So I start this new journey inside another MOOC, (I am not new to MOOCs), that plans to discuss Technology Enhanced Learning. My big question for the first week of #ocTEL is very much related to the work I do and to the experience I have accumulated over the years. Let me first start with a brief introduction of my professional career. I have a first degree in Education and I have, together with a colleague of mine, designed and developed my first digital 2D game way back in 1997, when in Malta, technology was still in its nascent years. My game, was designed around social constructivist theories, and focused very much on activity and interactivity, using various multimedia objects and game mechanics to help learners achieve their quests. Following that, I spent a few years teaching, both young adolescents and older adults. This was a challenging experience, but I felt that I needed to continue what I first started out doing… using technology as a medium to reach a wider audience and have a greater impact.
So in 2003 I joined a team of people who were working on an EU-funded project, focusing on the teaching of restoration and conservation techniques, using distance education. In 2003, the project centred around using online and videoconferencing techniques to deliver both theoretical and practical aspect of the courses that had been designed and developed by the team I worked with. It was then that I had been introduced to MOODLE and it was back then I started off where I had left in 1997, that is, focusing on designing education using technology-based media and tools to support a learning that is both active and interactive. We did learn a lot from the project, and we even published a manual for best practices in videoconferencing for teaching and learning. I started taking more courses in technology applications, to be able to understand what happens at the back end of the applications we experience as users. The team and myself, worked a lot with the trainers, to identify best pedagogical practices when introducing technology to enhance the learning processes. In 2005, I started my Masters in Information Technology, and from there I built some experience and expertise around AI techniques as applied to learning and education, developing a thesis that revolved around the design and implementation of a personalized learning space for further and lifelong learning.
With a background in Education, and my focus and passion for educating others, a natural step was to join the Faculty of Education’s staff at the University of Malta. The scope of the Faculty of Education, is to be able to give a service to people who wish to further their studies in Education and become teachers. In 2007, amongst one of my various research interests I started converging onto virtual worlds and serious games, as an area in Education, that was still relatively new. I got hooked to Second Life, and I started carrying out some research about this particular medium, and how it could be of particular use and potential to people in and for education. In 2010, I submitted my PhD proposal (this was accepted) to try and understand whether using virtual worlds and 3D spaces can indeed shape an individual’s behavior and attitudes, in a way that can have a lasting effect.
Since I was working with pre-service teachers, I could identify a number of challenges that could be addressed during teacher training programs. One of the challenges, paradoxically, relates to the use and adoption of technology practices in the classroom. Various research indicated, that across the world, teachers seem to face a number of problems when it comes to changing the style of teaching to adapt to the 21st century practices that most of us are used to. Paradoxically as well, the teachers beyond the classroom may not all be avid gamers, but many are quite active on a number of online social media platforms. Yet when it comes to replicating that style of living and learning to the classroom, most would, (dramatically put!), step back in horror – “What? use Facebook in class? – oh never” … “What? using games to learn – what is the world coming to?” (these, by the way, are not overdramatizing nor fictitious, but have been taken from a number of Facebook posts – updated by teachers!)
My own definitions of TEL revolve around a different approach and attitude to learning. I do not believe that it is all about the technology really, but it is about a new way of looking at problems and challenges. I knew, from research, that virtual worlds and serious games, have so much potential to help people gain insights into different lifestyles, or ways of being or doing. So I designed a virtual world, for my own group of pre-service teachers, that amounted to about a 104 participants in all, and that focused mostly around the topic of how they could integrate different learning technologies and adapt them to their own specialization subject. The results are still work in progress but so far are promising to be quite interesting.
My belief is that TEL is a way of living and learning – it necessarily involves a mind shift possibly leading to a change in direction from our cultural backgrounds. I think it is useless teaching technology or training in the use of tools. Tools become obsolete almost immediately, and teaching is such a complex activity, that no amount of teaching technology can somehow identify the right way of applying it in the real classroom setting. So what I think is this, if somehow, these teacher trainees can assimilate TEL in a sort of way that grows on them, teaching using TEL approaches becomes as natural to them as using the mobile device, which can equally be applied to learning.
The big question is this: how can I, as an academic, help my students (who are teacher trainees) see TEL as a way of living and learning, rather than an imposition? Hearing students speak in corridors you would imagine that modules and units related to technology and TEL seem to be a burden, rather than something which is fun, and which is constructive. How can we help people engage in TEL with an attitude that is positive, constructive and creative towards the modalities employed? Your feedback is much appreciated!