#PASCAL2015 – Some thoughts and reflections …

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The view of the sea in Catania

This is the second day of the PASCAL conference 2015 which is being held in Catania.

First of all a few words (or sentences) about Catania – it’s Mediterranean! very very Mediterranean with its wonderful climate
and the beautiful surrounding sea, cultural richness, and crazy crazy driving.

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The courtyard seen from the Aula Magna of the University of Catania

The Universita’ degli Studi di Catania, has been a very gracious host, providing a very nice setting for a great kick off to the first day of the conference yesterday.

I have to say that this is the first conference I am attending in a long time, where education is really at the focus of the discussions. Usually the conferences I attend, tend to be more on the computer science with a side of education. But here education is being discussed from all its multiple facets and perspectives and this is fresh! Technology is being granted ubiquitous credit as its use is subtly implied and definitely visible in many aspects of the research being presented. Technology becomes the underlying foundation for the research practices impinging on the real societal issues being discussed here.

On the first day, we had two very good keynote sessions, the first one being delivered by Professor Piyushimita Thakuriah, from the University of Glasgow, focusing on big data and its impact on the urban economy. In essence big data can be defined as that data which is being continuously generated by humans but which has not really been designed for research purposes. Most often we are designing research processes so that we collect specific data which we need to analyse to answer a specific research question or address a problem. Big data starts from the data. The data is out there – being generated. The question is: how can we harness it and use it to help society grow and overcome its many rising challenges? Professor Thakuriah, describes this process as the Big Data process, a pyramid structure where urban infrastructure can feed the data analytics for knowledge discovery to ultimately lead to an impact on the urban economy itself. So as an example – in Malta we have this huge traffic problem – did I say huge? let’s make it massive. Weather predictions, Twitter or Facebook data, can be used to predict traffic conditions identifying the areas that would suffer the most, thus finding strategies to overcome the challenges. Of course one actually does need to get down and tackle the problems in a pragmatic tangible way once these have been identified but the use of this lurking data, can certainly help to that extent.

The keynote that followed was from Professor Ronsisvalle from the University of Catania. His keynote that was about the Future of the University was just brilliant. It was sharp, witty and funny in the right measure – and it struck some chords. Professor Ronsivalle started his keynote by questioning the realistic nature of the universities’ objectives and targets for their professors and their students. The reality is that some of these expectations are not really realistic IF we want academia to work and function according to its true spirit. Unfortunately speaking from the perspective of the Maltese experience the pressures on University and Higher Education from society are huge – and these are in my opinion partly due to the fact that there is ignorance about the roles of the academics. Such enlightenment can only come through the dissemination of what universities actually do. Again speaking from my own experience at the University in Malta, I would say that the university tries quite hard to push its message across society through a variety of initiatives and events. But my concern really is that this message is still not coming across as it should be, at times giving more rise to polemics. Of course I am not saying that there is no room for improvement and that we can’t be criticised but the issue here is that community outreach needs to be more pragmatic – more tangible.

On the matter of communities – I think that my take home key word for this conference has been Communities. Most of the presentations I have sat through yesterday afternoon and this morning focused on the following keywords: Communities, Collaboration, Engagement. It is possible that one of the ways, in which to really get the message across is that of actively involving and engaging specific sections of communities to tangibly reach solutions to problems and challenges that are affecting the local society.

Sometimes, we have to come off our high horses and remember that our primary role as academics, is to research ways on how to improve the quality of life in society and to inform, guide and help the implementation process for this.

On this subject, tomorrow I will be speaking about the possibility of using MOOCs and alternate reality games to engage citizens more actively in societal issues. More to come in the coming days…

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Education in the Digital Era #EdDigEra – The Opening Session (my thoughts)

Today I am attending the conference that is taking place in Brussels – Education in Digital Era.

IMG_2984I have been looking forward to attend this and I must say that if the opening session is anything to go by for today’s presentations, then this promises to be a very inspiring conference. The opening session saw a line up of Stefania GIANNINI as the Italian Minister of Education, Tibor NAVRACSICS, the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Silvia COSTA the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, Lord David PUTTNAM – Chair of Atticus Education. I must say that all of the speakers, gave us some thought-provoking challenges in their discussion, though I believe that Lord David Puttnam’s presentation was not only inspiring – it was a reflection of what we are doing and discussing here.

Some of the thoughts I grasped from what these speakers told us included the emphasis on skills more than just the technology fazes. Stefania Giannini spoke about the need for competitiveness achieved though collaboration. She shared a vision of a Europe seen as a singular campus, where all teachers, students and researchers are free and able to share their experiences, their expertise and their education. Tibor Navracsics spoke about the need of going beyond being connected to being competent. From my own experience with teachers, they are overwhelmed by their notions that young people ‘know’ how to manipulate technology. However we also know that accessing technology, or being able to tamper with the technology, does not make one competent in the skills that are needed for today’s digital practices. Silvia Costa spoke about some statistics…. she made a reference to a study, that shows that whilst 70% of teachers recognise the importance of digital learning, only 20% are taught by digitally competent teachers. Teachers play a fundamental role not only in facilitating online materials but also to impart digital skills. This brings us to an important aspect of education in and for the digital era: we need to invest heavily in high quality teacher education – that would impart the right digital skills to these people who will be facing young people.IMG_2987

Lord David Puttnam made reference to the challenges that are faced by these very young people today – the challenges of the world and the society they are growing up in.  One of the strongest emphasis Lord Puttnam makes is on the need for direction, to give focus to the young people about who they are, who they want to become. In another interesting, yet potentially dangerous statistic Lord Puttnam brings to light a recent study in higher education, where 96% of college principals believe that their institutions are successfully preparing young people for the world of work. In comparison, only 14% of recent college graduals agree whilst even lower, 12% of employers agree! This is, according to Lord Puttnam, not a gap, but a gulf that we need to close. One other inspiring thought coming from Lord Puttnam is the need for resilience – a life skill to be taught. Talent and imagination, commitment and belief are some of the factors that contribute to this resilience. Lord Puttnam described 5 different mind sets that influence the attitudes in Education (I only managed to get the first four!) : early adopters, open but constrained, struggling skeptics, passionate traditionalists. This really made me strike a comparison with some of the teachers and even colleagues I know who I would also classify with these categories. I think the ones who scare me the most, and who i feel I would need to work with the most are the passionate traditionalists who feel that the way they are teaching and the way they have been teaching for the last 20 years or so, is good, and has produced some good teachers or learners, and therefore they don’t feel the need for change. This is dangerous and scary. Lord Puttnam also reminded us about what happens when teachers start to talk, when they overcome the barrier they themselves erect when it comes to sharing their teaching – experience and expertise. As an example TES Connect boasts some 300million downloads with 2 million registered users and with a collection of shared TES resources of which 47% are created by teachers. As a final note to this short blog post I would like to include a wonderful reference of one example of a product of digital technology, and the power of the crowds… and sharing….this is Eric Whitaker’s virtual choir.

#MaltaBLT – My blog for the second workshop day!

The second day of the workshop has once again proved to be quite interesting and hands on where we have had the opportunity to brainstorm and explore ideas – the key terms here seem to have been – get wild, get creative! We have had the opportunity to come up with our own questions and provide answers (quantity more than quality applied here!) in the most creative, yet time efficient way as possible. Here is a short summary, from our group that was only made up of 2 people 🙂 myself and Antoinette – but we fared fairly well I would say.

Hard at work! Workshop participants...

Hard at work! Workshop participants…

However the vibe around the room was quite exceptional – fun and dynamic would pretty much sum up the session. Thinking about what connected passion, engagement, learning and technology, we emerged with a question that asked ‘How might we lead people to the frame of mind that can connect learning to the technology?’ We came up with 20 possibilities that could somehow direct us to the question, the most popular of which turned out to be get learners into teachers and teachers into learners (swap roles). This was closely followed by creating authentic settings, and involving students, teachers and parents in a Wiki project.

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Write your thoughts moment – our 20 thoughts moment!

In the end our rapid prototyping project turned out to combine all these three elements by proposing a national public Wiki project, that would be themed around the various forms of literacies and that would allow parents, teachers and students to collaborate using one single platform. This ‘social project’ would help people connect the dots between learning and technology, using a medium everyone is familiar with… sounds fun isn’t it? Doable? Well we think it’s not impossible – however it’s not without its challenges. Once more kudos to @peterford for making us think, do and collaborate in a fun and engaging way!

The rapid prototype of our national public Wiki project.

The rapid prototype of our national public Wiki project.

Better learning using Technologies – a community initiative #MaltaBLT

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the workshop being organised by the Department of Arts and Languages in Education, Faculty of Education, University of Malta and MITA, Malta’s National Information Technology Agency. The scope of the workshop is to bring together people and lead them to a community of practice that enriches teaching and learning or rather the term which I have so happily borrowed from Richard Culattalearning powered by technology.


Peter Ford started off by telling us that “It’s not about changing people’s thinking but about changing people’s actions”. In re-imagining teachers as designers we have to understand that teachers can be creators as much as consumers of knowledge. The video below describes in brief some ideas of teachers and the creativity process:


Peter Ford challenged us first with the question: What makes great teaching?

Possible contenders as answers to this question could be: Content Knowledge? Quality of Instruction? Classroom Climate?such as the quality of interactions within a climate that values each student? And in all of these one asks where is the technology? What position does it occupy in this list of contenders? It might possibly be that rather than measuriing how technology impacts outcomes (such as assessment grades), we could measure how technology impacts teaching and learning (for example how feedback is given).

Technology needs to become an embedded practice in everyday teaching and learning and not running parallel to it. n relation to this Peter Ford made reference to Dylan Wiliam, a professional who has done extensive work on formative assessments, who goes on to say that “teachers don’t lack knowledge. What they lack is support in working out how to integrate their ideas into their daily practice – and this takes time, which is why we have to allow teachers to take small steps”. So small steps seems to be a key term in today’s workshop – slowly but surely, as my colleague, here at the workshop so rightly put it 🙂

#ectel2014 – Keynote 1: Etienne Wenger on Open Learning… some reflections

When I realised that Etienne Wenger was going to be one of the keynote speakers at EC-TEL 2014, I was thrilled. My learning and professional development has grown with social learning theories, and Etienne Wenger has been one of the most influential learning theorists in my own learning. In fact I develop my PhD on virtual worlds and education around these social learning theories. What impressed me the most about Etienne Wenger’s talk is the clarity with which he describes his own movement within these theories and the way his thoughts have evolved in relation to our growing society and world. So Etienne Wenger started his keynote address with a question. He asked “What are the ways of thinking of people about knowing?”

Etienne Wenger at EC-TEL 2014 Keynote Address

Etienne Wenger at EC-TEL 2014 Keynote Address

 

He described how the way education has evolved deals with imparting a body of knowledge to learners. Wenger describes this as a “closed learning system”. We have always seen learning this way. Our students are used to this form of learning. During my PhD investigations, my pre-service teachers admitted that they didn’t feel they were learning because according to them learning was about listening to a lecturer, taking notes and letting the lecturer define what they should learn and how they should learn it. This defines our closed system of learning.

He describes how in the process of the development of the communities of practice theory, he together with Gene Lave (an anthropologist), started observing communities of apprenticeships in tribes. From this they emerged with a theory of organised learning where the apprentice would establish himself in a community, tracing learning as a trajectory from the periphery of the community to the centre of the community as his skills and competences develop.
So the social theory of learning questions meaning and how this drives learning. This equates to the meaningful engagement with the world. And ironically the very opposite happens in our schools. Most often we eliminate the need for meaning – we say to our children – ‘you don’t need to understand what you’re doing right now. Maybe you will understand it in the future’. So the practice of doing things which are meaningful somehow gets sidelined for the curricular content.
However, Etienne Wenger provokes – “if knowledge is a social product then it is as complex as the social world. The trajectory into the community leads to the transformation of a person. The concept of identity then becomes a central concept in the theory of learning”.
So the evolution of communities doesn’t just happen in apprenticeships and training, but communities can also be observed in other societal practices such as in work and employment. In these instances communities are formed to help survive the job. The community created by people becomes a partnership to learn how to deal with whatever they need to do. so in this way we can view trajectories in a different way than the apprenticeship community. And in these communities formed ad hoc, people’s trajectories move and they touch each other and come into contact briefly whenever people need – a constant flow of people falling out of or joining in these trajectories, still leaving an impact on the community. These communities become a constant negotiation of the socially defined competences and the personal experiences brought in by all the members. And this negotiation itself defines the community. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the members have to agree but an equilibrium needs to be established. This equilibrium then becomes very much defined by the close relationship of power and learning.  [I would really suggest reading a bit of Foucault for this purpose :

So then the communities, in this complex mesh of learning trajectories assimilate to a landscape of practice marking your trajectory in learning. So the questions now change and evolve and now we start asking ‘how do I develop an identity in a complex landscape of learning and knowledge?’ With so many communities, ‘how could we leave the mark on the community?’ ‘how can I influence the community I form part of?’
However we cannot misunderstand. Wenger says, “We’re not just moving from a collective society to an individual society – it is still socially developed. But the negotiation of identity knowledgeability becomes more distinct. The 21st century is going to be a century of identity. In the past the community defined your identity – but the burden of knowledgeability is shifting from the community to the person doing the learning trajectory. Creating identity is going to be the main learning challenge”.
Etienne Wenger then concluded his talk with a reflection followed by a provocative question: “Identity becomes a transformative invitation – a teacher’s deepest pedagogical resource. A slight breach of the low, it is almost a theorem of love, that we can invite others into our own identities… let them be what they are not, and thus start what cannot be started“.
So Etienne Wenger’s concluding question to his insightful talk was: “If you are going to be a driving force in shaping the future of learning then how can your theory and practice help learners and educators address the fundamental learning challenge of today?” … I ask myself, what am I going to concretely do to help influence teacher education?

#ectel2014 Workshop – Learning Analytics for and in Serious Games; what I learned…

I feel really good that this year I had the opportunity to attend and participate at the 9th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2014. I have to say that so far it has been an interesting experience and I have had some very good conversations but I have also sat in on some very good presentations. I wanted to collate some of my thoughts and reflections about a workshop which I have attended yesterday about learning analytics for and in serious games. Now I have to state that in my own PhD work, I also make use of some learning analytics, focusing on the emergence of social networks in virtual worlds. However I am still a bit skeptic when people make sweeping statements about learning analytics and how they in fact can be used to determine the learning that takes place in an online/digital environment. Still, some of the talks in this workshop have indeed very clearly stated that learning analytics is certainly not about defining the learning occurring, but more about understanding how the learning trajectory evolves.

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

The first presentation, was a comprehensive overview of learning analytics and educational data mining and the current and future research trends in the area. The speaker, Christina Steiner described how one of the key factors driving LA, is assessment defining it as the gathering of information about a learner’s progress towards the achievement of goals and relative competences. So LA comes into play to make sense out of all the learner’s data as he traverses an online environment. Learning analytics and educational data mining have some common goals and similar definitions relating to the collection and collation of data about learners. However educational data mining emphasises automated adaptation and recommendations of a personalised learning experience. LA can be made use of in different time scales. It can be used to report what has happened (past), it can also be used to monitor (real-time progress), and it can also serve to predict (possible?) future learning issues. It is made up of 3 stages; collection, visualisation and predictive modelling, and improving on the LA process. So the main stakeholders in this are learners and teachers.

However this provokes in me some thoughts and questions: would analytics apply to all learning processes, and all learning domains? How accurate would the predictions be? Do they really predict and model learning? If a student has opened a resource, or maybe visited a site, or even uploaded an assignment or completed a quiz, can we really say that that learner has learned? Would he really have learned everything we had in mind as goals?

Let’s say that I, as a teacher, think that by performing an online activity, the learner would achieve a set objective. Therefore when I design and set up my LA process, I know that I would be measuring the student performance in line with that goal. However I believe learning is not linear. I know and everyone knows learning is a complex mesh that is very much dependent not the many experiences the learner goes through. So how can I say that a learner is advancing his progress (or vice versa) by ticking the box that the learner has gone through the activity? What sort of tools would I have to monitor what other additional skills and competencies that learner has attained by maybe going further than that activity? Maybe that activity was boring to the learner and he skipped it but that activity has prompted him to search further, and to investigate deeper than the activity. Where would that place the learner? In my books, that learner demonstrates a good critical skill set, but what about the system? Are we risking to going back to standardising learning with the inclusion of learning analytics to assess learning?

However Christina Steiner ended her talk with a very important consideration, “Serious games” she says. “should be considered as part of multiple learning tools and activities. We’re looking towards data integration not isolation”. I think we should keep this in mind. Data is only part of the larger picture, and we need to understand the larger picture to be able to fully understand learning. So what I would like to understand more is about the role that serious games have in and for learning and ways in which can we exploit the information we gather from them to improve upon and provide a richer learning experience.
The rest of the presentations gave an interesting mix of how games were assessing different skill sets and competences. One final word goes to Laila Shoukry, who delivered a really cool presentation containing her own sketches directly from her smart phone. Good luck for your own PhD Laila!

EC-TEL 2014 – some thoughts from Graz and the doctoral consortium

This year I have been very lucky to have been included on the Program Committee of EC-TEL 2014, as a co-chair of the doctoral consortium. The program of EC-TEL is absolutely packed with interesting workshops. Unfortunately with greater quantity comes also greater difficulty in choice and therefore one has to compromise which of the workshops to attend. Unfortunately this also happened to our doctoral students who probably would have benefitted more from additional feedback from the professors present at the conference. However I have to say that the written feedback they have received about their PhD submission prior to this conference has been overwhelming and of course we thank everyone who gave their input.

All of the PhD studies that have been presented during this doctoral workshop are interesting and can potentially prove to give very valid contributions to the area of TEL. If I was to give some thoughts about some of the challenges faced by PhD students in general I would say that many face the issue of research and funding. What happens in most cases is that a student tries to look for funding to be able to carry out his/her research. Much of this research comes from projects and for this we are thankful. However what transpires is that the student very much feels bound and constrained by the project limitations, needs and the expected outcomes.

I think that one thing which I have learned, being a PhD student myself is that a PhD is like an elastic. It is meant to stretch and take different forms, to explore and maybe reverse directions. It cannot be a linear process. I think that a PhD student needs to be aware that he or she will not really know the answers to his PhD investigation – until the very end … and still he or she will probably have questions that still need to be answered. Another challenge, which sounds easier than it actually is, is how a PhD student identifies a problem that he or she is curious enough about to dedicate 3, 4 or 5 years of his/her life to satisfy that curiosity. One should not be afraid to experiment in a PhD, one should not be afraid of failure in the experiments during a PhD, though that admittedly is the hardest thing to do. No one of us wants to fail. No one of us wants to admit that his /her experiments in TEL have not worked out as he/she wanted (does he even know what he/she  wanted?)

There were many more thoughts that emerged during our doctoral workshop and I sincerely wishing all the PhD students out there much feedback, much thought and experience sharing because through that we grow, and with us the possibility of good practice in research grows as well!

My thoughts and reflections on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds

Ok, so here I am – back in Lisbon, Portugal and staying at the Real Palacio. I think that in all I have been to Lisbon for 3 times and I have visited Porto once. I have to say that I am not too thoroughly impressed with the promised 5* service of the hotel. To start with, I was thoroughly disappointed with the fact that we were not advised that maintenance works were being carried out at the hotel’s spa. The result was that I had to forgo a much expected and much needed spa relaxation session after 2 long days at the conference. Ah well – it’s not such a big deal but I would have expected star service and well, in that, it lacked. The food was excellent though!

And now to go back to the conference organized by Inter-Disciplinary Net. I have to say that the organization of the conference is pretty impressive, both before we came here as well as during. The one thing which I would have to complain about, is that the acoustics inside the room during our whole group plenaries were absolutely horrible, and it was very difficult to really follow what the speakers were talking about.

Secondly, IDN have this concept of discouraging the use of PowerPoint or keynote slide presentations. Thankfully a number of presenters did not really heed this suggestion, and they did display images and some stuff which we could follow. Unfortunately, in my opinion those who had no visuals, and no resources, could not really communicate well with the participants. Maybe next year, the organizers would rethink the way this is done. The most important thing that should be stressed is that people have got to stop reading their talks and presentations. It makes the presentation really boring!

Re the content, I found that there were a number of presentations which gave me something that I could take back with me. In particular, the presentations that were especially useful to me, and really interesting, were contained within the strands that discussed Blended Learning, and Learning and Teaching in Virtual Worlds. As many were presenting, I started getting together a number of research ideas which I really hope to push forward. I really liked Simon Evans‘ presentation as he showed quite an insightful perspective, looking at research, from the perspective of a researcher who is immersed inside the environment.

In particular though, I enjoyed the presentation delivered by Anna Peachey and Mark Childs, on Blended Learning in Virtual Worlds.

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Their presentation focused on this project that ran in collaboration with the Chicago Museum, the aim of which, was to get students to create and argue hypothesis. The project used a blended environment as young learners attended a 3week summer program, that also featured this immersive environment in Second Life.

As an aside, it has to be noted that SL is definitely the social virtual world that was mentioned the most during this conference. I have to say that because I was working inside my own small Avaya world, I have been ignoring Second Life. Something tells me that I should really try to move back inside the world and somehow I need to find ways of bringing in my students with me. It’s where all the ‘life’ is found, it’s where the students can really find a space to interact and explore, and it’s also where I can make use of the developers’ expertise to develop the 3D area.

So there is much more information about this very interesting project online and I do suggest some more time is dedicated to reading about this. The project site is Virtual World for science: http://fieldmuseum.org/schools/i-dig-science
Student blog project contributions can also be found:
http://idigscience.tumblr.com/

I was also very interested in the way Deakin University in Australia, are managing their blended courses in Virtual Art, using face-to-face and Second Life modalities.
The Deakin Virtual Art Education Centre can be found here:
http://www.deakin.edu.au/arts-ed/education/teach-research/arts-ed/centre-in-sl.php

I think though that my best prize presentation (for the projects that interested me the most) has to go to two different persons, both from Australia (they should be given a prize just for the fact they travelled all the way to Europe for this). Dr Tom Edwards, from Tabor Victoria discussed his project on training Counsellors using a blended approach in face-to-face and SL environments. Sue Gregory from the University of New England in Australia, discussed her own PhD project with pre-service teachers, as she, like me was working with groups of people inside a virtual world, (she used SL) to engage teachers with technology during their classroom teaching. Her project was carried out over a period of 5 years and had some wonderful examples of the different modalities of using virtual worlds for Education, amongst which role playing. I think that my students would love doing something like that. More information about her project can be found here: http://www.virtualclassrooms.info and here
http://www.virtualprex.com.

A final interesting presentation that I think should be worthy of consideration is this project, ABV4Kids project, which is the anti-bullying village for kids. I think that having something like that for our own local context, or else hook up to partners interested in having a more global kids’ virtual village for discussing these issues might be a really good idea.

Ok so that seems to be it, from my end for this conference. I do hope that there is a follow up to this and that the e-books for this conference somehow make it to publication. I look forward to reading in more detail about the research that has been presented here! Well done to all and Ola!
PS I finally made it to go to a Fado Restaurant in Lisbon. Together with a few other conference participants we went to the Clube de Fado – fantastic food, and really lovely Fado music. I do advise this experience if you happen to be around the Lisbon area!

My first day at #BETT_show 2013 at London Excel

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London Excel – BETT 2013

This was a great day! It’s a bit difficult to  summarize my views and thoughts about this first day at the BETT Show 2013 but I will try to anyway. In the first place, I think that the venue is just great. It’s awesome, and huge…

BETT Show 2013 - main exhibitor area

BETT Show 2013 – main exhibitor area

During the first day, especially during the first part of the day, it was very easy to get lost. Secondly the place is so huge, the exhibitors so many, that no amount of maps will help in trying to focus on where to go, who to talk to and what to see. It’s like a huge feeling of helplessness as you’re continuously bombarded with information.

It took me a while to find where I had to go for the conference I had registered for which was Technology in Higher Education, and the first session I attended was the one by Richard Watson: The Architecture of Uncertainty. I thought it was a pretty good talk, albeit some of Mr Watson’s remarks, were in my opinion rather bold. I did agree with quite a lot that he said though. Some interesting remarks he passed concerned the use of iPads by adolescents. In Malta, right now, there is quite an amount of debate going on, as both political parties, in their race to win the upcoming elections, are throwing off promises of huge amounts of technological gizmos and gadgets, as if there is no tomorrow. Both are, in my opinion, far off the mark and have very little idea of the implications and consequences of what they are saying. Mr. Watson in fact, during this first talk, gave some insights into the dangers associated with literally throwing in technology tools in the classroom. First of all he started with a bold statement that iPads given to 10-14 year olds is killing off the teachers’ ability to engage students. Although certain technology devices, provide a variety of sources of information, one has to depart from the premise that creativity needs fostering from a variety of sources. He described how many applications are heavily formatted and this can cause an issue when it comes to creativity because most of the things that can be done within these applications, are standardized in a way that students cannot go beyond the set parameters of the same technology.  Future cannot be predicted – the future is rather uncertain with more than one possible outcome. Although once again, in Malta, many are saying, books will be changed to e-books, Mr. Watson says “Forget that all books will be e-books”. All predictions have hidden assumptions. They fail to take into account desires and wishes of users. Analysts look at data from recent past experience – but the way things are changing we cannot. The way our society is changing cannot be predicted.
So we have to ask ourselves: “What is education for?” I wish to ask politicians in Malta these questions: How would you define education? Do you think the role of education, TODAY, is to pass exams? Or to instil a sense of belonging or create a sense of initiative? Because answers to these two questions, by necessity demands a completely different strategy in the adoption of technology.

It is interesting that many people here at BETT are speaking about the Tsunami of technologies hitting the classroom. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is leading towards better literacies or better people emerging from the formal education system. This view was also echoed in a separate talk delivered at the BETT Arena – Global Voices in Education. Bette Chambers, revealed in a very insightful talk, that studies and research are showing that the increased use of technology does not necessarily improve learning. Now here I cannot afford to be misunderstood. I, an advocate of the use of technology

approaches in the classroom, am not saying, let’s go back to the 20th century classroom.

Better Chambers - Global Voices in Education "What evidence is there that this will improve learning?"

Better Chambers – Global Voices in Education “What evidence is there that this will improve learning?

I am totally against the ‘sage on the stage’. I am totally against mass standardisation. I am totally against preparing our students to become factory production workers. I firmly believe that education has so much more to give. Bette Chambers says: Technology is a tool. Would you use a hammer to paint?  The same applies to iPads in the classroom! She says: Technologies will only have an impact on student learning if they are used appropriately. If we really want to include tools and approaches in the classroom the one important question we have to ask our politicians is: if you want to tamper with education, and start adding stuff to the classroom, what evidence is there that this will improve learning?

The keynote by Anthony Salcito, the VP of Microsoft, was also quite insightful. He spoke a lot about technology and also about what we are doing with technology. Technology is NOT the issue of our education failures. It’s all about changes and attitudes.
He asks: how technology can be best served? It is all about the PEDAGOGY. And in Malta, right now, pedagogy is the one word which is the most overlooked and under-rated.

Another interesting talk was delivered by Dave White, on the use of Social media at Higher Education. Social Media is all about presence. We don’t need to make a distinction between the real and the virtual when it comes to social media. The university setting has changed: geography is no longer the key marker for where you are. WiFi is the students’ favorite technology. Of course students cannot engage unless they get online. The second favorite technology is Google. Now I ask, in Malta, we have placed the interactive whiteboard in the classroom, we are going to provide tablets, etc. BUT what about the Internet infrastructure? Some schools still lack WiFi connectivity. How can you employ a technology if the technology doesn’t exist. What about the Internet sites? Why is it that in Malta sites that teachers and students can access are still controlled by a civil servant at MITA? Why is it that when I ask my student teacher trainees to access a variety of educational sites from a classroom in a school they are told that all the sites are by default blacklisted and teachers don’t have the full rights to actually manage what goes on in the online classroom? What are we expecting to emerge from such a system. We are trying to put out the fires of creativity and innovation, rather than spark them off by standardizing everything and by making sure to remove any decision making power teachers may have.

I think that the majority of speakers during this first day of BETT have emphasised that teachers and educators really hold the key to the best education we can give to the learners, of all ages, and coming from all directions of life. It is not just about technologies or tools, it’s all about empowerment, empowerment of teachers, empowerment of students, empowerment of the community. I listened to a really nice talk, delivered by 10 year old kids, who were describing the way they used technologies during one typical day at school here. They had no fancy gadgets or gizmos, they simply used Google. But rather than just Google, it was the way they were using it, how they were using the apps, what they were getting from them that was the key.

I think that we really need to get our acts together when it comes to Education. There are too many people out there taking decisions for us educators without proper knowledge of what is really going on out there, and without proper reference to studies that have been academically validated. We, as Educators, have a great lot of tools at our disposal. Many are free, accessible, open and even flashy. But it’s up to us, to tell decision makers what we need, and what we require to make Education good!