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Jabiz Raisdana: Helping Others Embrace the Learning Potential of Digital Media
After spending just a couple minutes with Jabiz Raisdana, you quickly realize he is not your average teacher. When you ask him how his school year is going, you won't hear stories about the woes of standardized testing or disengaged students. Instead, Raisdana will proudly tell you about his school's growing familiarity with blogging and Google Apps. Or how his students are studying photography and filmography by producing their own content and sharing it online. He wears his passion on his sleeve and his positivity is infectious.
Geographically, Raisdana is a California native but has been teaching internationally for the past eight years, including stints in Malaysia, Qatar and—most recently—the Sinarmas World Academy in Jakarta, Indonesia. His experience in international education environments has provided Raisdana with a broader perspective on the learning process. "If you're always worried about getting through content and meeting standards, I think you shortchange kids that way. My units might be planned for six weeks; sometimes it takes ten weeks. I think you need to afford that time to be able to let kids settle into something before they have to move on to the next thing," he said.
Asked if he could point to a certain period in his own life where he first started considering a teaching career, Raisdana recalled the influence of his own mentors: "When I was in high school, I had some amazing English teachers in particular that planted the seed. [...] Ever since I was a junior in high school, I knew I wanted to teach," he said. "Now that I'm doing it, I can't imagine doing anything else. It's been a very natural fit for me."
As he started down his own teaching path, Raisdana came to realize that emerging media platforms provided more learning possibilities to himself and his students: "While I love Literature and while I love to write, and while I think text is fantastic and books and writing are my passion, I realize that literacies are changing. We experience a lot of what text used to do through new media. I think it's important for everyone to be able to have those literacies."
Raisdana's genuine fascination with the world of digital media and technology has made tech implementation in his classroom feel very natural. "When people ask me how I use technology in my classroom, I am always a bit stumped. I use it the same way I do in my everyday life - to gather, create, share, capture life around me with a community of people," he wrote in a Feb. 2012 blog post. Even his students are impressed with his widespread knowledge of digital tools: "I think understanding digital media is a huge skill set that kids should have, and it's fun. […] I have kids all the time come up to me, like, 'How do you know about all these sites?!' I'm just, like, 'You know what, I'm out there playing around and figuring it out.' Whatever I find I think is fun or useful, I bring to my classroom."
On his Intrepid Teacher blog, in addition to his growing Flickr gallery, Raisdana candidly shares highlights of classroom lessons and lays out his personal teaching philosophy. "I want to empower students to not only seek answers, but be able to raise essential questions, by creating less of a classroom and more of a community, a place where both teacher and student set forth to share knowledge and increase understanding. As a lifelong learner myself, I hope to learn as much from my students as they learn from me," he writes.
The evident passion for and knowledge of "all things digital" led Raisdana to help kick-start a Sinarmas World Academy project entitled "eHub" that overhauled their existing Content Management System and provided teachers with ongoing training on how to use the technology. Raisdana admits that leading the training has been especially helpful for him as an additional "learning tool" where he "learns by teaching teachers."
We developed this team of teachers from various departments […] we decided to get rid of that content management system we had and replace it with a K-12 WordPress blogging platform to basically be more of a communicative tool for: portfolios, student and teacher interaction, teacher-parent interaction and so on. And then Google Apps for Education became the back end where we are putting our curriculum in Google Docs and building Google Sites to house all the rubrics, all the resources. So, as a seven-person team, we've been just kind of building the airplane as it's in the sky. We're figuring it out and learning it and contacting other people in Asia that are doing similar things.
All the kids right now from six through twelve have their own blogs and are, at least, building portfolios and getting the hang of it. […] But the goal is eventually to have eHub be the way we disseminate information to parents, we're hoping that parents join the commenting and interact with their kids' learning through blogs. […] So it's not just a tool people learn, it's the skills behind using various tools that we think is one of the main points of the project.
While eHub adoption has been picking up speed over the last few months, Raisdana is realistic enough to recognize that it's not all sunshine and rainbows. "I'm having some issues trying to get kids to blog authentically because I think they're still looking at it as a school assignment," he observed. "It's been a push to get them to really share themselves authentically on their blogs. My theory is that they do it in other places; you know, who wants to share their thoughts with their teacher? So, I'm trying to get them to understand that there's a middle ground. They don't have to share their deepest, darkest secrets, but they can build a professional online persona, so to speak."
His position as the resident IT coach has helped Raisdana stay abreast of the technological landscape and form educated opinions on what tools work best for Sinarmas World Academy and his classroom: "It makes me really critically think about things so I have to say 'Hey, you know what, if I'm promoting this so much and people are doubting it, why are they doubting it and what do I think about it?'"
On the plus side, Raisdana has been able to create some technological converts along the way by helping others recognize the learning potential in networking and online community participation. "I act more like a node in a network," he explained. "I'll say 'Hey, you should talk to so-and-so in Vietnam or so-and-so is doing stuff that you'd be interested in in Korea.' And then they'll come back to me and say, 'Yeah, I can't believe Twitter is so useful. I thought it was so lame.' Having those kinds of connections build up is making it worth it."
"The idea of community building is really important to me," Raisdana said. Given his own pedagogical philosophy in which he visualizes his classroom as "less of a classroom and more of a community", this statement comes as no surprise. "I'm trying to find ways to get kids to feel comfortable creating communities in our classroom using some of the techniques and the tools I have learned online, ultimately hoping that—once they are able to do that—I can connect them to other burgeoning communities and other schools throughout the world."
Raisdana recognizes that it can be demanding to devote time outside the classroom to personal learning: "Teachers, a lot of times, come to me and expect to 'learn it all' at once," he said. "One of the things that all this technology has taught me is that it's constantly changing and we're constantly evolving and growing. The point isn't to 'learn it all,' the point is to constantly be learning."
Raisdana—who also finds time for reading, filmmaking, and guitar playing—would undoubtedly argue that the payoff is worthwhile: "The fact that I am constantly learning new things is going to mean that my teaching is constantly going to remain fresh. I have to take the new things I'm learning, analyze them and synthesize them and then be able to teach them to other people. And I think that's such a more exciting pedagogy than 'Here's a bunch of information in a box, let me just show you how to access it'."
Personal Story compiled by Jon Barilone
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Jabiz is a teacher at United World College of South East Asia in Singapore, and a self-described "intense and passionate storyteller."