Overcoming ‘Culture’ Shocks: Learning to do things differently
I am presenting my paper here for review and looking forward very much to reading your ideas.
Subjectively, there is so much in this that am inspired by, can learn from and hope to apply in my own life. When I began teaching in a U.S. community college, I discovered that the courses offered by my department were 'hybrid'. We had real life classes but online notices, assignments, submissions, grades and grading. I had to master online technology for the first time as well as learning how to teach and I had a near breakdown. Today, I am teaching a single online class and hitting a wall in terms of creating the kind of student engagement/classroom relationship that was the hallmark of my real time classroom. I can also say, 'I’ve been able to do this since … I first walked into a classroom. It was like falling off a log', (p. 19). You write:
"My usual strategy in teaching has been to transform the required syllabus into a tool for students’ personal development (Laidlaw, 2008) (p.9)."
I also, consciously, did this with my real time classes and have tried to do it for my online class. And also, still, I face precisely this:
"I was biased before I had any experience of the technology, but believed without any doubt that it would always constitute an insuperable barrier to authentic communication. I believed I would let the students down and wouldn’t be able to create the kinds of educational relationships that have always been of central importance to me (and invariably to the students) in the educational processes I facilitated (Laidlaw, 2008), (p.7)."
"I was not sure how much I would be able to facilitate students’ own educational development. This was a moral dilemma for me and a powerful aspect of my ‘culture-shock’ because empowering students to take more responsibility and control of their own learning is for me at the core of what I consider to be educational. I didn’t want to be involved in static processes but in dynamic and evolving ones, as these contain, in my experience, the potential to transform lives for the better (p.10)."
Surely this must be the besetting problem facing anyone who teaches online and from a co-contructivist, student-centered, dynamic and humanising approach. (Or as I perceive it, from the perspective of education as transformation.) You also write, "the quality of the educational relationship between educator and student can have a far-reaching influence on the quality of learning and can impact for the good on a person’s life in general." I would go further and say that the quality of the relationship between educator and student, indeed of the classroom community, will actually dictate the quality of the learning and the long term impact on the student's life in general.(I know this from experience, much student feedback and continuing relationships with many of those students today.)
The persistent problem in my own case is the core syllabus - based on information 'download' and testing which I am unable to alter. (You describe it so beautifully.) Students are aware that they need only learn the relevant sections of the book and pass the quizzes and exams and they can pass the course. Most are by-passing the optional, weekly online tutorials/conferences, (that I sweated blood to set up - learning a new technology in the process)! Just over half are engaging in the written discussions I set. (Though this may be a 'result' given that these are all 'extra credit' assignments, introduced to create dialog, reflective thinking and some sense of community.)
As you can see, I am still challenged by the anonymity of the online classroom, despite strenuous efforts to mitigate it. Because you address my worry and distress from a viewpoint I can embrace as mine, and because I feel as though you are not just speaking to me but also for me, you also offer me guidance, and hope. (Thanks to your article, I am going to try to tackle the present model of information transference and see if I can influence the department to make a shift towards a more dynamic model.)
It is the same with your description of your personal struggle with pain, physical and emotional/spiritual. I don't want to go too deeply into the details of my present transition/soul shock but I can say that, undiagnosed ankle-pain among them, there were mirrors enough in your account to take my breath away. My loss of mobility is minor compared to your own, I can and do force myself to walk daily and the pain levels have never reduced me to pounding walls. But I recognize the disconnection with my own body and a disintegration of the person I felt myself to be when I could jog and run, dance, climb and negotiate stairs - even at my age!:
"It isn’t only not being able to get out and about that is debilitating, it is also the psychological effect of not being able to communicate authentically something which is of genuine significance to the sufferer (p. 5)."
I have just moved from the USA, after ten years there, back to the UK with the intention of pursuing my PhD - a life affirming ambition, if I can achieve it. But the circumstances of my doing so were not joyful. (Nor am I able, yet, to feel joy.)
"My assumption has always been that a teacher plays a role both of social engineer and as a source of inspiration to individuals and groups. How could I perform either role when I felt distant from joy? (p.15)"
I am writing this from a desk, in a small office, deep in the Cotswolds. It is very beautiful but very isolated. And then, financially, I must find extra work and soon - but cannot do anything that requires standing or walking. I struggle with a paralysing self pity, (I hate it), or something more like grief. Yet, reading passages such as this, I can see my own way ahead:
"Luckily I had learnt in China something of the importance of perseverance and dedication in the face of difficulties. The rewards may not be appearing to balance the books, but I had to believe in what I was doing. I had an instinct that the belief itself would carry me through if I gave it a chance. It felt like jumping off a cliff without a safety-net (p.14)." (Yes!)
In your account I see the parabola of transformation. No, life is not fair but you remind me that it can be much, much more than fair. And there is no room for self-pity in the arc of transformation. I will use your article, again and again I suspect, to help me to realign myself with that truth.
Hello Sara. Many, many thanks for your wonderful response to my paper. I am currently in Germany and will be returning to England tomorrow. I will make a full response on Wednesday.
Again, many thanks for your empathic and heartfelt response.
What a privilege to read this account of your ongoing attempts to improve your practice within an "alien" context. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this account which clearly indicates your learning and ability to create and sustain the caring and open relationships within an environment that could be experienced as inpersonal by students and tutor. Your honesty was refreshing and your ability to self-critique is evident. The learning process that you explain in this article could influence others who are increasingly having to incorporate technology and blended learning experiences into their teaching.
I do have a few comments that you may wish to think about.
Abstract: the sentence in the abstract
This was in the wake of substantial recognition for my contributions to rural education whilst on voluntary placement in China from 2001-2007. - I wonder how relevant this is for the abstract since it is not really describing the text?
In the preface:
[LW1]It was not clear to me how the two went together? For me, the relevance of the health problems and pain that you experienced is that it forced you to try another approach to teaching. I think you capture the link in the sentence:
The pain has played a significant role in my life but the emphasis throughout is on showing in what ways the changes have impacted on my educational theorising and practices.
the pain certainly impacted on your practices as you were limited in what type of work you could do, but I do not see the link between the theorising and the pain, more between the technology and the theorising?
You list your values in the introduction:
harmony, clarity, truth, love, emancipation and hope [LW1] more fully into the world. Whitehead, (2011, 20
[LW1]I think it would have been good to make more of these as living standards of judgement – you definately embodied them in your practice, but maybe make it more explicit? and in the validation section which could do with strengthening
[LW1]Not clear what the 3 categories are – at first I thought you were referring to the definition - distress, being exposed to a new environment and what ??? – now I see that you explain the categories below and that they relate to "three apparently dissimilar aspects " so perhaps make this clearer?
I find that you give very detailed explanations and footnotes that I did not always find necessary, and they perhaps detracted from your core account e.g.
From 2007 to 2010 I was on state benefits related to my condition and had applied, and been accepted for, the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) weekly payment. I was on Incapacity Benefit as well, which would continue for a year after finding employment (as long as I didn’t earn over £91 a week with the OU). The DLA was exempt for any deductions made in accordance with my earning capacity, and all my medical prescriptions were free. I felt grateful after China to be living in a welfare state. In August [LW1] 2009
 Disability Living Allowance is a monthly stipend given out on two grades according to the extent of disability. I was eligible for the higher rate of £49.80 a week. This would accommodate taxi-fares to hospital for physiotherapy treatment which was happening on a weekly basis, as well as other living costs. I was told that this allowance would continue for as long as I needed it. This, however, wasn’t the case. See later in the paper.
[LW1]Is this detail necessary? Can you not just refer to your dependence on state grants?
Also when you acknowledge Marie for paying for you - I did not think that this fitted in well with the article. I think it would be more relevant to capture your feelings engendered by relying on the state, relying on friends etc? To me, it speaks to your lack of autonomy, and that you have to base your decisions on the outcomes of grant applications etc?? or maybe I am wrong?
I was also in contact with my ‘line-manager’, who is always helpful whenever I present him with a problem I don’t know how to solve!
Again this is rather emotive and not really adding to the paper
The article is very long and could be considerably shortened if these references were removed. I don't think you need to include the appendices, you could include just a link? and similarly with the extracts from the online learning platform - this section becomes very dense and technical and loses the reader somewhat.
[LW1]What is the relevance of this? not sure how it fits in with your teaching? so you mean you contacted students personally? This sentence is in the wrong place, you describe what you did again a few lines later?
Can you explain more why you did this? what values/theory prompted you, apart from your "instinct"
[LW1]So was it a setback? the content of the section focuses more on your resilience and your success in this challenging way of teaching. I do not really see evidence that it set you back
Earlier I wrote that, 'overcoming the shortcomings has become an opportunity for greater creativity and engagement with unforeseen possibilities in the pursuit of responsible freedoms and the revitalisation of educational processes', and that 'the pain has played a significant role in my life as an educator but the emphasis [in this paper] … is on showing in what ways the changes in my life have impacted on my educational theorising and practices.’ I hope that in this paper I have substantiated these claims to your satisfaction.
I think the validation section could be strengthened by referring back to your values and highlight the evidence that shows you lived them out, in spite of the pain and fear? Make it explicit also how your theorising has changed, it is clear how your practices have changed.
This was an interesting article and one that many will relate to in terms of techno phobia. for me, that should be the focus - how to overcome feelings of alienation caused by having to teach in a different way - in your context the pain was very relevant and the relocation from China, but the main learning for others I think will be the ways to use technology to enhance the humanising experience of education and to keep inclusional and life affirming values alive.
Thanks for letting me read it.
This whole section could perhaps form the basis of another article - is it relevant here? I know it relates to ongoing learning, but you have enough already for the one article?
In the last few months I have been working on the M.Sc. module, TU874, The Final Project, in which students conduct a small piece of development management research on a subject of their own choosing. There are no tutorials and all tuition is handled through email, telephone and Skype conversations. There are 4 TMAs and a final dissertation of 10,000 words. I feel it is in this module that I am at last coming to terms more with the necessary fusion between thoroughness in content-knowledge
Hello Lesley. How wonderful to read your comments on my paper. I am currently in Germany, and returning to England tomorrow. I will write a fuller response later in the week. And many thanks again. I really appreciate the time and effort you have taken in order to give a detailed response.
Until then... Moira
Best wishes, Moira
I am posting this review of your paper on behalf of Sarah Porter who agreed to act as the second reviewer.
I look forward to the final publication of your article!
Moira - there is a breath and depth to your manuscript that is astounding! Most people in pain merely experience their pain. They never take it to a conceptual level. They are aware of how pain impacts their life, limits their life and occasionally enriches their life. But usually pain simply truncates and eclipses their being. But you, Moira, have transmuted your pain in a Hermetic vision that corresponds to the other painful situations in your life: returning from China and learning a new technology. You have made so much sense out the muddle of it all.
As I too have experienced chronic pain, teaching in another culture, culture shock coming and going and groping for technological skills I can appreciate what you are talking about – to a point. I think you were masterful at confronting your situation.
I found your manuscript very long, but perhaps in your field it would be expected. I wanted to thank you for sharing your journey. Your incredible focus and drive is inspiring.
Reviewer for Moira Laidlaw's paper
I recognise from Lesley's comments too - that I need to revisit my paper again in terms of length, so I will be doing that when my current marking at the OU has been completed - after ten days.
Thanks again. Warm regards,
das reinste Vergnügen deinen lebendigen Bericht zu lesen. Trotz erlebten Kulturschock mit Verwirrung, Ohnmacht, Schmerz- Empfindung, Irritation und Suchen nach dem Sinn der Identität, das Leben als wertvollstes Geschenk betrachtend, öffnet der Bericht unsere geschlossenen Augen und schult die Wahrnehmungsfähigkeit für den Hauch der Stille im täglichen Lebenskampf.
Mit Transparenz wird das Spannungsverhältnis zwischen Heteronomie des Schmerzes und Autonomie sichtbar dargestellt, hier erscheint die Verbindung als Hommage der Paralympics repräsentativ.
Ich würde mir wünschen, die Verflechtungen des Brückenbaus zwischen eigentlichen Prozess des Schocks und der Wertigkeit des Bildungsauftrags, verfeinert darzustellen, um die Urkraft des Selbsterhaltungstriebes,bauend auf Menschenwürde, Willen, Stärke, Liebe und Hoffnung auf pädagogische Weiterentwicklung Gewicht zu geben.
Ein wahres Geschenk an die Öffentlichkeit.
In tiefer Anerkennung und Freude
It was a real pleasure to read your lively report. Despite your experiences of confusion, pain, irritation and your unending search for a recognisable identity, and the ability again to life as a priceless gift, your report has the power to make us open our eyes and see something that is valuable to us all. You chart so convincingly the pathway between the heteronomy of pain and the realisation of a new autonomy, and it is here that your homage to the paralympians is most telling and appropriate.
I would have liked more detailed insights into the links between your perceptions of the 'shocks' and the requirements of the work at the OU in order to be able to see more clearly the survival instinct at work. Your human values of strength, love, hope were all part of the foundation of your work and an expansion of this would give the report, in my opinion, even greater pedagogical power.
The article is a gift and should be published. In deep recognition and with pleasure, best wishes, Anke.
Vielen Dank, Anke. Ich werde in den nächsten Tagen Deine Kommentar bearbeiten. Ich bin auch gespannt was die anderen Gutachter zu sagen haben!
Nochmals, vielen Dank. Deine, Moira
Dear Anke. Many thanks for your very pertinent feedback on my article. I think you've hit the nail on the head with your analysis. I had already changed some aspects after our conversation a couple of weeks ago, but I find your present comments extremely helpful. What I especially like is the way you see a strengthening of the relationship between the heteronomy of pain and my emergence into a more autonomous stage - and how my values of love and hope shape the pedagogy - as a potential improvement to the value of the article as a whole. I think you're right.
Many thanks, Anke. I will be pondering your critique over the next few days in terms of some alterations in the light of your insights. I am also looking forward to the feedback from my other reviewers.
Again, many thanks. Best wishes, Moira
I started reading this paper around two weeks ago, before work pressures forced me to abandon it meanwhile. However, I think this was valuable in the sense that I had time (in the 'cracks' as it were) to reflect on some of the points that you were making, and to link them to my own experience and reading.
First, I think your ability to weave together complex and, on the face of it, relatively non-connected events works very well. You have drawn on your Chinese experience to show both how you've related to students from other backgrounds, and how you have learned from their culture qualities such as perseverance in the face of difficulty. Secondly, your unfortunate experience of intense pain - something I cannot really imagine - seems to have both impacted on your ability to engage in certain kinds of work, but also to have provided you with a context in which you have reflected on and come to terms with the difficulties that can beset people in various ways as they work and study. Thirdly the interweaving of these experiences has reminded me how important it is that we as educators, researchers and practitioners of various types do share honestly about our strengths and weaknesses. I recall at one stage presenting a session on my own PhD thesis, where I talked about something in my practice that had not gone well. A business studies lecturer in the group castigated me for this - he said it diminishes the value of research to talk about what doesn't go well, as it reduces credibility. His expression was that "in business we bury our mistakes, not talk about them!" as he suggested that I do likewise.
However, to me it is this ability to talk honestly about what hasn't gone well, such as (in this paper) your initial experience of providing feedback that was too cluttered for some of your students to see how to go forward, or your stumbling with aspects of the online system, that encourages others to share. If we talk about what didn't go well with us, then perhaps other educators and students will be less inclined to fall down those kinds of holes.
The reflection that I have engaged in since reading the paper first has certainly got me thinking about the extent to which personal pain - be it physical, emotional or psychological - may approach the unbearable for those I work with, and to cut them more slack on the basis of this. I have also reflected on my own tendency to use terms such as 'dearie' and 'possum' (okay, I'm Antipodean!) and that this may be seen as unprofessional by students, although I've not had such feedback from them to date. And finally, I reflect on whether the sheer volume of feedback that I provide to my students may be overwhelming for them, or make it difficult for them to know what MUST and what MIGHT be changed.
Thank you for this paper, Moira, and for the encouragement it provides to other educators to think critically about their own practice. I did find the footnotes a bit 'over the top' at times, but recognise that you are trying to convey aspects of your context that may not be easily known or understood to people from other countries, and EJOLTS is an international journal. And your student appraisals are to die for - wish mine were always that good! I do hope that the remission continues into eternity.
Love (okay, it may be unprofessional but I'm saying it anyway!)
I was also in writing the article concerned that I might have emphasised too much the things that went well rather than expounding sufficiently on what didn't. Your comments have reassured me that I found a balance which worked for you at least. I am glad of that. I am very touched that you have made sense of my experiences in ways you are finding benefit you in your own practice. This was my real goal in writing the paper: I wanted it to find a resonance in people, and hoped that the experience of chronic pain would be universally recognised as a leit motif because everyone has some sort of pain in their lives. Everyone, it seems to me, struggles.
And as for burying my mistakes, that is neither desirable nor possible. Too many people are reading my paper - some students, for example - who know the reality of having me as a tutor! It seems to me that through an analysis of what doesn't go well, we might come closer to what could help us to improve. I have to admit to feeling sceptical of people who seem to suggest that their work is of uniform high quality, or that if they follow A, B or C, then D will always result. I think life's a lot messier than that.
Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Pip. They mean a lot.
Love from Moira x
Firstly, I hope this is the right forum for my response, there's every chance that this is not the case and my apologies if I am clogging up the forum!
I've just started reading your article and finding it emotional and difficult to read. What strikes me is the commonality in our experience as educators and sufferers of chronic auto-immune disease. When you articulate your experience of fear and pain, and your particular use of Dickinson, I see myself.
Of course, this is not a forum for the chronically ill but for educators. For me, as for you, the fear is that my vocation is lost. I don't know when that became a dirty word but at some point we were discouraged from addressing our careers as vocations, and expected that, if they were vocations for us, we would practice for free.
My situation is slowly resolving itself after an intense, isolating and debilitating period with an uncertain future. What I do know is that, not unlike yourself, I will find a way to pursue my vocation in spite of any physical limitations I may experience and I will be a changed person, and therefore a changed educator because of it.
This is why living theory is important - because without it we fail to acknowledge our whole selves and the fullness of our experience as a catalyst of change in our practice. At this point in the article (and I am finding it genuinely emotive and difficult to read) I'm wondering what the opposite of fear is. Is it hope? Or is it bravery?
Thank you for a wonderful article,
I want to pick up particularly what you say about two issues: vocation and the opposite of fear because they really resonate with me too.
I read your words about vocation and felt at once that we are kindred spirits. I never had any doubts at all about being a teacher - the idea of being an educator came later. I never lost once that total delight in being in the classroom - particularly with children - as we steered towards enlightenment, excitement, hope, understanding, compassion for others and oneself. There was a sense for me that I would do it for nothing, but that isn't to say that the work SHOULD be done for nothing. I realised very early in my life that money and a love of something are not commensurate, but that everyone needs to live. So I accepted the money for the work, but poured my heart into teaching because that was all I knew of value in terms of my role in society. It was what I was put on the planet for! I have always ignored the knowing smiles from people who look askance at my enthusiasm, because it isn't a constructive response and it misses the point. I believe that to have a vocation in education is to see links between the quality of living and the hope for the future.
The dislocation from my educational pathway - that wasn't linear but multi-dimensional - was another kind of brutalising pain, but one I learned to cope with over the first two years. I found that despite the barrier as I perceived it of the technology, that love of teaching and learning were still there underneath and giving me these emotional highs when something went well, and the sense of moral obligation when they didn't. That passion for education was a sort of pain-killer, I suppose you could say.
The other point I particularly want to comment on, Emma, is what the opposite of fear is. I don't know what it might be for you or for anyone else, but for me it is love (which includes the hope for the other and for the self). I know that I reconnected with that sense of vocation through the experience of feeling love again. A love for my students. A love of what I was doing, and what I hoped to achieve. A love of being alive, I suppose. Love, I found, can be dulled by pain. What made the difference, I am not sure. It is a mystery to me why I started to feel that surge of passion again for education. But I know that when my students became real for me again, not just names on a digital list on my computer, but full-dimensional individuals, then this sense of love was activated again and I started to function once more as a vocational educator.
It seems rare to me that scope is given in the literature for the kinds of experiences that are in fact not uncommon. Dealing with conflict, pain, uncertainty and loss are very human experiences, and you are absolutely right when you say that living theory is important. This journal offers a space for people to be both honest AND rigorous; feeling AND thinking; improving AND failing. Accounts of how individuals overcome situations that are relatable (Bassey, 1997) seem to me to be more important than ever when what for society constitutes 'educational' is constantly in flux.
Thank you, Emma. I hope that the rest of the article is not too difficult for you to read. And do feel free to post again, should you wish to. I have found your words very gratifying because you have shown me that my article does have resonance beyond an individual's unique experiences.
Chronic physical pain would certainly have made most people lose hope in life, but despite her sufferings, Moira has made her life more fulfilling in the pursuit of new knowledge and experience. This paper represents great progress and personal success for her in overcoming “culture shock”, (which is a clever metaphor) over six years, and the difficulties of managing computer-technology in conditions pain and disability and a complete change of circumstances. If this were most people I would find it difficult to believe. If one has such pain and disability, s/he might want to devote all the time and energy to dealing with personal ‘troubles’ (eg. pain and lack of affluence) and have no interest to prosper in a career. However, Moira Laidlaw, because of her special will and her love of life has spent her time up against extremely hard conditions to continue to make educational contributions. Whilst reading her paper, I was greatly shocked even though we have kept in touch in the interim and we worked as colleagues in China for six years. I really understand and believe that, “the pain has played a significant role in my life but the emphasis throughout is on showing in what ways the changes have impacted on my educational theorising and practices.” It is because of her intelligence and her deep understanding of education that the difficulties in technology she encountered as tutor for OU, became ways in fact to help her students in distance learning.
A comment from our colleagues at Ningxia Teachers University:
“She is not simply a teacher, she is one who knows a great deal about how people can do their best for others, because they have their own minds. It is for us teachers to be responsible to help people live up to the potential of their great creativity. ”
Moira is right when she says that: “My experiences in working with people have shown me how central to educational relationships are the establishment of trust and a sense of shared humanity. I believed that by overtly opening my values and hopes for teaching to their ‘gaze’ would likely result in feelings of warmth on both sides.”
She has achieved great success with this paper.
To: Professor Moira Laidlaw
The students’ loved teacher
An evergreen educator
A good friend and respected colleague
We are all in this together
Guyuan is your second hometown
People here will always remember you
Our very best wishes to you and your life.
Ningxia Teachers University
October 20, 2012
Sorry for the mix-up.
Sorry for any mix-up.