Outside in and inside out! A place to store ideas about education.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Communities of Practice and the Building of the UP Faculty

(An impromptu concept note presented at the UP System Faculty Workshops, February 26-27, 2013)

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.  The term was coined by anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger while studying apprenticeship as a learning model.1 These communities are characterized by (1) a shared domain, (2) a community wherein members learn and share information, and (3) a common practice, wherein all members are practitioners which have a shared repertoire of resources developed through time and sustained interaction.  Community of practice has become a useful analytical tool in bringing to light informal forms of initiation, mentoring, and knowledge creation and sharing that can be found in all types of organizations.  Here are some salient points in describing communities of practice:

  • ·      A COP has an informal hierarchy of knowledge-holders and experts, those studying to be experts, moonlighters, and initiates.
  • Initiation requires a gradual inclusion into the ways that the community operates, their values and methods of doing, their culture and language.
  •  Initiation requires that the initiate be given, at the beginning, small responsibilities (sweeping the floor, running errands, sharpening minor tools), gradually increasing as the student increases in knowledge and proficiency.
  • As the students move up the ranks, the community accommodates their increasing mastership by giving them opportunities for mentoring.  Mentoring while learning is recognized by the community, and the emergent expertise is seen as a community trust, and is appreciated as a community asset.

·      There are as many kinds of community expertise as there are experts.  Most experts are valued by community members as resources from which to draw inspiration or information.  However, knowledge building and creation is not the sole responsibility of an expert.  Any member of the community is expected to contribute and create within their own spheres of activity.  Sometimes these spheres take the form of small groups working towards a certain objective.  Sometimes these are larger, loose groups working towards a broader aim.

How does this inform the UP Faculty?

Currently we are looking at the faculty as individuals, and as departments.  These are very small units of analysis that may not show the true manner in which the faculty operates.  We can visualize these communities as concentric spheres where the center of a community is composed of members who have the most knowledge and skills which are relevant to the practice of the field, and our students as coming from outside these circles and gradually being introduced to them in the course of study.  We can also look at them as a suit of cards where the face cards refer to the community experts while the number cards refer to those who are training to become experts.  The main difference between the way we currently view the faculty and the view from communities of practice is that communities of practice work and achieve goals as a community, both through the development and retention of experts, and through the hard work of the members.

When we start looking at the Faculty as a community of practice, certain things are brought to light:

  • 1.     Community culture.  Many aspects of community behavior are made smooth and seamless through the appreciation of community culture.  These are tacit forms of behavior that encapsulate community values and procedures, and as such are gradually imbibed.  The manner that this can be imbibed may be facilitated by simple institutional interventions (i.e., common lunch breaks?  A department reading area?), and may actually be hindered by some kinds of institutional policy.  These interventions are usually better determined at the local level by understanding the local dynamics of community interactions.  Community culture also can be as a lens to view questions of tenure and promotions:  At which point in the development continuum would we consider a faculty member as deserving of tenure?  What kinds of community activities are considered during promotions?  How do we document and codify these activities?

  • 2.     Community stability.  A large community with a wide initiate base and a full complement of number cards all the way up to the face cards has greater resources and greater stability than smaller communities.  We tend to imagine our communities to be small and department-based (as this is how we operate on a daily basis), but we can extend this thinking to include similar departments from across colleges and across units, thereby increasing our community stability and the ways that we can generate and share knowledge and skills.  The university can think of institutional ways to pull together departments from different units, yet again taking into consideration the localized nature of communities of practice and allowing for leeway for the spontaneous generation of community spirit.

  • 3.     Initiation.  Our students can be considered as initiates into our communities of practice.  However, unlike the apprenticeship model, we tend to inform them of the codified forms of community knowledge (otherwise known as the curriculum) and under-inform them of the skills, mindsets, and values of the community.  They obtain some experience of this in their practicums and theses, but in very few instances before that.  It can also be noted that these forms of training usually give emphasis on individual accomplishments over community accomplishments.   

  • 4.     Networking.  Many communities have members who, while they may not be the most brilliant or the most productive, become centers through which the community becomes cohesive.  These are the community builders, who tacitly understand the nature of network building within the community and actively work towards achieving it.  Members usually gravitate towards this person, as they hold the hearts of the community members and are usually relied on to facilitate referrals and requests as well as mediate in cases of misunderstanding or dispute.  These persons hold influence in communities of practice but their contributions are usually not recognized by policy.

  • 5.     Intersecting communities.   A community member is usually a member of many other communities, and their presence and participation in one community is colored by their participation in their other communities.  Some members just coast along the outskirts of various communities, and these members may be useful as wild cards who bring in new ideas and new ways of seeing.

  • 6.     Shared crisis.  It is interesting how weathering a shared crisis could influence the creation of a community by giving its members a common history and requiring relationships to gel together in many different levels.

The concept of Communities of Practice is a powerful lens by which we can appreciate Faculty development form a new perspective.  This might give us new insights on how to initiate and strengthen faculty communities as productive groups working towards common goals.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Moving ALS online

Wednesday saw Teacher Angelyn and yours truly at the Barangay Loyola Heights Learning Center brainstorming the movement of ALS to the internet through eLearning.  Thinking about this issue made me realize that this is truly our role as the National University: not to teach students directly, but to help institutions such as the ALS to create quality learning environments online.

I suggested that we come up with a draft proposal first before meeting everyone else for the project, and Teach readily agreed.  The project already has the go signal from DepEd QC, DepEd BALS, and UPOU Faculty of Education, so its a go-go-go already :-)

The Project:
Pilot ALS Online for ALS QC

Background of the issue:

We have to paint a picture of the ALS QC as a big, diverse group of mobile learners with different needs, situations, and abilities.  Within this group is a small cohort of students who are already independent learners with a capacity to use digital technologies for learning.  This will be the target learners for the pilot offering.  To start off, we will set a cap of 300 students, based on student characteristics (how to measure?) and ALS facilitator recommendations.  Having an e-Learning ready student cohort will minimize the need for technical support and allow the ALS Online team to concentrate more on delivery of materials rather than student support (but this is seen as a limitation to the pilot and one which should be considered if eventually offered to a larger number of learners).

Data needed:
1. ALS QC demographics: Learning centers, Institutions and organizations involved, number of students and student demographics.
2.  Need to review the research of Dr. Flor on BALS.

Advantages of putting up an Online ALS for QC, from the POV of:
1.  Learners:  self-paced, access, multimodal, learners community, online portfolio
2.  Parents (if applicable):  can also be included as learners in community, can monitor children's work
3.  ALS Facilitators: Record keeping and follow up of learners, can track learners even if they are mobile, can track and highlight assessments, can add online resources to existing
4.  BALS:  Record of learners and learning process, can study learner behavior, can assess modules and effectivity for online offering, can share online modules and eSkwela learning objects with Bureau of Secondary and Elementary Education.
5.  DepEd QC:  Can benefit from online modules and online record-keeping of facilitators.  Can use Online ALS modules for online and residential classes.

Are there any more benefits?

Draft set-up  (This is actually based on the concept for EdeN Education eNetwork that Profs Aleta Villanueva, Bobby Figueroa, and myself have envisioned last year but have yet to put up for UPOU.)

The ALS Facilitators already have in place a system of taking in learners on a residential basis.  For the pilot, it is practical to keep this residential system in place but with the view of eventually putting up an online system.  Here are some aspects we would like to see online:

A Welcome page where you would find the Login Page as well as news and announcements and links to the magazine.

1.  Online FLT
2.  Online chat-based system of putting up an Independent Learning Agreement and interview for RPL

The RPL and ILA results will be posted on the Student's moodle Profile page.  The Student's moodle Profile Page can be customized for ALS learner particularities.  An area should be reserved for Badges that the ALS Facilitator would give to the Learner once the learner has finished a module or a particular interim or terminal assessment.  There would be no need for grades because the badges will take the place of grades.

A Learning Portal page is the next step where the learner can access any of the four learning environments:

1. ALS modules (one icon for each of the 5 strands) portal
2.  Learning Community Forum
3.  Online ALS Magazine.  Highlights ALS activities, badges earned by students, online and F2F activities, etc.
4.  Learner's Personalized Learning Environment.  The student's blog and website can be part of this page.  This page can also be linked to the student's site.  Google, Twitter, RSS feeds, and FB for learning.  This is not a requirement for the Pilot, but it could follow.

Each icon in the ALS modules portal would lead to the learning strand page.  The learning strand page would ask the student which language they would prefer.  Each language has a particular icon/color code.  Upon choosing the language, the learner enters a clickable mindmap or list of modules available. The student the clicks on a module to enter the module site.  List can be color-coded for Basic Literacy, Elementary, or High school level.  We hope that artwork can also be created for the modules, as well as introductory video to explain what the module is about.

Each module is accessible as a moodle class site.  This is already in place.

Academic support would be offered off-moodle.  There should be a button within the course site for learners to click when they encounter problems with comprehension.  This button can either lead to an online chat session with an ALS facilitator or ALS volunteer (co-learner, parent, whatever), or to the Learning Community Forum for learners or facilitators to answer.

Facilitators can be taught to add resources to the moodle class sites related to the modules.  But they are not required to behave as FICs.  i.e., An NGO working with a particular interest group (i.e., young parents) can put up a forum in the Learning Community, as well as add videos and related material to the modules in the moodle site.  Another alternative is to put up a similar moodle site with materials particular to their interest group.

Eventually, facilitators can also sign up non-Online ALS learners within the online ALS system as a means to keeping track of learner activity (i.e., which modules the learner has already finished, etc.)

Facilitators can have a class list where learners in their Learning Centers are listed, and the facilitator can track learner activity and progress.

Students and Facilitators and the moodle Admin can be trained for online learning by the UPOU through a MOA (should be signed by February 2013).

The Online ALS can be piloted as soon as the important pages have been put up and the facilitators have been briefed and students have been chosen.  A review of the pilot Online ALS can be done 2 months, 6 months, and a year hence.

We still have a loooong way to go, but baby steps will get us there.  For those who want to join the group, please let us know!

Heritage Conservation through the development of Culturally-Sensitive Science Curriculum

Heritage Conservation through the development of Culturally-Sensitive Science Curriculum
Concept Note

Cultural heritage conservation helps a community not only to protect its viable economic physical assets, but also preserve its practices, history, and environment, and a sense of
continuity and identity. Heritage conservation is deeply derived from an appreciation of locally-developed culture and worldview. Part of these worldviews are holistic and integrated systems of knowing and apprehending the natural world which are culturally-congruent. Traditional knowledge and technologies locally-developed facilitate sustainable and ethical use of resources as well as valuation and maximization of materials readily-available to the local population.

However, the current educational system, as well as the current perception of science, and, consequently, science education, are Western-derived and -oriented. While Eurocentric science, with its analytic and positivist philosophical underpinnings, has allowed for the development and elucidation of powerful universal models for explaining natural phenomena and accounting for the unseen.

As we move in to standards-based education using western-derived philosophies, tensions are created between traditional knowledge systems and the new ways of knowing and doing. There is a general tendency for current educational material to disregard indigenous knowledge systems as unscientific, antiquated, and superstitious. The end result is that the two knowledge systems are constantly competing for dominance in the students' minds, and eventually one is accepted and applied, while the other is devalued and discarded. Most times, classroom science is at the losing end of the deal, as it is seen as culturally incompatible. It is perceived as not applicable to life outside the classroom, it tends to contain counter-intuitive principles, and is generally rife with irrelevant information. Thus, science literacy, the ideal outcome of science education in basic education, is not achieved.

The ideal science curriculum then incorporates the best of both worlds and starts with the development of a culturally-sensitive curriculum that validates local knowledge and values while presenting the gains of Eurocentric science as a means of enhancing and improving on local perspectives. This means that one has to expand the definition and construct of science beyond the limits imposed by materialism and positivism to encompass the many ways by which people interrogate and make sense of the natural world. This also means that one has to honor traditional ways of knowledge transfer outside the school system, but still be well-versed in the principles embodied by the worldview and the ways of testing and validating experiences in order to faithfully integrate them into the classroom.

It is in the hope of developing this curriculum, as well as a teacher-training component to ensure its effective delivery, that heritage conservation is taken a step further to enrichment to make it current and compatible with the modern world.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

On the Bucket Reading List

Current Readings in Green
Finished readings in Gray

Sophie's World by Joshein Gardner............ 25%
Sufism by Fethullah Gulen.......................... 10%

Books by Sayyed Hussein Nasr:
Man and Nature
An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines
Islam: Religion History and Civilization
A Young Muslim's Guide to the Modern World

Readings on the Tausug:
Lupah Sug blog
Muslims in the Philippines,

Other books on Islam
Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul, by William Chittick
Islam a Short History by Karen Armstrong
On Islam and Science (recommended by Uncle Ardie)
A Handbook of Islamic Prayers  by Ibnul Qayyim

On Philosophy of Science
Al Ghazali and his theory of the Soul, by Noor Shakirah Mat Akhir
Philosophy and Technology, Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey, eds
The Practice of Philosophy, a Handbook for Beginners, by Jay F. Rosenberg

On Social Science Research
Ground Rules for Good Research by Martyn Denscombe
Policy Analysis, by Weimer and Vining
What is Critical Qualitative Research?
Locating Instances and Generating Material
Case Study Research in Practice, by Helen Simons
Managing Yourself, Your Ideas, and Your Support Structures

On Malay
Malay for Everyone by Othman Sulaiman.............. 15%

Recommended by Papa:
The Mind in the Making, by James Harvey Robinson
The Principles of State and Government in Islam, by Muhammad Asad

For my reading pleasure:
A Handbook of Islamic Prayers  by Ibnul Qayyim
The Opening Chapter of the Qur'an, by Syed Abdul Latif
Words that Moved the World: How to Study the Quran, by Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Peace, Security, and Identity: To Be like a Bee

(This is the last part of the 4-part essay Peace, Security and Identity: A proposal for the youth of Southeast Asia

(read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

So in this era of accelerating growth and uncertain futures, only those who are secure in their identities can peacefully navigate the currents of change. It is but practical for the youth to start gaining this knowledge while still young. This also means that for the youth of today the need to learn does not start and end with school and university, but we must be able to travel through life as a bee in a rainforest: to collect tidbits of knowledge from any and all the variety of communities we encounter, and in return, to pollinate these communities with fresh ideas and new directions. In the end of the day, we come home to our hives and make honey, propolis and royal jelly: our provisions for the next day, our strength potions for the future, and our contribution to the next generation.

Peace, Security, and Identity: Security and identity

(this is Part 3/4 of the essay Peace, Security and Identity: A proposal for the youth of Southeast Asia)

(read Part 2)

Indeed, the question of strength boils down to a question of identity. Finding our own identity -- as individuals, communities, nations, and now, as a region -- is a task that we have to collectively undertake. For to be secure in our own identity and in our capacity to uphold such an identity is the one prerequisite to peace. We tend to think of security as security of livelihoods, of food, of homes, and economies, security based on environmental and material conditions. As a result, we tend to define ourselves within the context of what we can do and who we can “be” within such conditions. This kind of security is put into question when communities are under the state of war or under poverty. Thus, such communities define what to them is essential and develop value systems that enable them to obtain these essentials.

Even during peacetime, we can experience circumstances when we lose our sense of security. One such experience is travel. When one travels, one leaves security to indulge in being in the thick of new contexts and cultures, and thus one loses security (and therefore, security in their identity) for a spell and can therefore look back at their lives with a new perspective. Thus, travel, whether for business, pleasure, or as a religious requirement, is a necessity in the quest to define our identity.

There is, however, another kind of security. Communities who have endured, nay thrived, in centuries of protracted war have found security not in their capacity to control their environment but in their capacity to know of their inner selves. Such communities value knowledge of self and of the relation between the whole and its parts, and how things come full circle, above all kinds of knowledge and possessions. Happily, the ASEAN region has a rich spiritual tradition. This kind of knowledge – and thus, this kind of security and identity – is not so inaccessible for the ASEAN youth, specially today. 

Indeed, peace is not a characteristic of institutions but is an effect of internal peace within individuals, communities, and nations, but it is important for institutions such as the ASEAN to create mechanisms to encourage it. If likened to a deck of cards, institutions can create the Spades (governance), the Clubs (military), and the Diamonds (economy), but only communities can hold the Hearts.

(on to Part 4)

(to add: Another situation where one finds lack of security is during a severe or prolonged sickness in the family, which is one of the reasons why sickness is considered a blessing.)

Peace, Security, and Identity: Coming from strength to strength

(Part 2/4 of the essay Peace, Security and Identity: A proposal for the youth of Southeast Asia) (Read Part 1)

Diversity is the strength and banner of the ASEAN. It has in its own backyard different types of government, at least five major religions, a multiplicity of races and cultures and their even more numerous combinations. Indeed, aside from our common addiction to rice, there seems to be no single unifying element in all the ASEAN. However, barring Thailand, all of the nations of the ASEAN have come from a recent colonial past, and have built their current formal structures of government, economy, and education based on colonial institutions.

The colonial nature of our governments has given us Southeast Asians an inferiority complex. We have set our sights to the standard that our colonizers have created for themselves, painstakingly training ourselves to speak as they speak, value what they value, and practice as they do. This has put us at a distinct disadvantage. Not only have we turned our back on our own culture which encapsulates our strengths and ways of knowing and doing, we are setting ourselves to fail consistently, as we are acting still in behalf of our colonizers and not as stewards of our own future. Thus, the first challenge to the youth is to make use of the freedom and opportunity to find our strength and our place in the post-colonial world, by building our own perspectives and paradigms, so that we can move from strength to strength, taking our rightful place in the community of nations.

(on to Part 3)

Peace, Security, and Identity: Peace and Privilege

(Part 1/4 of the essay Peace, Security and Identity: A proposal for the youth of Southeast Asia

When asked what the youth can do to contribute to the development of the ASEAN, it is at once evident that the successor generation – our generation – has a lot to contribute. For one, we were born after the founding of the ASEAN, at the period when most, if not all, armed conflict between nations have already been on their way to resolution. Thus, we are fortunate to witness the fruits of peacetime, where looking for mutual goals and meeting mutual needs are high on the negotiating table, and when fear and suspicion has been replaced by openness, friendship, and trust. This is furthered by the growth of the Internet and affordable regional travel (as well as the removal of tourist visa requirements for ASEAN nationals), which has allowed for online and real-life seeking and meeting of minds and cultures for everyday people.

We are a privileged generation, free of the insecurities of conflict and restrictions of distrust, and we are called to make the most of this privilege to celebrate and explore and innovate on the diversity of communities that the ASEAN has to offer.

(to part 2/4)

Peace, Security and Identity (Overview)

This series was written as an essay for my application to the ASEAN Youth Workshop on ASEAN Community “Unity in Diversity” organized by the CENPRIS, USM this December. It is actually a conglomerate of the themes that I have been puzzling about for the past few years (yes, Virginia, years) and I am here presenting them in four parts:

(1) Peace and Privilege

(2) Coming from Strength to Strength

(3) Security and Identity, and

(4) To Be like a Bee

Many thanks to my supervisor and CENPRIS Director, Dr. Azhari Karim for the encouragement, and of course to the better half (at itago na natin sya sa pangalang "Direk").

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Learning vs. Passing

I am a teacher trainor for teachers in the basic education system. Our class met two days ago and my students told me a story of the DepEd's Drop Out Reduction Program (DORP). The DORP instructs teachers to use all means necessary for the students to pass their classes. Let me underscore the objective: for students to pass and move on to the next grade level, not necessarily for students to learn the desired competencies for each level. If the teachers fail more than two students in their class, they are required to go to the principals, or sometimes, the District supervisor's office to justify themselves. So teachers end up using any and all means (i.e., using attendance scores to beef up the grade, etc) so that the students can reach the passing mark. Teachers report that maybe as little as 20% in any given batch of public high school students truly deserve to pass their science classes, but the teachers allow them to pass all the same because of pressure from the different levels of bureacracy in the DepEd. After a few years of this, what do we have? High school students with Grade 4 competencies! Students whom by the very nature of how they entered the grade level are not expected to do well in that grade level, but are expected to exit with passing marks all the same.

If we automatically assume that two more years of schooling will relate to graduates of High School that have the competencies of a High School graduate then we will be disappointed. Even by the end of grade school the average score of students in the National Elementary Achievement Test is below par, and this is with extensive review classes at the last months of class, how can we expect them to enter High School with the full complement of skills? How can we expect them to exit High School "equipped with all the necessary skills and aptitude that makes him readily employable"?

This strange preoccupation of DepEd to thresh out positive-seeming statistics (i.e., Zero Drop Out rates) and adopt "international standards" (i.e., in standardized test questions) in expense of the more important objectives of schooling will make any DepEd initiative suspect. This is not to say that the fault lies in government, no, but in the whole mindset we have of education. It is high time that we focus not on schooling but in learning. Maybe through this re-orientation we will be able to find creative means of effecting learning, whether we be within the school system (with 10 years or 12 years of schooling) or within families, communities, mainstream and alternative media, and other social institutions.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Six years and counting...

I'm looking at the stuff I wrote earlier, and found this in my little storage box of goodies:

Reflections on my first year of teaching

I have a dream…
         I applied and entered the UP Open University last year with a dream in mind: to help upgrade and uplift science and technology education in our country.  It was therefore with great enthusiasm that I accepted the faculty post as Assistant Professor in the Diploma in Science Teaching Program.  I believe that joining the University, with its wealth of human intellectual resources and forward-looking people, I can now take concrete steps toward making this dream a reality.
          My position in UPOU has given me valuable insights in the current state of science education.  Moreover, it allows me to directly interact with science teachers who are at the heart of the matter:
 “Analysis points to the science teachers as a good target for halting this downward spiral of educational decay.  Empowering and enabling the teachers to tackle teaching science everyday with an everyday setting is important.  Materials which can engage the students in exploring their natural environments, understanding indigenous phenomena, and relate science with other subjects (history, geography, and culture) which will allow students to see how science may be applied to everyday life.”
                                                             SciHigh proposal, written June 2004.
My first year in the UP Open University has shown me the depth of the problem.  However, UPOU, through DE, has also shown me the wellspring of potential, and the hope that this problem could be solved.

I realize, five years later, that this is still my dream for myself here at UPOU.  Yes, I still do believe in this dream, and I still do believe that it's possible!

It just takes a lot more work than I have anticipated :P

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to be Alone

This viral reached my inbox recently:

Oh yes i honestly MISS being alone!