Dr. Paul Leslie
Recently, I was sent a few articles about Imagineering at Breda University of Applied Sciences, where my thesis supervisor holds a post. After reading these articles, I felt there were a number of similarities between the many associated concepts including 'Complexity Theory', 'Emergence', 'Narrative Modes', 'Design Research', and 'Value Creation' (Nijs, 2015) and my own work on the "portfolio approach to teaching and learning".
One of the main underlying concepts is that of complex problems versus complicated problems. The notion of complexity is similar to that of ill-structured cognitive domains and their realization in the classroom. A complex problem may be defined as one that is non-linear and that may not be solved by a series of reproducible steps to achieve that same result every time. Similarly, the processes at play in the classroom are complex in that they are often non-linear, interdependent and subject to whim and whimsy of the key players in that classroom. As such, they are difficult to manage and require great skill on the part of the practitioner, or teacher, to manage. As a result, from the perspective of the stakeholder, or in my case the supervising teacher, monitoring for assessment and feedback is very difficult and must be done within the context of each classroom.
The notion of complexity and ill-structured cognitive domains gives rise to the concept of emergence. In my work with practice teachers, I have found that the only meaningful way in which to engage in formative feedback is to allow the feedback to emerge from the discussion based on observed classroom practices. This is much the same methodology espoused in the Imagineering program. By allowing the participants, who are themselves stakeholders in the process, to actually participate in creating the feedback, that very feedback becomes much more meaningful and powerful. In this manner, I can discuss with the teachers whom I am observing and rather than comment on what I may have done in a particular situation, or on what I thouight they should do, I give them room to narrate to me the situation, impacting factors, and other relevant information to tell a story of that situation and what they saw happening. From that vantage point, we then can start to deconstruct the situation and arrive together at a opinion of what happened. More often than not, the student-teacher is far more critical of themselves than I would ever be and this leads to a much greater construction of knowledge for the student-teacher.
A narrative of learning
This type of emergent feedback is at the same time more beneficial to the recipient but more difficult to both participants, myself and the practicing teacher. In many cases, the student wants to receive a linear, step-by-step process for dealing with the various eventualities in their classrooms. When these are not forthcoming, uncertainty is induced. However, this very uncertainty is the what pushes us to seek better answers to our challenges. Indeed, the mentors also often prefer to resort to such feedback in order to save themselves that level of uncertainty and to deal with the challenge of leading all participants through the uncertainty to a better 'truth' at the end.
In support of the principle of emergence in relation to narratives of learning, I encourage my students to pursue a narrative mode in their reflective processes. Given the multitude of processes that are in swirl during a classroom event, in order to actually place each event in its proper place and significance, we must try to understand the sequence and impact of events and the unfolding of meaning as it develops through a classroom period. In the following diagram taken from my thesis, this set of processes is almost entirely that: process. Products are important in terms of finishing something, but even in Math class, you get more points for the process of working out the question, even if you get the wrong answer.
Process over product
From this understanding, I also guide my students through design thinking, an approach in which, "the innovation and creative process is as important as the final product, involving all the social actors in the construction and reconstruction of knowledge" (Camargo-Borges, 2015, p. 31). Part of the reflective process for student-teachers involves examining the days' events and seeking to make sense of what happened. In this example, the notion that the process is as important as the product cannot be understated. Given the range of social actors in any educational setting, the best we can hope for is to understand one particular set of circumstances, knowing that this particular set may not come together again. Similar circumstances may arise, but never the same.
In the classroom, the concept of value creation arises from the belief that we can contribute meaningfully to our peers both in real-time and virtually. This is one of the underlying concepts of my portfolio approach. By making our thinking visible to our peers through dialogue and the use of media, we can strive to pursue forms of 'parallel thinking' in which deBono (1999) tells us that the "emphasis is on designing (italics are mine) a way forward. (p. 4)"
deBono, E. (1999). Six thinking hats. London: Penguin.
Camargo-Borges, C. (2015). Designing for learning: Rethinking education as applied in the Master in Imagineering. World Futures., 71., 26-39.
Nijs, D. (2015). The complexity-inspired design approach of Imagineering. World Futures. 71., 8-25.
I was very honoured to be the first Taos Institute graduate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB - The Free University of Brussels). Taos members normally graduate from Tilburg University in Holland. I was actually registered there for the first few years of the program.
I received honourable mention in the November edition of the Taos newsletter. View it here - you will have to scroll down a bit.
However, the Taos Institute recently initiated a new agreement with VUB and my adviser suggested I switch. The benefit is that I now can have my PhD in Educational Sciences where it properly belongs rather than in Social Sciences, which is also accurate, but more general.
By the way, you can also view my dissertation and associated documents from the Taos site here.
Education is a community affair. To facilitate the creation of knowledge within our learning environments, we must make our own thinking visible and explicit to our community so that others may view our thoughts and feel welcome to share their own. Freire (1996) tells us that the truly reflective and liberated educator lets others see their ideas, and welcomes all reflections and differences of opinion. In this way, we create for our students and colleagues, “the possibilities for the production and construction of knowledge".
This philosophy is translated into action through my working portfolio at www.paulleslie.net where my thoughts and actions are made visible and explicit to my community. By welcoming others’ ideas into our community, I promote an environment of epistemological freedom. By making clear our community’s educational goals and aspirations, any student, from kindergarten to university, will be inspired to participate, because they will see how they can fit into the community.
I create in my educational communities and classrooms the opportunity for all participants to contribute their teaching presence to the community, which then drives the relational construction of knowledge. Teaching presence gives all community members not only permission to question each other, but demands from them that they challenge each other to push their knowledge and understanding forward.
Practically, I promote the use of technology to support our interactions, and to allow each member of our academic community to see what all other members are doing, and to contribute their own expertise and experience to the community. I believe that the use of technology as collaborative mind tools to support our interactions allows us to spend more time considering our ideas and less time simply gathering and manipulating them.
I also employ, and encourage the use of concept maps in order to let my community represent their thoughts in a non-linear manner. I try to explain all concepts that I introduce to my communities with maps to represent the interconnecting, sequential, non-sequential, concurrent and consecutive notions that make up an overarching concept.
I try to help my students, young and old, draw connections between their concrete, experiential knowledge and abstract concepts that attempt to make sense of their experiences. Relational constructionism tells us that we attach our own meaning to knowledge and in order to do so, we must be able to make connections in our own minds between experience and thought. Relational practice is reflective practice.
Each individual brings their own understanding to the world and it behooves us as educators to acknowledge and celebrate each individual and encourage them to make their thinking visible.
I use the following documents to support my applications for positions as lecturer or professor.
- EDU 4203 - Curriculum Development - Sample of curriculum document - lead author
- Professional Portfolios to Demonstrate "Artful Competency" - Sample journal article
The attached image shows the poster that advertised my PhD defense at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on October 13th, 2015.
On October 13th, 2015, I successfully defended my PhD degree against a panel of five professors from the VUB and the Taos Institute. See the degree here.
My wife, my brother and his wife and a great friend joined me at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (The Free University of Brussels) to watch me present my findings and then defend against the panel. The defense itself took over two hours.
I am very happy to report that it was successful and that I am now able to call myself, "Dr." Paul Leslie.
This presentation has been created for the public defense of my thesis, entitled, "Narratives of Learning: The Portfolio Approach".
Narratives of Learning by Paul Leslie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
On May 28th, 2015, the Al Darary Kindergarten held workshop for teachers on teaching methods. Prior to the workshop, while visiting the school to observe students we had placed there, I ran into a former student of mine who was now a teacher at the school.
She told me about the conference they were planning and on behalf of the Sharjah Education Program, I volunteered to coordinate some of our faculty and our Mobile Learning Unit to visit the school and participate in the conference.
In the end, I was able to bring the Mobile Learning Unit and secure the cooperation of three of our faculty to present workshops with me:
The conference proved to be a successful test of my initiative to create community workshops that can be reused and tailored to take advantage of the Mobile Learning Unit.