Category Archives: Professional development

Interview: Appreciative Inquiry in professional development

An interview with Hannah Pia Baral about her experience with Appreciative Inquiry as a professional development approach to developing leadership:

Hannah, how have you used Appreciative Inquiry?

I did a masters paper at AUT that used Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to examine our professional practice. At that time I was working as a manager for a private training provider. It took a while to convince me that this is a valid method as I was used to a problem-solving approach to identifying gaps and fixing problems. In the end, I realised that this was an effective approach to evaluate one’s own practice from a positive angle by starting off with asking questions based on my own strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is typically presented as a cycle of four phases known as a 4-D Cycle:

  • Phase 1: Discovery of people’s experiences of their group, organization, or community at its most vital and alive and what made those experiences possible
  • Phase 2: Dreaming together to envision a future in which those exceptional experiences form the bases for organizing
  • Phase 3: Designing appreciative systems and structures to support the manifestation of the co-created dreams
  • Phase 4: Destiny or delivery, which involves in implementation of those systems and structures in an ever-expanding positive-feedback loop of appreciative learning

But why did you choose Appreciative Inquiry for this process?

Although I did not personally choose AI as an approach, I was pleased that I had the opportunity to discover it through my postgraduate studies. Initially it felt like a ‘wishy-washy, feel-good’ exercise but I soon discovered that this approach has a lot of grunt and depth. I have since seen Appreciative Inquiry used by political and educational organisations to evaluate projects and activities. I think people who are new to AI should give it a chance before making judgement on it.

How did you go about it?

As part of my assignment I interviewed colleagues I worked closely with. I asked them specific questions like: When am I at my best? My most valued qualities? And on a perfect day, what would my professional practice be like? I also kept a reflective journal for the duration of the academic semester.

What did you find out using the AI approach?

I realised that my professional life is an extension of who I am as person. My professional life does not define my identity and it should not dictate my life. I was able to explore some of my strengths as a leader and what I was good at. This allowed me to more closely focus on the areas I should further develop in my professional practice. Interestingly, the feedback from my colleagues matched the areas that I thoroughly enjoyed in my job. I also found myself asking big questions like ‘what is my life purpose?’, ‘does my professional life define my identity?’, ‘why am I struggling with work/life balance?’, ‘am I still aligned with the organizational values?’, ‘what type of work environment am I best suited to?’. The process became a personal journey of discovery and reflection not confined to my professional practice.

How would you describe the benefits of AI for you?

Human beings generally draw their strength from affirmations, positive feedback and knowing their purpose in life. For me, I found the process really valuable in exploring my own personal and professional identity, and in developing a longer-term view of my own professional and leadership development. The outcome is a major paradigm shift in my own thinking which has had a significant impact on others around me and on my own professional practice.

Extending the read-write matrix

Read-write matrix of Web 20 tools for learningLimitations of the matrix

The read-write matrix provides a model for analysing the roles of learners in working with documents in a Web 2.0 context. The complexity of Web 2.0 tools, however, has prompted me to explore ways of extending the model to provide more detail, including different forms of contribution and collaboration. In addition, some readers have found the two-dimensional matrix difficult to interpret.

I’ve been wondering for some time how to show additional dimensions to the read-write matrix. This is necessary because it’s helpful to distinguish between different sorts of editing rights. For example, the blog reader cannot usually edit someone else’s blog posting but can normally add comments to it.

We can simplify the read-write matrix by considering only three user types:

  • self (the learner)
  • peers (fellow learners enrolled in the same course)
  • the world

We can now assign a value to each of these user types based on the ability to:

  • read the document
  • comment on the document
  • edit the document

Table 1: mapping the roles

We can now create a simple table for any given application of Web 2.0 tools:

Edit Comment Read
Self X X X
Peers X X
World X

We can use such a table to define clearly how we might want a specific wiki or blog activity set up for a learning activity, and we can use it to communicate to teachers and/or students how an activity is meant to work. A simple tick or cross in a cell shows that that user type has that role.

Table 2: the geek version

And for the more technically-minded, we can steal an idea from Unix’s chmod to provide a shorthand way of describing the characteristics of the activity:

Edit Comment Read
Self 4 2 1
Peers 4 2 1
World 4 2 1

We now have a shorthand way to describe the read-write roles within a learning activity using (say) a blog or wiki – add the values in each row that apply and show as a three-digit number. The roles shown in table 1 would be 731. (I’m not sure that this version will be popular, however!)

Where to from here?

We could easily extend either version to include the additional user types in the read-write matrix: the sub-group of peers and the wider group of a learning community. We could also add other types of contribution in addition to commenting and editing: eg annotation or bookmarking.

In addition, I envisage simple planning tools which incorporate something like table 1 to help communicate decisions around educational use of Web 2.0 tools to other teachers, technical support staff and learners. The table extends the read-write matrix by adding detail to the types of collaborative contribution, but also provides a simple means of communicating the analysis to others.

Educators need better models for the use of Web 2.0 tools

Educators getting started with using wikis and blogs and other Web 2.0 software as tools for learning need to develop a structural understanding of the different potential forms of collaboration and interaction. But some of the models used as references for such educational use come from other contexts, and are unlikely to be sufficient as models for designing effective learning and teaching.

For example, an Open University blog refers to the ladder of participation, a model developed by Forrester Research. The participation ladder categorises consumers according to their level of active participation with online social networking tools.

I don’t find the ladder metaphor and the categorisation particularly helpful for educators, because:

  • The ladder metaphor suggests both a hierarchy of behaviours and progression up the ladder, whereas in a learning context such behaviours are complementary and equally important.
  • Categorising learners in the same way marketers categorise consumers is not productive: learners are not a market to reach and exploit but autonomous individuals who dynamically use a range of behaviours depending on the context

I’m not intending to suggest that the ladder is not a really valuable tool for marketers, or that education cannot learn from and apply models developed in a business context. Indeed, the ladder does provide a valuable insight into the diversity of learners in terms of the use of such tools.

But to help educators develop effective strategies for applying Web 2.0 tools, we need models which build on models such as the ladder and better reflect the educational context. In particular, we need models which:

  • Reflect the values and ethos of the education sector, with learners as autonomous individuals
  • Provide a means to analyse the dynamic and diverse nature of learning and teaching interactions

Until we develop such models, the application of Web 2.0 tools for learning is likely to be hit and miss.

Related posts:

The read-write matrix of web 2.0 tools for learning

Wikis in Moodle and the read-write matrix

Wikis, collaboration and the role of the teacher

I’m a fan of using wikis as a tool for collaborative learning – in my context, I’ve used it as a professional development activity for tertiary educators. I’ve briefly outlined some of the benefits I’ve perceived in an earlier post: Read-write learning in professional development

Wiki pegboard by Luigi ChiesaIn an recent Educause conference paper entitled Within the Wiki: Best Practices for Educators, Barbara Schroeder describes 10 ‘instructional strategies for successful learning with wikis.’ This is a really useful list of guidelines for teachers planning to incorporate the use of wikis into courses.

The teacher’s role

One of Schroeder’s guidelines is ‘define and identify roles for collaborative activities.’ From my own experience, I’d add that it’s important to be clear about your own role as teacher/facilitator. For example, what will you do when a student contributes information which you can see is clearly wrong or misinformed? You could:

  • Ignore it
  • Correct it
  • Point out privately or publicly that it’s incorrect
  • Hope that another student corrects it
  • Give someone the role of responding

Each of these has advantages and drawbacks!

The truly collaborative wiki has the potential to change the power balance between teachers and learners and their respective roles: no longer is the teacher the sole source of authoritative knowledge. On the other hand, ‘wrong’ information can be detrimental and even dangerous, in vocational or academic education. It’s important to be clear about your own role in relation to the shared knowledge and communicate this to learners beforehand.

Photo: wiki pegboard by Luigi Chiesa.

The dominance of English language in online education

Two recent incidents highlighted for me the dominance of English in the online world, even in systems and communities used internationally by educators.


Moodle language packs

The first incident arose while I was working with a teacher who uses a Moodle site with Greek language learners. He was puzzled because of a button labelled επόμενος, pronounced ‘epomenos’ and meaning ‘Next’ in English. The issue arose because he thought it should refer to ‘Next page’, but the Greek word for page is feminine and επόμενος is masculine. So what could the ‘Next’ refer to? This is not merely pedantry and ‘getting the grammar right’, it has the potential to cause confusion for teachers and learners.

It’s no-one’s fault, of course – the wonderful volunteers who translate Moodle language packs can create equivalents in their own language for Moodle words and phrases, but there is no mechanism for recognising the gender of words. To remedy this would require a major revamp of the whole language architecture of Moodle. The original authors presumably never foresaw the possible issues which could arise when translating the system into other languages.

Tolerance of other languages

The second incident seemed to reflect an attitude that ‘other’ languages are less valid than English. Without dwelling on the details, a member of a wiki-based community for educators posted a template for creating webquests. The brief instructions were in a language other than English, and the responses of other members seemed both complaining (‘a language I can’t read is a nuisance‘) and uncomprehending (‘why would anyone use a language other than English?‘).

The first incident seems to me to be minor, and shows how easy it is to make assumptions based on our own language and culture. But the significance of this minor oversight is greatly offset by the overall valuing of other languages as evidenced by Moodle’s language pack feature and the fantastic work done by translators. The second incident dismayed me, as it seemed to show that even the mere presence of other languages is not always well-tolerated in Western society.

Here in New Zealand we have lived through shameful times when Māori, the language of the indigenous people, was not tolerated in the education system. But in recent decades the language has gained official recognition, no longer seems endangered, and its presence enriches our society. I’d like to think that, in the online education community, languages other than English were also seen as enrichments rather than as nuisances by the English-speaking majority.