Virtual Worlds – an enhancement to learning or a distraction?

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Last Thursday I participated in the #chat2lrn series with the title Virtual Worlds – an enhancement to learning or a distraction? It was actually great, the hour just flew and in the end I thought that I had had an overview of what some people think about in terms of virtual worlds.

The link to the #chat2lrn blog site, can be found here. I do suggest checking out the links, as they are quite interesting to read about. I hope I did manage to expand my network of connections, especially those working in the area of Virtual Worlds. My personal thoughts are that I should try to write a bit more about my views on Virtual Worlds and how these can in reality both enhance and enrich the learning experience as well as, if used incorrectly, prove to be not only a distraction to learning but also a demotivator in adopting them to teach and learn.

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The Messification of Assessments – where do we want to go from here?

Today I decided to post my views on an article I just read on the Times of Malta. The issue was really quite simple; our national board responsible for the local benchmark standardised exams, MATSEC, issued a rule – no beverages allowed during the examinations sessions – and after a few hours, during a weekend (which says quite a lot!!) the board issued a statement saying that it has revised this decision and thus reverting back to the original exam policies.

Now to be honest I don’t feel I should get into the merits of whether this is just or unjust. I find that real life may be far more unjust than a decision not to allow drinks during a mere 3-hour period.

Now I, for one, believe in flexibility and allowances. I wouldn’t work well if I didn’t eat or drink frequently. I am hypoglycemic – still I guess I never drank or ate during exams. I am sure I would have been hyped up before and after exams. But then again I always took exams very seriously.

Yet I am very sure that at many workplaces, very few people have the luxury of eating and drinking all the time, especially in a productivity environment. Check out those people working in manufacturing industry! I am also sure that surgeons wouldn’t be able to break off an operation to drink during the actual surgery – possibly before or after the operation, it would be quite sensible to eat or drink but not during. The same applies to plenty of other professions, so why should the student ‘profession’ somehow be exempt from so many other inherent rules that are built within our society.

What worries me the most however, are the comments and the remarks which one can see emergent from the Times’ long string of ad hoc commentators…first of all I have to say, that I find, very sadly, and at the cost of generalization, that the overall quality of many crowd sourced comments lacks (to put it mildly) – not just in terms of the argumentation posed, but also in their use of grammar and vocabulary of the language used. I saw one particular comment, which accused the decision taken by the board as being racist(!!???) – duh!! – racist for enforcing some disciplinary measures, and which as built on my previous arguments, many such work places also enforce? I find these types of comments not only unjustified but also unacceptable.

However I would also like to highlight some of my views on these assessment methods. Now I have to stop for a moment and specify that I am not living in fairy tale land and therefore I know that some form of benchmark assessment practices, in a country, are needed. Yet the way that we are shaping the whole Education system around these blessed Matsec exams is ridiculous. Teachers, parents, administrators, even students… many are of the belief that these exams will definitely show how able or not they are, to live and work in today’s world. This is in my opinion, our downfall.

It doesn’t mean at all, that if one passes these Matsec exams, one has a sound or a critical mind, that one is able to solve problems or that one is knowledgeable about certain topics. It doesn’t even mean that people have a good mastery of the English or Maltese language – let alone other subjects. At higher Education, much of the talks amongst academics concerns the poor level of academia which many of our students seem to show. When one sees the outcomes, then maybe one can discuss whether today’s exams are “harder” than exams which we sat for 20-30 years ago. I am sure they were different, they were suited to those times probably. I continue hoping that the exams have changed from those times, to suit what society needs from us in today’s world. What I really invite people to think about and consider, is that of the importance of young people to demonstrate what they know throughout their schooling years and not just in the 3-hour exam frame. What young people need to concern themselves with, is not that they have to protest to be able to drink during 3 hours, but they have to protest about the ways in which they can be given the opportunity  to generate enthusiasm for learning to be able to do something good. Without being too cynical I find that a good portion of today’s generation, are too self-centered to believe that one day, they can use some of the knowledge which they gather by living, from their schools, from their elders, and from the games they play, for the good of the world – to achieve something better for whoever will come after them.

Maybe after all, we are to blame because we are really spoiling our younger generations; by failing to fight our own battles and trying to fight our students’ battles instead – the magnitude of which is relative to whoever is fighting it.

We need to wake up really. What do we want to get from our younger generations? Where do we want to go? This – no drink during exams issue – is really the tip of the iceberg. The undercurrents run much deeper.

Principles of Game-like Learning – my reflections from Katie Salen’s Webinar #ConnectedLearning

Yesterday I was asked to participate in a Webinar organised by Connected Learning with the title: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning

Katie Salen was to be the featured speaker for the Webinar and the participant list is impressive. I have to say that it was an honour for me to be there alongside with Howard Rheingold, Cathie Howe, Randall Fujimoto and Katie Salen of course; all people who I follow and network with.

We might start asking the question “Why?”

Why does one choose the principles of game design, and apply them to learning? or even better, is there a true need for this? and why is there such a need for this? Does this all really mean that one simply inserts a couple of games into the school structure and hope for success? The answers to these questions can be found by following the Webinar which you can access from this link, but I have tried to post my own reflections here in this blog.

The Webinar started with a presentation by Katie Salen, as she went through the different aspects which drive learning projects like Quest to Learn as well as the new sister school in Chicago. The driving vision which emerges from these projects as well as from other projects concocted by the Institute of Play is that of a ‘connected learning‘, that overcomes the barriers that exist between learning and living. One of the first questions which triggered the set up of both schools, was ‘In what ways can the principles game design contribute to the design of connected learning?’

This posits a whole new dimension to the theories of learning and the theories of engagement as suddenly these are defined in terms of provocations, shifting the way people are indeed connected to the world. The design of learning within the school then takes on a different pathway, as all the parts of the learning system need to be redefined and re-dimensioned according to the holistic nature of the complex learning mechanisms.

Katie Salen, described games as beautiful models of systems, whereby in a dynamic system, having different choices, or altering rules, has an impact on the whole system. Therefore when we look at an Educational system, we cannot just take that which is considered to be only a small part of the system.

Recently there was TV program here in Malta on National TV and the main focus was the issue of teachers within the school system. The questions seemed to imply that the failures attributed t0 an Educational system are due to the teachers, the working conditions and even the way they are trained. In fact, if we apply the core principles of game design, and extrapolate them to an Educational system, the teachers themselves are only a wheel driving the system made up of many more components that are not only intertwined but are also heavily inter-dependent on each other. Therefore in answer to the question asked above, ‘can we just insert a couple of games and hope for success?’ – the answer is an emphatic NO.

In Katie Salen’s own words, we need to rethink schools in terms not just of classes and classroom space, but also in philosophical underpinnings, in terms of the pedagogy, in terms of leadership, of parents’ influence and interactions. The principles which game designers focus on, and which Katie Salen and her team took into consideration in the Quest to Learn project, were four and included:

  1. Create the need to know;
  2. Offer a space of possibility;
  3. Build opportunities for authority and the expertise to be shared;
  4. Support multiple, overlapping pathways towards mastery.

As one can note, these design principles, although being those which game designers tend to follow when designing successful games, can be easily extrapolated to schools and a design for learning.

So if we take the first principle, when designing learning, one needs to create that hunger to learn, to know, to achieve something without having to be told what one has to know, or even worse what one needs to know. At this moment, if we take into consideration, for example certain topics, say Fractions or decimals, most teaching is done around the fact that the students will have to answer a question or two about fractions and decimals in the exam paper, and that with enough practice, the students would be able to answer those questions, even blindfolded. At least, that is the way I have been taught and that is the way which I observe many people teaching even now. So Katie asks, what if, instead, we present students with interesting complex problems based on fractions or decimals, that actually the kids will need to know, without us having really to tell them that they are and they need to learn how to do fractions? It’s a tough challenge, and it requires brains, but I am sure the with the right professional attitude, teachers are more than equipped with the skills to transform this kind of learning.

When designing learning, when designing “syllabi” or these new curricula which are being designed for the state schools in Malta, can we really get to start with the content and try to move beyond. My observations of these ‘curricula’ is that the people who are doing them are really starting from the content and stopping there. In a connected learning model, we need to provide the space for people to grow and to mature in their quest for knowledge, and therefore we also need to design multiple ways of reaching content competencies. This is also why the discussion touched upon assessments and ways in which such competencies can ultimately be assessed.

A learning system, guided by these principles cannot be built on standardised forms of assessment only, and these standardised forms of assessment cannot be the driving force behind the content and how this is moulded throughout the kids’ growing years. In a connected learning model, knowledge sharing is giving priority over knowledge transfer and thus the teaching model, will merge slowly into a mentoring model, where kids have the freedom to grow and share with us their daily learning experiences. A beautiful target that all of us as Educators should wish to aspire to, I would say.

So, my final comment, following this Webinar – it was too short 🙂 I would have spent hours hanging out there learning from all the people who participated. I would like to offer my thanks to everyone, once again and hope to catch up with everyone soon to take on the discussions further.

Katie Salen – Webinar: Tuesday, April 24, 10:00am PST

I am very honoured to have been invited to participate to a Webinar organised by the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub which will be held on Tuesday 24th April at 1000AM PST (1800 CET).

Katie Salen will be present at this Webinar whose main focus will be: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning. More information can be found here.  Katie Salen is the Professor of Design and Technology, and Director of the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons the New School for Design. She also runs a non-profit called the Institute of Play that is focused on games and learning, and is co-editor of the International Journal of Learning and Media.

This Webinar will also feature a Livestream Channel Chat and Twitter hash Tag (#connectedlearning) for those who wish to participate.

Looking forward to next Tuesday – hope that many can join in!

My Reflections for Day 3 of PELeCON – #pelc12

Day 3 at the PELeCON was short, yet nonetheless inspiring.

I really liked Miles Berry‘s presentation and his demonstration of how he used blogs and portfolios to increase the interaction between the students following the course. The fact that he customized Drupal, with an interface that encourages writing and reflecting seems to me an important step in the right direction. At my University, we have adopted Moodle but unfortunately I believe that the way it is structured leaves very little room for interaction and collaboration. It is true that lecturers can indeed use its discussion boards, but the last time I tried to use both its supported blog and wiki, they were a mess and far from providing a user-friendly interface, the whole layout was not good. Same can be said for the portfolio block which somehow has never been enabled. Ah well… Miles did a good thing, he very simple set up his own Drupal interface and that might be worth exploring for some of my future courses.
Speaking about my own teaching, I have left the conference, pretty excited to try out some stuff with my own classes. One thing which I have noticed which some keynote speakers have done in practice was the merging of Twitter in their presentations. Alec Couros auto-tweeted from his slides, Steve Bunce used a tool – Socrative – which I thought was quite wonderful to create real time class-based interactions, including question-answer as well as real time voting by the participants. I thought it quite cool actually. Jane Hart used Twitter in her presentations, asking questions to the audience and projecting the responses on the screen inside her presentation; another cool tool.
Twitter visualizations were on for most of the time in Lecture Theatre 1. I think that although this was quite good, it did prove to be a bit of a distraction at times, when the speaker was talking. However I think it would have been great if such a visualization tool was actually on during the final plenary, as it would have been interesting to check out the thoughts, and the discussion points which were going around.
Liz Bennet gave some interesting insights into the emerging technologies as well as the Transformative Learning Theory, which I had never come across and which I find extremely interesting to dig into, a bit more deeply (no pun intended!).

My Pelican at PELeCON 2012

Is this a Pelican?

Leigh Graves Wolf made us play. It was great fun actually and interesting to see how people could create so many interesting pelicans from the bits and pieces of scrap which she gave us. I still though cannot make any head or tail of my own pelican, but it was fun.
She also illustrated an interesting project, which is the one snapshot a day project, where a guy decided to take one snapshot of the creation of a skull, every day for a year and finally see a transformation of his own thoughts and experiences throughout the year. I think this would be a really great project that one can take up with kids, even young primary school children as they delve more deeply into a specific theme.
Beyond that, it was also really interesting that after one follows so many people who are doing such great stuff for learning, one can finally sit back and enjoy their talks face-to-face. Jane Hart was one such example. Jane Hart is very well known for Social Learning in the Workplace, but her Directory of Learning Tools is one of the most visited and used directories in this field. I have to say that it is one of the first links for reference which I provide to my students as soon as I have my first lecture with them. Jane Hart spoke a lot about enterprise learning, and the smart worker, but I believe that much of what she said and described can easily be applied to Higher Education. The importance of creating engagement in learning is opposite to complacency and compliance. Unfortunately what most of our schools seek to achieve is precisely that – conformance to rules; quite sadly I have to add. Governments and other people who hold power, may think twice about the importance of maintaining control through a complacent society – Economy – global economy – very clearly – is indicating that what society needs are people who are creative, who have initiative and who have absolute control over their learning achievements. This came out clearly from, I believe, all the keynotes who were present. It’s a pity that decision makers were not present to hear what these people have to say. But decision-makers so rarely are willing to listen, aren’t they?
Anyway so the conference drew to an end – there was a short plenary discussion during which, and in the course of discussion, I made up my mind, that when I get back, I will buy my soon-to-be three-year old son a camera. I want to see the world through his eyes and be part of his learning experiences. It’s one of the beautiful and fun moments in life worth sharing. A colleague had already sold me on to the idea, but after this conference I am excited to give him this gift for learning. During the prize draw there were a number of cool prizes, amongst which the new iPad, a 3G Kindle and others. I wasn’t one of the luckier ones, but then again, there will be an opportunity next year. I am already booking the dates for next year’s PELeCON – April 10-12, 2013. Thanks to Steve Wheeler and all his team at Plymouth for these three very inspirational days!

My Reflections for Day 2 of PELeCON 2012 #pelc12

I think it’s difficult to really summarize all that went on during this second day. I have to say that all the Keynotes and Helen Keegan’s spotlight were fantastic. I was sorry i didn’t attend Catherine Cronin‘s talk and I have to say that certain presentations during the parallel sessions were a bit of a let down after such stimulating and thought-provoking keynotes.
So let me start first with Alec Couros‘s keynote. It was really, really awesome. Thank you Alec. Since Alec Couros is also involved with preservice teacher Education, I could really connect with what he was saying.
Social Media and Open Education is all about thinning the walls of communication and creating an openness that reflects what is actually happening in society at the moment rather than what is actually happening inside the classroom. I think that this is a recurring theme throughout a lot of the presentations here at PELeCon. Simon Finch remarked on it yesterday and said Something better change. Alec Couros mentioned it this morning and Keri Facer described ways in which we can exploit what we have in the present to build a stronger economic resilience through the people coming out of schools and higher Education.

However Alec Couros also talked about the power of the community, and what the people out there are doing. One can just look at some amazing crowd sourcing projects like Kutiman’s video projects, or other projects like the Johnny Cash project, or initiatives like couch surfing to realize that what the present contains can be so much powerful in the relevations of empowerment and learning.
So where does this leave us? Most of us agree that we need a change, many agree that the change in the classroom doesn’t come from adding tools or spending millions in the educational structures and tools. most agree that we really need to have classrooms, teachers and learners who transfer between real life and academic life seamlessly – so that context becomes part of the classroom and vice versa. A kind of transfer from the real life to the classroom environment reaching out to methods that can provide the bridge that allows crossing without even realizing that the environment is changing. Keri mentioned – learning for the love of playing with ideas… i love that phrase. I feel that it conveys so much.
I also think that another feature that is emergent, also apparent in this PELeCON 2012 is the belief that we need openness of knowledge – open access to information to celebrate learning for the sake of learning – oh how much I love this phrase as well…we celebrate learning. Let us stop celebrating ignorance through the mere issue qualifications please. Stop this certificate-giving educational system we are living through because it is simply NOT working in today’s world. This was also mirrored in Keri Facer’s final keynote for the day. It can already be seen – people emerging from University waving their degree – and still ending up on the unemployed list. What do we need to teach our students? Do we need to teach them how to follow lists and orders, or should we teach them how to survive in the world? Should we give them the fish, or should we show them how they can make a rod so that they can fish… or something of the sort…
An interesting blog which one can look up – I would urge all teachers to have a look at this and maybe decide to take some action. Mrs Cassidy, a primary school teacher, uses a blog with her young ones. It’s a fantastic way of making learning visible.
Alec Couros asked two very important questions which are worthy of reflection and which I am looking forward to pose to my own students next time I meet up with them. Question 1 is: How are you making learning visible? and Question 2, which is equally important: How are you contributing to the learning of others?
Well I might have to go to the confession booth here at PELC, for this because I think that there there have been 1 or 2 failures in my own teaching along the way. But I also believe that we learn more from failures than from successes and therefore I want to use the times when I failed to be able to improve for the sake of my own students.
Again, whereas 10 or 20 years ago, shouting out loud about one’s own achievements might have been taken as bragging by some, we are now living in a society where working in isolation, producing something in isolation and keeping it to oneself, no longer works – because the power of the community is so much stronger than the power of the individual.
One quote which I will also take with me … no … 2 actually….quotes which I will paste on all my online public student communication are the following:
“If you generally think of the Internet as the place to look up stuff then you’re missing the best part” and Quote 2: “Don’t limit a child to your own learning for he was born in another time” ~ Tagore

The parallel sessions I attended were quite good. I especially liked the Kinect  and the Minecraft project ones. Me, being so interested in GBL are always interested to see how students and teachers are reacting to the environment. Well well. One other motif which I can take with me home, was tweeted from someone’s presentation – I was not following that presentation unfortunately but it ver simply states: “Connect, Do, Share”…. wonderful three-word summary of what many people have been talking about so far.
I did cover Helen Keegan’s spotlight talk extensively so will not talk about it again but will instead refer to Keri Facer‘s keynote that was the last keynote for Day 2 at PELeCON 12. I think that one of the things which Keri Facer mentioned and which is important is that we cannot predict the future, more so, the future of Educational Technologies. It is important to keep in mind that learning is a complex activity that cannot be oversimplified with trivialization. So then – what to do? Does one give up? Surely not. Does one keep trying to predict what’s going to happen? No. Does one spend millions on trying to shape the future? Would that be useful? No. According to Keri Facer what is needed is finding the important strong points in the present and use these to develop the future. We shouldn’t look at what will emerge – we should look at what we have – and try to build on these for the good of learning and learners. That’s a good point which our policy makers should definitely take up on. Stop wasting money and start treating teachers as professionals. It’s the one resource that you have and that you’re discouraging with too many predictions!

Alternate Reality Games – My reflections from PELeCON 2012

Before actually writing about the second day at PELECON, I would like to reflect a bit upon Helen Keegan’s spotlight talk and which I – together with, I would guess, the rest of the participants here at PELECON, just absolutely loved. Helen Keegan described an Alternate Reality Game which she literally pulled on her students – students who were following a BSc Professional Sound and Video Technology, Advanced Multimedia module.

Now, even the phrase pull on one’s students starts triggering ethical questions… should I? Shouldn’t I? Ethics in Education seems to be a very sore point and at times I feel that many Educators and researchers hide behind the ethics cover to justify their lack of innovation in approach and their need for standardization throughout.

In fact Helen said many things which one needs to ponder on. For example 1) learning initially sparked off from a sense of paranoia (student tweets showed that some got really scared that an unknown person had actually started sending them confused information messages)  – what does this mean and imply? 2) one needs to be willing to take certain amounts of risks. This is a very interesting point. I find, sadly I must say that I am surrounded by many academics who are not willing to take risks. As my  colleague Alex Grech says, people just fall into the Gramscian Hegemony – many love the ‘status quo’. One does appreciate, that ‘status quo’ implies stability – the known, the experienced. But the unknown is fearsome, might be chaotic – who knows? and that is particularly the question which really really somehow needs to make its way into our learners’ brain. WHO KNOWS IF?
Anyway this who knows kind of attitude, featured particularly in Helen Keegan’s ARG game (for more info about ARGs visit this link). Students were deceived, the ARG rules do declare the need for a degree of deception, into believing that this person, the famous or infamous Rufi Franzen, had actually hacked into their lives and was disseminating bits of code and information which they had to take as clues to solve a puzzle which they had no idea what it was, or why it was done. They were just asked to “join the dots”. What they had no idea of was, that the actual module curriculum, was indeed being followed. As Helen Keegan said – “It took a lot of effort to balance the curriculum with the wild wild west”. The students were indeed doing what is normally covered in the course, albeit following it in an entirely different way. What the students didn’t realize was that rather than having their lecturer tell them that they need to watch 20 videos, (for which they wouldn’t be assessed and which in all probability none would have watched), it was the mysterious Rufi that actually told them that they had so many clues in these videos and one learner after the other, started watching these videos more closely, more attentively to try and solve the conundrum. In the end the ARG culminated in a rather theatrical display which the students loved and which I believe does make some justice to all the hard work thinking through the problems which were posed throughout the 12 week course duration.
However the learning that occurred via this ARG, as testified by the students themselves, took them to a so much deeper level that so amount of theatrical display can actually make up for it. Students were immersed in such a way that it took them ages, (for some it was really hard to stop playing the game) to realize that after all they were “conned” into learning. For many, Rufi was someone who was a “real” presence throughout the course, even though Rufi was completely imaginary! So much for behavioral change that is directly related to the perceptions in the mind. This idea of immersion, whether it is through a virtual world or an alternate reality game is an aspect of cognitive science which I am very interested in exploring – and I am already thinking of ways of how to do this with my own pre-service teachers. I wonder though – am I really willing to take the plunge and risk? Will I find partners who will support this leap in the dark? And as Helen said, “is such an approach justified for the sake of Education?” Hmmm – yes…and now to some serious thinking stuff…how shall I do it?

My Reflections for Day 1 of PELeCON 2012

The first day of PELeCON kicked off in style and I am really looking forward to what will be happening today during the second day.

A few words about Plymouth and its University. Plymouth is really quite nice – the sea surrounding the area, the walk around the Hoe, the old Barbican Area – a great setting indeed. The University is quite central too, withing easy reach – just a few mins walk from where I am staying which is excellent.

So when I got to University, I went to the registration desk and I got my card. My Mac gave me some initial problems to connect via Eduroam, mostly because I already had Eduroam keychain from my own University and I guess Mac didn’t like it. Anyway the staff were really quite helpful and very soon I could connect and start tweeting 🙂

I first went to the Robot show – amazing little things doing all the cute actions – if you are skilled enough to make them do all the right moves! However these little guys are also great footballers apparently and they have qualified for the Robot World Cup that will be held in Mexico in May this year. Good luck little champs…(You can like their page on Facebook too – got to check out some videos of their achievements)

Next I had a choice of attending either the student technology showcase or the Technology Enhanced Learning session. I chose the latter but from the number of tweets I am sorry I didn’t attend go in to see the technology showcase. However the TEL session was also quite good, very informative, very practical, and the presenters gave quite some good insights into online course delivery. For example if we’re talking about online course delivery, does it mean that the number of staff to student ratio can decrease? According to Jason Truscott, certainly not. They use a ratio of about 15:1 student to teacher ratio, and they make sure to try to overcome the challenges related to isolation that can lead to more student dropouts by increasing communication mechanisms – in both asynchronous and synchronous modes. In their particular case example, where they reach an audience over at sea (thus spanning a rather wide geographical area), they use emails, skype conference calls, as well as forums – whilst lectures are held over a Web interface using different modalities such as voice overs, animated and interactive presentations as well as videos. In the second talk which followed, and which was delivered by Claire Spiret, a very important aspect which emerged from their project in collaboration with the Girl Guides Association, was the importance of time for reflection during their learning experience. This notion of regrouping after a week of topic delivery is, in my opinion, one of the most important instructional design aspects, which need to be taken in consideration.

I missed the Edublogging session, but the tweets show that it was followed with a great deal of enthusiasm.  However I was in time for Simon Finch’s keynote address – "Simon FInch Keynote PELECON12"“Something better change” – and what a great keynote it was; stimulating I would say. Simon Finch is a very energetic person and the passion and enthusiasm for Education was quite contagious. He set up a mock classroom, showing how simple things, even otherwise boring content can change, only by tweaking the way the learners are asked to do their tasks. The Tweets during his session kept rolling in and it was hard to keep track of everything, but some things stuck…and these are a few of them:

” What we can do now that we couldn’t do then [he was referring to teaching practices of a decade or more ago] is communicate better.”… and [this is one which I truly believe in]

” it’s not about putting posh words together to sound clever – we keep alienating colleagues. we need empathetic teachers!”

This is so true. Simon was not scared of criticising Education Ministers and Policy Makers. Most often, administrators get a hang on some kind of buzz word or trend, (for example the famous or infamous Interactive Whiteboard), they spend millions chasing the word without changing or shifting the way people think. What emerged from here is that as teachers we really need to start thinking with a different kind of mentality which cannot be detached from what the rest of society is doing. At this point in time, more than resources, infrastructure, or anything else, the challenge that needs to be overcome by the teachers is this kind of detachment from the world they are living in, this notion that “they know everything” and they have given up on changing and improving. As Simon said… “Something better change” because I for one, want to see a better world.

Leveraging Engagement…

As I read more and more my belief in the need for assessing quality learning is increasing. I truly believe that no matter what governments propose, no matter what tools are “imposed” in schools, no matter what kind of support is given, or training (pre- and inservice) the problems emergent from the schooling systems will still persist.

I also believe that what we need is engagement – a global kind of engagement – engagement at all levels, manifested in pretty much the same way as a tornado that would suck in everything it passes through. So students are literally pulled in, inside this engagement net, but it doesn’t really stop there. It sucks in teachers, professionals, administrators and parents – all working towards one common goal – to learn and to have fun in the process.

That is the level of engagement that I really believe in – or maybe I dream about. I do think that educational technologies help of course, but I mean technology helps me throughout life – can’t live without today’s technologies (as most of the other people inhabiting the planet I would say). I am not really saying that educational technologies are THE panacea, because in reality technology applications are those that make up today’s society.

So what I am saying is that we need to find ways and means of assessing quality of schools, by assessing the level of engagement of the people who make up the school. This level of engagement is given in terms of the interactions that can be established through a number of methods and methodologies. One example is this article, which I came across recently. Project Based Learning – can it work? Who knows…possibly and one has to remember to specify that Education is a complex system. There is no simple solution; there are just parameters and different variables so if one method works in one context it might fail in another. However the insights for engagement in this article are quite good I believe.

Emotional learning? Well, how many people can honestly say that they studied a subject because they loved their teacher, and possibly years on, they would still think about that particular teacher with affection? Well I certainly am one of those teachers, and I sure hope that as a teacher, I was one that influenced my students in the same way. So does this kind of engagement work? Possibly… though as with the above scenario I think it would depend on the context, which brings us back to the complexity of the Educational setting.

So where do we start from? Gall’s Law states very clearly that: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. We have to start from simple systems that target engagement, and from then on build outwards to “suck” people in the tornado effect. Mixed realities? virtual realities? transmedia? multimodality? game-based learning? Sure – possibly; all are extremely fascinating – but we first need something to help shift mindsets towards their right use for more effectiveness.

#Epic Fail: The will of the majority in Education

I have found this blog post published via Education Week quite insightful – so insightful in fact that it helped me connect a few dots which I had self-imposed on the state of Education in Malta. First of all I will take the point of departure of the much discussed NCF (refer to this previous post). What was the need for re-proposing an entire curricular framework? I think the answer is that at a higher level, governing bodies feel the need of a more Educated workforce – a higher academic performance equates as an economic indicator according to the OECD (Organisation for the Economic Co-operation and Development).

Therefore the first point is that economy seems to be driving our Education.

The second issue which I have heard over and over again is the concept of inclusion. This is not just meant as an integration within a structure, but it is meant as an embrace of diversity in its various forms. Embracing diversity should not underestimated. I believe that we, as humans, are ready to give a speedy answer to diversity and say “I am in favor of inclusion of diversity”. What I see around me, most often does not tally with this statement.

The reality which I see around me has a Gramscian flavor – Maltese revel it seems in the Status Quo. I do not want to – I have no right to generalize but I see an incongruence between that what people ‘say’ they want – in relation to Education – and that what people are ‘ready’ to do. I ask – the majority want good Education – Education which has value, not the certificates – to me they are just pieces of useless paper – however is the majority ready to make the step towards valued Education? Do the majority have enough will power to drive the changes that are necessary – because valued Education needs so much more than just a new building, or a new interactive whiteboard or new teachers… valued Education needs a change in mindsets, and this in itself is a huge commitment which starts from government and cascades towards the rest of the society; teachers, parents, administrators, students, employers, and the list goes on. The will of the majority rules: but I wonder – what exactly is the will of the majority in Education?