"I don't believe in technology, I believe in people"
12/06/2015
Jordi Rovira

In 2008, Groom, Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, coined the term Edupunk to define an approach to education that, like punk in its day, reacted against established thinking. It was a time when new innovative experiences were being consolidated, such as MOOCs or hackathons. "Collaborative working is normal now, but wasn't in 2008," said Groom, who with Edupunk adopted a rebellious attitude towards the traditional education model, advocating collaborative learning through virtual communities and free online open-source tools, the enhancement of creative education and the self-development of students, while giving the teacher the role of facilitator and advisor. This approach has had great repercussions, especially in the United States.

Tired of the "distortion and politicization of Edupunk", in 2011 Groom created DS106, a reinvention of his approach to education through an open course that includes elements such as empowerment and creativity through storytelling and encourages active participation, creation and reflection. "Students have within their reach a platform in which they control their digital identity, in contrast to the university websites. Here they have their space and can do whatever they want," he argued. "We must provide individuals, rather than businesses, with the infrastructure, the technology," he concluded.

UOC research

The conference also offered the chance for representatives from the UOC to present innovative experiences and research they are conducting on e-learning. Christine Appel, Director of the UOC's eLearn Center, talked about the centre's experimentation, innovation, training and applied research as it seeks to become an e-learning think tank. Applied research enables lecturers and researchers to benefit from the laboratory that the UOC itself represents as a source of data on ICT-based teaching and learning processes. "Every day we generate a great deal of data that we analyse and exploit for our research, while protecting privacy and taking into account the legal aspects involved," she said.

The eLearn Center has also incorporated two other fields of work to encourage new lines of action. The first is the Education and ICT programme, which brings together e-learning know-how at the University in the form of formal academic training. It has become a permanent test bed aimed at students wishing to experiment with the latest trends in educational technology. The second is the Experimentation Laboratory, a virtual space based on the concept of cloud computing that carries out pilot tests and teaching innovation projects with real students and subjects within the field of e-learning. Thus, at the UOC, e-learning has become both the means and the end.

Innovative approaches

In turn, Maria Taulats, Director of Planning and Quality, referred to how e-learning is assessed and the importance of quality plans in university strategy, while Pep Torn, Director of Library and Learning Resources, dealt with the transformation of libraries, focusing on full-text resources for accessing knowledge and the customization of these services. According to Torn, libraries must increasingly adapt to the specific aspects of subject or course syllabuses and "at present, beyond books, we are already working with parts of articles, chapters and so on, which requires working closer with lecturers in order to face the challenges involved, such as problems with copyright," he explained.

Finally, Llus Pastor, Director of Oberta Publishing, the UOC publishing house that works on innovative projects, talked about the new concept that Oberta represents, thanks to its customization of contents and generation of new learning services in which entertainment adapted to education plays a key role. "We are transforming the book into a service, not just a product," he said.

Moreover, yesterday, Montse Guitert, Director of Digital Literacy, presented the 360° e-assessment model, in the framework of the ICT Skills subject studied annually by three thousand students. It enables them to learn UOC skills, use and apply ICTs, and network as a team. To achieve these skills students prepare a digital project as part of a team and involve themselves in the assessment process by assessing themselves and their fellow students while the lecturer assesses the process and the outcomes individually and as a group. The assessment process has been tested and improved over twelve semesters and has now been established as a 360° e-assessment model. "Students get involved in their learning process, are more motivated and, therefore, improve their skills, while lecturers have more virtual evidence on the interactions and the collaborative knowledge construction process," Guitert concluded.

Overcoming isolation

During the conference participants are hearing about experiences that show the benefits of e-learning in different parts of the world. One of these, presented on Tuesday, was I Am Different from Other Women in the World, when Anna Szilagyi (Laureate Online Education) talked about a qualitative study on seven Saudi women studying online in international master's degree programmes at the University of Liverpool. Szilagyi talked about how in Saudi Arabia women cannot drive – which limits mobility when they go to university – and that they suffer the effects of gender-based segregation, as well as lacking access to many jobs. However, online courses have enabled them to make contact with people of both sexes, to discover other cultures and develop a critical spirit, among other things. "But the way people think does not move as fast as technology, and they still suffer constant restrictions," she warned.

EDEN Annual Conference 2015
Expanding Learning Scenarios - Opening out the Educational Landscape

#EDEN15
Dates: 9 to 12 June
Venue: Hotel Catalonia Barcelona Plaza
Plaa Espanya 6-8
08014 Barcelona

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