Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Ibague Experience

Conference badge
This is the third in a series of blog posts about my recent experience in Colombia.
1. Learning Where it Happens
2. Communities and Networks: Learning Where it Happens

A few months ago I received an email message from Carlos Ortiz from Universidad de Ibagué. Carlos asked me if I would be interested in travelling to Colombia to give a talk about learning communities and networks at their annual Congreso de Pedagogía y TIC. YES!

Some history

I've known Carlos for several years, connecting through SCoPE, Facebook, G+, and an online workshop organized by the Colombian Ministry of Education back in 2007. My how time flies!

That workshop was coordinated and facilitated by John Smith, Nancy White, Diego Leal, and Alvaro Galvis as part of the Red Virtuals de Tutores  (RVT - Virtual Tutor Network) where I was invited to join in for 10 days to share stories as a community steward for SCoPE. Through that experience I discovered that SCoPE was a reference point for the development of the RVT, and they were beginning a process that was similar to the annual "Reflections and Next Steps" discussions in SCoPE. I remember Diego mentioning that his first Second Life excursion was because of a SCoPE seminar. I love hearing stories about how SCoPE events reach so many people around the world.

I think my first introduction to Alvaro and Diego was much earlier. Sarah Haavind from Concord Consortium facilitated a course called "Moving out the middle" or MOOM, based on the book Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators. Diego and Alvaro completed the course in 1999, and I followed a couple years later. Sarah connected all of this for us when we landed in a SCoPE seminar together.

In 2008 my then BCcampus colleague, Scott Leslie, joined Diego in Colombia for an EduCamp tour. Diego published a paper about that experience at IRRODL. The following year I met Diego at the OpenEd conference in Vancouver. So there were parallel experiences as well that helped to keep us all connected.

I'm kind of obsessed with connecting all of the dots, so there you have it -- my path to an invitation to speak at a conference in Colombia!

Room view

I was looking forward to meeting Carlos and his colleagues at AVACO, the virtual learning and teaching support centre. I'm not sure what I was expecting for accommodations, but my hotel was just beautiful -- a welcomed site after a long journey from Kamloops, British Columbia, which included a night in Bogota to break up the trip. Then the phone rang, and it was the happy voice of my host/guide/translator, Damon Campbell. How was your trip? Do you need anything? Call me if you do! Lunch tomorrow at the university.

Warm welcomes from everyone 

Daniel and Damon picked me up in the morning. Yay, my kind of people! Right away I knew this would be a fun week!

My new friends
Daniel Casas Guerra and Damon Campbell 
We had a quick tour of Ibague then went to the university to meet the staff at AVACO. I arrived melting from the heat, so they pointed a big fan on the lady from Canada while we got acquainted.

Such a great group of people from ÁVACO and they're clearly enthusiastic and proud of the work they do. I suspect the very dynamic Cecelia Correa, directora del Centro de Innovación Educativa ÁVACO, had a lot to do with that.

Teemu Leinonen, from Finland, arrived later but didn't seem to be suffering from the change in climate. I feel like I've known Teemu for many years, but we've never communicated directly. I know him from his work starting in the late 90s when I began to engage in conversations about open source software. We were also both part of the Future of Learning in a Networked World travels, but in different years.

We then gathered in the university outdoor cafe for a delicious lunch, and I tried my first lulo juice. I was so grateful that Damon was by my side, because my hours of listening to and repeating phrases from my Spanish audiobook was not proving to be very helpful! I was ok if, rather than a complete sentence, people just said one word, and it was a word I learned from my tape. :-) To assist with the translation process, Damon's advice to me was to speak in chunks, then pause. Sounds easy enough! 

Press conference 

The following morning I was picked up from my hotel to attend a press conference. We started by watching the promotional video for the conference. It's a really great production! Then Teemu and I were asked to say a few words about our upcoming talks, which was followed by a A&A, then quick one-on- one interviews and photos.

photo by Monica Leguizamón
It was during the press conference that I began to get concerned about the logistics of my talk -- chunk, pause, listen to translation, chunk, pause, listen to translation. It's not so easy to speak like that!

Fine tuning 

Yeisson Mena Triana helps to translate the slides

That afternoon Damon and I spent some time reviewing my slides so he could get the gist of what I would be speaking about, and to clarify any difficult vocabulary. There was some unfamiliar language in the talk I prepared. We decided it would be best to translate some of the slides into Spanish. I had a number of quotes from colleagues integrated into the talk, and we were concerned that many of them would be lost in translation, so to speak.

photo by Monica Leguizamón
This process was really helpful for both Damon and me. I realized that I had some serious editing to do that evening -- fewer words, fewer slides, rethinking the translated slides, clearer language...

We also went to the venue to see how the room was set up. The room accommodated approximately 400 people, and overflow rooms with big screens were set up in the same building. Apparently 800 people had registered for the conference, but they were expecting about 400. Phew! Somehow 400 seems way better than 800.

Participants would be wearing headsets and the translators and videographers would be in a small elevated room to the side. This was reassuring -- that I would be able to see Damon as he was translating. We came up with a couple hand signals: 1) slow down and 2) back up/ repeat.

The stage was set up with a podium with stationary microphones. Hmmm, that meant standing still. I wasn't sure I could do that.

The actual talk

Teemu's talkTeemu and I sat beside each other at the front of the room in the auditorium. His talk was scheduled first, and right up to the top of the hour he was editing his slides. He mentioned how he can never give presentation slides in advance, as some conference organizers request. I can relate!

As Teemu talked about blended learning in higher education, explaining some of the issues around teaching practices, and using some example of activity structures used in his own teaching, I pulled out many key points that tied in well with my own talk. So there I was, also adding and editing in Evernote on my iPad right up to the last minute.

1. "Pedagogical bulimia"
2. Importance of context
3. Dialogue structures that invite participants to jump in when they feel compelled

I was also relieved to see that there was a portable microphone, but as I thought through the logistics of holding a mic, a remote control, and my iPad I realized that just wouldn't work. I needed my notes, especially now that my slides were in Spanish! :-) Alas, I would be strapped to the podium. Also, the translating station was actually at the back of the room, so I would not be able to easily see Damon.

By the time it was my turn I felt like I had prepared about as much as I could, and being surrounded by friendly people sure helped!

What stood out most for me? Speaking when your words are being translated changes everything.

1. The pace feels unnatural. It's difficult to maintain your regular intonations when you slow down. As I listened to my voice it didn't sound like my own.

2. The uneven flow caused me to rely more on my notes. The way my head works, if I don't get what I want to say out, I'll forget!

3. Looking for audience feedback feels awkward. A few times I asked questions, and where you normally get smiles, nods, and other cues that members of the audience were actively listening, instead there was a delay. (We joked about this ahead of time -- that sometimes translators might not understand jokes so they just say "ok, laugh now" ;-) )

All in all it was an excellent experience. I learned a lot, and I'm so grateful to all the support I received.

Celebrating and relaxing

Cheers! With Carlos and Damon
Afterwards Carlos treated Damon and me to a cold beer. They make excellent beer in Colombia!

The rest of my visit to Ibague was full of adventures. A group of us headed up into the mountains, and before leaving Ibague we had a night out for dinner and music. I even managed to stay up past midnight to listen to Damon sing in his lively Raggae band, Mafunda. It was fantastic!

With Damon, Teemu and Monica

Yes, that's us drinking more beer :-)

I owe a special thanks to Cecilia Correa Valdez y grupo ÁVACO. May the conversations continue, and I promise to work on my Spanish!

After leaving Ibague I visited two more universities. More about that in my next posts...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Networks and Communities: Learning Where It Happens

To prepare for this talk I called upon my own learning network to respond to the question: In the context of communities and networks, what comes to mind when see this phrase:

Learning where it happens

I posted this to my blog, Facebook, Twitter, SCoPE, and CPsquare community. The responses were very playful and creative, so THANK YOU to everyone who contributed.

AVACO officeI also listened to the stories from educators, academic developers, and educational technologists in Colombia. The common theme was that there remains a transmissive approach to teaching and learning. However, there are some excellent examples of innovation and enthusiasm for advancing pedagogical practices. The activities and support organized through Universidad de Ibague virtual education support centre (ÁVACO) are clearly making a difference.
photo by Monica Leguizamón

So in this talk I attempted to weave personal stories, wisdom from members of my learning communities and networks, historical evidence of persistence in traditional pedagogy, snippets from BCcampus communities of practice, examples of innovation from outside the education sector, and situated learning theory.

Special thanks to ÁVACO staff for the invitation, the warm welcome, and for helping me to prepare by giving feedback and translating slides. It was a fantastic experience that I'll never forget!

In my next blog post I'll write a more detailed account of my experience in Ibague.