Transcript for ReSkilled Ep2: Informal vs Formal Learning
Episode released April 21, 2020
Jeff: [00:00:00] I'm Jeff Woodward, and this is ReSkilled.
So you've made a choice to learn something. Maybe it's something you've been thinking about for a while, like playing guitar or creating pivot tables in Excel, or maybe it's more spontaneous: unexpected layoffs mean you need to seek work in a different industry or... your child suddenly informs you that they want to go vegan.
What's your next step? Where do you turn to gain the new knowledge and skills you're looking for?
Well, a class offers the many benefits of formal learning: structure help from someone with teaching expertise and sometimes even the status of a well known institution or instructor.
On the other hand, informal learning, using resources such as YouTube videos or wikiHow articles offers you flexibility and affordability — rightly valuable in a world that often demands we move fast and think on our feet.
Becky Han is the very definition of an informal teacher. This Saskatchewan-based Inuktitut singer-songwriter has been singing in her language for her whole life, but she began posting short videos on Twitter and Instagram a couple of years ago to share her language and to teach people the proper pronunciation of common Inuktitut vocabulary.
I've been a fan of hers for quite a while, and though my Inuktitut isn't very good, I'd like to do my best to welcome her to the podcast.
Becky, tungasugit to ReSkilled.
How'd I do?
Becky Han: [00:01:33] That was pretty good. That was pretty good. Thank you. Thank you.
Jeff: So I guess we'll start— we'll dive right into the learning here. What did I just say to you?
Becky Han: [00:01:45] You said "welcome." Tungasugit.
Jeff: Oh, see, your pronunciation was quite a bit better.
Becky Han: A little better.
Jeff: That's awesome. So, yeah, we're here with Becky Han and she's an Inuk singer-songwriter, who for the past few years at least, that I've been following her on Twitter, has been also teaching people Inuktitut vocabulary and pronunciation via social media.
Before we get into that, I'll just get you to tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, Becky, and sort of where you're from and how you got into singing and writing songs, and then we'll talk about this little adventure into teaching people your language.
Becky Han: Yeah, sure. So as you said, I'm Becky Han, but I'm also known as Koonoo Han. That's my Inuktitut name. So a lot of people, especially on social media, know me as Koonoo Han, and they're surprised when I say I'm Becky. But yeah. I'm just a stay at home mom who likes to sing, and sing in her language, which is Inuktitut.
[Music: I’m Not Sad (the English translation of name) by Becky Han]
Becky Han: I grew up in Arctic Bay Nunavut. And that's where a lot of inspiration for my music comes from: home and the land and the people. And for the last decade and a bit, I've been writing in Inuktitut. And eventually started...creating, creating music. And slowly from that I started sharing it.
And to this day I'm still, I'm still making music. And spreading Inuktitut where I can online.
Jeff: [00:04:04] Awesome. so you currently live in Saskatoon, which probably a lot of people, at least in Canada, know where that is. Can you tell us how far Saskatoon is from Arctic Bay?
Becky Han: [00:04:19] Far! I don't even, I don't know if I want to know.
Jeff: [00:04:22] How many planes do you have to take to go home?
Becky Han: [00:04:26] If you're going through, you know, the main route which is Ottawa... at least three. If you're changing planes in Iqaluit —"iˈkæluɪt" but everyone says "eh-KAL-oh-it"— and then you go the last leg up to Arctic Bay.
Jeff: [00:04:46] And what's the, what's the Inuktitut name for Arctic Bay?
Becky Han: [00:04:51] Ikpiarjuk. Pocket. And a lot of people think that's where the name was inspired because the community is enclosed, with these mountains. Like we're surrounded by mountains. So yeah, you would think, okay, pocket makes sense.
But, actually, a very well respected elder in Arctic Bay who is turning... 101, I believe this summer, a hundred years old, said it actually means — Baffin Island is made up of so many tiny, tiny islands. That's where the meaning comes from. Ikpiarjuk. But a lot of people don't know that.
Jeff: [00:05:29] That is super cool, that's awesome. Thank you! I'm looking forward to learning a lot in the next little while.
Now did, did you grow up with your language?
Cause I know for a lot of Indigenous people, through many generations, weren't able or allowed. It really became, you know, something that was lost for a lot of families and a lot of nations across the country. What was your experience as a kid with your, with your language?
Becky Han: [00:05:55] Well, I feel really lucky because where I come from, in the North Baffin, in the high Arctic, that was your first language. Inuktitut.
And then English came second. Like in school, you didn't learn English until you were... maybe in grade four? But, I was one of the few where I was also, I also had English back home, but because my dad's from Ontario. But yeah, back home and growing up and still today, Inuktitut comes first.
And I feel... lucky for that. Because I know a lot of other Indigenous people didn't have that opportunity. No, I was lucky yeah.
Jeff: [00:06:44] Tell me a little bit about when and why you decided to start doing this — the simple vocabulary lessons on... I know you do it on Twitter and Instagram. Do you also have a Facebook that you do it on?
Becky Han: [00:06:55] I do have Facebook, but I just mainly keep it to Twitter. And it wasn't even supposed to become a thing. It was just... I was seeing these fun "Word of the Days" from, you know, other people, in other languages. And I was wondering… like, where is, where's Inuktitut? Like, there's many Inuktitut-speaking people and people who want to learn our language that... I'm sure would appreciate this.
So I just started... I just started. Word of the Days. And it's not, you know, a continuous, structured, scheduled thing. It's just spur of the moment. "Oh, this would be a cool phrase or a fun word."
Jeff: You saying that you didn't set out for it to become a thing, leads me to believe that has, in fact, become a thing. So have you gotten a lot of feedback from people about it?
Becky Han: All the feedback I've gotten like this far is just... positivity, which is so encouraging and lovely. Because it is, you know, a smaller, "different" quote-unquote language that you don't hear every day. So I was curious and kind of waiting to see what the feedback would be and... like to this day, just nothing but support.
Jeff: You mentioned that it's a small language—how many native Inuktitut speakers would there be? And, and I know a little bit about this, but not very much so, again, please correct me if I'm wrong, that an Indigenous, speaker from Alaska speaks a different version than an Indigenous speaker from, say, Greenland, correct?
Becky Han: Yes. Exactly. So there's Greenland, there's Alaska, there's Nunavut, and then you have your Northern Quebec. And... there's so many different dialects in between that. But what's amazing about Inuit and people all over the Arctic is... there's so many similarities where you can almost pick up and understand what they might be saying.
Becky Han: And it's just really fascinating to be able to, to see that, and learn that from other, from other Indigenous people. Because we get to kind of learn and compare just sharing.
Jeff: Yeah, I would imagine.
Becky Han: That is what, yeah, I love about social media.
Jeff: Yeah. And so then do you end up sort of having, you know, if you share... like, what was your word of the day yesterday?
Becky Han: One... of the most recent ones was how to say beautiful or handsome.
[audio from social media post] The word handsome and beautiful in Inuktitut is: "iniqunaqtuq." I-ni-qu-naq-tuq. Iniqunaqtuq... I find you beautiful.
Jeff: And so like when you, when you share that, like, do you hear from, from, you know, people in Greenland or Alaska who go, "Oh hey, this is, this is how we say it."
Becky Han: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Or it's like— or people from Labrador who are like, "Oh, that's how we say it, except just this slight difference…" And it's just, yeah, amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, that's cool. I— years and years ago, I lived in Ireland and it's really fascinating because it's kind of a dead language.
It's a similar thing— they were also colonized by the English and, and made to not speak their language for 200 years and then it sorta came back and— but there's these little pockets in really rural places in Ireland where, where they kept speaking at the whole time and so their pronunciation would be more, I guess, sort of... it hasn't evolved in the same way.
And so you have these slightly different dialects, in places that are like 30 miles apart. It's bizarre, but really wild— like really amazing, right?
Another interesting thing in the, and I'm curious if this is something in Inuktitut as well, because you guys, you know, it's pretty isolated up there. So in, in Irish, there's no word for like, "bus." Uh, so bus in Irish is just "bus" with these sort of, Irish phonetics for, you know, a vehicle kind of thing? And so I'm curious if there's sort of a similar 21st century evolution in Inuktitut?
Becky Han: Absolutely! There is a couple... well, more than a couple. But a couple of that I'll give you is... Chocolate. We don't have a word for chocolate, so we call it kuku. Which comes from cocoa, and that's our chocolate.
And then with sugar, it's— again, suka, because we don't have— there wasn't sugar, right?
Jeff: Sure. Why would there be?
Becky Han: So it came to us. So now we call it suka.
Jeff: Awesome. That's really cool. Um, so let me ask you — I mean, obviously you didn't, you didn't intend to become a teacher, but you sort of have by accident and now you are, um.
Do you think of yourself as someone who enjoys learning? Like have you always been a really curious, and sort of, like, intellectually curious person?
Becky Han: Fairly so, but I think... I think mainly it comes just from pride from my language and my heritage, right?
And, I don't really consider myself a teacher, far from it, just, just another... person online. Who is on social media, who wants to share something. Because everyone that's on social media is either there to learn or there to share, and... that's just what I enjoy doing.
Jeff: Yeah, that's—that's an awesome lens on social media. I think that's, that's social media at its best. That everyone's there to learn and share.
So I mean, it's obviously an informal and, and I guess, you know, no one sort of comes to you looking for, you know, lessons per se. But do you get requests like,"oh, I want to know how to say…." You know, I don't know. "Snowmobile," or "hockey" in Inuktitut so that I can share it with my kids, and stuff like that?
Becky Han: I do! I do. And I'm willing to educate and share. If they're willing to learn and they have an interest, I'm more than happy to help them out and spread, you know, Inuktitut, my language, wherever I can.
Jeff: Amazing. What will often twig your word of the day?
Becky Han: Oh, just... it can, it can be totally random, or it could be... my mood that day.
It could be from a conversation I've had, you know, building up to that or what I've seen online that day, whether it's someone else's word of the day... and it's always random.
Jeff: Awesome. And now you, you're a singer and a songwriter, and you sing primarily, in Inuktitut.
Becky Han: [00:14:18] Yeah. Yup, yup.
Jeff: [00:14:19] And so, you know, it obviously has different sort of grammar and structure and sort of sound set than many Western languages. Does that change how you write music?
Becky Han: It's definitely a different style. I don't want to say challenging because it's just different. And you have to kind of change your thought process because Inuktitut is... it's more literal than English.
So you can't— it's not really possible to… translate English to Inuktitut literally because then it doesn't make sense. So you have to kind of approach it from just a different angle and it might just take a little longer to get that same message or feeling across, but it's definitely fun to explore that and to try and express it in that language.
Jeff: Yeah, I would think. And so you say Inuktitut is literal. So there's not the same sort of metaphor or simile that you have in English, is that what you're saying?
Becky Han: Exactly.
Jeff: Wow. That has got to be very challenging as a songwriter.
Becky Han: Yeah, yep yep it is.
Jeff: Awesome. So let me ask you—I'm going to put you on the spot here. I'm wondering if you might be able to teach me how to pronounce a word?
Becky Han: ...Sure!
Jeff: Um, so I assume there's no word for "podcast," so we'll skip that. But, is there an Inuktitut word for "learning?"
Becky Han: Yes. Learning would be ilinniarniq.
Jeff: Oh god.
Becky Han: [laughter]
Jeff: Okay, here we go. So give me that one more time.
Becky Han: EE.
Becky Han: Leen.
Becky Han: Niar.
Becky Han: Niq.
Becky Han: Ilinniarniq!
Becky Han: There you go.
Jeff: It's a—there's a lot of a tongue at the edge of your throat, uh, sort of verbalization, eh?
Becky Han: Yes.
Jeff: All right. Thanks so much for joining us, Becky Han. I uh, I really appreciate you sharing your, your knowledge and, and your pride of your language with us today on ReSkilled.
Becky Han: Thank you so much.
Jeff: Take care, Becky.
Becky Han: Thanks. You too.
[Music: I’m Not Sad (the English translation of name) by Becky Han]
Jeff: David hay is a teacher with a long history of innovation and creation. After graduating from the University of Alberta, David began as a high school physics teacher. Since then, he has taught at both the secondary and primary levels.
For the past several years, he's been a consultant with the Elk Island School District in Alberta, helping them integrate technology and innovation into their classrooms.
He's currently working with Callisto, a nonprofit organization to develop an online data science course that will help teachers integrate modern data analysis and computational thinking in their day to day work with students.
Thanks for being with us, David. If we could start with you just telling us a little bit about your journey as a teacher and sort of, if you want to start, you know, right out of university, fresh, fresh, new teacher to, to now in, in sorta five minutes or less, and just tell us a little bit about, how you got there from here.
David Hay: [00:19:48] Well, my journey as a teacher— we can even roll back to before I became a teacher. I never really intended to be a teacher. I thought I'd go to university and do a science degree, and my parents and high school guidance counselors suggested perhaps a teaching degree at the same time would be a good idea.
And the University of Alberta was implementing their combined-degree program where you can do both in five years at the time. And so I went through, through that program and really.... Fell in love with the teaching part of the process and ended up going into education, as a teacher, right out of university, and teaching high school science. At the time.
And always being involved in technology as well. I took a programming course in university, but mostly it's been self-taught in terms of my love of technology and even in my student teaching experience, I was implementing new technology things. Using "cutting-edge" technologies like PowerPoint and, and video games and other things like that at the time to, to introduce students to concepts and to try to foster engagement and motivation to be, looking at the content and the skill outcomes.
Jeff: Awesome. Yeah, I was... I didn't want you to date yourself, but I was going to ask what sort of cutting edge technologies you used as a student teacher.
David Hay: [00:21:16] Yeah. I wasn't quite in the, uh, Gestetner and a slide projector kind of being technology, era. But uh, I've been around with educational technology for a while.
And it's always been computer-based technology, anyway.
Jeff: [00:21:33] Cool! So you've really run the gamut and been a, I would say, an early adopter of technology as you've been a teacher.
And so I guess, where I'd love to start, is if you could tell me just a little bit as a, you know, as a long time classroom teacher and, and a consultant, how has your relationship, specifically around sort of distance learning or online learning evolved over the years, uh, as a teacher?
David Hay: [00:21:59] I think one of the big shifts that I've experienced in my own thinking about this is the idea that it's not as much about content. When I started with, with all of this, — and in fact that teaching isn't as much about content. Especially these days, there is so much content available that if you want to learn how to change the faucets on your sink you can watch a YouTube video about that.
Or there are all sorts of these… learning opportunities that are available, but the... the value-add that we have as educators is around the relationships that we can build. That the students want connection. And as, as human beings, we want to be able to, to bounce ideas off of each other and encourage motivation and to, to think about "how will this work in our environment or in our context" and, and all of those other sorts of things.
So really the connection needs to be first.
Jeff: [00:23:06] Yeah. It's interesting. That's, I mean, that's obviously something we [at Onlea] encounter in virtually every course that we build with the, with subject matter experts and, and that way to sort of create community or create feedback — that feedback loop.
And it's interesting that you touched, uh, right off the top on sort of the, the, the topic of this episode, which is formal versus informal learning.
And one of the most easily identifiable forms of informal learning is: I need to learn how to do that, go to YouTube.
And so let's just, let's just tug on that thread a little bit. And, so obviously, as you said, there's tons of content available, to teach very specific skills or, or, uh, outcomes.
But when you need to do more abstract things like build community or, or, you know, create critical thinking, stuff like that... how do you find, how do you find yourself sort of approaching, building that stuff when you can't be in the room with the person?
David Hay: [00:24:09] I think there are a number of different approaches to building content as well as building community. And I guess to look at building community, it really depends on the comfort level of the teacher and of the students.
Although generally students can be pretty flexible with whatever platform you're, you're throwing in the mix. They will, they'll pick it up. But really to think about what will the interactions look like in terms of timeframes, in terms of synchronous and asynchronous, how will you continue to connect.
And to some extent, where are the students at? If they are all avid Instagram users, then perhaps Instagram should be a platform that you, you look at increasing interaction on.
Or if they are— I mean, I wouldn't recommend tick-tock or, or other things like that. But, to, to think about where the students are at, what is their experience like online, and how can you foster that in your online environment as well.
Jeff: [00:25:18] So what I'm hearing, and I want to make sure I'm not projecting this, is a little bit that you can kind of create a.. almost a classroom structure, on any platform if you're willing to sort of figure out how to work it.
David Hay: [00:25:31] Yeah, absolutely. And, and different platforms have different "affordances," as they say, that some are much better for particular ways of doing things.
And at some point you're probably going to need a Learning Management System of some sort that is like your, you know, your bookshelf. The, the place where all the stuff sort of lives. And then you pulled the things out or push the things on to there that students are using.
But... there are definitely a thousand flowers blooming in this space that you can, can be using.
Jeff: [00:26:04] Yeah. That's cool though. I mean, it wouldn't have even occurred to me that you could, you know, maybe do picture books on Instagram or something like that. Right?
David Hay: Oh, absolutely.
Jeff: Yeah. That's awesome. Um, so you've had the unique experience of also building lesson plans for students and for teachers.
Uh, are there differences in the way you structure lessons for kids versus for educators?
David Hay: [00:26:25] Absolutely. There's a big difference in terms of motivation, for the most part. That generally when I'm called to.... to do some sort of activity with teachers, the teachers have a specific reason for being there. Whether it's something that they're interested in, something they've been trying, and they have some questions about. Or, at the very least, something that their leadership has pointed them towards. So there's generally a lot more motivation in terms of that.
Some people do say that teachers make terrible students, but that that, hasn't been my experience. That generally, the, the things that I'm doing, I suppose, have been more optional things. And so I have, perhaps, say, a more selected audience because of that.
But, but teachers are generally… they are really lifelong learners. Because we are, we're encouraging our students to do this. And so teachers think nothing of, well, on Saturday afternoon I'm going to sit down and learn how to do this, or I'm going to take some time to figure this out.
And they also have the added advantage of knowing that they are going to have to teach this. And that's something that research has shown, is that... learning with the intent of being able to teach something is much — you'll learn it to a much better level and detail, because you know that you have that audience afterwards.
Whereas if it's just something you're learning, and there's no practical application of it, that might be a bit of a struggle.
But that being said, with, with students, we of course have the added advantage that they are a captive audience in terms of, they need to get through this process. The government has mandated that they should be attending school or... they have this life goal of getting into some sort of post--secondary or, or things like that. And so that can definitely contribute to motivation.
Jeff: [00:28:25] So do you think that everyone enjoys learning if they see the point of it?
David Hay: [00:28:35] Oh, that's a good question. I would say that could probably be argued. That if there is a good application for the learning or if they, they are realizing and choosing... I think we are probably wired to want to learn things.
Jeff: [00:28:52] Do you have a "David Hayes Philosophy of Teaching?"
David Hay: [00:28:56] Oh, I don't know that I've ever really formalized it.
I suppose one of the phrases I find myself repeating often is that, that teaching is not about imparting knowledge, but it's more about curating resources and providing motivation.
That really, if you're doing those things, that is what education is about.
Jeff: [00:29:20] That's interesting. And so, I mean, if you actually keep it that simple, that really applies to any medium where you're going to teach, and really any audience.
You just got to figure out who they are and how to reach them. Right?
David Hay: [00:29:31] Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: [00:29:33] I'm getting a sense that, that, for you as a, as a learner and as a teacher, the sort of major difference in formal versus informal inquiry from a learner, is really one of motivation.
Um. And first of all, is that, am I making a correct assumption? Do you think, or—
David Hay: [00:29:57] I would say, I mean, you earlier asked me to think about the difference between formal and informal learning, and I don't know that I have a a solidified definition in my mind. But I would say it's something along the lines of whether they…
I, I love talking about motivation and I feel like this is what makes the world go round. But, but whether the motivation is extrinsic or intrinsic, I would say, is what makes the difference between formal and informal learning. Whether it's somebody else pointing at what you should be doing or yourself thinking, "What is my end goal and how do I get there?"
Jeff: [00:30:34] Yeah, that, that makes a ton of sense. And, and it's interesting for me, as someone who is responsible for building online learning tools, that's sort of the holy grail. Is that you can, if you can make a learning tool that... not replicates Google, but replicates that falling-down-a-rabbit-hole journey. And you don't have to force a learner to follow a path, they can choose their own adventure, almost, and just chase their curiosity.
David Hay: [00:31:02] Yeah, exactly. I often think about how do we replicate... I really think Wikipedia is one of the greatest human achievements, this online information source that's freely available in multiple languages to anywhere in the world.
But how can we sort of replicate that, like you say, rabbit hole. The Wikipedia click a link, and then, oh, click the next link, and suddenly it's two o'clock in the morning and you're reading about something that you've never heard of.
That sort of learning process is something that is very interesting.
Jeff: [00:31:36] Binge learning. The next, the next big thing, eh?
David Hay: [00:31:41] love that term.
Jeff: [00:31:43] It's, yeah. Well, it's... I don't think it's a real term, but it's, it's something—
David Hay: [00:31:47] I think I'm going to steal that though.
Jeff: [00:31:50] You're welcome.
Awesome. This has been a really great and informative conversation, uh, David.
I appreciate you taking the time to visit with us and, and talk a little bit about what you do.
Um. Do you have any last words of wisdom to, to share with us about, about learning that, that you're just dying to, to leave our audience with today?
David Hay: [00:32:12] I don't know that I've ever really had any words of wisdom. But, uh, at this point I'd really say that the, the main thing is, as I've said before, about connection with students, with learners, and with people.
And that's something we are all as a society now struggling with. Is, how do we stay connected? How do we feel connected — whether it's during this pandemic time, or really just in an era of social media and binge-watching and all of these… things that tend to draw us away from people, perhaps.
How do we, how do we stay connected and stay engaged that way? And that's something we definitely need to be thinking about and struggling with.
Jeff: [00:32:57] Yeah, that's a, it's a wonderful and important challenge to take on and, and I appreciate you spending some time to help us, hopefully connect some dots for some people out there in the audience.
David Hay: [00:33:10] And thank you for having me. It's been fun.
Jeff: [00:33:12] Awesome. Thanks David.
David Hay: [00:33:14] Take care.
Jeff: [00:33:15] As you can hear from both our guests, our common thread between formal and informal learning is the passion of the teachers.
It was especially interesting to me to learn that seemingly any planet. Form can be a learning platform if that's where the audience is and if the instructor can use it effectively.
Whether it's Becky using social media to teach her language or a teacher using the more formal learning management system to share lessons with students at home, they need to consider what's best for the learners they're trying to reach.
It's pretty amazing, actually. When it's done right, learning really is for everyone.
That's it for this episode. We hope you enjoyed hearing from our guests as much as we enjoyed speaking with them.
For more information about their work, check the show notes for links.
ReSkill is brought to you by Onlea, an e-learning production company located in the heart of Edmonton, Canada.
This episode was produced by William Fritzberg, Mel Guille, Adriana Lopez Forero, Beau Desaunier, and me, Jeff Woodward.
The music you heard in this episode was I'm not sad, which is the English translation by Becky Han.
If you enjoyed this episode of ReSkilled, you can subscribe wherever podcasts are found. And please, also consider rating and reviewing the show—it really helps us out!
Thanks again for listening to ReSkilled.