An idea has got a name, is taking shape, and will be launched on November 7th!
Last September I came into closer contact with e-learning or online-learning – an area of adult education I hadn’t been fully aware of before – in the form of so called MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. Several well-known universities such as Harvard, Berkeley and MIT in the US and the Open University in the UK offer free online courses for everyone – that is everyone who has access to the Internet, where ever they live.
Attracted by the content of the course, I enrolled in a MOOC about Theory U with Klaus-Otto Scharmer. I not only enjoyed working with the diverse material such as video talks, video interviews and written texts, I also got a lot of inspiration from engaging with the regular tasks and through getting into contact with other people from around the world who were interested in similar questions and were open to exchanging their experience with others.
In November 2016, at the end of last English Week, an intense week of professional development for English teachers, a number of mostly younger colleagues expressed their wish to continue an exchange about aspects of foreign language teaching and Anthroposophy beyond the inspiring experience they had just gone through, a first thought crept into the back of my mind and then lingered there for a while.
It needed another teachers’ meeting, this time in Dornach at the Goetheanum, for the thought to take on more shape. While discussing the great need for new teachers the Waldorf school movement is going to face in the next decade, a colleague and friend of mine, who had also experienced the U-Lab MOOC before, asked why, instead of writing a book about foreign language teaching, I didn’t start an e-learning platform for Waldorf teachers using all the material I already had.
If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough. (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf)
Fortunately, Theory U had not only introduced me to online-learning and given me some ideas about a meaningful use of the new media, it had also encouraged me to turn a vision into a prototype and dare start a project, even though not all the questions connected with it had been answered then.
Formulating my vision of a learning community
My vision of a global community of Waldorf (foreign language) teachers is fueled by my passion for teaching, learning and foreign languages. I still very much enjoy being at the heart of life and teaching classes 7 to 13 in a Waldorf school. Being regularly in contact with children and teenagers, I can vividly experience the joys and challenges of teaching, which helps me to rethink and rebuilt as well as invent new material and tasks all the time. I can take this living experience with me into workshops with practicing teachers or when I teach student teachers who are on their way to becoming foreign language teachers themselves.
The more I have learnt about foreign language teaching and learning, the more I am convinced that teaching and learning foreign languages can be interesting, rewarding and enjoyable for everybody involved if we invest more time in understanding what we are doing, why we are doing it, when and how it can be done. For me the crucial point is to fully grasp what Waldorf pedagogy means with respect to foreign language learning and then recognize that a lot of modern research about language learning comes to very similar results.
We need to understand that looking at the needs and possibilities of the children, including the whole person in the learning process and putting much emphasis on the power of imagination is not a strange Waldorf idea, but actually is a very meaningful way of learning languages – in Waldorf schools and elsewhere in the world. That is why the course is called
I find it really amazing how many studies from outside Waldorf make claims and suggestions about foreign language teaching that are so similar to what we are doing or could be doing in our schools. And I think it is really a shame to observe how sometimes parents and teachers, influenced by the wish for security or out of an anxiety caused by the uncertainty that characterizes living processes, fall back onto school books and state school material. In their wish to ensure good results, they too often get rid of truly valuable elements of foreign language teaching. They hold onto old ropes without realizing that these can’t guarantee a safe crossing – no matter how colorful and well-designed they may be – because learning processes are often invisible for a long time, don’t follow linear plans and certainly are not comparable. They just follow their own rules which we need to understand, carefully observe, but also, to a certain extent, trust in.
Finding a lot of support, once the idea was born
On a rather pragmatic level I was aware that a project like this would need some financial support if it wasn’t to take years to be realized. The “Pädagogische Forschungsstelle beim Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen” accepted my project proposal and agreed to support my work financially so that I can reduce my teaching work load for some time. Thus I have had a realistic amount of time to start turning an idea into reality. I am very grateful for this support, which is not only about money but also expresses the openness towards moving into the new dimension of e- and online-learning.
For me, one of the fascinating aspects of digital learning is the possibility of including a variety of material. Through video interviews, for example, it is possible to include thoughts and insights of a number of experienced foreign language teachers and make their rich classroom experience available to the participants of the course. I am very grateful to my colleagues who not only shared their experiences but were also willing to be filmed while doing so.
Exploring the world of digital learning
According to our Waldorf understanding of learning, we know that it is not enough to read and watch – learning needs individual activity and is a social process at the same time. So meaningful activities had to be designed and the course should also offer a forum for collegial exchange. Fortunately, the software that I have chosen offers a multitude of possibilities in all these aspects.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this first course and I am really amazed how much I have learnt about open source software, website design, video cutting, online learning and many other aspects along the line. I also want to thank those colleagues who already had a look at the material and made some very helpful comments and suggestions.
Now I am pleased to announce the upcoming start of the first elewa course on sustainable language teaching and learning. If you are interested, you can watch the video in this blog as well as on the ‘What we do’ page for more detailed information.
I hope to meet many of you again in one of the coming elewa courses! And I am looking forward to your feedback so that the course can best match the needs and wishes of colleagues who are interested in growing together in a learning community of Waldorf teachers from around the world.
Ulrike 10th October 2016