Empowering Students


School is a place for learning but not exclusively. Learning outside school for that matter may even be superior, that is more engaging, motivating, appealing, and in many respects more realistic. Provided of course that the learning environment offered is in some way in gear with the learner, linked to their learning interests. Some learning environments have that potential.  Take the museum for example and how it has changed into places of learning. The times are over when you walked in small groups with a friendly, but overly talkative guide alongside walls hanging full with stuff you did not know you cared about. Visits to a museum nowadays have become interactive and most of all active (1) . For instance: You could redraw a painting hanging in front of you in your sketch book so you can remember and connect to it. Or do a puzzle game walking through the museum rooms to find certain key points that will help you to apprehend a topic better. No hissing commands to be silent, instead you can even take part in discussion groups set up around a piece of art and position yourself against the stuff they show you. Nothing dull and dreary here. What is so engaging in such a learning environment is the open world you step into, at least that is how it manifest itself.. It could very well be the essence of learning empowerment: you are discovering what “ it”  (i.e., content that is offered) means to you.

For those not convinced a recent article on learning in open environments with the use of mobile phones might be illustrative. Students received action instructions through their cell phones tracking their achievements while performing tasks given at certain locations in the museum. They received real time feedback on how they were doing and what to do next.  This way of teaching and learning offered them real joy in learning, while being active, and learning in their own way.

Tell me about it, you might think. Nothing new here. Lots of new opportunities rooted in new technologies are now entering the school (2). Yes, indeed, some of them are incorporated in school learning slowly but the key issue is: are they empowering the student?, or put differently; is it changing the way school is doing their business of learning. And then the scene is a bit bleaker. New (tech) opportunities are added (sometimes) but not really changing school’s business  in favor of open environments of learning. Opening up the school seems far away still.


Guang Chen, Youlong Xin, & Nian-Shing Chen (2017). Informal learning in science museum: development and evaluation of a mobile exhibit label system with iBeacon technology. In  Educational Technology Research and Development June 2017, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 719–741



1. http://www.getty.edu/education/teachers/trippack/

  1. https://www.nmc.org/blog/future-open-learning-environments/
  2. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/empowering/?story=learningtools&ocid=learningtools_o_edge_null_null_usa_null_null



Look, No Supervision!

workplaceTo have a teacher teaching you is of great advantage. We often do not realize its full merit. What if one is not available or present at the moment you are in need of learning help? Can you cope, or will you drop your learning endeavor altogether. No teach, no gain. Often we get trapped in situations in which we have to ‘learn’, acquire new knowledge while sheer ignorance is the basic line. Imagine opening your just delivered package with an all-purpose kitchen cooking blender, or a self-assembly wardrobe from a famous, brand notorious for its detailed instructions. After the first panic you start rebalancing your emotions and will conquer your feelings of despair to look for helpful scaffolds – strong clues on how ‘on earth’ to understand what to do next and grasp the meaning of things (1). It would be nice if such clues were lying around from the start of your discovery journey. It would safe time, it would avoid redoing everything after noticing you see a construction piece still in front of you, it would save a lot of sweat and tears.

A study on learning at the workplace gauged how learning may be supported in the absence of supervision and found that newly recruited workers did remarkably well without direct supervision provided enough scaffolds where existent. The learning help arounds were experienced other workers, peers, guiding instructions, organized set ups of the work environments. When engaging in such a learning design they gradually reduced their felt need of learning support.

Environments can teach, rich environments that is. No, not rich, since that could lead to a learner “buried in thought” about the many options offered, but instead what you could call a ‘powerful’ learning environment; one that provides the right kind of scaffolds without arranging your trails as a training camp. The key point here is that it is not so much about having supervision or not , or sufficient teachers around but carefully adjusting, if you will reducing, the kind of (teaching persons or environmentally designed) help so that learners can decide on and are encouraged to interact with what puzzles them. Teachers stand on others’ threshold of discovery, after that it is up to the learner.


Palesy, D. Learning in the Absence of Direct Supervision: Person-Dependent Scaffolding. In: Vocations and Learning (2017). doi:10.1007/s12186-017-9176-9



  1. http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/ignorance_trap.htm
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/5-2-what-is-a-learning-environment/


A Different Choice

strijdWe all have to make choices. Difficult as they may seem we do manage more or less to cope with the implicated confusions that go along with getting what we want. Game theory puts forward we have great ability in dealing with tricky, intricate dilemmas and get out of them most of the time in a satisfying manner (not all the times though)(1) . How else could we enter a shopping mall willingly or leave a clothes store with the right kind of purchases.  We learn to weigh our wishes and wants against the needs and necessities. Admitted, it may take a while before we get the hang of it, but actually it is amazing that in the end we are able (1) . And no, this is not the place to throw in all kinds of prejudices about gender or age related choice behaviors; for instance on shopping (2). Instead, yes, it would be important to raise the issue of making the right choices. Having myriad options how then can we make the right choice; and above all, can there be a right one? (3). In essence this question introduces a third party between you and the issue at hand. Then it becomes not shall I buy this sweater, instead it becomes should I buy it at all? Is it okay if I…. which makes things complicated – especially for the young and ignorant.

This is exactly what was studied in a piece of research on kindergarten children’s choice behavior when having them decide between learn or play. Kids in China and the USA were involved. Opinions were collected which showed that the importance of learning was acknowledged wholeheartedly. But although they were well aware of its importance when it came to choose in actual situations, the kids went for play. Yes, the Chinese kids were more reluctant to give in, but did eventually as well.

Did the kids make the right choice? When taking the third party,  i.e.,  God’s eye, perspective of Right and Wrong, the decision that was made is, may be, hard to defend (however, should they have selected learning?) but the affordances of a direct encounter with an inviting situation demand a careful weighing of options (3) . It is never that we do make decisions in isolation. In this case and for that occasion personal values and autonomy prevailed. Who is to judge what is right or wrong then?


Play or learn: European-American and Chinese kindergartners’ perceptions about the conflict between learning and play. By Jin Li,  in British Journal of Educational Psychology (2016), 86, 57–74 © 2015 The British Psychological Society



  1. http://www.franksonnenbergonline.com/blog/7-ways-to-make-good-choices/
  2. https://simplelifestrategies.com/sls-choices/
  3. https://philosophynow.org/issues/1/Making_Decisions

The Best Of Different Worlds

Untitled-1Learning we do all the time, why should a place called school have a privilege here?  Social media and interaction among peers provide equal or even better opportunities for learning (1) .  Isn’t it time to tear down the walls between school and every day learning; to get rid of the distinction between formal and informal learning (2)? Those in favor of a division and do want to safeguard school as a predominant place of learning argue that we need to focus on intended goals, not causal results; that teacher support is essential to guide the learner; and that individual accountability is essential to reach high stake outcomes. Since schools have been with us for such a long time one is tempted to believe that (formal) learning should be dealt with in schools preferably. But need that be? Questioning this produces all kinds of defense walls: what kind of certification will we have?; who determines content?; who will teach?; or how can we deal with variety in outcomes? The divides have been cultivated for ages, so it seems. Fusing both views, however, could still be an option.

At least if we follow the model outlined in an article advocating a rapprochement of learning attributes of both formal and informal learning. The argument is that with the increased use of social media we have created new opportunities for learning. The social media attributes of learning are found in: highly connected interaction, self-determined and peer influenced learning, with user generated content, under network support, and having an open ended evaluation.

A symbiosis is offered on two views of learning.  However fusing of attributes may not be at all sufficient to create a living in harmony. Ultimately, with the introduction of social media in education, we have to (re)define the position of school, and the nature of learning in  schools. In an era of dense social communication and ease of access to get all kinds of content knowledge (say The Internet) the claimed position of schools is at issue (3). Reconceptualizing its position may designate promising tasks for the establishment in the social media era. It can be a resource and expertise center, a certification institute, a coaching or counseling agency, a practice facility, a communication spot, and a lot more.


Christine Greenhow & Cathy Lewin (2016) Social media and education:reconceptualizing the boundaries of formal and informal learning, Learning, Media andTechnology, 41:1, 6-30, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1064954 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1064954



  1. https://elearningindustry.com/5-ultimate-tricks-using-social-media-learning-tools
  2. https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/characteristics-informal-learning/
  3. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/02/28/how-teachers-are-using-technology-at-home-and-in-their-classrooms/


Single Learning


Imagine yourself in a fantastic world, a Neverland or Wonderland for a short moment to be either a Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland (up to you). You picture yourself as either not wanting to grow up or instead as eager to discover new realms. How then would you go about documenting and reporting your journey? What would you note down and what discard, what would be grasped as noteworthy and what left aside. Peters’ collected evidence probably would look very different from Alice’s. Let’s take Peter’s listing for example. No doubt it will reveal dangers encountered, connecting with friends, and talking a lot about plans to consider. Adventurous Alice’s list however would tell about riddles, questions, and astonishments about ever changing environments. Admitted, Neverland is not the same world as Wonderland; so, what should be noted would differ but as a learning journey the trajectory of Peter and Alice would completely diverge. In the classroom world we also ask learners to pen down their learning trajectories in so called portfolios; in the digital classroom of course in e-portfolios. They are collections of evidence (1), gathered preferably in a self-determined way. What report do they give?

A study conducted in Vietnam investigated student portfolio use over a period of time and effects on motivation and self-regulation. Effects were positive, as often noted, but more of interest is portfolio use itself. What is striking is the rise of the evaluative activity of students (checking whether they did well according to their own standard) and the lowering of acceptance of feedback (listening to others). Portfolio use was for only 3% of the time linked with discussion about content with others (peers, teachers).

One might wonder: a classroom world with many Peters’ and Alices’ out there on their own? Admitted, portfolios are personal documents but intended for being used as a learning tool that will cover a shared domain of content and curriculum. One might add emphatically; the whole purpose of the portfolio is making individual learning accomplishments visible and tangible and definitely to be shared, and discussed (Why otherwise make one). In that respect the turn of a learning trajectory over time towards a private, closed experience is unfitting. Moereover, if learning is a travel both Peter and Alice would need a guide.


Lap Trung Nguyen  & Mitsuru Ikeda , The effects of ePortfolio-based learning model on student selfregulated learning Active Learning in Higher Education2015, Vol. 16(3) 197–209

sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav  DOI: 10.1177/1469787415589532



  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-2419.00127/abstract


Lost Space

knikkersWe live in different worlds. Well, this is not to state that mankind has some communication problems in understanding one another’s perspective. It is to address that you and I, each of us, operate in different spaces as part of our lives. An eminent philosopher, Popper (1), posited three worlds in which we live. First, the world of the material things on which we operate and that we manipulate. It consists of tangible objects we can move or alter with our hands, mechanically almost. Then there is the world of beliefs, opinions, and perspectives we can discuss and talk about to interpret and give meaning to what we do. But overarching both is a third world of constructed artifacts, designed models, and created plans that, once produced, govern our doing and talking, which exist more or less independently from us. Think of social media, think of Facebook, for example.  Mankind 2.0 cannot do without third world artefacts. Let alone learn and educate. Therefore, we have Facebook in the classroom as well (2).

A study explored the use of SNS (Social Network Sites) by pupils and found some noteworthy results. (Of course) students communicate about class, and teaching, and assignments through SNS all the time (!). But strikingly may be to some: teachers were not involved in this space; talk remained mainly social oriented, not educational or learning focused. On top of it, the education system did not seem to be equipped to help or relate to ongoing student discussions. Most talks dealt with practical matters and upcoming social events anyway.

Do we live in disparate worlds, i.e, “ ships that pass in the night”; as if matters we deal with in one world are not ‘existent’, relevant in the other worlds? That would really cause a desperate situation in the long run. Third world artefacts call for a merging of designed infrastructure with the personal space of doing (world 1) and talking (world 2). Not integrating SNS, for example, into education systems eventually would lose, according to the study, enormous educational potential. Granted: creating space requires connectivity in order to effectively change our life and way of living.(3) or else it will remain empty.


Janus Aaen & Christian Dalsgaard (2016) Student Facebook groups as a third space: between social life and schoolwork, Learning, Media and Technology, 41:1,160-186,

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1111241Source



  1. http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/philn/philn065.htm
  2. https://elearningindustry.com/facebook-at-schools-professional-teachers-use-facebook


The Edge Effect


At the spot where communities junction an increase in variety of activity can be found – -this is called the edge effect. The interface between different spaces creates fertile ground for new possibilities (like what happens in waterfront regeneration in landscapes (1)). In the ecology of the classroom edge effects could happen when, for instance, students of different age groups or background come to work together, or when students differing in ability join forces. But education is not that prone of creating edge effects. Most of the time some kind of drawback for not having to ‘edge’ will come forward: “ takes too much time, lowers standards, no resources available” , and the like. These voices must not be ignored for sure, but in reality when edge communities are created, for instance like in inclusive education, concerns turn out to be relatively mild and manageable.

An Australian study supports this observation by looking at what happened to concerns of teachers when adopting inclusive education in their classrooms. There were concerns, as one could imagine. But it also showed that concerns decline with a teachers’ level of confidence in their own teaching ability in teaching a mixed class. Since level of confidence was a significant predictor the study also analyzed if training would add to raise confidence. This turns out to be the case – a reassuring outcome indeed.

So, why be afraid of the edge? Concerns may look like walls too high to climb but with a little help one dares to try, the study seems to say. Still, we need to consider that concerns may also warn us for ‘sharp’ edges or boundary objects (3) i.e., markers that stand in between different worlds as objects that are not fully accepted by either community. In that respect considering concerns as boundary objects becomes necessary to negotiate the nature of overlap. The systemic nature of a sustainable learning landscape requires connectedness, next to confidence. Looking for boundary objects then may help to generate edge communities.


Penny N. Round, Pearl K. Subban & Umesh Sharma (2016) ‘I don’t have time to be this busy.’ Exploring the concerns of secondary school teachers towards inclusive education, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20:2, 185-198,

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2015.1079271



  1. http://intermediatelandscapes.com/2011/10/26/10-waterfront-regeneration-projects-around-the-world/
  2. http://dmlcentral.net/connected-learning-in-edge-communities/






Like A Fish In Water


Education is talk. Talk is what makes teaching and learning go. It is all around us when a group of students works together on an assignment, or when a teacher explains something, or when a response is given to a question in a learning conversation. Talk is so self evident in instruction we almost take it for granted “like the air around us”.  But how we talk and in what manner we conduct a conversation will make it really a learning conversation (1). Talk in education is meant to express yourself in a content-related, domain-specific way; so others, i.e., your fellow students, your teacher understand, i.e, not misinterpret, what you mean. In a way it is accurate talk. Imagine following topic to be discussed:

Teacher (T): Can you tell me what stars in the universe are made of? Student (S): hot gases, I think? Or alternatively: T: In the universe stars are composed of certain gases, who can name a few of these gases more precisely by name? S: I know of Hydrogen.., and Helium..

The manner of these two conversations is creating a wide dispersion in learning potential. Whereas the first just taps a response to an inexplicit initiation, the second promotes thinking about retrieving the proper answer based on what is learned.

A recent position paper in the journal Kappa Delta Pi Record urges us to pay particular attention to how talk and conversation evolves in the classroom. To maintain a high level of ‘conceptual exchange’ (2) teachers can have a huge impact on the preciseness and detail they request of an educational conversation. So, unless teachers look closely at how they conduct talks they will not be able to help student to express themselves in a knowledgeable way.

It is so easy sliding into ‘engaging’ modes of asking and responding. But the words that are spoken affect the way students understand, and therefore a wakeup call for teachers to be aware of how they conduct conversations is needed to support the talking to learn. It is a bit like a fear of swimming in deeper waters, once gripped it opens new possibilities.


Gisela Ernst-Slavit & Kerri J. Wenger (2016) Surrounded by Water: Talking to Learn in Today’s Classrooms, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 52:1, 28-34, DOI:10.1080/00228958.2016.1123042

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00228958.2016.1123042



  1. http://www.worldcat.org/title/learning-conversations-the-value-of-interactive-learning/oclc/501747888
  2. https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/

Sounds Like Music


Music can work miracles. It can soften a man’s heart like David’s harp, or liberate families like Julie Andrew’s voice did, and even safeguard from pain and misery like Cecilia’s organ. Listening to music has known therapeutic effects. It can create a feeling of togetherness as in a soccer stadium but also loneliness in case of the Bavarian king Ludwig II who had created a hide out to listen to his favorite music. A particular music piece can take you away while it stays in your head. It communicates with you (1). All these valuable effects and impacts are hardly ever recognized by the educational arena. Music and its deployment in the curriculum has been diminished over the years. Listening to, communicating through, practicing with.. – not much of it is left in our schools. Still, music can do educational wonders too.

To testify this an older study (first published in 1999) was found in the International Journal of Music Education. It narrates about a program in which parents were invited to their school to be involved in music experiences with their own child(ren): listening to pieces of music, communicating through instruments, practicing small compositions. The author found that parents began to relate to their child far beyond the musical and improved their parenthood.

We seem to have forgotten about the educational value of music in our school curriculum (2) but music is the ‘soundscape’ of youth, an environment from which identities are derived (manifest in clothing, communicating, and life orientations). Isn’t it then strange to note that music is so absent in schools? The wisdom contained in the cited study is that music can bridge between generational identities; thus connecting teachers with students, recognizing diversity, and experiencing common grounds. It will do well for schools to embrace music again and thus keep preferences of students oriented towards education.

Can music help to improve parent-child communication? Learning music with parents ; an Argentine experience by Dina Poch de Gratzer. International Journal of Music education (1999) 34. 47-56.


1. http://www.spreadmusicnow.org/the-importance-of-music.html
2. http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/MIE/Part2_chapter03.shtml

Transform Yourself

fig  Is being critical indicating a personality disorder? Usually an overly critical person gets ignored or avoided for being so judgmental. Having to endure criticisms is annoying and confronting, therefore not liked. Especially when you have to work with someone in a group to complete an assignment or a nasty task. “We are all in the same boat so why make it difficult”. Ignoring or isolating a disturbing note in a concerted action is happening a lot in small cooperative learning groups (1). It is for the better most of the time because group results exceed effects of individual effort (2). In this way even a brilliant but nevertheless critical remark may fall in barren ground. So, a disorder it is, or what? Other insights link being critical to creative thinking (although both are not the same). To step out of the boundaries of the ordinary, taking a stance and to pursue vigorously a challenging idea that may not immediately be shared, is what opens up for transformation and renewal (3). Dissonant notes must be heard to captivate newness and improvement; and that is true not only for music. But finding ways to incorporate dissonance in collaborative work is a big challenge given our tendency to avoid critique.

Having a look at a group which is supposed to be ‘transformative’ could reveal quite a lot of the mechanisms involved. A Finish study on so called Change Laboratories tried to detect five/six tactics a group could deploy in arriving at what should be an innovative, renewing solution to an existing problem. Tactics like: resisting the management; envisioning new patterns, explicating potentials for action were gauged in a process of working together. Although the group set out to achieve transformative agency the outcome of the study revealed that drastic tactics were avoided. What appeared was a stepwise improvement and specific criticisms, not overall change which made the authors conclude that renewal takes time and is attached to the material conditions, which “cannot be fully controlled by interventionists” (p.259)

Breaking out of the ordinary, it seems, is confined by time, happenstance, and material condition – a laissez faire outcome. Time for criticism. A leap towards new directions and significant deviation of the flow of regularities does not come failsafe but calls for a transformative event (which can be staged by interventionist, no doubt). It is just that these significant occasions in a group dynamic process are not spotted timely or are often masked. There need only be one that is aware of the crucial transitional moments in a group’s conversation to grab the learning turning point, not yet envisioned by others.

Arja Haapasaari, Yrjö Engeström & Hannele Kerosuo (2016). The emergence of learners’ transformative agency in a Change Laboratory intervention, Journal of Education and Work, 29:2, 232-262,
link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2014.900168



1. http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/OR/ConsumerGuides/cooplear.html
2. https://blog.toggl.com/2013/10/teamwork-rowing-boat-alone/
3. http://pagi.wikidot.com/engestrom-expansive-learning