanie is from a bicultural marriage at a time when it was unusual, and when her parents split, her father brought her up. Growing up with strong Māori roots gave her an interesting perspective on life. She lives and works in Ngāi Tahu, but does not claim Ngāa Tahu in her ancestry. There is a whole other world when it comes to iwi.

Melanie also teaches at the kura, and she discovered all of these things that didn't work for me. The students tried really hard, but there were a lot of things that kept tripping them up. For example, the letter 'i' - is it always a capital letter? So why doesn't me, he, and she have a capital letter too. It was a way to peel back the cultural layers of the spelling traditions, and the cultural shaping that underpins them. She went to the community partners to see if she could find student teachers who would come into the kura and to sit with the children while they read.

Go on creatingThe initiative resulted in several hundred hours of extra reading for the students - and this, Melanie feels, has helped students create a love of reading. There was a sustained shift of at least 1 to 1.5 stanine (PAT), and up to 4 to 5 stanines. This led to Melanie to ask the question, "In what ways are iwi and schools working together to improve Māori student achievement". Students also grow in confidence ("I'll probably succeed in a lot of stuff like getting a degree at University" - Māia, Year 8), and are happy to speak to pretty much anyone.

Parents also say "success for them is to be standing strong and confident and humble in anything and everything they chose to do and to be able to make mistakes and learn from them". And an Iwi education representative said that "it's that whole person" that is key, and another that "Maori student success is when student are grounded in who they are and where they come from whilst achieving success in whatever field they choose no matter where in the world they are" (Iwi Education Representative). Potential is not something that is based in the future, but it is something that students are 'being' and realising.

Three case studies (Ngā Puna Korero) have informed her thinking to date. The sort of thing that is emerging are the importance of sustaining high trust relationships, and this means that, in part, it's working with iwi in the way that iwi want to be worked with. In part this means working within communities of practice that tend to be more responsive to the needs of the participants. One of the students said "people with two languages like us are gifted, bi-lingual and bi-literate. We are talented and clever" (Ruamano, Year 10). Not all iwi receive money from the ministry for education. The purpose of Iwi Education Project funding is "to build iwi capability to engage in and contribute to the education system and the education of their whānau and hapu. This appropriation is primarily used to produce iwi education strategies, reo strategies and implementation plans; and to deliver iwi education project" (Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 1). However, there are tensions between expectations and responsibility - i.e. whose responsibility is it to implement some aspects of an initiative. The 5 iwi with the main schools include Ngai Tahu (579), Ngati Whatua (397), and Ngati Maniapoto (144). The amount of funding, compared with the geographical area or the schools they work with, however, was not scaled to the funding received...ranging from $40,000 per school to $193 per school that they work with. Resourcing is therefore an issue.

The best way to influence the impact schools is, Melanie proposes, through working with organisations such as Te Toi Tupu. Ideally, it is a case of contacting and working with all stakeholders...something that isn't possible if resourcing isn't sufficient. At the end of the day, however, a student has succeeded when students have the confidence and skills to come back to work with iwi. It's about young children building a sense of where they are from, who they are 'from', what they are doing now (as a whole, culturally shaped person), and also where they are heading next.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

MOOCs as a convenient means of establishing patterns of power and authority. Thoughts?

An array of Neolithic artifacts, including bra... A lot of things went through my mind as I read Denis McGrath's post, Are Hi-tech solutions contingent on Lo-tech solutions? Many of these thoughts were loosely related wonderings (so please be patient ;-p).

Denis starts from the "premise that all artifacts we use - are man made, therefore they are in essence human developed technologies". Although he doesn't state that man-made = tangible objects, this got me thinking, especially as later he mentions human speech as a technology. Can something that is (certainly prior to writing) intangible therefore be considered an artifact? If 'no', can it therefore be considered a technology? It is certainly a tool, though. So, I did a bit of digging around (as you do).

The Free Dictionary defines artifact in four different ways" "An object produced or shaped by human craft", "Something viewed as a product of human conception or agency rather than an inherent element", "A structure or feature not normally present but visible as a result of an external agent or action", and "An inaccurate observation, effect, or result, especially...in scientific investigation or from experimental error".

These definitions (while not all relevant to the context), I feel help illustrate the complex interplay of the notion of technologies as artifacts as objects shaped by human craft, and as intangibles that are a product of human conception or agency. 

This wider take on artifacts perhaps helps to provide and insight into what happens when we use technologies, compared with consideration of the technology itself. As such, social networks, online communities of practice etc, can all be considered artifacts. When the notion of artifacts as both tangible and intangible comes into play, there are further considerations around the concept that:
technical things have political qualities. At issue is the claim that the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged not only for their contributions to efficiency and productivity and their positive and negative environmental side effects, but also for the ways in which they can embody specific forms of power and authority (p. 121, Winner, 1986).
The examples Winner uses illustrate how intended consequences, are frequently underpinned by unintended aspects related to control, as well as political and social effects. As an example, consider the uptake and adaptation of the original design of MOOCs (that has its roots in Connectivism)  by large universities and businesses. It might indeed be extrapolated that
specific features in the design or arrangement of a ... system [are providing] ... a convenient means of establishing patterns of power and authority in a given setting (p. 134, Winner, 1986).
While this in itself remains a controversial suggestion, I do feel that it may offer insights into how and why technologies have (or haven't) been adopted by formal education systems and institutions, and in turn why wide scale adoption has been patchy and fraught with issues.


Reference Winner, L. (1986). Do artifacts have politics. In L. Winter (Ed.), The whale and the reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology (pp. 19-39). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Image Neolithic artifacts. CC licenced. Wikipedia. http://commons.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:N%C3%A9olithique_0001.jpg
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