Monday, December 24, 2018

The Circle of Life

Morning Star by Alex Janvier (Photographed at the Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa, Canada)
The year is drawing to a close and we will soon start a new year and a new circle of our life. The circle is symbolic in many ways and is a cultural, religious but more importantly, a human imagery. A circle represents the sun and the earth and the passage of time and seasons. 
To me, a circle is a metaphor for both life and learning. When our ancestors discovered fire and sat around it to share their knowledge and wisdom, that is when this universal symbol of learning was perhaps born. 
The circle represents wholeness and completeness. The center of the circle is filled with trust and openness. And while the rim is flexible, it stays protective of that what is inside; the core of the circle. There is no hierarchy in a circle because the shape equalizes everyone. A circle is a keeper of democracy and of relationships and intimacy. It represents a journey but one that has no beginning or end and in that respect, a circle is in a continuous process of being. The circle in its true form represents infinity and potential. And all these qualities are true for life and for learning. 
As the year draws to a close, I am reminded of the value of my own circle. I am thinking and reflecting about that what is at the core of my own circle; what fills the inside and what pushes the boundary everyday. I am thinking about the relationships that mean the most to me in this circle and the give and take and the ebb and flow. I am pondering about who is it that am I becoming in this process of being created constantly. In answering these questions, I am flexing the rim of my existing circle to expand it just a little more...
Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite.” 

― Anais Nin

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Role of Critical Reflection in Learning

Why it is important that we surface and critically reflect on the underlying assumptions which influence the ways we see, think, feel, and act?
Our frames of references and the underlying assumptions help us function and deal with the complexity of life. These assumptions and beliefs constitute our points of view and our habits of mind. Unknown to us, our assumptions guide many decisions that we make on a daily basis and make us view reality in a specific, unique way. To add to the challenge, assumptions are not always stated explicitly. There are many implicit assumptions that effect how we see, think, feel and act. Challenging these assumptions means questioning the everyday things we take for granted, accepting that multiple realities exist and that our view is not the only view to the world.

There is tremendous value in questioning our assumptions and surfacing some of the underlying beliefs. If we don’t challenge our assumptions, we continue to see the world in the same way, with the same perspective. We cannot hope for any transformational learning without reflecting on the underlying assumptions. We stay in the ‘auto-pilot’ mode and continue to make decisions without real awareness of why and how we made the decision. Our unchallenged assumptions can eventually become a hindrance to our growth and development.

Through critical reflection we are able to expose and uncover our underlying beliefs and assumptions. And when we state these upfront, we are able to think more deeply about what they really mean and whether they are justified. By doing so, we are attempting to make our frames of reference more open, inclusive, flexible and reflective. At the end of the day, we want to ensure that our beliefs and assumptions serve us well and enable us to learn and grow, to make better decisions and guide future action.

The ultimate goal of education is liberation, or praxis, “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” (Freire, 2000, p.60).

Friday, October 26, 2018

Do Grades Motivate Learning?

Photographer:Krzysztof PuszczyƄski
There are some educators who believe grades motivate learning. Perhaps, the underlying assumption being that a lower grade can encourage learners to try harder and a higher grade can give them the motivation to keep going and stay engaged. In this discussion, I think it is also important to highlight various type of motivations - external, internal and amotivation (the absence of motivation). If grades do motivate learners, it is external motivation in terms of grades as a reward or grades as a mechanism to avoid a negative consequence. In the form of external motivation, grades can change behavior but the real question is, do grades motivate learning?
I am of the belief that grades don't motivate learning. In my view, grades only motivate learners to work towards getting better grades. This belief comes from my own experience as a learner and as an adult educator. Over the years I have participated in several professional development courses. This includes open-courseware such as MOOCs, paid courses offered by LinkedIn and University-level certificate programs. There have been no grades for MOOCs and for the LinkedIn learning courses. But that didn't change my learning process, the time I spent on each course, and the gains I received from each course. In a majority of workplace training that I have been involved with, I have neither received nor given grades yet I still learned and I know that participants also learned in the absence of grades.
"Multiple studies of students at various levels of education, in various subjects, and across various time periods reveal that grading has the general effect of replacing internal motivation with external motivation."
(Docan, 2006; Kohn, 1999; Kohn, 2000; McClinticGilbert et al., 2013; Schinske & Tanner, 2014 as cited in Krawczyk, Roxanna M. 2017).
So, what's the issue with replacing internal motivation with external motivation?
"Grades can dampen existing intrinsic motivation, give rise to extrinsic motivation, enhance fear of failure, reduce interest, decrease enjoyment in class work, increase anxiety, hamper performance on follow-up tasks, stimulate avoidance of challenging tasks, and heighten competitiveness."
(Harter, 1978; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Butler, 1988; Crooks, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011 as cited in Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. 2014).
"Grading is philosophically, socially and politically driven" (Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J., 2009, Pg. 140) and grades have become "a commodity in an exchange relationship" (Pg. 136). The meaning of grades can be very different for learners and adult educators. In general, learners tend to view grades as a tool for gate-keeping and for making comparisons with others. But as an adult educator, I don't see grades with that lens. To me, they are not a motivational or comparison tool. If anything, I see grades as a communication tool to provide feedback and guidance along the learning journey. I guess what a learner may make of a grade may depend on many things including what they score. If they are performing well, grades are a validation mechanism. If the performance is not up to par, grades provide them with an evidence of failure. Therefore, as an adult educator it is important that while I don't see grades in a certain way, I must acknowledge how grades are seen and understood by learners. 
So if grades don't motivate learning, what does?
In her 2010 presidential address to the Midwest Sociological Society (a published version of the speech is referenced below), Diane Pike said: 
Interesting and relevant assignments, timely feedback, connection between student and teacher, connection among students, meaningful use of time—these things motivate learning. Thinking more explicitly about grading and evaluation, finding out what students experience by asking them, and reconsidering what grading does motivate, we can unleash new practices that just work better for all of us.” (Pg. 6)
Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation. A resource for educators and trainers.  2nd Edition.  Toronto: Ontario. Thompson Educational Publishing
Krawczyk, Roxanna M.. (2017). Effects of Grading on Student Learning and Alternative Assessment Strategies. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:
Pike, D. (2011). THE TYRANNY OF DEAD IDEAS IN TEACHING AND LEARNING: Midwest Sociological Society Presidential Address 2010. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(1), 1-12. Retrieved from
Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE life sciences education13(2), 159-66.