2020 threw us all a curveball. It was the year of baking banana bread, viral TikTok trends, and online learning. Forget Year of the Rat, 2020 was the year of the Zoom chat. Education, along with the rest of the world, was virtually redefining itself. When I looked ahead to the uLearn20 conference, my first as a presenter, I was both invigorated and daunted by it being online.
While Covid-19 has been the source of some of our problems, more so it has amplified those we have already been facing as a community. It was an amplifier of digital inequity issues, forcing us to reassess our measures of academic achievement. It amplified our pedagogy, forcing educators to adapt our practice to suit a digital format. It has shown us that we need to rethink not only what but how we teach. But has technology been a hindrance or an enabler? Well it kind of depends on who you talk to.
Zoom is a tricky beast. Have you ever caught yourself zoning off in your staff Zoom meeting? You are busy reading emails in another tab, or scrolling through your phone trying, all the while, to look like you are listening. I will admit, I am guilty of this. It is an all too real experience. The way we use and view technology as a means for teaching and learning, often depends heavily on the approach we take within the kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face-to-face) environment of the classroom. I have listened to teachers complain about students sitting with screens off as they talk for 20 minutes into the abyss. I cannot help but question if this is not merely an extension of their kanohi-ki-te-kanohi classroom practices.
The problem with online learning spaces is that they are authoritative. They are focused on teacher-centred knowledge telling, evaluation, and the presentation of unquestioned findings (Juuti et al., 2019). Here is the rub – neither in-class nor digital teaching should be, or has to be authoritative. Digital learning offers us the opportunity to change the script, rethinking learners’, and educators’, roles, personalising learning, and to approach knowledge in ways that promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity (Bolstad et al., 2012).
During the first lockdown, my extended family met regularly on Zoom and we found exciting new ways to pass the time. We would share a novel we were reading, write collaborative quizzes where each family would contribute a round, and we even made a game out of guessing people’s favourite songs. Whilst these experiences were fun, engaging and worked to not only maintain my connection with family, but to strengthen it, at the same time, it got me thinking – what was it about these conversations that made them so enjoyable?
The answer: Talanoa.
The word ‘talanoa’ is a term meaning to talk or speak. In my research, I’ve drawn on the work of Togi Lemanu and other Pacific academics who developed the Talanoa model. (Manuatu, Vaioleti, Mahina, Seve-Williams) (Lemanu, 2014). I have seen how effective Talanoa conversations can be in helping educators better understand the interests and passions of their students.
In my research, I aimed to use four attributes that make the ‘talanoa’ meaningful and rich: Ofa, Malie, Mafana, Faka’apa’apa (ibid). I was interested in how these attributes apply to the way we do digital teaching and learning. And, I wondered whether our most enjoyable and productive digital spaces were inadvertently echoing the principles of Talanoa? Below, I explain how these were applied in my research.
When we talanoa, we begin with questions about who we are and where we come from. By providing an opportunity for all involved to feel known and to have their gafa, or genealogy acknowledged, the barriers to building relationships are removed. In my classroom Talanoa, I have observed that this process takes time. I have learnt that you must allow space for these stories to be told.
During the first lockdown, I asked all my classes to engage in a Zoom ‘Show and Tell’, where students could bring their taonga and were given time to share part of who they are. Students in my classes immediately opened up during this time and were far quicker to ask questions about the learning after this experience. They were given a chance to speak and a chance to be heard. The opportunity to speak and share, not only strengthened our whanaungatanga within the class, but also allowed students to apply learning to their personal context.
My students are funny. Transcribing our talanoa throughout this research project was a pleasure. Our conversations were punctuated with laughter, the humour allowing us to be real and authentic, as we felt comfortable making jokes. In digital spaces, I’ve seen people use humour to liven up meetings, with challenges, funky backgrounds, and silly digs at one another in the chat. I always come away feeling more engaged after I’ve had a good laugh.
Both Ofa and Malie help build Mafana in our conversations. Talanoa needs to be warm and unthreatening to the parties involved. Lemanu makes the salient observation that “at times, teachers just want to get to the point and then move on.” This was my experience in both digital and kanohi-ki-te-kanohi class talanoa. Active listening, taking the time to build rapport, and developing a connection is something that did not come naturally. I’m often quick to try to get to the point but I’ve learnt that talanoa is as much about journeying through conversation together as it is the destination.
Respect is overarching in talanoa conversations. Mutual respect involves actively listening and allowing students to make authentic contributions. It is about the purpose. We need to give students a platform; recognising that everyone has a voice and a contribution to make. I keep seeing this phrase at the start of webinars and teachers’ classrooms: “Mute your mic please”. It makes me question how often education spaces are instruction heavy and dominated by a single voice. Instead of asking students to mute their microphones, we should be providing opportunities for rich ‘unmuted’ learning conversations to take space.
When reflecting on the first digital hui for our eFellows, I shared that the moments I found most valuable were those where I was able to bounce ideas off other people. Where I was heard, where I was able to joke, where I didn’t feel afraid to share my potentially half-baked ideas.
What became clear is what works for teachers, works for students. We are a reflection of one another and so are our best learning experiences. What if we took all our boring Zoom chats, instructional meetings and webinars and compared them to both our live and digital classrooms. Would we see much difference?
I wonder what the education sphere might look like if we embodied Talanoa in everything we do? In our teaching, meetings, and professional development. Technology will always be an amplifier but what if we changed the practice it was amplifying?
The irony of this is that a blog post can often feel like a one-sided conversation. You’ve heard my thoughts; I’d love to hear yours and in doing so, maybe we can start a conversation.
- Talanoa tips with Pasifika learners
- Creating the ‘talanoa’ conversation is all it takes…
- 8 Ways to add some fun to your next Zoom meeting
- Teaching online as if you are in the room
Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching. Ministry of Education.
Juuti, K., Loukomies, A., & Lavonen, J. (2019). Interest in Dialogic and Non-Dialogic Teacher Talk Situations in Middle School Science Classroom. International Journal Of Science And Mathematics Education, 18(8), 1531-1546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-019-10031-2
Lemanu, T. (2014). Creating the ‘talanoa’ conversation is all it takes… [Blog]. Retrieved 20 April 2021, from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2014/12/creating-the-talanoa-conversation-is-all-it-takes.html.
Vaioleti, T. (2016). Talanoa Research Methodology: A Developing Position on Pacific Research. Waikato Journal Of Education, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.15663/wje.v12i1.296