Transformative Learning TRANSFORMATIVE, what?

Without any intention to start my life all over again at the age of 36 in 2009, when I came to this country, life simply happened and I did exactly that. As I was not fluent in English at the time and I had no financial means to improve my language and culture knowledge in the school, I have learned a lot about the new culture through a hands-on experience. I was learning while working and interacting with other people. Therefore, I am a strong advocate of teaching that will strive to resemble a true experience, that a-ha moment after little bit of soul searching, and that is what I believe a goal of instructional design should be. As an instructional designer one should think what the learners need to do with information after the course is finished.

The first spark that ignited a fever of the instructor in me happened while I was working as a teacher of native language and literature in my home country, Serbia. I realized very early in my career how important is for learners to talk about what they have learned and to relate that to their daily life and previous experience. Unfortunately, the only instructional tools I have had at my disposal at that time were blackboard and chalk. As I did not want my students to feel detached from what was going on in the classroom, I decided to engage them. That was the moment when I realized that it must be other way and that was the beginning of my 'soul work'. At one occasion, we were learning the differences between the period of Renaissance and Medieval age through comparison of two statues from those periods respectively. While I was able to actually bring learning to pupils instead of pupils to learning, my students acquired the new concept easily and effortlessly and were able to retain it.

It was not until later in my life when I received opportunity to actually experience the whole spectrum of possibilities and advantages instructional design can add to learning and teaching practice. As an instructor of Serbo-Croatian Language and Culture at the Foreign Service Institute, Arlington, Virginia, I have had opportunity to develop and implement various instructional materials and use different tools. Namely, I have created Quizlet exercises for the vocabulary throughout the entire course, and used smart board technology as an essential part of my everyday teaching practice. Recently, I created a web page for my department on the portal that was designed for distance learning (FSI Learn Center). The feedback of my students is keeping me thriving as I always get the best possible reviews. My students are thankful that I am able to utilize my technology and computer skills to ease up a very intensive five hours a day, forty-four weeks’ program. Taking that in consideration, I created smart board exercises that students can use on their own for particularly problematic aspects of the Serbo-Croatian language (case fluency, adjective-noun agreement, interrogatives, etc.).

At the Foreign Service Institute, I have also learned to appreciate how people learn in a different ways and how to implement my knowledge of various learning styles into my lesson planning. I constantly strive to learn why a student cannot understand a specific concept and I use my understanding of different learner types to devise innovative and personalized approaches to strengthen the weaknesses of my students. In the classroom setting with three to four students (very often each of them can be different type of a learner) it is important to recognize students’ challenges and work on them but without holding up the class. I believe that was the moment I discovered how much technology can help me to address all the individual learners’ needs and still be able to keep the natural flow of the class. For visual and kinesthetic learners I tend to use smart board features to present different pictures and enable them to interact with the objects seen on the smart board by moving them and touching them. For auditory and verbal learners, I use smart board technology to present short audio clips using Tube Chop as a tool and then I encourage them to write what they have heard.

My ultimate goal would be to make language courses easily accessible to students no matter where they are. As someone who is full-time employed, I can definitely see the importance of instructional design in creating modules and curriculum that do not have to be used only inside of the walls of ‘brick-and-mortar’ universities. In the modern society it is very difficult to find a time to attend classes; instructional design can help us to have accessible and affordable (online) education. It is time for the school on the tip of our fingers. Also, the idea of education as a privilege should be considered as obsolete and education should be perceived as a fundamental human right. New language applications for the smartphone or new translation programs are something that I can definitely see myself creating and that is why I have chosen this particular program.

Finally, I have chosen the George Mason University because I think that the program offered is very suitable for full-time working students. The University itself was highly recommended by many of my colleagues who, as well as I, have limited time but share a great desire to acquire knowledge and implement it in their everyday working tasks. Many of them graduated from this program and I have learned that program is useful and very relevant to the methods of Foreign Service Institute and its curriculum development principles. George Mason university grew rapidly from its beginnings, adapting constantly to ever-changing and thriving D.C. metropolitan area. That gives an impression of clearly set goals of this institution and shows awareness of specific educational needs the working force has in this area. I feel confident that all of my educational goals will be met and my professional needs fulfilled.

Credits:

Created with images by mrsdkrebs - "Life Long Learning" • symphony of love - "Viktor E. Frankl When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves"

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