30 April, 2011

Time to disseminate

Yesterday was departure day, departing from Yozgat, Central Anatolia, Turkey to be precise. Behind us is a 2-day meeting, the final meeting of the Ethical Competence project, a Grundtvig Learning Partnership.
Day 1 started with an overall presentation by our Lithuanian project leader Mikas Balkevicius, who set out the state of affairs in our project. Then every partner successively presented their work on the Ethical Competence Guide, that is to say the additional annexes that showcase how the particular ethical values can be applied in specific educational settings, ranging from adult education to higher education. In some cases (however not ours) these educational materials had also been tried, tested and finetuned.
On day 2 we further discussed dissemination strategies, those applied within our respective countries, but also overall strategies so that the guide can be valorised.
As always, a fine balance was struck between the project content management issues and the on-site cultural experiences.
Within our 2-day meeting schedule our hosts demonstrated the best of Turkish hospitality. Besides being always available for any question or issue that popped up, they were flexible, generous and introduced us to a host of Turkish customs and rituals. Some of these cultural experiences included trying our hand at ebru, playing the suz, folk dancing and singing along, sampling Turkish tea and food, visiting a mosque and a local museum. On top of that we familiarised ourselves with the "territory": by taxibus our group (there were 22 of us) were taken to Camlik National Park and Kazankaya canyon on our way to our 2nd meeting location in Aydincik.
Understanding each other sufficiently was never an issue as there was always someone nearby who commanded the English language and could translate for us from Turkish into English and vice versa.
Any amendments or changes plus English language checks and further editing work on the Ethical Competence Guide will be done in the coming 6 weeks. In other words, our European project (officially called Ethical Competence as Educational Component in Adult Education) is right on schedule : what more can we ask for ?
Pictures of the meeting can be found here.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.

20 April, 2011

Memento project: an interesting idea

How to make international students feel at ease in a foreign country ? Many universities try to do their best and find their own ways and solutions to make the transition as easy as possible. Since a couple of years a new annual award was launched by NUFFIC to stimulate universities to make students really feel welcome and at home in their host country.
This year's Orange Carpet Award went to ArtEZ, Institute of Arts in Enschede, for their successful project called Memento.
The idea of this project is based on a quotation by the author Mark Twain:
I'm grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.
The concept of MEMENTO involves the visualization of recollections (memories) and their presentation in a joint exhibition.
The supervisory instructors of the exchange programme stimulated the students the past months to share their personal memories with fellow students from different cultures. To what extent are there important differences in the process of recollecting? Are there also similarities? And are these similarities universal or are they determined by specific locations and/or cultures? All these memories can be related to images, music, film, photos, smells and/or stories.
I feel this is indeed an excellent way to have students work together on a collective assignment during their exchange programme.
Here's a link to some more information about this intriguing project and good practice. You can also check out their blog.
This could also be an idea to work out further for our own international course, even though we do not have any arts students.

13 April, 2011

In retrospect: the ENSACT conference, Brussels, April 2011

Today was the last day of the 3 day ENSACT conference on Social Action in Europe: Sustainable Social Development and Economic Challenges. I'm looking back on it with mixed feelings. As I didn't attend the Monday sessions and had 2 field visits on day 2 of the conference, it was only on Wednesday that I went to the conference venue to get an impression of the atmosphere and all that was going on.

I'd already heard people saying that a number of things hadn't turned out to be the way it was planned, that presenters hadn't turned up, that nearly all field visits proved to have fewer participants than anticipated etc. However, my personal impression of this morning's seminar on curriculum issues was pretty good and all 3 presenters had valuable, interesting information and expertise to share with us. One presenter gave a (critical !) overview of the recent national changes in the Social Work Bachelor programme in Denmark and argued that that there is an urgent need to reaffirm the independent integrity of the social work profession. Another presenter from Switzerland explained the new professional profile of the socio educational assistant and how it was regarded among other social work professionals. And the last speaker from Queens University Belfast shared with us his experience of an EU funded project on preparing social work students to work with victims and survivors of the "troubles", a familiar euphemism for the Northern Ireland conflict.

To round off the conference a panel discussion was scheduled, starting from concise summaries of all that had been dealt with during the previous days. What could have been a grand finale turned out to be a boring session for a diminished audience, fizzling out with just one or two people commenting after the panel had given their views.
Just as a reminder for myself, here are the conclusions / recommendations comprising the four main subject areas:
On the topic of Social Policy
* The management of the current crisis is dominated by economic theories. Growth and employment is put first. The welfare state has to adapt and distribute less resources among more people in need.
* Financial and economic crises create new challenges but also new opportunities. The concept of sustainable development offers an alternative and long term perspective for social action.
* Social transition demands adaptability and resilience from individuals and social systems. The main contribution of the social field is to develop social capital which is key in that process.
* Social professionals should take an active role in influencing social policies. This involves a global view on challenges, a critical and radical attitude, cooperation amongst each other and the development of a joint agenda.
* It is often the regions that have a main responsibility for social policies. They should be supported in developing sustainable approaches.
* Research policy and practice have to be confronted with the view of service users and those directly affected. Examples of anti-poverty policies have shown how important it is to involve people with experience of poverty in the policy making process.

On the topic of Active Citizenship
* Service using and service user rights create a dynamics of perceiving, seizing, and realizing rights. This dynamic endorses successful social interventions.
• What comes first ? Social, consumer or civil rights? How to handle the dynamic?
• Are we as professionals prepared ? Do academics contribute enough to this?
* The relation between service users and social professions is not only service-related.
• But also coming together as citizens, encountering or confronting as citizens
• Are we citizens (practitioners, clients, academics) really belonging to the same “city” or do we belong to different / overlapping spheres of rights, spheres of inclusion, spheres of influence and power ?
* From social citizenship to (social) entrepreneurship ? … to societal citizenship !!
• Further mercantilization and commercialization of more domains in life ?
• Ready for transforming our economy into a “dematerialized” sustainable way of living more efficiently (as less costly in resources as possible), sufficiently (not more than you really need), consistently (as stable / cohesive as possible) ?
• Sustainability means guaranteeing social rights at a high minimum in order to give EU-citizens the necessary economic basis in order to really live and experience societal citizenship.

On the topic of Professional Intuition
* Social work is based on theoretical foundations, technical procedures and ethical framework – a professional field as social policy “do-ers”. Managerialism, standardization and technocratic performance seem to lead to de-professionalization of social work.
* Social work must regain passion, enthusiasm, commitment to stimulate creative, cooperative efforts of professionals, in spite of increasing bureaucracy, challenging the innovating and learning potentials of social professionals.
* Professionals must demonstrate activities to raise public consciousness, must cooperate in building partnership, must transfer knowledge and skills to future activists, and transform tendencies to produce direct impact in social reality.
* Study programmes must facilitate these qualities, developing the newly graduate’s resilience, faith, commitment and belief in the social worker’s capacity to continue as effective, competent and optimistic practitioners.
* Professional intuition and passion in social training and practice shall be shared – practitioners shall be empowered to disseminate the valuable ‘practice wisdom’ they hold, within their communities and on a wider scale.

On the topic of Innovation
* Service users and clients provide valuable experience that needs to be incorporated in social work education, service design, provision and quality monitoring.
* People in poverty are experts by experience and should be co-creators in developing training and service delivery.
* New ICT opportunities should be actively applied to increase quality of life for users, but with an open mind to their limitations.
* The EU should focus its Innovation Union efforts on creative solutions for effective quality social services provision.
* In looking to the future we should not forget to learn from the past.

On balance, social work conferences like these are always an excellent opportunity to exchange views, to network and become more aware of what the social work profession stands for, and how passionate social workers are about the work they do on a daily basis. That in itself is priceless.

11 April, 2011

R M A , reciprocal maieutic approach in a nutshell

The Recriprocal Maieutic Approach (RMA) is a “…process of collective exploration that takes as a departure point the experience and the intuition of individuals.” (Dolci, 1996). This way RMA promotes group processes and the plurality of experiences and points of view.
RMA is intended to create a safe learning environment for people to express themselves, to discover themselves, to be creative, to learn relational and communicational competencies, to feel valued as a human being, among other things.
The Reciprocal Maieutic Approach is most of all a learner centred approach.
Here's a visualisation of the method, using the well-known wordle website:

Soon a concise description of the RMA method will follow here.
The prototype as well as the RMA manual are on their way. A definitive version is anticipated to be ready for distribution at the beginning of July 2011.

01 April, 2011

What do you learn from

a European project about ethical competence? That's the question we asked a few students when we were mid-way in a European Grundtvig project. The answers encompassed more than I had ever imagined. It's difficult to put it in a nutshell, still here's an attempt, quoting from the students' work:
"You tend to take your own behaviour for granted, you don't normally give your social competences and actions a moment's thought. But it's in live exchanges like these that you actually become aware of "the Dutch way of life"."
"The fact that we are one Europe and yet so different in the way we think and act made an immense impression. Experiencing a great deal of freedom yourself in your own country, you don't realise that other people elsewhere are faced with corruption, oppression or the maffia."
"You start to become aware of how lazy or how rude you can be from time to time, how easily you complain about things, despite the liberty and openness at our university. Educational systems across Europe differ hugely in the way they treat students and in student - lecturer relationships in general, I learned. We should be proud of the Dutch way of teaching and learning, but that's hard to notice from what I see and hear."

"Most of the European project partners gave longish and tiring powerpoint presentations with around 60 sheets. Sometimes these presentations were given in their own language, which meant that they had to be translated by someone else, which took quite some time all in all. These often theoretically and academically oriented talks were quite unsettling to me at first. I simply wanted to hear about their methods, the way they implemented ethical competence training. It made me realise that we were in fact the only partner who showed, by way of concrete examples, how we develop ethical competences in a practical sense, and moreover, how we transfer that into the workplace after graduation.
It makes you realise how hard it can be for others to implement concrete actions and change elsewhere Europe and in the world."
"I have come to realise that our Dutch mentality is one of acting quickly and efficiently without dawdling. Persistence is another trait of ours."
"Getting to know other European people and discussing similarities and differences have definitely helped me in understanding that there's still a lot to be done.
A project such as this one makes you realise how important it is to talk to each other and cooperate internationally. There is so much to learn from each other."

"I was offered a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of how things work in other countries in the field of ethics."
"I was able to build up good contacts with the people I met in the two project meetings in Italy and Romania and I'm still in touch with them via facebook."
"Creating your own radio show is something I teach to primary school children; it was fascinating to see how they did this in another country and the issues they were faced with."

To put it concisely, it's a culturally and socially enriching experience that will stay with you forever: this appears to be the overall feeling.