The community first: subverting the dynamics of putting technology in the classroom

For the nth time, the OCDE, in its Students, Computers and Learning. Making the Connection report, warns us about how technology is not changing academic performance in schools… unless other variables are taken into account — that is for academic performance as it is (quantitatively) measured today: there are, of course, other outcomes, like digital literacy, e-inclusion and social inclusion in general for the student and the family which, to me, are oftentimes successfully met.

Put very shortly, the thing is that there is quite a lot of evidence that what has an impact on academic performance is changes in methodologies. If ICTs (laptops, tablets, smartphones, interative whiteboards, but also blogging, microblogging, social videos, social bookmarking, etc.) have an impact it usually comes indirectly by having an impact in teaching and learning methodologies.

Unluckily, most projects that aim at putting in the classroom (apologies for this imprecise, generic and especially misleading concept) have been focusing almost exclusively in putting hardware and software in the classroom (that is why the name, all in all, may not be misleading at all) and spend little time and budget to everything else around technology.

But, how does one design a project that has an impact on methodologies? Well, the usual answer is training. But training raises several questions and issues:

  • Who trains he trainers?
  • How does the trainer build upon experience?
  • How does the trainer build a reputation?
  • How does the trainer build a legitimacy?
  • How is this training sustainable?
  • How is this training replicable?
  • How is this training scalable?

I think what these questions have in common is a community.

Now, summing up, what educational technology projects usually have done is: they devote all the funds they have to buy technology or digital services, while their main asset, the community, usually remains unattended. Sooner or later, the project runs out of money and thus cannot go on. On the other hand, the asset upon which the project could rely is not put in motion and thus does not trigger the springs and levers that could create the necessary changes for the project to be laid on strong foundations. Yes, this is a cruel simplification, but it is not very far from a general truth: we lose our minds on technology and forget humans.

So, what could be one? It seems that just the opposite direction could be a good starter.

  1. Identify a community of interest, that is, find who the motivated people are and see how they are connected.
  2. Work to shift the community of interest into a community of practice, by making their members share what they do. This will require resources to make sharing easy, comfortable, worth it. Most resources, though, will not be aimed at technology (e.g. a social networking site or platform) but to engage people and build on trust and reputation. It’s called facilitating. And it mostly relies on humans too.
  3. Help the sharing of practices turn into knowledge sharing, so that the community becomes a community of learning: learning by doing, learning by sharing, learning by engaging, learning by dialoguing.
  4. Contribute to raise the tough questions: learning is more about asking rather than answering. With luck, a diagnosis will emerge: where are we, where do we want to go, what do we have, what do we have not.
  5. Some of the things we have not will be knowledge: bring some structured training in.
  6. Some of the things we have not will be technology: bring the technology in.
  7. And back to #1.

In my opinion, it is important to stress that points #5 and #6 are not exactly the same training and technology as in traditional educational technology projects. Firstly, because the decision of which training and which technology comes not from a top-down perspective, but from a bottom-up one. It’s the community who produced the diagnosis and, thus, it’s the community who proposed the solutions (either in training or in technology). Secondly, because the diagnosis did not only identified the gaps or shortages, but also the assets. It may well be, for instance, that the collective found out that most students already have laptops or tablets, and thus the funds can be addressed only to buy devices for those who do not have them and only for them. Or, maybe, that there are other community resources that can be put in motion to fill that gap in, such as libraries or telecentres. Or that some people know some things and willing to share them with others in some formal way (course, training session). Many other examples can be found related to technology or — and most relevantly — to training.

Another matter to be highlighted is that the concept of community (of interest, practice, learning) goes way beyond a sectoral understanding of the concept. When thought of from a top-down approach, the community is educators, teachers. When thought from a bottom-up approach, the definition of community is much wider. The good think about a wider sense of a community is that it will take into consideration all the assets available (inside and outside schools) and it will build a much more strong consensus while it is reached. And both — assets and consensus — are the cornerstones of sustainability, in whatever sense (economic, social…) one may take it.

Detaching learning from educational institutions

Man using a cutting torchVigilant guard exercise, courtesy of The National Guard.

We, educators, keep on reciting the mantra that we should learn our whole lives. The paradigm of lifelong learning. But we keep on talking about education. That is, educational institutions. This is, to my point of view, a contradiction in its terms, to say the least.

Let us imagine a person that will be taking courses until she is 21. This is a usual age to get a regular three-year-long bachelor’s degree (approximately). Imagine that person will live 84 years. Under a lifelong learning paradigm, that person will keep on learning after leaving college. Indeed, that person will spend 75% of her life learning outside of the educational system.


Despite the fact that we acknowledge that most people will spend most of their lifetimes outside of the educational system — away from schools, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres — we keep on saying that we need to transform schools, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres.

I am sure we have to transform them, but I am not that sure that we are making it in the direction that is most needed: towards the world or informal learning. I believe that educational centres will only have a purpose if they can still provide support to those learners that are not within their walls.

In other words, we have to prepare learners to be autonomous once they leave the educational system. But autonomy means not isolation, but self-management, which is quite different. And it is different because self-management still relies on access to knowledge-intensive resources. Like educational institutions.

Thus, we have to prepare educational institutions for that time when most people will be mostly learning outside of educational institutions, but not without them: we need to open up educational institutions, blur the borders that separate formal from non-formal and informal learning. We need to get over the idea that learning (“quality learning”, “serious learning”) happens only within institutions. We have to detach learning — the action — from educational centres — the place.

If we understand by educational institution something more than just centres, we can identify several other educational institutions that definitely need and actually can be opened up, unfolded, disrupted, subverted:

  • The school: to get rid of time and space. Learning is not a place.
  • The classroom: to build learning communities, several ones, that let information in and out. Learning is not a cohort of people.
  • The textbook: to be up-to-date, to build together what is considered a resource. Learning is not written in stone.
  • The library: to enable more than one choice criterion. Learning is not passive.
  • The syllabus: to foster connections with the real world. Learning is not a black box in a white room.
  • The schedule: to make of any time a good time for learning. Learning is not a season.
  • The teacher: to bring in more voices to one’s own learning. Learning is not a social birthmark.
  • The assessment: to make of learning a two-way path. Learning is not perfect isolation.
  • The certification: to really focus on skills and competences. Learning is not a title.
  • The curriculum: to make of learning an environment. Learning should be self-determined (heutagogy).

I am utterly concerned about the role of educational institutions: I believe that soon they will have none. I am totally convinced that there is an urgency for learning institutions. And yes, we can (re)use educational institutions as learning ones. But their transformation needs being thorough, deep, radical. And it begins with detaching the content from its container, in the same way that when we talk about social work, we speak about interventions, not about social centres. We need to talk about the role from the institution and how, and when, and where, and by whom, and what is the best way to put that role in motion.

A critique to UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index

Cover of UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2015
UNCTAD’s Information Economy Report

UNCTAD has released the new edition for 2015 of its Information Economy Report, especially devoted to disclose the potential of e-commerce for developing countries. To contribute to the reflection, the report introduces the new UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index. The purpose of this index is:

[to allow] countries to compare their readiness with others and also indicates their relative strengths and weaknesses in different elements of the e-commerce process, such as the quality of Internet infrastructure and the availability of payment and delivery solutions.

In my opinion this is only partly true.

Let us take the main areas of e-readiness that I developed in Measuring digital development for policy-making: Models, stages, characteristics and causes, that is:

  • Infrastructures.
  • ICT sector.
  • Digital literacy.
  • Policy and regulatory framework.
  • Content and services.
  • Socio-economic context.

These are the five (six, counting the socio-economic context, or non-digital factors) areas that I found relevant to define the state of e-readiness of a given economy, geographic area or community. If we take out Content and services, which will here act as the “dependent variable”, we still need to cover the other five areas. How does the index do it? Well, let us take the four indicators that the index is using and let us compare them to our e-readiness areas:

  • Secure Internet servers (per 1 million people). This indicator clearly falls in the area of Infrastructures and it can also be used as a proxy of the maturity of the ICT sector. There is no (secure) e-Commerce without secure servers, which at their turn have to be operated by competent companies.
  • Percentage of individuals using Internet. This indicator can be used as a proxy to two very different things. The first one is digital literacy. It is a bad indicator for digital literacy, but it is better than nothing, and yes, it somewhat correlates with the ability of people to use the Internet. On the other hand, it is quite a good indicator to approximate Infrastructures. Infrastructures? Right: the demand side of infrastructures or, if you prefer it, a proxy of the usage (even saturation) of these infrastructures. These two indicators together — secure servers and individuals using Internet — do tell us almost half of the whole picture with just two indicators. A very good choice.
  • Percentage of the population having mail delivered at home. A non-digital indicator, it can though be useful to proxy both digital literacy and a certain propensity to use information intensive goods and services. Again, an interesting choice.
  • Credit card (% of age 15+). Last, this is the indicator to capture the socio-economic context. The number of people having a credit card tells us lots of things about the state of things where e-commerce will develop.

So far the collection seems very good — and it actually is, in my very sincere opinion — as it provides enough information on how ripe the market is for e-commerce to settle and grow: we can tell if the infrastructures at hand are enough, whether people have access to connectivity and do use the internet, and if these potential customers are already customers in an offline world. It could be argued that the policy and regulatory framework are missing — and this is despite the fact that UNCATD does take it into account and presents the data in the report — but it is very likely that the usage of the Internet and the existence of secure servers somewhat reflect the healthiness of the policy and regulatory framework. In other words: on a monopoly of infrastructures, it is very likely that there would be less secure servers (which correlate with a free market) and much less users (which are affected by affordability, the first victim of monopolies).

That said, is then everything right?



What is missing?

The whole supply side is missing. Firms are missing.

We have the main actors: customers, the infrastructures where transactions will take place, (indirectly) the regulatory framework, and the economic context. But we do not have the sellers.

And, in my opinion, the e-readiness level of the sellers (mostly retailers in the B2C index) cannot be inferred from any other indicator among the ones chosen by UNCTAD.

It may well be that even with a rampant B2C e-Commerce index, e-commerce would just not take off: firms may simply be not online (e.g. do not have a website, or a website prepared to perform online transactions), and it may happen that employees from firms may not have the skills to sell online (quite different from the ones needed to buy online: customer (online) relationships management, e-marketing, content management, SEO and SEM, etc.). These are very relevant factors. Indeed, data show again and again that for most countries there is a deep digital divide between big firms and small and medium enterprises: the former steadily advance with the pace of times while the latter usually do what they can in terms of online presence and, even worst, in terms of online transactions.

Conclusions? At least two.

  1. If you are a firm that want to enter e-commerce, UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index will be useful as it does tell how mature is your market in relationship to developing an e-commerce initiative.
  2. But, if you are a government, the index may be telling you only half of the story (to be true, more than that) and forgetting the whole part of firms or, in other terms, of de supply side of e-commerce. If you are a policy maker and you want to foster e-commerce in your region, well, the index may simply not be enough or, even worse, may be sending wrong signals.

Thus, in my very personal opinion, the UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index is a very good tool that needs being completed with information from firms. Maybe by means of an indicator calculated with a composite index made up from whether firms have a website, the degree or intensity of B2B and G2B interactions and some indicator on the digital skills of the employees or the board of directors.

Open social learning: let me out, let them in

Image from the Portal videogame
Image from the Portal videogame.

When we usually speak about open social learning what first comes to mind is to bring learning where the students actually are. In simple terms, if they are on given social networking site, let’s try and make that specific social networking site an educational space. Let’s try to tear down the walls of the classroom, of the school, and let the students out of the education system so they can learn where they are, when they are there.

But even more important than letting students out — which is important — it is letting third parties in: opening holes and gates in the education system so that the outside — the “real” world? — can get in.

This is not new, but the magnitude, depth, and width which open social learning now enables letting others get in the education system is radically different.

So, what things can we open up so that

  1. We let learners out.
  2. We let others in.

What are the gates than can be opened and how?

The school

One of the main reasons for schools to be is that they optimize efficiency and efficacy in a world with barriers of time and space. As information cannot be everywhere anytime, we collect it under a roof and put learners in. And we do that at a given time.

There is no more a reason for schools to be shut down from evening to dawn. Or during weekends.

Virtual learning systems, online campuses, learning management systems, whatever you call them enable that students themselves can get in the school at a any time. This is, in my opinion, the very first step towards open social learning: do not go and settle in new spaces before yours cannot be inhabited at any time.

Opening the school means:

  • Eliminating the barriers of time.
  • Eliminating the barriers of space.

The classroom

What is a classroom? A place where to gather. To gather around a topic. Who? Well, those interested in the topic. All of them? No, as the classroom space is a limited one and we risk crowding out the ones that “should” be there (vs. the ones that “should not”).

Virtual spaces have no room constraints. Let us expand the classroom with a hashtag on Twitter. It will still be a gathering of people around a topic, but now many others can join in. Let us make of that hashtag our classroom. But let us benefit from the (a) replies of others (b) RTs of others (so we can know/meet new people) and, even more, (c) the content that others will bring, in the form of links or associated hashtags.

I’m not very fond of xMOOCs, but this does not mean they are useless or worthless: xMOOCs are a good opportunity to extend one’s classroom much beyond it’s physical borders.

Opening the classroom we can:

  • Enable the creation of communities.
  • Foster proactivity.
  • Let external information get in.
  • Let external authors get in.
  • Blur the barriers between formal education and informal learning.

The textbook

We all have a textbook. Textbooks are expensive. That is why we stick to one. The whole term.

Imagine textbooks were not expensive. That you could get many for nothing. Or even could mix and merge different parts of diverse textbooks. That is open educational resources.

But why only sticking to formal educational resources? Why not accessing the zillions of good contents — formal and informal — that exist outside of our shelves? Even more: why not creating or contributing to create new content, and in doing it, learn the whole bunch of concepts and skills that need being apprehended?

With open non-textbooks we can:

  • Foster actualization of content (did Pluto waited until end of term to cease being a planet? did the Higgs boson also waited to provide solid evidence of existence?)
  • Incentive edition and creation skills.
  • Foster collaborative work: instead of learning the pros and cons of a given law provided by the teacher, why not analyse that law and write, in groups, the comments on a wiki?
  • Or just foster teamwork. If you think this is a repetition of the former point, think it over.

The syllabus

Things remain unchanged since the moment we draw our syllabus. The syllabus has freezing powers: things unfreeze only when the semester is over and before the next semester begins. Do they? No.

A syllabus can be built on the run. Yes, it is not always possible. Yes, it is not always convenient. But it can be done. And it sometimes should. And how far should we go in programming vs. allocating some degrees of freedom? It depends.

A (part of the) syllabus can simply be opened by adding new stuff that complements the formal syllabus. For instance, by means of a social bookmarking site. Fed by the teacher… or fed by any student: agree on a tag and that is all. Indeed, the syllabus can be fed by each and everyone, as we saw in the case of Twitter and the hashtag. Whether you consider that or not part of the syllabus is now only a pedagogical or political question, no more a technical or economic one.

The especially good thing about an open syllabus is that it enables non-sequentiality: reality has that thing that things happen when they one, not when they would be more convenient for teaching purposes.

An open syllabus

  • Promotes active roles in managing information.
  • Eases nearness or a sense of proximity.
  • Enables immediacy.
  • Works better with mobile and ubiquitous learning.

The library

The library is the place where books are. Or where information lies. Someone puts it there for us to use it. Who? Not us. But we are learning a lot of stuff about the topic and we found some great resources! Well, you don’t tamper with the library’s order.

Now you can.

You, as a teacher, can create your own collection of resources. A collection which occupies no physical space, which has a quick process of updating. Which can grow course by course, day by day. As you read. It’s called a bibliographic manager.

But things need not be always that formal.

Imagine you request case studies for your classes. Why keep then in your drawer? Why not let the students publish them (in full text, as slides) on repositories like Scribd or Slideshare? That will work as their e-portfolio and, if a given tag is added, as an ad-hoc library, or as a collection.

Open libraries are good for:

  • Easily creating informal collections of non-formally published material.
  • Contribute to one’s synthesis skills.
  • Increase exposure and thus work towards better argumentation skills.

And with tools already in the market. Most of them for free.

The schedule

The possibilities of an open schedule can be inferred from open schools and open syllabuses together.

Thus, asynchronous forums and debates are a good starter.

But we are still thinking linearly here. Same things as always, but just looser.

Flipped classrooms are a transforming idea, not just a mere evolution or enhancement of the usual schedule. If we add to the idea of the flipped classroom the open textbook or the open library, things get even more interesting.

But there’s more: why not creating scheduled/formal stuff out of un-scheduled moments? Imagine a conversation on Twitter. Which becomes (in positive terms) heated. With interesting exchanges of opinion, with contributions based on evidence and with backing links and documents. Does it matter that it happened on a Sunday night? Can we put it together (e.g. on Storify) and make of it (a) good learning content or (b) good evidence for assessment?

Open schedules

  • Definitely tell the difference between content and skills/competences.
  • Do bridge formal education with informal learning.

The teacher

It is only obvious, at this point, that also in the institution of teaching we can open gates that especially let third parties in the education system. At highest orders of magnitude.

Remember when we shared our students works/cases on social networking sites and repositories. What happens when these contents have much more visits than students are in the classroom. Did they become teachers themselves? And the other way round: what happens when we use others’ materials and those others are students or professionals?

Communities of learning, communities of practices — or, with a minor formal learning turn: cMOOCs — are a terrific way to constantly change the roles of the people concerned with a given learning goal and a given (but not immutable) learning path.

Even more interesting: networks are reconfigurable. Indeed: networks are the way more or less unchangeable communities have to reach out for others while maintaining their identity.

An open approach to teaching

  • Makes it possible to introduce new authors in one’s learning scenario.
  • Increases exposure, of both sides — learner and teacher — and usually increases thoroughness.
  • Implies open protocols and open processes, thus easing heutagogy.

The assessment

Can assessment be open? Yes it can. We do it all the time in plenty of social networking sites related with travelling or related with co-workers or related with our own politicians. We are used to that. The new thing is that it now scales up, it can be done on-demand (no need to be surveyed sometime).

Open assessment can be ex-ante, like what it is done in P2P assessment in some cMOOCs, where everyone can contribute with their own assessment tools: questionnaires and tests, activities, etc.

And open assessment can also be ex-post, like what we do when we say we ‘like’ something on a given social networking site or we acknowledge this or that person did that or knows how to do it.

Yes, smallest pieces of assessment can mean little by themselves, but do not let the granularity of the making of fool you about the whole picture. Remember even the biggest forest is made up of individual trees.

On the other hand, open assessment

  • Fosters the ability to design and manage tools to monitor the environment.
  • Incentives critical learning.

The certification

Quite often tied to assessment, certification is granting what you assessed, is providing legitimacy to it. It can be badges, it can be other ways. Above all, open certification

  • Provides decentralized ways to certificate that are more difficult to manipulate.
  • Help in focussing on competences or skills rather than in content or information.

The CV

Yes. So we’re done with our learning process, right? We learnt, we were assessed and certified. How do we let other people know what we did? We usually tell them. Should they believe us? Meh. Does the certification that is on the paper really explain what we did… and how? Meh. More important indeed: did we learn how to replicate what we learnt? Did we learn to learn?

e-Portfolios and Personal Learning Environments are our open CV or our open resume. If well designed, if well managed, if open enough, they will

  • Be always live and up-to-date.
  • Show our sources, our processes and our outputs and outcomes.
  • Be a tool, not a product, we can reuse and re-apply for whatever other knowledge intensive task, whatever other learning process.
  • Clearly and unavoidably put us in the middle of the whole learning ecosystem we built.

So, this is open social learning: letting the learner out and letting third parties in of the learning process. It is not about sharing some minor stuff on some specific social networking sites. It is about opening gates on the walls of the education institutions: the school, the classroom, the textbook, the syllabus, the library, the schedule, the teacher, the assessment, the certification, even the CV.

It is not about tools. It is about concepts, it is about processes, it is about protocols.

And, more interestingly enough: open social learning is not against traditional institutions, but about complementing them, about enhancing them, about institutions dumping unnecessary ballast to be able to focus in the aspects of the learning process where they are more efficient and effective.

Open social learning is judo, not boxing.

Thesis Defence. Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age

Thesis defence by Antonella Esposito entlitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. December 22, 2014.

Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age: Exploring the affordances of emerging Learning Ecologies of PhD Researchers

PhD e-Researchers: individuals using social media to carry out activities such as preliminary exploring new topics, searching for updates research materials, disseminating early findings, experiencing networking in digital spaces, improving their own personal development, etc.

Background: web 2.0 and social media. Architectures of participation and user-generated-content, such as Wikipedia, and the opportunity for creating one’s own profile and constructing online networks, such as Facebook/Twitter and Gate. There are also changes in research practices enabled by technologies, producing new facets and models of knowledge production and distribution, personal and emergent in the individual-led scholarly uses of social media. New PhD students rather consider themselves PhD researchers: are engaged in creative mixes of education, new methods to approximate research, create personal ecologies of learning, etc.

Digital scholars + digital natives + digital literacies.

Focus of the research is on self-organized activities undertaking in the digital environments by PhD students. The socio-cultural entanglements of PhD students using the digital tools in situated context and temporary phases. Goals:

  • Gain further underrating on student’s experience of e-learning in higher education.
  • Gain insights on emergent scholarly practices undertaking in the open Web by newer researchers.


  • To what extent do the PhD students learn to become researchers using digital tools?
  • How can the trajectories carried out by PhD researchers be conceptualized?
  • What can the qualitative findings tell us about the chronotopes activated in PhD researchers’ practices and ecologies?
  • What are the tensions between institutional/old practices and new ones?

Methodology: questionnaires with data on tools adopted, actual digital practices and expectations; individual interviews; focus groups.

Data analysis: grounded theory logic of the ‘constant comparative method’. From an initial coding more ‘data-oriented’ toward a more ‘concept-oriented’ coding leading to identification of categories.


A repertoire of social media uses for research purposes. Mostly general purpose tools and common tools, in addition to tools specically supporting scholarly tasks (institutional digital libraries, Google Scholar, etc.). Social media uses to both support and expand practices. The open web is seen as a ‘network amplifiers’ rather than enabling building network from scratch. Have some struggle in creating ‘critical mass’ of followers and some question the practical value of having a large network of contacts.

A framework to conceptualize the trajectories of PhD researcher. In digital engagement we do not find clear typologies. It is more about ‘creeping along’, about moving slowly and carefully in the digital: taming the tools, going digital, learning the digital, making sense of the open web. We find, though, polarization of attitudes that range from total technooptimism to almost non-usage.

The chronotypes in digital engagement. The PhD e-researchers’ experiences in the digital can be easily aligned to the ‘road chronotope’ (as in the road movies), where they keep on embracing opportunities that come along. Relevance of the encounters can determine adoption. Forms of resilience: staying afloat, pursuing convenience, embedding the digital, playing as a bricoleur.

The tensions: two generations. Irrelevance vs. relevance for research; pros and cons for the PhD researchers; tensions for digital learners and digital scholars.

The digital engagement is understood as the core process where the trajectories in the digital emerge, in en ecological interplay of multiple dimensions and shifting states of experience.


In most places, PhD students are perceived as such, as students, and not as researchers. Thus, even if students are aware of the potentials of social media for research, they are reluctant to challenge the hierarchies of academia. On the other hand, when students are part of a research group and/or team, this can also act as an inhibitor to develop a (personal/individual) activity on social media related with their research.

In general, there is a major lack of awareness in academia, and even lack of knowledge and understanding on what is going on in social networks and its potential for learning and for doing research.

PS: congratulations, doctor Esposito!

Philipp Schmidt. Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?

Notes from the conference Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?, held at the MACBA Auditorium within the framework of the Debates on Education, initiative of the Jaume Bofill Foundation and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelona, Spain, 11 December 2014.

Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?
Philipp Schmidt, Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab

The Internet changed how talent is distributed. And talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.

If we take 1088AD as the foundation of the University — the year of the foundation of the University of Bologna —, it is a huge achievement that it has lasted that long, but it also means that there are many tensions piled up along time, as its model has remained mainly unchanged. And engagement seems to be at its lowest levels when we measure lectures, accoding to Roz Picard’s work. When facing the future of education, we should certainly challenge the concept of the lecture.

How do we learn? How do we create an engaging learning experience?

4 Ps of Creative Learning:

  • Projects. Does not necessarily mean “building” something, but the idea of setting up a project with goals, processes, tasks, milestones, etc.
  • Peers. Sharing, collaboration, support.
  • Passion/Purpose. Connection with your personal interests, so you’re engaged by the idea. Attach people to the things they are already interested.
  • Play. Taking risks, experimenting, not being afraid to fail.

What about open social learning? We have to acknowledge that most of the “advancements” and “innovations” in education have limited themselves to replicate the actual educational model. Are open social learning communities the future of education?


  • Contribute over consume.
  • Peer to per over top down.
  • Discover over deliver.

The future of education is not technology. The opportunity of internet is not connecting computers but people. It’s the community what matters.

Success criteria of the MIT Media Lab:

  • Uniqueness. If someone is already doing it, we do not do it too.
  • Impact. It has to change people’s lives.
  • Magic. It puts a smile on your face.

The Learning Creative Learning began as a course and ended up as a community. The course itself enabled community building through individual, decentralized participation. A report on the experience can be accessed at Learning Creative Learning:
How we tinkered with MOOCs
, by Philipp Schmidt, Mitchel Resnick, and Natalie Rusk.

Organization of an Edcamp in the line of barcamps or unconferences, but online, using Unhangouts. Unhangouts leverages on Google Hangouts, enabling splitting in several “rooms”.

Most of the times, the online experience ended up in several offline meetings, so it’s good to combine both ways of communicating and organizing. On the other hand, the experience proved to be highly engaging, as people would be much more prone to participate.

It’s all about networks and communities.

Discussion. Chairs: Valtencir Mendes

Q: how can you explain why the US is so advanced in learning and, on the contrary, it performs so poor in PISA tests? Schmidt: we should be careful about taking PISA as the measure for everything. That said, there’s a huge problem of underinvestment in public schools and universities, thus the bad scores.

Ismael Peña-López: when we talk about MOOCs, and most especially cMOOCs, we usually find that participants have to be proficient in technology, have to know how to learn, and have to have some knowledge on the discipline that is being learnt. The intersection of these three conditions usually leaves out most of the people. How do you fight this? Schmidt: there does not seem to be a single solution to scaling cMOOCs, and maybe one of the solutions is to take some compromises while keeping the philosophy of the cMOOC. For instance, use some common technologies even if they are not the best ones or the preferred by the leaders. Stick to few tools, good (somewhat centralized, planned) moderation, etc.

Q: how this specific example influenced schools? Schmidt: Learning Creative Learning courses was a course for teachers. That was a way to infiltrate schools from the backdoor. Same, for instance, with Scratch, which is used widely and carries embedded most of the philosophy of the MIT Media Lab.

Q: people usually neither like nor know how to work in groups or collaboratively. If groups work it usually is because there is a strong leader. How do you do that (leading or setting up a leader). Schmidt: we know some of the reasons why groups do not work. But the solution may not be that there needs to be a leader, but leadership. And this leadership can take different forms. Facilitation, the group fabric, etc. can be ways to approach the point of leadership.

Valtencir Mendes: how can we assess and certify what is being learnt this way? Are open badges a solution? Schmidt: certification is very important, as most of the people that approach these initiatives already have a degree. How do we reach people that are looking for a certification and would never participate in such initiatives unless they issue certificates? Communities are extremely good at figuring out who is good at what, who you go to ask a question, etc. Portfolios, portfolios of the projects they have done and the network of people you’ve been working with. Last, the monopoly of certification may have been a good idea in the past, but it may already not be a good idea any more, and it would be better many more ways to get/issue a certificate.

Q: how do you work with soft skills, how do you introduce open social learning in the corporate world to learn these skills? Schmidt: some things are very difficult to teach, but are easy to learn. Many of these soft skills are easy to learn if you create the appropriate context, even if they would be very difficult to teach. But it still is a very hard to solve problem.

Q: can these initiatives work in crosscultural contexts? Schmidt: this is a very complex question. For instance, authority if very related with culture: how do you manage authority in a crosscultural setting? Or, for instance, addressing elder people is differently regarded depending on the culture. So, there are no systems to support crosscultural learning and thus we have to see it case by case.

Josep Maria Mominó: are we now witnessing the end of the hype of technology in education? did we have too much expectations and we now see the impact is poor? Or what will come in the future? Can we really trust the initiative of teachers? Will that suffice? Schmidt: we usually have to wait a whole generation to see impacts in society, and this generation is just now coming of age. On the other hand, we should be expecting not a technology driven change, but a socially driven one. And this may already be happening.

About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. Since november 2013 I am on a partial leave to join Open Evidence as a senior researcher and analyst. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.