Education: Connected, disconnected or inexistent

I haven’t written a blog post for ages now. It is not that I was off blogs. I think the main reason was that I was lost for some time in a sea of voices that were very confusing… so much so, that I felt I had nothing to say. Anyway today I am attending a thematic meeting on Connected Learning for Adults organised by the Directorate for Lifelong Learning as part of the National Lifelong Learning Strategy… big words – are they hype? Will something happen?

At the moment, in Malta there have been a number of meetings. I have attended one such conference on ‘The State of Digital Education’ (here is a Storify link to the tweets published on the day). There has also been an EU Summit organised by the Commonwealth Centre for Learning just a couple of weeks ago.

So the meetings are happening, both here locally in Malta and even more so abroad. But it seems to me now, that we are talking and meeting and we are not really doing much tangibly. Let me get to the title of this blog post and start deconstructing it bit by bit.

Let me start by Connectedness … what is connected education? I mean what is it really? The  persons who came up initially with the term Connected learning way back in 2004, were George Siemens and Stephen Downes with their essays, and writings about the connected learner, connectedness and how it happens and what really creates connected education. Their theory, which they termed as a theory for 21st century learning was much criticised. I loved it. I latched on to it and I still believe in it. In short being connected is about an individual, who is in control of the meaning he/she constructs through the connections, online & offline,  tangible & intangible, physical & virtual. The problem is that people like me hail this theory but people who actually do the teaching with the younger generation, children and youths may not only not be aware of it, they believe that it is not what education and learning is all about. Even parents do not believe that education has to be connected… they believe education is equivalent to learning what needs to be learned so that their children get a certificate. And the sadness of all of this, is that this mentality gets stronger as the children get older, in such a way that after these young people graduate, if they ever make it, they’re people with very limited skills and abilities. The only skill they have mastered is how to make it through exams. But arguably that is not what life and work is all about is it?

What about Disconnectedness? What is it and why is it happening? To my mind, disconnectedness conjures this image of schooling… disconnectedness is happening with young people and even teachers in schools. The only connection that I see happening in schools, is partly with curricular books. I say partly because as part of the strategy which young people adopt to make it through the exams, they wouldn’t even read the assigned readings or books, but read only the sections which one would predict would emerge on the exam papers based on previous ones. So what we have and what is happening is a huge disconnectedness of the youths, with knowledge because knowledge to them is incomprehensible. My 7-year old son asks me ‘Why learn, ma?’ and I answer, ‘Why indeed, it is for you to know about stuff around us’ – but for him this is completely disconnected to whatever happens in school. What happens in school is that if any one of them asks a question which is not part of the syllabus then they are either ignored or else told to concentrate on what the teacher is talking about without receiving an answer to their question. Now I don’t want to really generalise, but this is the impression I get from what I observe, and from the discussions I keep hearing around me.

So what about Education? Is it inexistent? Is it all dark and gloomy. I really don’t know. From what I see happening in Malta, I am not really that hopeful. Every time I talk with teachers, educators and students, I get this feeling of hopelessness coming from their end. There is a lot of frustration, but people keep holding on to the fact that in the end, we get people obtaining certificates, and therefore that is fine – education is happening. We desperately need a change in culture, a mind shift… so many people have been repeating this over and over again, but it is not happening. We need a shift in the mind set of parents, of employers, and of politicians – we need a shift in the way teachers and students think about education and knowledge and what learning really is… this is what I believe we need… how do we actually start? That is the million dollar question.

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Digital Literacy is New… Digital Literacy is optional … Busting the Myths!

Following up on my previous post where I attended a public talk given by Bryan Alexander and Alex Grech, I have decided to write a bit about digital literacy and my thoughts about what this digital literacy monster. Both Bryan and Alex were also leading the National Digital Literacy Conference held in Malta on the 20th November 2015. The title of this post, is a snippet I borrowed from Bryan Alexander’s talk on Digital Literacy and its deconstruction.

Digital literacy has been overused and abused by many people who want to impress education policy makers. I know this is a strong statement, and I am maybe generalising. But I feel that digital literacy is not about teaching technology in schools, or teaching technology to our student teachers. When someone becomes digitally literate, then that someone starts understanding more the impact of technology on non-digital living in society. So digital literacy, and becoming digitally literate involves skills that are much broader, and run much deeper than learning about office applications or how to use the interactive whiteboard. So how do we do it in practice? How do we become digitally literate? I don’t think and I don’t believe that taking lessons, or formal training is going to help someone become digital literate. Becoming digital is about the experience, it’s about immersing yourself in the virtual realm – not unequipped with basic skills… these basic skills do not include knowing how to use tools or applications, but they include skills related to communication, the practice of ethics, knowing how to understand and interpret information, being critical of information, creation and production, problem-solving… so if these are the underlying skills for a successful digitally literate citizen, what’s new in digital literacy? So many people might say that digital literacy is a new subject – to be taught in a way that a language or a science subject might be taught… here’s whats new… No digital literacy is not new – it’s about bringing all the skills which we should be targeting in education and which absolutely everyone agrees should be what education is about, and applying it to the digital medium, which primarily uses the Internet as the network connecting people, information and multiple media together.

Is digital literacy optional? No – it shouldn’t be… as teaching shouldn’t be just about teaching content. Teaching is about instilling a love and passion for the subject, it’s about kindling curiosity about knowledge, it’s about helping someone else connect their own dots to create a meaningful experience. Living in today’s society implies some kind of digital knowhow… but digital knowhow is not being digitally literate… my 6-year old can meddle around with my smart phone or with my laptop but is he digitally literate ?- No! He still needs to develop crucial skills related to his social, emotional and cognitive growth that would make him digital literate… can school help him become digitally literate ? I am still hoping (am I being utopic?) that yes… but it will only happen when schools and policy makers, start deconstructing the monster of digital literacy, and viewing it for what it really is… applying the right skills (there are many of course… but these are 4 general umbrella skills associated to digital practices: communication, critical approach, creation and collaboration) to the digital and online medium.

 

Is social media controlling our lives?

This was the title of the excellent public talk I attended yesterday delivered by Bryan Alexander and Alex Grech  in Malta. My take home with me from this talk can be followed from my tweets from the 19th November but there are a couple of principles which I would like to discuss further.

  1. Social Media as bringing out the best and the worst in humanity. Both speakers made reference to the recent Paris terror attacks, and how social media was primary in not only keeping contact with the survivors, but in also offering support (“#PorteOuverte (open door) to offer shelter in their homes to those stranded in the French capital as well as emotional support). Facebook’s safety check app (and its controversial use (or lack of) for the parallel attacks in Beirut) was also part of the discussion. But we also need to view how social media is in fact helping display the lack of empathy, the hatred and the vilification of humanity, because people take to the screen as though there isn’t another human being at the end.
  2. Alex Grech joked about the matter of our presence as social media. He asked… do people actually use social media to be more visible? For instance, in an event such as yesterday’s talk, so many people registered their “interest” in that event by clicking a button on the Facebook event page. How many of those were truly interested – asked Alex. This is quite true and also quite sad really. Maybe this is also a brief glimpse into what drives humans… people want to be seen and heard, and the consequences of what they say (or type) become quite irrelevant. This is social media’s double edged sword… let’s give a voice to everyone – but really and truly what that voice carries is irrelevant to the drivers or the founders of the social media platforms. And this causes sadness, and pain in many instances.
  3. Bryan Alexander told us – let us stop romanticising the media of the past. People everywhere can frequently be heard saying – we were so much better when we were young… back in the good old days, we had no smart phones to distract us, no games to become addicted to, no Internet that is the cause of family dysfunction… I don’t know about you but I hear this all the time. People resist media change because change is not favoured by all humans and because the majority like to grip to what he or she is used to. Socrates himself resisted the advent of writing. We had people resisting the introduction of books, radio, tv… resistance is what we seem to do best when something ‘innovative’ appears. Social media is just another case in history. We will soon stop criticising it when something new comes along… robotics? Advanced AI systems?
  4. And then Alex mentioned this ongoing tension between society and technology – as this medium, the social media is disrupting the power structures that are at work within our society. We have been used to having this power in its hierarchical form… in the style of a Gramscian hegemony. We have been brought up in a pre-social media system which doesn’t question the powers that be… what we are seeing now, is the continuous criticism that comes from the empowerment that such a medium gives people. And yet again we have a double edged sword, as social media becomes the people’s microphone, a voice amplifier and a multiplier that can contribute to news going viral.

Is all this good? Is this bad? Is this controlling our lives? Probably… but then again as humans we really never have total control of our lives or our actions. We live in a society, we are a product of the society we live in. We are controlled all the time by the society we inhabit, by the cultures that form – whether these are physical, digital and virtual. Social media is just a tool – which we can choose to either exploit for the betterment of humanity, or like everything else exploit it to propagate hate, envy, criminal activity and any other action that goes against humanity.

Thanks for a great talk Bryan and Alex! Was quite thought provoking…

Child’s play

Browsing through my Facebook feed, I noticed that a colleague posted this article which caught my eye – The Joyful Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland. What prompted me to actually read the article more than the title, was the fact that I have a 6-year old son. Since children start school late in Finland, I got this mental image of my son, school and the word joyful… and I knew that in Malta, and for my son, joyful is not how he would describe his scholarly experience.

Let me first start by reflecting a bit on the article. Even though the author compares Finland to the US, I find that in Malta we can compare ourselves with the type of instruction he describes as being characteristic of US schools. Just yesterday I was discussing with another parent about the extent of ‘literacy’ that our children are being subjected to. In Finland, according to the author, the concept of literacy, whether this is numerical or language-related, is integrated into daily playful activities. Even dragging sticks in the mud, and pretending that the children are building dams, can lead to various literacy skills if the teacher intervenes at the right moment. Children at that level are not only exposed to physical activities, but they carry out serious play that can affect (in a positive way of course) the children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. Some children cannot communicate with others, not because they are not able to but simply because they haven’t been given the necessary space for them to develop this.

Now let’s flip back to Malta, and to our children’s current instruction. My son is a 6 year old attending a primary school. Never mind the hours that the article refers to where the children have to sit and write (so that they can improve their literacy skills!!!). It seems that in Malta we are driven by this ever increasing need of getting children flowing down the academic avenue right from when they are born. I don’t know whether this is our ingrained culture or whether we truly believe that we are indeed helping achieve higher levels of education by starting the infamous writing and reading early on in life. But just one look at our number of graduates, or maybe at our levels of early school leavers, or those who opt out of certification-led examinations at the age of 16 or 18, is for me enough to get me thinking whether the way we are approaching early and primary education is the right way. I have heard teachers (at all levels of education) complain that there is nothing they can do if the syllabi they are given are rigid and require the traditional, teacher-driven approach (to manage to “teach” all the syllabus on time), leaving the children in a state of passivity as they read and write (I ask – where’s the play?) …. so whilst the Finnish counterparts of my son’s age category are out there playing, building dams and going on outings, singing and being joyful, our children are doing written homework (after school) only to go back to school, to write more and then sit and do more written and reading exercises.

Now I have to admit it has been a long time since I’ve actually sat inside a primary classroom and observed what goes on. What I know is what I gather from colleagues, and also from what my son tells me. However I do find myself rather baffled. Are our policy makers, and decision takers – or maybe those people who draw up syllabi, aware that when they speak about increasing literacy standards, there are other ways of improving literacy? Are these people aware that people do learn from play and fun and that these are  ultimately not just buzz words but that is quite real? How can we expect to change cultures at a higher education level, when the moment our children start going to school we start telling them that play is not and cannot equate to learning?

I heard a story recently by a colleague – where a school administrator was talking about decreasing (the already severely dwindled) school outings, as these were evidently not useful to increase the benchmark test assessment (similar to PISA) results in a subject (he was referring to 9-10 year olds). According to this person, traditional teaching using workbooks is what would raise literacy levels and not outings. My 2 cents worth is that whilst in academia and research we speak at a certain frequency, those people out there who are in contact with or who are responsible for whoever is in contact with our children, are really not tuned in on the same frequency. We’re talking two completely different languages, and we’re both convinced that each is saying (and doing) the right thing.

What is right? What do parents want? What do policy makers want? What do teachers and school administrators want?

I sincerely don’t know at this point. What I do know is what my child wants … he wants to play. Last time he looked at me and very solemnly he told me : Ma, are you a teacher? I said yes… His reply was … so I deserve more of a rest than you because guess what? it is us children who spend all day working hard at school. I didn’t reply.

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Help! My parents are millennials (A title borrowed from the Time magazine cover story!)

So I just came across this cover story as I was morning browsing through my Facebook newsfeed… and it sort of got me thinking. How different are the new millennials to people of my generation or that of my parents? How differently will they raise their kids?

The cover story describes the lives of two parents, one of whom is the stay at home one (he happens to be the dad) whilst the other works (that’s the mum), and their two children. The parents had earlier on (since the pregnancy) decided to document day by day, their children’s lives as vegans using social media (Instagram and blogs). Now some might object – saying ‘oh come on – they’re only kids, they don’t seem to have a say about being in the public eye’, but then I dare anyone who’s holier than thou, to prove that they have never ever shared anything about themselves on social media.

This is not about the sharing per se. It’s about the how and the why of sharing. Sharing is about passing on a message but what some people fail to understand, is that it is ok to share snippets of lives if this can be of benefit to someone else. In this case these parents seem to be passing the message about sustainable living through continuously documenting the growth of their children.

In these past couple of years, we have seen a huge increase in Facebook use amongst the Maltese population. According to the site We are Social “Malta puts in an impressive showing at 58% (social media) penetration, with Scandinavian countries rounding out the rest of the top 5”. Social media places Facebook as the most popular platform chosen in Western European states. What we have also seen is the massive growth of people putting on all sorts of useless banter (for want of a better word), that can incite or provoke all sorts of reactions. We have also seen people committing gaffes responsible for either losing jobs, or getting to be in the eye of the proverbial storm. The reason has nothing to do with digital natives, millennials, boomers or whatever definition we might give. This all has to do with the good old-fashioned common sense and with a level of education that goes beyond the mere acquisition of grades and degrees and more into the ability to think about the consequences of one’s actions and words in a critical manner. I can also see that what our young people are getting from the messages of some of the elders who are also present on Facebook (not generalising here – but trying to give an overall image of the feelings I get when browsing the web) is that 1. every little thing that you do (whether or not it might make sense to have it) has to be documented on FB, and 2. Gather your pack of wolves (try having as many likes as you can to your posts) so that you can collectively attack anyone who either takes your fancy or else does not agree with what you say.

My 2cents thoughts about this is that social media can be made to work differently – it can be used (as it can sometimes be seen) to pass on messages to help improve people’s quality of life. We have to understand that it is not the social media that are causing the problems. It is the people who are using the social media, that are causing all kinds of mess and confusion. How we use social media is pretty much determined by our good sense, but also by our level of humanity and education. If schools had worked more with millennials to help them understand this, then maybe we might have a more civilised democratic and useful presence on social media. However there is still hope. Will schools rise up to the challenge and help young people understand digital citizenship or will we still persist in teaching ECDL skills and thinking that we are doing our part?

My #TwistedPair challenge: it’s all about Spiderman & Paolo Freire

No intro needed!

No intro needed! Source: http://tinyurl.com/on8jxal

I have recently been invited by Prof. Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) to take up the twisted pair challenge, and as I was thinking about it, my 6-year old son walked in wearing his spiderman costume (despite the fact that carnival is far away) 🙂 My son loves super heroes… he is always changing his future plans, from wanting to become Spiderman to Batman to the Flash – and he has the costumes to morph into any one of them as befits the occasion. Seeing him always makes me wonder about his future and wondering about his future makes me think about teachers, not only those who I teach, guide and follow, but also about the future generations.

“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.” – do you know who said this? Spiderman aka Peter Parker of course – way back in 2002.

I think this quote very much applies to teachers. Not everybody is born to make a difference in the world – but teachers have no choice – their profession demands it. Does this sound rhetorical? Cheesy? The matter of fact is that teachers count. One aspect of my job is that I get to meet and listen to the voices of those who will become teachers in the near future. And sometimes these voices don’t sound so convinced that they can really make a difference in the lives of the people they will encounter and teach on the way. And I feel that most of this arises from the fear of making changes or of embracing those restless, dissonant souls who are searching for much more than becoming merely passive recipients.

Paolo Freire

Paolo Freire
Source: http://tinyurl.com/pspjqc5

And here comes in Paolo Freire, whose own restless soul wanted to bring education to the poor, by empowering them with critical thought through literacy. These words – critical thought, literacy, empowerment – they seem to slide off certain tongues. Sometimes colleagues, researchers, administrators, policy makers seem to use them as buzz words – could it be that maybe they use them to show that they know such words exist? But to implement them in practice – ah now that is the real challenge – is left up to the teacher as she inhabits her classroom space. And invariably I have seen those same teachers who write wonderful words about these words, fail to rise up to the challenge – most often as they are driven by syllabus restrictions, and administrators or heads breathing hotly down their necks but also because it’s easy to reproduce the kind of teaching that they were taught by. It is this that they know and are familiar with – I’ve been there myself – this approach can give you assurances that you can retain control – control of the class, control over what goes on in the minds of the learners, control that then reaches its apex when the students sit for their exam, and obtain a passmark, through all the effort that you (not them) have put in. One quote by Freire which really hits the mark here, and which I usually share with my own students as future teachers is this (from the Pedagogy of the Oppressed) :

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other…”

Knowledge is not achieved by transfer no matter which tools are used for that transfer. We need to change our actions to match our words and truly work towards becoming more critical – starting with ourselves and our perspectives.

So there we go, all of us who are teachers but who are first and foremost, educators who are passionate about diffusing positive energies for creating inquiring, inquisitive minds, that can deal with innovation and invention we need to follow in the steps of our super heroes to be able to bring about a change in the world we live in, for today but also for tomorrow. And for the sake of all the 6-year olds out there who still believe in super heroes, let’s all act like one – and as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker  – “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility!”.

Another wonderfully inspiring talk by @SirKenRobinson

“The dropout crisis is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Sir Ken Robinson. ” What it doesn’t count are all the kids who are in school, but being disengaged from it, who don’t enjoy it, who don’t get any real benefit from it”. Call me rhetorical but these are, in my opinion, words of wisdom that apply not just to America, but to many other countries, including Malta. All the problems we are seeing here, and all the problems that are yet to come can not be seen as the malady, or the sickness but a symptom of this “disengagement” that students are manifesting from school and worse still, from learning. Students are equating learning with schools and teaching, and are therefore simply shutting down to learning – learning is what ultimately would benefit the economy – learning is what ultimately contributes to a ‘knowledge society’. If a society, as a whole is a learned society, a knowledgeable society that can critically reflect upon problems, that has the ability to find solutions, and that has this wonderful sense of wishing to contribute by creating something new, then of course we certainly don’t need any standardised tests to tell us that we’re doing well. We would be doing well, as a whole country and we would certainly show it. Maybe I am being ‘utopic’ here, but unless we start shifting the way we think and rethink different directions in education, we will continue to wallow. As Sir Ken Robinson says, “Children are not, for the most part suffering from a psychological condition… they are suffering from childhood” !!! – and this really goes to say, that if we keep expecting all our kids to sit down for hour after hour, listening, and listening, then we should expect nothing else but disengagement – manifested in a variety of different ways.

Wonderfully inspiring and engaging as always – thank you Sir Ken Robinson.

The Power of Networks

I always enjoy listening to talks embedded in RSA animations. I find they are thoroughly stimulating, but revisiting this video I couldn’t not comment or link to it from my blog.

Connections and networks, are two words that have been around since the existence of mankind but that have enjoyed the benefit of being right in the middle of the ‘buzz’ only recently through the application of the online social media phenomena like Facebook and Twitter. Many people, including educators, discourage the use of online social networking because of what they call as ‘the implications’ of online social networks. I gather, that by ‘implications’ they are actually thinking about the negative or the adverse effects. To these people I would really suggest this book – by Christakis and Fowler – for it presents some interesting insights about what networks really are and what they can really do, whether for education, life, love, economy and politics.

In reality, we have a lot to learn through our connections. Wherever in the 1980’s I could only interact, and possibly learn, by the close knit community I had built around me of parents, and a few school friends, 30 years on, my learning interactions have possibly become … limitless! In the 1980’s and 1990’s I guess it was understandable and excusable that we would only learn from books. Possibly employers might have been right in saying that people coming out of higher education were not so practical – unless they went through a student-worker kind of scheme. And even so, most of our learning could come only from books, and from the teacher or lecturer. That was the era. But now, that the power of networks has been unleashed – that we have become so much aware of what connected really means and what it can really imply, I find it beyond comprehension that we are still listening to people saying that there is a gap between theory and practice, just as I find it incomprehensible that at higher education, students are still expecting to be told what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn it. Students, academics, teachers, everyone – can wield and harness such great power. The question is – do they know how? do they even know where to start from? I think the answer has to start with education – education is the key to this. No more regurgitation of content please! No more passivity – no more of the recipient metaphor. And if we start with education about the power of networks… who knows where we might end. The journey in itself is a most interesting pursue!

Time is short…connect the dots…(part of a speech given by Steve Jobs) #ocTEL

So I feel I am running a bit late on ocTEL activities and therefore I am still catching up with Week 1 activities here on this blog even though we are now well into Week 2. So I have just spent a very good portion of my morning, re-listening the talks that I had actually seen and heard before but had in the meantime, forgotten some of their essence. My title in-fact was taken from Helen Keegan‘s PELeCON talk last year.

However if I had to choose two particular talks and two particular speakers which I think I am finding as my kind of ‘virtual mentors’ at this stage in my life, I would say that I would pick Eric Mazur and Sugata Mitra. In fact I have blogged about Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment in an earlier blog post. Their talks are so inspiring because they, to me, have brought me closer to that “aha moment”, as described by Eric Mazur  – leading the way to the “connect the dots” process that Steve Jobs mentions [I do suggest viewing this commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005]. I think that one concept which both Eric Mazur and Sugata Mitra have in common is in fact, this sense of giving responsibility to the learner for his own learning. I believe that with all the interactive whiteboards that we have, and for all the tablets that we might get, we are still so far away from actually shifting our mindsets to that direction. I ask what good is a tablet when all you use it for, are drill and practice exercises in class? What good is an interactive whiteboard in class, when all the interaction it seems to stimulate is between itself and the teacher, as the teacher presses the forward button on the powerpoint presentation that is displayed to the students?

I ask, why is it so hard for us teachers to accept that maybe, just maybe we don’t really know everything, and we therefore let go. As Mazur, rightly described – this is so easy… it is so easy to go for an information transfer approach. Me, the teacher, have the information – the content. You, the student, are there to get that information –  the content. Content in, content out on the exam paper. Easy yes? But no… the outcome is disastrous. It might certainly be less easy for the teacher to help students reach the hard assimilation process. It is so hard to watch learners try to understand, and let them explore, inquire, reach their own conclusions and be there to guide them along the way. Certain people I know, would say I am speaking in theory. In practice, this can never be done. Well in practice, it is what my young 3 year old son does. And he’s not a genius either. It’s what and how every child learns – through exploration – constructing and deconstructing knowledge. Yet when it comes to the classroom, and to the application of technology, a certain fervor seems to grab us by the throat and we decide that we are not able to handle seeing our students learn by themselves. So we instruct them. We have to be the ones to tell them how to open a Microsoft Word document. We have to be the ones to tell them that Facebook shouldn’t be used. We have to be the ones to tell them, to fill them up with something, whatever that might be.

What I have been trying to point out all along, even in previous posts is this. Technology, any technology or device or tool, if used for mere information transfer is absolutely nothing more special than a pen and paper – for what it’s worth. Information transfer is what we have been used to, what we have been taught. But today it is different. Today’s world is different, today’s economy is different, today’s society is different – their needs, our needs are different. We’re no longer secluded objects living on separate lands. So a student cannot just live on information transfer. People are showing they have very little engagement with schools and especially with the content taught at schools. I ask: why would that be? Sugata Mitra describes how in the traditional teaching setting a teacher spends his time trying to give content to the student, and the student spends his entire lifetime trying to forget it! It’s true. I have experienced this myself when I taught using the traditional information transfer, ‘sage on the stage’, kind of approach. And even if my powerpoint had an amazing design, and even if I had so many videos showing throughout the lecture, and even if I almost did acrobatics to engage my students, in the end, after the lecture, they could hardly remember one single thing which I talked about. None of them were talking, none of them were on Facebook or Twitter, none of them slept – yet none of them got any souvenirs back from my lecture.

This particular instance had started to make me realize that technology without the right approach and methodology is really quite glitzy and shiny, but it’s as shallow as cheap costume jewellery. There is no depth there. What Sugata Mitra was talking about, and what always impresses me when I watch this talk, is that the kids, during his many experiments, and wherever in the world they were (be it in the slum areas of a tiny village in India, or in the UK) managed to reach a depth in their level of understanding that could not even start to compare with what any teacher can ‘pour’ into them. And this is not to say that teachers are useless. We, as teachers, have to stop feeling scared of letting go. Both of the speakers focus on an approach that sees a major involvement of students, to solve problems that might be more complex than we think people of that age can handle. And yet, using the technology as a “conduit for connections” – (taken from the interview with George Siemens) they both manage to create learning experiences that are not only fascinating and engaging for the learners, but that manage to run deep in the learner’s minds.

I think that in essence technology is not just about the tools or the devices. I think it’s about the pedagogy, the art and science of teaching – and this centers around the teacher. I think that the technology is all about the use and application and how the teacher/mentor manages to apply this as  the “catalyst that fosters connections” (another quote by George Siemens) and as Steve Jobs says, something that “helps us connect the dots”.  Whether or not, technology has to be used everytime, everywhere is a debatable issue. I think that as with everything, there isn’t a clearcut black/white line… there are different shades that most often depend heavily on the context in which the learning experience is set.

#CFHE12 – My 2cents for Week1

When a friend of mine told me about the course and that there were George Siemens and Stephen Downes involved I knew I had to participate. Not just because I appreciate what they write about and the way in which they write and design their courses, but because the theme for this course is of interest to me as part of the academic society in HE in Malta. So  I started reading a bit more about the topic and in the meantime I also attended a few seminars that are helping me see through a clearer lens. The first seminar I attended at the University of Malta concerned the Bologna Process and I did submit a comment over the CFHE website. Some valid replies were submitted. The Bologna Process concerns mostly European HE and Academic Institutions and it is also rather controversial. There seems to be a body of academics who are particularly adamant in restricting the “openness” created by this process, whereby it seems that the campuses are undergoing a ‘globalisation’ approach in their diffusion of knowledge. Now in all due fairness, there are those who argue that knowledge at a higher level does not just belong to the ‘elite’ few, or that certain institutions open their doors only to selected candidates. My personal bias in this, and after having read some of the readings suggested for this course, is that access to Education, in particular Higher Education shouldn’t be limited. I believe that if people want to learn, any discipline, in any area of study, and shows a willingness, effort and perseverance in achieving the stipulated goals (goals that are set by the institution as well as by the individual learner) then they should be free to pursue their learning through the courses. And that is why MOOCs do work for me, this is the second MOOC I am following and I have also enrolled in another course (via Coursera). However I have to specify that all this openness, cannot be bartered for the quality of the course that is being delivered. And most often the quality that is delivered to the learner, is most often at the mercy of University administration who do look at the profits vis-a-vis the costs that are incurred.

I would also like to take a look at various HE institutions and make reference to some of the claims that are saying that MOOCs and maybe the online environment will take off the shine from the physical structures, and the traditions of a course. The second seminar which I have attended has also served to shed some light on another aspect of learning that needs to be taken in consideration. There are different approaches towards analysing and at time measuring student engagement at HE. Various institutions in the UK as well as in the US are using National Student Surveys to attempt to determine whether the students are indeed engaged with the content, as well as with the structure, and measured in terms of curricular achievements as well as their participation in structural activities. However my belief is, and this has also been underlined in another article which I was reading by David Brooks, called ‘The Campus Tsunami‘ we cannot separate immediate achievements with those achievements that like a snowball propagate through the dynamics of space and time. When a learner is truly engaged with the learning environment, he/she becomes prepared to take learning a step forward, and rather than simply mark a short term achievement (like a certificate of participation or an ‘A’ grade in an exam) then the learning itself becomes a process critical inquiry. In this case, the learner is empowered to construct his/her own knowledge in a way that can be further used and developed to serve a much higher purpose. And this, as described by Freire, leads to the transformation of learning. And that is what we, as HE insititutions, should aim towards, whether we use MOOCs, whether we all migrate towards the online learning environment, or whether we simply use the physical resources that we have. We need to be able to offer directions that can enable, empower, learners to achieve that transformation that goes beyond consumption of information in this age of information overload.