#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…

Education is Broken … let’s fix it (not) with the technology glue …

This really good article written by Kentaro Toyama and published via The Chronicle of Higher Education. In his article Toyama, traces his own journey into his experience with the integration of technology for learning.This has been a conundrum which many policy makers have been faced with ever since technology started making its ways in education. The author clearly points out that the success of the use of technology, especially in education, doesn’t really depend on the technology or on the device, or any other tool. It really depends on the user – the teacher, the student, the parent. Education then starts to be perceived as a mesh of responsibility that needs to be carried by everyone who is involved. What we have instead is this… the policy maker decides on the use of a particular technology, the technology is implemented (fully or maybe not) in the classrooms, the teacher has to make use of it (even if he or she has to create makeshift activities to fit it in an existing structure. The end result seems to indicate that teachers become unhappy as they speak of technology that is foisted on them, the students are still pretty much disengaged, and lifelong learning becomes just rhetoric.

Last week I overheard a conversation between two teachers, as it inevitably turned to technology and how it’s affecting them. One teacher told the other that she doesn’t really use the Interactive Whiteboard because after all she sees no point in using it. The other told her that she’s lucky to have an Interactive Whiteboard “at least” because she had to move the portable projector around to be able to project something in her class. They were muttering that they couldn’t keep up with all the changes they were supposed to be doing in their classroom. They mentioned that the next upcoming change is a learning management system and after that – who knows? They just gave up because in the end, they said, the people who decide on all of these changes, leave them to cope with them. And without the right supporting structures, who would monitor them to see what they are doing?

Maybe I shouldn’t generalise from just one conversation, and maybe there are teachers who really are struggling to fix education as best as they can. However I think the educational structures in general are not helping at all. In education there is more lacking than just tools and devices. How long will we keep teaching that ICT is all about devices, or all about how to use office applications? How long will we take to realise that that the digital era we live in is so much more than the technology?

#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 🙂