Transformative learning – conference experience

Last week, Susan and I were kindly invited and funded (by ESCalate) to give the following keynote:

Richard Fay and Susan Brown —– “Developing intercultural courses in a UK university context: some curricular, strategic and research considerations”.  Keynote presentation at the ESCalate Regional Workshop on ‘The transformative impact of international experience on personal and professional learning on Wednesday 23rd March 2011, hosted by Liverpool Hope University. [ ppt ]

This was an interesting and worthwhile experience for us in many ways I think. To begin with, when we were invited, we were uncertain about the ‘match’ between our work and the event’s various foci, namely:

  • transformative learning – an area with which we are broadly familiar but not one we have used (as yet) to think about the student (and staff?) learning from our recent ‘intercultural’ course designs;
  • international placements – an area with which we are familiar (through our ERASMUS links, our work with the Study Abroad Unit, and our support for students undertaking their Research Projects overseas) but not one which forms a major element in our current course designs – and here, we note with some disappointment, the SoE’s cancellaton of all of our ERASMUS links;
  • initial teacher training – an area with which we are seldom associated and certainly, the practice of placing initial teacher trainees on overseas placements (i.e. the kind of practice many of the event’s audiece are concerned with), is not one we connect with in any significant way (although I do have some developing links wth this type of placement via my collaboration with Elena Gomez at the University of Cordoba (in Spain) and their placements of teacher trainees in the Western Sahara refugee camps in southern Algeria – see voicethread)
  • sustainability education – this is a main focus within our Becoming Global course unit
  • global citizenship  – and the same applies here also.

So, in many ways, we approached some of the events’ concerns from a tangent and we were a little concerned that this mismatch might be too marked. However, we dscovered that the participants were interested in our course design experiences (as shared through our presentation).  The course design experiences we were focusing primarily on were our undergraduate ‘intercultural’ courses – including intercultural awareness, global citizenship, sustainability education and digital literacies. These make innovative use of newer technologies and international collaborations to develop courses largely for students on-site in Manchester (i.e. rather than creating intercultural learning opportunities through international placements).

The use of the ‘international’ in the projects being outlined by participants is of interest to us since it reminds us that for many educators in the UK the ‘international’ functions as a refreshing contrast to the ‘national’ contexts in which the e.g. teacher trainees, are located.  In contrast, because of our TESOL orientation – as channelled through our MA programmes – our starting point lies with the ‘international’  and it is the ‘national’ UK context which is new for us.

We also realised that the linkages we make between the intercultural, global citizenship, sustainabilty education and digital literacies are ones with which we are familiar but this is not necessarily so for others. I think there is a good case to be made for writing up these linkage smore fluently in the near future.

So, what else did we take from the day? One thing for me was a Question that began to form in my mind about transformative elearning and intercultural experience. Such IC experiences (e.g. a placement in a ‘developing’ context such as the Gambia) are often intensely affective but, for them to be of laer value, do we want them also to be transformative, do we want the sojourners to not only learn and feel new things but also to question the basis on which their previous thinking was based? To put it another way, is IC learning only fulfilling its potential if the sojourner’s ways of thinking and being are transformed?