Edulearn17: Guidelines for Miracles

elEdulearn17, the annual international conference on education and new learning technologies, took place in Barcelona from July 3rd until July 5th.
It boasted 850 participants from 80 countries.

The urgency of transition towards 21st century learning
Even though we have been living in the 21st century for some years, the focus on its skills will remain relevant for some time. During the welcome speech, 21st century students skills  were referred to yet again. Alec Couros (Professor Educational Technology & Media, Univeristy of Regina)  showed the NCTE Framework for 21st Century Learners in his keynote, in which he emphasised the importance of building relationships and designing (global) communities. He then elaborated on ten skills the future workforce will need, highlighting social intelligence, new media literacy and virtual collaboration. Sharing and anticipating these kinds of insights is urgent and relevant. In case you missed it, I can recommend this JISC report: ‘Higher education students not prepared for digital workplace.

How to deal with hobbits
gandalfJennie Magiera (Chief Program Officer, EdTechTeam) sometimes feels just like Gandalf, asking the hobbits to join an adventure. Initially, the hobbits really do not feel like going. Many teachers are no different: they do not feel like adventure. ‘Why would I? I have been doing things a certain way my whole life. I do not want to change anything and I certainly do not have time for it’, they say. “Let’s make some miracles”, Jenny motivationally said at the end of her keynote.

Five guidelines for miracles
g3Eventually, Gandalf succeeds in getting the hobbits to join him on his journey. That is not a coincidence, nor is it magic. Gandalf has (at least) five skills that help him and the hobbits during their journey. Let’s call them ‘guidelines for miracles’:

1.See the big picture and know the little steps to go forward
Alec rightly points out yet again that emerging technologies and social networks provide us with the tools to dramatically transform our learning environments and that learners have the ability to learn anywhere, anytime and with anyone for the first time in history. He illustrated this with several examples of questions people ask on YouTube and the answers this generated.
At the same time, we find ourselves in a phase in which many of our educational models and methods are grafted on expert-to-student information transfer. A time with tremendous opportunities raises many questions about the nature of teaching and learning. Practical guidelines that get us on our way are a great help. A simple yet important example is working with communities overarching courses (instead of working again and again with new communities within courses).

2. Be clear about what you expect
Zarina Mariam Charlesworth (University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Italian Switzerland)  is clear: digital natives are not digital learners naturally. Henning Slavensky (Aarhus University) rightly points out how important it is to make it clear what you expect of them. Do not forget the syllabus text, especially when you aspire to mutual reinforcement of online and face-to-face activities in a Blended Learning context.

3. Be aware that treasures may be closer than you think
We live in a time when the best universities’ beautiful moocs are available (often at no cost) to everyone with an internet connection. The material is there, so you do not need to develop it yourself. William Fraser (University of Pretoria) did a project in which he evaluated open access resources experiences of students and teachers. It proved striking that the participants did not realise how good the material actually is. However they formulate few recommendations like adding indications of prior knowledge and time, limiting resources that requires internet and the improvement of user-friendliness.

4. Do things you find exciting
One of Jennie Magiera’s students said that she was no good at programming, because she was a girl. When you want to activate Jennie, you need to tell her something like this. Even though she found it exciting herself, she challenged to program a robot. Hardly  a few days later, Jennie witnessed the girl’s dance performance, in which the programmed robot replaced one of her friends, who wassf2 ill that day. Another person who did something he found very exciting was the head of a course that one Antoni Gaudí had just finished. He literally said: “I am giving this degree to an idiot or a genius. Time will tell.” I had some spare time in Barcelona and was glad the man made this brave choice.

5. Join the fellowship
I am pleased to coach teaching teams almost daily. I help them to concretise and realise their Blended and Online programmes. It is very interesting to learn more about other ways to do this. Marian Stolz-Loike (Vice President, Online Education at Touro College) explained how she does this. A fascinating presentation in which she showed, among other things, the rubric she developed. This rubric can used to assess designed online programmes (preferably by peer teachers). fs2I have already told Marian I gladly accept the invitation to not only use this rubric, but also to further develop it together. Increasing student engagement and learning efficiency, or, in accordance with the conference’s theme, empowering learners in a digital world is something you just cannot do alone…