Cut the excuses, cut the crap… we’re professionals…

I just read an excellent blog post which mirrors my exact feelings on all this recent discussion and bla bla about curricula and education in Malta. This throwing back and forth remarks and statements made mostly by bureaucrats in a politics match throwing in nice buzz words which are meant to impress… in my opinion, impresses very little at all.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a discussion organised by the Faculty, with Education Division officials. I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting to be honest, but somehow, very sadly I have to admit that my gut feeling that all this Curriculum framework will hardly be implemented the way it is intended increases with every passing day.

The blog post which inspires my thoughts today says clearly: “cut the excuses and start leading”.

I think this is really so true. Every day I hear so many excuses, every day I find myself facing people, teachers and Educators mounting walls upon walls by saying that Education which empowers, Innovation in Education, is impossible to achieve. I hear it from administrators as well and this is even more worrying. I have looked at the proposed syllabi which are being piloted with schools, and I must say this: I find them extremely disappointing. I feel that I have wasted away a day attending a curriculum framework conference where everybody seemed to be talking straight out of a text book, because looking at these “curricula” (I have no idea why subject syllabi are being called Curricula with a degree of persistence…) I feel that these are an insult to the intelligence and autonomy to any Education profession who invests passion and energy for the empowerment of the students who are at the front.

When I pointed out that after all, no esteemed professional, expected his work to be written out for him/her, I was told that teaching is unlike any other profession. This much is true, but it doesn’t warrant treating professionals as idiots and foresaking the trust which such a dignified profession warrants. I find that the more information we give out, the more “lectures” we give, the less creative outputs are given.

I look at my 2 and a half year old son. I trust my precious iPhone in his hands and he manages wonders. This little boy, who certainly cannot read and is just starting to find out about life, can handle the iPhone apps with a degree of confidence which is amazing. He even manages to take pictures of his favourite Buzz toy. I honestly swear that I have never ever sat down with him and gave him a full PowerPoint presentation of how to use it. I merely downloaded some game apps for him, gave him the mobile, and let him play around. I never tell him not to do anything for it, now he can use the paint apps, he actually chooses the game apps he wants to play with, and he’s happy. Bottom line is: if a 2 year old, can really learn on his own by letting him creatively explore a little bit the technology, why on earth do we have to tell our adult teachers exactly how to carry out a lesson step by step. Heck, on the ICT syllabus they even tell them which YouTube video to show to class… duh!!! Come on people, cut this crap… a new Curriculum framework is being proposed, where words like creativity, innovation, learner-centredness come in profusely… and the administrators in charge of the schools and the teachers, just cannot come to terms with it. We keep talking about teaching teachers how to use the tools… and how – you might wish to ask? But by training of course… hours of sitting in on endless professional development talks which interest (at best) very few. Why don’t we cut the crap and let the leaders lead? Why don’t we let teachers explore? Investigate? Finally produce something? Why do we still tie our teachers with rigid syllabi following the SEC exams? What are we doing? We have removed our secondary school entry exams, we have integrated all the learners together, we have “TOLD” (note the emphasis) teachers they have to practice differentiated learning, we have created levels (which is a farce in my opinion) but THEN… we have to make students sit for common national exams drawn up by a handful of persons per subject who are deciding the whole Education system in Malta… this is crazy….this is simply crazy…

I ask – will we ever get to practicing what we preach?



Vienna…’exquisite’ HUB for social innovators

So I did manage to spend my birthday in Austria… I wished I could have spent it home with my son, but my plans were slightly disrupted.

I started out with a visit to Linz, a SOCIONICAL project meeting was held at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, and it was overall very nice.

ARS Electronica, Linz

ARS Electronica, Linz

I especially liked the ARS Electronica Centre… extremely unique in its architectural design. The day after I travelled by train to Vienna (the OBB are slightly more expensive than WEST but travelling in comfort has no real price I guess – so well I opted for the OBB).

The reason for visiting Vienna was to check out the Vienna HUB. At the University of Malta, we are in the process of creating our own virtual world HUB and we would very much like to recreate the same atmosphere as in the live real thing.

So what is the HUB? This is a video explaining the concept and well, this concept has taken off in a great number of countries all across the world.

Visiting the Vienna HUB was a really nice experience. I mean I thought it was quite – the word which came to mind then, was exquisite… the decor, the style, the people around…I felt I could really stay there and do some work over there. I mean I would even have been inspired to think about some social innovation business… maybe using Virtual Worlds? Oh, I really and honestly wanted to connect then.. with someone, to discuss, to brainstorm.

The HUB - ViennaSo the bottom line is: how can we design a virtual world which reflects the same experience or atmosphere, as to the real HUB? What we cannot do is definitely recreate the same ambience…

My thoughts so far are to capitalize on the affordances of Virtual Worlds to be able to create an experience which offers its users, that which the real HUB cannot offer.

My initial design reactions would be oriented towards:

  1. Communication which extends beyond geographical borders, time and space, therefore the virtual HUB is open 24/7 and extends to all the global HUBS from Argentina to the Bay Area, to Malta?? So how to design the world so as to foster this aspect of communication. Since Virtual Worlds are persistent, then the overall physical design of the world facilitates this. However we need something else besides buildings, open spaces, libraries, etc. We need agents roaming around, in addition to volunteer avatars, to greet people, to show them around… to make them feel welcome and definitely not lost.
  2. The aspect of creation. Creation and creativity is an important aspect for social innovators. If the virtual HUB can give its users the possibility of visualizing their dreams into a 3D world structure, to test it out, without running the dangers attributed to real world implementation – taking the risk without really risking if you know what I mean, then I think that is one aspect which definitely cannot be derived from the real HUB.
  3. The importance of the content, or the reconciliation of meaningful content in context. Without this ‘meaningful content’ there cannot exist the right amount of self-efficacy which would justify the extended presence into the social virtual world rather than using the real world experience only.

I would say that limitations and challenges are various. I will probably speak more about them, as we get to the actual development stage.However I am looking forward to seeing tangible products and being able to experiment with the various parameters as we seek results into future virtual worlds research.

Things I have learnt so far… this week – the Proteus effect

This week I was writing my thesis… (for a change) and I came across a term which I had already come across before but which is interesting to note again. If we’re discussing the virtual environment irrespective of 2D or 3D platforms, we have to take into consideration how the individuals represent themselves. There are those people who actually say that they feel more comfortable communicating over social networks for example than in real life. There are those people who actually have a parallel life running on the 3D world, whether this is a social world or a game world.

So Yee and Bailenson, in 2007, coined the term “The Proteus Effect” which basically describes how the way people behave in the virtual environment is dependent pretty much on the representation in the online world. So if in a virtual world, the avatar is attractive, and tall, then the behavior of the avatar becomes more assertive, confident, bordering on the aggressive in game contexts. Popularity also increases amongst the other avatars and this could lead to a more productive behavior.

Now my avatar, enaV Follet, is a pretty brunette, with short hair (all over the place) and a motorcyclist outfit… what does THAT say about me, I wonder? 😉

Of #pencilchat and more…igniting the spark

A couple of days ago, I couldn’t help but seeing this new #pencilchat going round in my twitter feeds on tweet deck. So I couldn’t help but become intrigued. At first glance it wasn’t much but then, the amounts of tweets piqued my curiousity…finally my curiosity got the better of me and I started trying to trace its origins. The more the tweets kept coming, the more I couldn’t really trace how it all started the more curious I became. Then edteck curated a series of #pencilchat logs, that served to add more info to what was happening.

View the story “#Pencilchat Log” on Storify

However today I finally managed to come across the whole point of where it all started from. The article was submitted by John Spencer and you can read more about his: Meme, Myself and I and it presents an interesting perspective. However what is really remarkable and worth thinking about in this case, is this…
Once again we come across a phenomenon whereby one person lights a spark…and the subject matter, although central to the conversation is rather irrelevant. One person triggers this domino or viral effect across a social network and that’s it… suddenly the argument, the topic, the content, whatever it is, comes alive… really it takes a life of its own. As the original author put it, he merely started something as a “light-hearted satire” to voice out his thoughts on a matter, that so many people have implied in so many ways and yet… only this person managed to ignite the right spark.

The chat logs about this issue say it all. So many people want to participate in, so many people want to contribute in their own ways. If we can initiate this type of attitude in the classroom, if we manage to ignite the spark that catches fire, and takes a life of its own, led by the people, by everyone, then I think we can unlock this rubic puzzle of how to improve learning in the classrooms. Why do teachers keep persisting that they are at the centre of all knowledge? Why do parents keep insisting that the teachers should be the centre of all knowledge? Why can’t we appreciate that everyone can have some knowledge to contribute to? What can’t we appreciate that teachers are far more intelligent beings with a passion and a vocation to help people but not to have to be told exactly what to do? We need teachers to ignite the spark and we need learners to catch up to the spark…

The gist of my 2c worth of thoughts is this: let’s start igniting sparks so that maybe we light a fire that can propagate throughout. It’s infectious, and it’s also fun… read the threads for the pencilchat… they’re entertaining at the least…

National Curriculum Framework for Malta – what’s bugging me?

So in Malta a new National Curriculum Framework is being proposed. There has been extensive work on the documentation side, with a great number of documents which indicate the direction which this proposed curriculum framework seeks. So well, the big question is “what’s bugging me?” I mean why is it that I feel skeptical towards its implementation?

I cannot really flaw the documents presented, so what’s wrong? As a starting point, I did attend the NCF conference/info session last Friday 2nd December in Malta, and there are a few things which left a negative impression; this is my 2cents worth of thoughts about them.

At one point we were shown a number of video recordings showing students, pre-teens and teens speaking about their views about the proposed curriculum. I mean, these video clips were staged – and if not staged then the students were very well briefed, which is akin to staging… why show these in the first place? do we really want to see what we want to see? do we want to show what we want to see? or do we, in the name of research want to see the truth? Is it too negative to be shown? better show nothing in that case, and forget about the term consultation…

Next point is this… the panel discussions. Aren’t panel discussions supposed to stimulate enthusiasm and as the term implies – discussions??!! helloooo… there were some panels, which were incredibly tedious, boring and 5 mins were not short enough. We were given lectures in the various areas of interest pertinent to the speakers, but unfortunately many of the lectures were hardly of interest and what was even worse was that they didn’t even answer the panel question which was glaring down at them from the screen… please give us a break…ha!

Another issue with the panel discussions was their lengthy talk. Can someone check if people on panels know how to present properly, maybe even be given basic courses in for example timing their talk? How can you try to stretch, beyond the wildest trails which imagination can hold, a 20minute (mild average taken) talk into 5 minutes.

The next issue was the voice of the teachers…those upon whom the whole curriculum rests. There was presence from academia, admin, directors and other societal organisations. A survey was held, numbers presented… but why is it that when I speak to teachers, I mean physically, I get completely different feedback. Why is it that teachers are rather unhappy in the way this is going to be implemented? Why is it that we haven’t heard the real concerns from the people who are going to teach it? We need to get to the root of the problem – we cannot simply implement a solution – or any solution if we are not aware of the problem is…

So this brings me to my final point. I am very worried about the whole change management issue in schools is in effect being managed. Does someone realise that many people are saying the same thing – complaining about the one size fits all system… this is wrong and bla bla. So many people have told us… thank you very much. You are preaching to the converted! But how many people have offered the right approach which needs to be taken?  Has anyone considered there is something which is blatantly obvious in good, old Malta. Our whole society seems to depend on the SEC exams. You are either sitting for SEC or not, and if not, being a certificate-minded society we are sending students packing to other institutions to get their certifications elsewhere. So what do teachers do? They follow syllabi… they don’t really follow curricula do they? They look at a syllabus, follow it word by word, and then look out towards the light in our lives… the MATSEC exam. What do parents do? Parents send their kids to private tuition so their kids can pass the MATSEC exam? What do school admins and the education division do? They publish the MATSEC statistics, and show how good their school is doing in terms of students potentially able to further their education? I ask…well with all this rigid MATSEC examination system, how can the curriculum be properly put into practice? Ah well maybe that is the question which will determine our whole education system…

Things I have learnt so far…this week

Ok… so I wanted to create a category of posts with some of the things I have learnt, but I guess the posts would have no head nor tail here. So maybe it would be a good thing to categorise them by week. Every week or end of week, I shall try and summarise what I have learnt, whatever it is, whether it has to do with my studies or not, with my students or with the persons I interact with everyday.

So far I can say that today I have heard something, which even though I remember someone saying some time before, it feels good to repeat it over and over again.

To be a good teacher, I need to be a good learner. It’s a great insight which I think every teacher, educator or lecturer should follow. We are not the fountain of all knowledge. We can never be and more so today. No teacher should behave as if he or she is the centre of all the universe.



Games, learning and Society…

Ok – I haven’t posted something in ages… more than 3 months as it is. Now this is very bad and there is no justification even though I have been extremely busy. Now this means I have a lot of catching up to do, and reporting on what I have been up to so far.

New projects have been happening and I am always on the lookout for exciting conferences to attend. One such conference which I stumbled across recently is the GLS conference targeting the combination of video games and learning as is happening in the society we live in. The conference which boasts a serious lineup of names associated with games and game design, including James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, Eric Zimmerman, etc.

In this interview, James Paul Gee and Dan Norton, briefly speak about their visions for Game based learning and what the future can hold for the development of games for education. In reality, one thing which really struck me was when the interviewer asked Dan Norton what his greatest fear about the future of this field was, and he answered with: My greatest fear is that in 10 years time we’d still be talking about the things we’re talking about today – this is actually a great insight and it is applicable to everything we do in research and also practice. It is applicable to Education, and we really have to stop talking and start acting…taking measurable risks worth taking for the future we all want to see.