Stories of a dinosaur

By May.07, 2010

I wasn’t sure about posting this blog post here, but then I decided I should. Some of you have mentioned you struggle to know what to blog about and what voice to adopt. There isn’t really one. There are as many as there are bloggers I guess, but one of the purposes of blogging is to record your learning journey, record experiences and share thoughts and ideas. This is what this post today is about. I have been invited to talk at the University of Porto about how we are using Social Media here at the Research and Graduate College. I went there to contribute with ideas and share experiences, but as often happens, I also benefitted from what others had to offer. The text below is my reflection about that experience and my thoughts about education and technology in the 21st century. This blog posts was originally posted in my personal blog, but I decided to share it here, so you can have a glimpse on how I use blogs to report about my practice. Again, this is not the only way you can use blogs for, and the style I use to do so might not be the one you are most fond of, but this is the one which matches my voice, my approach and my way of being in cyberspace. Sometimes it’s good to look at how other people do things around here.

Hence, if you are interested in this post, please click below to read it further.

I am still in Porto, at the Faculty of Engineering , in the University of Porto. Yesterday I did a short presentation about the use of Social Media in Higher Education for the eLearning @FEUP workshop. I mainly focused on some projects I have been developing at the University Salford, but everything went so quickly and I am not sure how much useful information about the examples I had prepared to share I was able to convey. I need to refine my ‘condensed’ presentation skills. I can talk for hours, but short presentations always get me. But the audience was asking questions as I went along and that I thoroughly enjoyed. The slides are in slideshare, but this time around they are in Portuguese (although it’s more images than text)

But what I wanted to write about today, as a way of recording this experience, is the talk of one of the senior academics, who, calling himself a Dinosaur, gave the most amazing, modern, speech I have heard from a long time now.

So let’s me sum up yesterday’s Prof. Barbedo’s short presentation. It was meant to be about sharing his experience with moodle. It turned out to be much more than that. It turned out to be sharing about academic experience as someone who’s been in education for more than 40 years as he earlier pointed out. It turned out to be about sharing a learning philosophy. It turned out to be about his attitude towards teaching and his approach towards his role and beliefs regarding knowledge and knowing. And all of this using a ‘conversational’ tone to convey his ideas. Powerpoint? What’s that? Why would he use it… he doesn’t need that. He’s confident enough of what he’s saying just to say it. He needs no additional support there. [makes me wonder if there will come the day I won’t need a powerpoint to present my ideas…such eloquence is not a skill I own]

We already had listened to a couple of presentations when Prof. Barbedo raised from his front row sit, physically neared the audience as much as he could, and stated:

This is going to be more of a conversation. I have only recently started using moodle. I am a dinosaur! In fact, only some time ago did I start using a computer. You see, only now have they started producing decent screens. My eyes couldn’t bear those horrible screens before, and I have even written six books by hand. Now that there starts to be some proper size monitors, I too have started using computers. Technologies are wonderful!

And he says this with a tone of voice that conveys conviction. Somehow it is working for him, even, as he came to state, he has written 6 books by hand before he got to use computers. Paper and pencil. It never failed him! But he doesn’t say this as advocating the old methods in detriment of the new. He is reporting about his experience, as a reflection of the times he has lived in.

And from there he drifts to other topics: his beliefs on education. His own views about his discipline. He says:

a report may have 500 pages, but if I waste more than 3 minutes (ok, let’s say 5) trying to figure out what it is about, it’s because the report is not well written. Students need to be able to structure their thoughts, and I only have one word for this: Learning and learning to learn. And my role in all of this is to help those who want to learn. I’ve never taught anyone, really!

And then he goes on to say how he uses moodle for students to discuss and learn how to produce their report. His students use moodle to share their reports with their peers. And why shouldn’t students’ work be available to other (future) students.

Instead of binning their work after they get their marks, why shouldn’t we be making it available to others so that they can learn from their peers, from what others have done.

He talks about this as if it were so obvious. Yet in academia we’ve always made sure to hide students’ work… ooohh the plagarism…. [it’s better to avoid plagiarism at all cost than actually educate not to plagiarise…]… in real life, we all look at what other have done to improve our work. Something isn’t right here!
He also talks about his class activities. In class students also make oral presentations about their work. And he says with a smile. :

in those times, I get to sit in those horrible chairs that ruin my back as I try to sit straight, as not to slide onto the floor, and I have the pleasure of being my students’ student.

WOW – he got me now. All of a sudden I want to be a mechanical engineering student!

And he goes on to say

without the moodle we would have had many difficulties to do this‘ (the process of preparation and extended peer feedback)…

but he also admits:

there is always something I get stuck with… if it weren’t for Sofia… I wouldn’t be able to work out the platform!

Indeed, this is what everyone needs: the need to innovate, to adapt and know they have someone to count on. Sofia is his moodle mentor and he knows he can count on her.
He then asks “isn’t it possible to make the tool a bit more friendly? We do really need it to be more user-friendly. It would be really important’. And he does mean what he’s saying. He is not going to abandon what he’s doing but he does want things to be more straight forward. This is something technology still isn’t but we have witnessed worse times…

And he concludes his talk again with thoughts about his role, of being someone who facilitates learning and learns with his students. And how he enjoys that. And he says also something like… (I wish I had jotted this one down to be able to transcribe the exact words, but I was too busy admiring this ” dinosaur” to do that 😉 ):

Providing information is not really creating knowledge

And all of this just to say that there is, there has always been and there will always be good pedagogy with or without technology, but even the ‘dinosaurs’ are recognising that in the current times a little bit of digital skills and plugged learning does not hurt.
This experience has made me once again realise how important it is to be confident of what we do and what our role in education is!

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