Teaching Talk, Models, Pyramids & C.S Lewis…

One of my many hats (as you readers know) is as an arts educator where I am currently undertaking a world of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) (though CPD should be throughout your career) in teaching alongside the completion of my PhD. This includes the courses ‘Supervising Undergraduate Research’ and ‘Supervising Master’s Degree Research’ run by the Centre for Enhancement and Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Birmingham City University in association with the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)…going on to complete to a Masters in Education in Academic Practice this Autumn. I can’t wait! My focus will be on internationalising the curriculum and international student cultural assimilation (China focussed) as I feel institutions don’t create courses in an international mindset in what is now a global education community, or see, develop or utilise the international student community. So much lost value here! Also, there is nowhere near enough time spent on assisting international students to assimilate to a UK education culture when they arrive – this is actually something that I am trying to do in practice with Birmingham City University. This blog post continues my series on teaching and teaching talk…

Austin Kleon Teach What you Know
By Austin Kleon

To cite a cliché, “every day is a school day”, for my students AND myself. I will always hold that mentality towards my teaching practice, especially the higher the course or qualification you are teaching, and endeavour to push my learning and knowledge year-on-year (I’m not good at sitting still, you know that). PhD land has certainly opened my eyes up to that and the wealth of knowledge from my colleagues. Creative Austin Kleon – the writer who draws – encompasses this directly in one of his works and through a quotation by one of my favourite (childhood) reads and authors C.S. Lewis:

“I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself… It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can… The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten… I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained…” – C.S. Lewis (cited in the “Be An Amateur” section of Austin Kleon’s last book)

As Austin states ‘This is the way I’ve always tried to approach writing, teaching, or speaking on stage: not as an expert, but as a fellow student. I’m trying to learn in the open. I’m letting others look over my shoulder while I figure things out. And even when I do think I’ve figured some things out, I’m trying to find more things to figure out, because learning is the thing that keeps me alive, keeps me moving forward. This, I think, is the great trick: To be a teacher and remain a student.’

Austin Kleon To Be a Teacher
By Austin Kleon

An educational tool I have been introduced to, extended from the Chinese School Twitter conversations, are educational MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Thanks to Simon Fogg for the recommendation! This is something I am going to look into for needed CPD in the field and also in relation to China. Surface-level online research brought my attention to the article ‘MOOCs in China are growing’ from 6th August 2015. In China’s nation of 1.4 billion people, MOOCs are growing – ‘The Chinese government expects MOOCs to bring “revolutionary” change to the education system by reducing inequity in quality of education between urban and rural schools and by sharing the best teaching resources. One of the government’s goals is to train 13 million k-12 (“k-12” is the sum of primary and secondary school years) teachers on education technology skills in the next five years through MOOCs.’ When I read 13 million, you think that’s absurd, yet at the same time I understand and know they will make this happen. China is recognising an educational and economic growth in online learning in apparently “an unprecedented way”. Current educational research themes in China include MOOCs, online learning and educational entrepreneurship with exploration into how they can take advantage of technologies in teaching and learning. As the article states, ‘a few recognized potentials for using MOOCs include sharing excellent teaching lessons among universities, reaching out-of school youth for tertiary education, and improving quality of teaching at their own universities. Many universities have opened their own online courses and are using edX and Coursera to disseminate them.’

“The Chinese are keen to learn cutting-edge knowledge in development, especially young entrepreneurs and start-ups in online learning.” – Yidan Wang

I was specifically interested in the ethos and work of Sunshine Library, a program committed to reaching students from rural and disadvantaged areas. ‘It uses technologies to support teachers, provides multi-media materials, introduces modern teaching methods, and designs core learning software to bridge the gaps in quality between urban and rural schools. With the complexity and scale of China, the government is strongly pushing the use of technologies to improve quality, access and equity of education, while encouraging private entrepreneurs and civil society to provide skills training for employment, skills upgrade as well as outreach to rural children.’

“These efforts affect who the learners are, who the providers are, what we learn, where to learn, and how to learn. Thus, in my view, countries should keep an open mind and explore different means to reach all segments of the population. Information technologies is one of those options and has the potential to make learning for all a reality.” – Yidan Wang

One of the comments following this article provided additional context that can be applied globally not just to China. It also highlighted barriers to learning, disability and learning disabilities in mainstream schools, something that you don’t often hear about in China, and I often feel that it is a “teach one, teach all” mentality…though I could be wrong, another area to research. If any readers know more, please get in touch.

‘I think the use of online tools for education is largely underestimated and if done properly can make a major impact on the system. A good example is inclusive education. In many cases the issue of barriers to learning can be addressed as well as disability if teachers in mainstream schools can get exposure through eLearning. Traditional education systems focussed on a dual system, special and mainstream. Those in the special system of education were trained to deal with disability and related issues separately. With eLearning, all teachers can get expose to different forms of special education. Human resource development is pivotal to developing an inclusive system of education. eLearning can play a major role through exposing parents, teachers and learners to special education. An introductory course on all special education related matters can be used for generalist. By providing exposure to a wider audience, the knowledge can assist in mainstreaming. With regard to the more in-depth knowledge for teachers, courses can be designed online to address a range of disabilities. Once we take address this initially at a systems level, more monitoring and evaluation could lead to refining courses that have been developed. So I agree online learning can make a major impact on teacher and learning and I think the Chinese are making a big leap which many people can learn from.’ – Sigamoney Naicker


Finally, I felt this model would provide an interesting perspective to this ‘Teaching Talk’ blog post…The Cultural Iceberg by Edward T. Hall showing the relationship between deep culture and surface culture:

  • SURFACE CULTURE – The external, or conscious, part of culture is what we can see and is the tip of the iceberg and includes behaviours and some beliefs. This is implicitly learned, unconscious, difficult to change, subjective knowledge.
  • DEEP CULTURE – The internal, or subconscious, part of culture is below the surface of a society and includes some beliefs and the values and thought patterns that underlie behaviour. There are major differences between the conscious and unconscious culture. This is explicitly learned, conscious, easily changed, objective knowledge.

Hall suggests that the only way to learn the internal culture of others is to actively participate in their culture. When one first enters a new culture, only the most overt behaviors are apparent. As one spends more time in that new culture, the underlying beliefs, values, and thought patterns that dictate that behaviour will be uncovered. What this model teaches us is that we cannot judge a new culture based only on what we see when we first enter it. We must take the time to get to know individuals from that culture and interact with them. Only by doing so can we uncover the values and beliefs that underlie the behaviour of that society.’

I’ve cited this model as I believe it can be applied to teaching and learning…especially as regards the teaching of international students. As teachers, we must learn the culture from which they have come, cultural assimilation as such to their background (where possible), adapting teaching methods to their learning styles. I think ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School’ is a good example of what needs to change, and that’s from the other way round, therefore there needs to be an acknowledgement of not only international students, but international teachers. Here’s to a global education…and how to make it work.

Edward T. Hall The Cultural Iceberg
The Cultural Iceberg by Edward T. Hall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s