Saturday, April 12, 2014

Turning point in Estonia

This week I was invited to Tallinn, Estonia, speak at the annual conference of HITSA (Information Technology Foundation for Education), a national organization for the development of educational technology: initiating, coordinating and facilitating activities and developments in the field of ICT-supported learning in Estonian higher and vocational education. It was held in the impressive Mektory innovation centre of the Tallinn University of Technology and attracted over 200 delegates from schools and universities. My contribution consisted of a keynote speech on the future of MOOCs (see video at MOOCs - from hype to opportunity) and an overview of the development of OER in the Nordic region (Nordic OER) focusing on three projects I am involved in: NordicOER, OER Sverige and LangOER. Here is a short summary of my impressions from two intensive days.

Estonia is well known as a country that has invested in the use of educational technology, it is of course the home of Skype. They have also made some wise choices in the development of educational technology, for example establishing a consortium offering all educational institutions access to a national installation of the learning management system Moodle and thereby saving institutions enormous amounts of time and money running their own installations. In recent years two national repositories for open learning resources have been set up: one for higher education and one for schools, Kooleilu. Now a new education strategy has just been published by the government (only in Estonian just now), written in broad consultation with all stakeholders. The implementation of digital technologies is one of the key issues in the new strategy. The motto of the strategy is "Learning is a way of life" (Öppimme on eluviis) and it stresses that it is not just about buying new technology but about changing the way we work, study and learn (see article 2014 Estonian lifelong learning strategy is called smart people. A partnership with Finland has recently been announced (see press release) to create a common cloud for storing OER at all educational levels and giving access to other global repositories. The aim is to offer a mix of open and commercial resources with quality assurance criteria. Government will also sponsor the development of quality resources with the cooperation of publishers. Heli Mattisen (EKKA Quality Assessment Council) presented the main aims of the new strategy and stressed the importance of raising the skill sets of teachers, increasing the professionalism of school leadership and implementing new rating systems for schools based on skills criteria rather than simply test results.

The sessions were full of examples of how educational technology is being integrated into Estonian education as well as highlighting international perspectives and trends. Here are a few highlights I'll take away with me:
  • Sixth grade pupils from Gustav Adolf Grammar School in Tallinn presented their perspective on learning and teaching. Their key factors for effective learning were attention, collaboration, respect and active learning. Not to mention a lot of creativity and fun. 
  • There is too much spent on technology for teaching content and nothing spent on helping learning. We need to use technology for learning. Technology can be used in four stages: to exchange, to enrich, to enhance and to empower. Most attention is still on exchanging; using technology to reproduce traditional processes. (Bob Harrison, Education adviser, Toshiba Information Systems UK)
  • We need new spaces for learning to cater for self-regulated learners and flexible teachers. The learners set the objectives and select strategies for learning. The teacher has to become a researcher in the widest sense of the term. (Margus Pedaste, University of Tartu) 
  • ICT use in schools is still dominated by presentation tools like PowerPoint and interactive social tools are very seldom used. We need innovative teachers, innovative schools and innovative education systems. We have to empower teachers to develop, nurture innovation and strengthen the evidence base of new practices. (Marc Durando, European Schoolnet)
  • If it's not digital it has no value. (Tiit Paananen, Association of IT and telecommunications)
  • Kids aren’t all the cool digital natives that the media portray them as. There are digital divides there and many are vulnerable and need guidance. (John Carr, European NGO Alliance for child safety online
  • Hans Pöldoja, Tallinn University, presented his work with open badges on an open course, Preparation for digital learning, and the value of such badges as motivators on open courses without formal credits as rewards.
  • Most classroom time is on the bottom two layers of Bloom’s taxonomy and then we send them home to deal with the upper levels without access to the teacher. Flipping the classroom involves doing the demanding work in class and the lower levels at home. (John Bergmann, Flipped classroom
  • Innovations happen outside established institutions. (Steve Taylor, From Start-Up to Stay-Up)
Finally a very positive feature of the conference was the availability of simultaneous translation so that I and other foreign visitors could follow sessions in Estonian and the Estonians could follow our contributions. This wasn't available in the practical workshops that took place away from the main hall so I wasn't able to participate in them. They certainly looked like fun!

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