Discussion Paper for Theme of the NEAS 2021 Management Conference
Transformative Journeys in Education
NEAS is the Global Leader in Quality Assurance for the English Language Teaching Community. NEAS is a not-for-profit charity registered with the Australian Charity and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC).
NEAS advances education and cultural development in the community by providing quality assurance services for everyone in the English Language Teaching community in Australia. Our mission also extends to supporting English Language Teaching organisations and individuals in other countries engaged in partnerships with our Australian members.
In addition to our quality assurance services, NEAS supports professionalisation of the English Language Teaching Community by providing professional development, creating awards, scholarships, mentorships and research projects.
For the most recent example of NEAS research, please see the report Mapping the English Language Teaching Landscape 2019.
As a globally recognised independent Quality Assurance organisation, NEAS hosts more than 300 delegates from around the world at its annual conference.
The 2021 NEAS Management Conference is focused on Transformative Journeys in Education. The conference theme seeks to explore how as leaders, teachers, practitioners and students in international education we undergo transformation through our intercultural experiences.
The two key questions we are asking speakers and participants to explore are:
- As a leader, teacher, practitioner, professional or student in education, what transformative journeys have you seen or experienced?
- How can we harness the power of journeys in creating and maintaining a sustainable future in education?
The conference will showcase transformative journeys that our members have seen or experienced in their careers. The conference will explore how we can harness the power of journeys in creating and maintaining a sustainable future in education.
Be empowered by experts of ELT, sharing key theory, research and practice in our industry. We are inviting both local and international guests to connect and network, to share stories of growth, development and transformative change in their environment and their career.
Our aim for 2021 is to create more opportunities for professional development, inspiring the ELT community to grow through networking and sharing experiences. This can create further transformative change in the industry and allow these networks to flourish, creating a positive influence for students and industry stakeholders.
What is Transformation?
Transformative learning experiences are those powerful moments as educators we wish to encourage within our students. Transformation refers to the student changing the way they view the world, their behaviour in their world and how they feel about their place in the world (Burton, 2015).
Research has not yet explored why some students can be engaged in learning and yet not report the event as transformative, while others experience the connection with their learning as transformative. Research in cognitive sciences related to education may be drawn upon to shed light as to why some participants have these experiences while others do not. The energy at the moment of transformation may produce in some learners a eureka effect or an aha moment, which in some literature has also been described as an epiphany (Auble, Franks, & Soraci, 1978; Bidney, 1997; Danek, Fraps, Muller, Grothe, & Ollinger, 2012; Topolinski & Reber, 2010; Turner, 1997; Wills, 2002; Wray, 2011).
The eureka effect refers to the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept. Research outlining what the effect actually is and how it can be measured has shown that the eureka effect has positive effects on memory, problem solving and idea or thematic conceptualisation (Auble et al., 1978; Danek et al., 2012). Persons experiencing the eureka effect describe a process of the moment appearing suddenly, the solution to a problem being processed smoothly or a positive effect and conviction that the solution is true. This can be a sequence or a combined effect (Topolinski & Reber, 2010; Wills, 2002; Wray, 2011). This effect can be defined as a moment in learning where the ‘penny drops’ and recognition of understanding after an intellectual or emotional struggle produces a euphoria, often as a response to art (Topolinski & Reber, 2010). The similarity of an aesthetic experience to the eureka effect or the aha moment may be significant (Auble et al., 1978; Danek et al., 2012).
The complexity of defining student engagement as both a continual, ongoing, developmental state and as a spontaneous, unexpected, transformative experience is expressed in the literature. There seems to be two schools of thought around engagement. Some scholars look at engagement as a continuum (Bundy, 1999; Gardiner, 2014; Piazzoli, 2013; Rothwell, 2013). Others state that it happens suddenly, unexpectedly and momentarily (Blanken-Webb, 2014; Boardman, 2015; Connors, 2017; Murphy, 2017; Spitale, 2016; Wakana, 2018).
Gardiner in exploring creativity and agency as key components to engagement refers to research on ‘flow’ done in the United States on highly successful individuals (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). Sustained moments of ‘flow’ are believed to be conducive to deep learning and creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Flow has also been researched in process drama for learning (Blanken-Webb, 2014; Gardiner, 2014; Maxfield, 2017; Thornton, 2017; Trujillo, 2018). When in the ‘flow’, where skill required and challenges presented to the participant are matched, participants become more fully engaged (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Recent works of Csikszentmihalyi have expanded the notion of flow into how we approach education, the workplace and our relationships and happiness to create optimal experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009, 2013). By comparison, Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 2010) states that in order for the participant to change their view of the world, or their belief systems and values, they must experience a disorienting dilemma. These are experiences that are discomforting or challenging to the adult learner, that don’t fit into their view of the world. By working through this discomfort, they are able to have an aha moment, and begin to change, even transform (Cranton, 2016; Mezirow, 2000, 2003, 2010; Taylor & Cranton, 2012).
Mezirow defines transformative learning in adults “as the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action”
(Mezirow, 1996, p. 162)
Mezirow identified a number of different phases in transformative learning, including the need for these dilemmas that lead to a self-examination and assessment of assumptions. After sharing this with other learners and planning a course of action, there can be acquisition of knowledge and skills. Finally, after trying out some learned techniques and new roles, there is a building of competence, self-confidence and reintegration into the workplace or academic environment with a new perspective (Mezirow, 2000). There is common commentary in transformative learning theory that suggests there must be extraordinary events and aha moments in order for change to occur.
However, Dirkx claims that “for transformative learning to take place, these kinds of big moments, events, and traumas are not necessary, but rather transformative learning can be the product of ordinary and everyday experiences”
Transformation is referred to by some scholars as the way the participant changes the way they view the world, their behaviour in their world, and how they feel about their place in the world (Burton, 2015). Intercultural competence plays a major role in how participants respond and transform through process drama. Intercultural competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures and is dependent on a multitude of cultural factors (Hofstede & Minkov, 2010). Understanding and operating in the valued rules, norms and expectations of a relationship between participants from two different cultures may play a major role in development of intercultural competence and the potential transformation through aesthetic engagement. Intercultural competence has also been referred to as cross-cultural competence and is the subject of recent research into the experiences of students studying in higher education environments (Hunter, 2008; Savicki, 2008; Savicki, Binder, & Heller, 2008).
Burton has explored three forms of transformation in classrooms (Burton, 2015). Self-transformation occurs when the students are supported to consciously change their attitudes, emotional states, behaviour and appearance. A second type described is symbolic transformation, where action, thought and feeling interact for participants. A further type of transformation is representational, where space, objects and participants are transformed to represent real and fictional environments. Burton draws on elements from Grotowski’s transformational theatre (Grotowski, 2012) and Brook’s thoughts on theatre and acting (Brook, 1996) to recommend techniques such as ensemble, chorus work, symbolism and role-play for distributed and collaborative learning that leads to transformative experiences for the participants. Burton also proposes that for participants to have a truly transformative experience, they must be cognisant of the process of transformation itself. The teaching and practice of transformational concepts and techniques should be explicit (Burton, 2015).
Transformation is contested within education, with practitioners and scholars having multiple views on what transformation is, how it should be measured and even if it a desired outcome of education (Freebody, Finneran, Balfour, & Anderson, 2018). Studies investigating engagement, especially if they claim to be providing transformational experiences for the participants, sit within a broader discussion in the educational and applied fields about transformation and change. Balfour and Freebody (2018) caution against the rush to make, change, to inspire and transform without due consideration and transparency around the purpose of the lesson or class. This is particularly relevant where participants are marginalised, as in the case of international students studying in an Australian university context. Many teachers in this context may operate from a belief that the participant wants to change, adopt the culture of the host country and will benefit from the experience. According to Balfour and Freebody (2018) again this is problematic. They urge practitioners, researchers and scholars to restrain from broad claims of transformation and change in education, and instead include discourse around concepts of value, intent and success. Cahill (2018) suggests that change in the context of education includes three key practices: positioning teachers as partners, making methods visible and transparent across disciplines and co-constructing transdisciplinary knowledge.
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