Inside NCI

During 2007-08, I held a Fulbright Chair position at the National College of Ireland, located in Dublin.

It was a great experience for me at a place, which is very different from the University of Illinois in scale, but with surprisingly many common interests, especially in areas such as community studies, learning, and computing. In case you’d like to see more about the College, you could look at the February issue of Inside NCI, just out.

The student as the axis of change in the university

Univest 08 I just returned from the Univest 08 conference: The student as the axis of change in the university, which was held on June 2-3 in Girona, Spain. There were excellent presentations and discussions, for me aided considerably by simultaneous translation from Spanish or Catalan into English.

I thought that it worked very well to have students respond to the major presentations. It’s also hard to think of a more pleasant place to hold a conference than Girona, with outstanding restaurants, a beautiful old city, large parks, rivers, and great museums.

Girona wall, cathedralOne motivation for the conference was the European Convergence Process, a scheme to make Europe competitive with the United States in tertiary education. Beginning in 2010, more than 40 European countries will participate in the European Space for Higher Education, in which students, professors, and researchers will be able to move about without borders.

img_73581The aim of the process, which began in 1999 in Bologna is to produce a higher-quality, more homogeneous system, which is also more competitive in its teaching methods. A hope is that it will help build a society based on European knowledge, manifesting in culture and education the convergence that is already underway in the political and economic arenas.

The conference brought together teachers, students, administrators, and people from government and industry around topics, such as:

  • Student-centered instructional planning
  • Learner self-regulation
  • Student supervision and tuition
  • Student participation in university life
  • Experiences outside the classroom

My own talk was on student-centered learning, particularly on helping students by getting them to focus not on themselves, but instead on their communities.

Technology in Docklands Education

One of the most interesting experiences for me this year in Dublin was to work with Abi Reynolds and Leo Casey on the Technology in Docklands Education (TIDE) project. The aim was to meet with 24 Docklands-area schools and other partners to investigate the current use of technologies in teaching and learning, to document their experiences, and to report on current and future needs. Most of the schools are in one of the DEIS categories (officially disadvantaged). You can see the entrance to one of the TIDE schools, the St. Vincent’s Girls School on North William St., in the first photo.

St Vincent\'s, North William StThe research design involved face-to-face interviews with principals and teachers, followed by an online survey. We learned about the school library, computer resources, interactive whiteboards, digital cameras, and other resources. We also observed some ICT-based activities in the classrooms or neighborhood.

For the analysis, we used scenario-based design (Carroll & Farooq, 2005) to describe the current situation and to identify needs. This led to producing scenarios of use—stories about exemplary projects, such as a stop-action animation involving Little Red Hens (see second photo). We also identified scenarios of support—stories of ways that the schools could be helped to enhance learning.

Visiting the schools gave me a good sense of education in inner-city Dublin, but also of the local communities. I became familiar with landmarks such as Five Lamps, Sheriff Street, and Ringsend, and learned about how Fairview Park near the River Tolka originated through landfill.

Many of the joys and challenges in the schools seemed similar to what I’ve seen in schools in China, Australia, Russia, the US, etc. But I also found myself expecting to be surprised as each school revealed its own special identity. One Principal told us that they had a large population of Filipino children, in part related to the demand for health care workers in the nearby hospitals. He said it had transformed his school, with all of the children becoming more interested in language, culture, and geography.

References

Bruce, Bertram C., & Reynolds, A. (2010, February, in press). Technology in Docklands education: Using scenarios as guides for teaching and research. Educational Studies, 36(1).

Carroll, J. M., & Farooq, U. (2005). Community-based learning: Design patterns and frameworks. In H. Glllersen, K. Schmidt, M. Beaudouin-Lafon, & W. Mackay (Eds.), Proceedings of the 9th European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (Paris, France, September 18-22, 2005), pp. 307-324. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Our presentation to the Principals and teachers:

The Fís Book Club

Fis Book Club

The Fís Book Club has received an enthusiastic response from schools here in Ireland, and now in the UK. Fís means “vision” in Irish, and also stands for Film in Schools. It’s been developed at the Institute of Art, Design, and Technology in Dun Laoghaire.

The Fís Book Club is essentially a web-place where children post video book reviews based on their independent reading. The methods for making and posting the reviews are simpler and more straightforward than on other sites I’ve seen, thus allowing the focus to be on the reading and response.

The collected video book reports form a child-friendly online video Book Review Catalogue, which is accessible only to the participating schools. Teachers and children within the project can watch the videos of other children’s book reviews, find books they might like to read, or compare responses. There are no advertisements in the site.

Learning at work seminar

Learning at Work Seminar

The National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP) and National College of Ireland are today hosting the Learning at Work Seminar: Practical Responses to the Future Skills Challenge.

Participants will discuss responses to the challenge posed in video case studies, as well as learn about:

  • Organizing learning opportunities
  • Public and private-sector workplace initiatives
  • What motivates people to take up skills courses
  • How to nurture a learning culture
  • Blended learning

My slides are below:

The fountain of knowledge

Edessa waterfallsWhereas many Greek towns might be dusty and dry, Edhessa (Έδεσσα) is lush and wet. Much of it is free of cars as well. The reason is a river cascading down from the mountains to the north. It flows through the town, allowing park spaces along the banks and a complex array of paths and bridges crisscrossing the waters. Then, at the edge of the old town (Varossi), the river descends rapidly, culminating in two large waterfalls, which I came to see as fountains of knowledge.

Following the Networked Learning Conference earlier last week in Halkidiki, Greece, we had headed west through Thessaloniki to the region around Edessa. This is where Alexander the Great was born and where his father, Phillip II and Aristotle went to to school together. It includes what are now the major archaeological sites of Vergina, the site of the ancient Macedonian royal city of Aegae, and Pella, the later capital. Alexander, of course, was the one whose conquests spread Hellenistic culture throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and eventually the entire Persian Empire, going as far as India. Supposedly, he slept with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow throughout the campaign. His exploits might not represent the origin of the knowledge, but they certainly helped it flow and created an early version of a global culture.

The oracles of Delphi and other sites might allow Greeks to claim the fountain of knowledge. Towns with names like Grammatico make one feel that love of knowledge is intrinsic to daily life. Add in the beginnings of Western science and philosophy and the whole nation would seem to be a bubbling fountain of knowledge, if it just weren’t so sunny and dry!

Edessa libraryI thought we might be approaching the fountain when we came to Meixa, the location of Aristotle’s school (from the Greek schole), where Alexander had studied. But it was just north of there in Edessa, that the fountain revealed itself.

The pleasure of experiencing the water town was only enhanced for me when we visited the wonderful town library. Staff there helped us access the internet and told us more about Edessa.

The library has a unique logo combining two of my favorite things, books and water. It suggests that the ideas of Plato, Sophocles, Hippocrates, Thucydidies, Heraclitus, and all the rest flow from the library, providing pleasure for the mind as the cataracts do for both body and mind. I like the way the logo incorporates the @ sign, too. Fortunately, knowledge is never owned by any one time, place, or people, but Edessa and its library make as good a claim as any to being its source.

Make your own electronic whiteboard

One of the more interesting, and on-going, inquiries around technology and learning is related to a device–a low-cost, multi-touch, interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote. As most people know, an interactive whiteboard is a large interactive screen on which a projector can mirror a computer’s display. Users can then control the computer using a special pen, finger, or other device. They’re used in a variety of settings including classrooms at all levels, work groups, broadcasting, etc., but cost thousands of dollars. A Wiimote is the remote controller from the Nintendo Wii computer game, which costs just a few hundred.

Johnny Chung Lee, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has a variety of interesting projects involving human-computer interaction. He discovered a way to build an interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote. His version is portable and can be built for a tiny fraction of the cost of a commercial whiteboard. He’s recently come out with the Wiimote Whiteboard v0.2.

Lee’s inquiry continues with his writing and reflections in his blog, procrastineering. There he writes:

One of the great, unexpected, and perhaps most influential aspects of creating these videos has been how many people they have inspired and sparked an innovative spirit in. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from young students that express this enthusiasm. But, perhaps one of the best testimonials is this news article about kids in the Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School’s Lego Club in Williamsburg, VA. The students there, led by Kofi Merritt, are getting excited about innovating in technology by creating their own electronic white boards.

Merritt worked with four fifth-graders and a parent volunteer to build the whiteboard. It’s a great example of making the tools for one’s own inquiry.