Using technology to work creatively together in the classroom

Co-creation in learning with technology is not about technology . Well, at least, not only. 

Author: Marianna Vivitsou

The discussion in the pedagogical café in the beginning of October 2021 had co-creation in its focus. For this purpose, the café hosted Laura Salo, project manager at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki. To bring co-creation in focus, Laura used examples from her massive experience with integration of technologies in schools, mainly as part of the activities of Innokas network.  

This post aims to give an overview of the main themes of the café. The discussion departed from cases of implementation and the use of techniques to promote methods for STEM education. From concrete elaborations on specific uses of technology (e.g., to make a robot, to measure a change etc.), the interactions in the café set off to respond to participants’ questions. The participants were colleagues and friends of OLIVE from partner universities in Palestine (Al Azhar University Gaza and Birzeit University) and in Finland (University of Eastern Finland) and affiliated associations (e.g., Teachers Without Borders).

The participants’ bold questions set the ground for discussions about the ethical matters underlying the integration of technology into the classroom and the role of technology in society. Although the focus of OLIVE activities is on STEM education, nowadays there is a pressing need to extend the narrative beyond a tool-based orientation.  

Such narratives pose questions about a critical use of technologies and have been introduced in earlier pedagogical cafés (e.g., Online teaching and learning environments)  and posts in the OLIVE project blog (e.g., Critical thinking as a source of pedagogical renewal).  

More particularly, some themes that emerged in previous café s include:  

  • Notions of virtuality and education are mis-represented in the media. For example, a search on the web using keywords, such as online mentorship and virtual peer mentorship, results in stereotypical images. More discussions and decisions are needed for visuals that consider diversity for more fair media representations.  
  • Student engagement in online learning is not a one-way path. Including students to co-design teaching & learning programs is essential so that current needs are served and the complexity of navigating diverse contexts and levels of communication can be possible.  
  • Bold decisions are needed to include essential issues in online teaching curricula -e.g., bullying, forms of harassment, marginalization, hate speech, Covid-19. These are currently absent from Higher Education curricula. 

In addition to the main themes of the café, this post goes together with a podcast that came out of a remix of the audio version of the recording of the café.  

The remix aimed to fit the audio in an approximate 17min time frame. In addition, the purpose was to include instances of interlocutors’ interactions, thus representing the main approaches to technology that levelled up during the discussion. These ranged from more socially-grounded to more tool-based ones.  

In the remix, I used the music carpet of Laura’s video to indicate thematic shifts and transitions to questions posed by participants-speakers to the guest. Also, I mixed voice with music. This technique of mixing voice with music is a sonic metaphor for the polyphony that the overall concept of the cafe seeks to promote.  

The speakers were selected randomly, and the time sequence has changed to fit an orientation from the more general and abstract to the more specific and concrete. .  

In this way, the Co-creating with technology podcast aims to provide a glimpse into the polyphony that the pedagogical café promotes and the lively discussions that surround it. It also represents an effort to put multimodal ways of expression together to capture more elements of an event and add to the authenticity of representation.  

Critical thinking as a source of pedagogical renewal

 Authored by Hanna Posti-Ahokas

Reflexivity and critical thinking should be both the aim and the basis for teaching and learning in higher education. What can help us to become critical thinkers? How can we support our students’ and colleagues’ critical thinking? We suggest critical thinking as one of the core topics to discuss when renewing curricula and pedagogies for teacher education.  

The OLIVE project aims to create spaces for critical thinking as not only a theoretical/pedagogical principle but also as a practice in the project activities (see e.g. Online Teaching and Learning Environments). Defining critical thinking for different purposes brings out different aspects of being a critical thinker. A recent definition focusing on University learning is suggested in a pedagogical guide (Moate & Posti-Ahokas 2021) for the University of Jyväskylä, Finland:  

Critical thinking requires inclusion of multiple perspectives and acceptance of there not being a single, objective truth. It evolves through time and is never complete. It is about recognition of one’s subjectivity and positionalities of each teacher and learner; making assumptions explicit and asking difficult questions. It is an applied learning process that develops through practice. Thinking critically requires a combination of skills, such as inferring, analysing and evaluating, as well as open mindedness, self-efficacy and inquisitiveness. ‘Why’ and ‘How come’ questions can be a useful starting point for critical thinking.  

How do the current practices of teacher education allow critical thinking to evolve? Content loaded curricula, assessment systems based on command of a given content, performance evaluation and other practices can easily push us away from the goals of reflexivity and critical thinking. As this a challenge in higher education, how can the future teachers we educate be ready to fulfill the curricula objectives in basic education and help pupils to become critical thinkers? Bringing critical thinking to the core of teaching and learning in higher education is critically important to generate change in education.  

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Becoming active in the public sphere – Blogs and collaborative writing for pedagogical purposes

co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou, Ahmad Aljanazrah & Montaser Al-Halabi

Blogs entered the pedagogical landscape in the late ‘90s and have changed the way we understand web-based interaction and online communication. Now the users could set up a space to post and share ideas and arguments, research, teaching material, textual, visual and multimodal with the world. Those were the days when the blogosphere was a promising public sphere for many.  

For progressive teachers, considering matters of student agency and engagement in the classroom, blogging is seen as an opportunity for more collaboration-oriented pedagogies. A pedagogy based on the principle of collaboration aims for engagement and allows student ownership of the narrative that emerges out of the writing process, more opportunities to articulate own voices, to become authors themselves, and co-authors in the process of the pedagogical narrative.  

But how can collaborative blogging be possible when writing collaboratively and in public has proved to be challenging in many ways? More particularly, when it comes to blogging, not only does it take loads of time to maintain a blog, to thoroughly think and outline its posts, it also takes commitment to the purposes of writing and the intended audiences. 

As well, as our experiences from integrating collaborative writing into our teachings show, blogging cannot be an end in itself. Integrating blogs into our curriculum needs to be linked with the overall purposes of the course and the needs of the students. 

As Ahmad writes about blogging experiences in a newly developed course, part of a master’s program in education at Birzeit University in Palestine, students’ blogs have been used as assessment tools for- and of students’ learning. The course titled “Learning and teaching in the Digital Age” consisted of 15 sessions addressing the educational foundations of using Web 2.0 technologies in diverse educational settings. The course started by providing practical training for students on developing and sharing blogs and it was set as a part of the course assessment.  Each student was provided 10 to 15 min at the end of each lecture to write two short paragraphs describing what was newly learned (if any) and to reflect on that learning. 

this post has been co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou, Ahmad Aljanazrah & Montaser Al-Halabi

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Online teaching and learning environments

Possibilities and challenges for pedagogical use

Author: Marianna Vivitsou

As virtuality is a topical issue in OLIVE project, online teaching and learning environments are at the core of discussions that take place in the pedagogical cafes. In the gathering early last April, I came up with the idea to frame the discussions on the basis of types of interaction and on whether platforms and/or web services are integrated in the official curricula. Here are some highlights that emerged out of this framework, along with my reflections upon these conversations. 

The categorization is an initial one and is linked with institutional practices. Thus, the category formal online teaching environments concerns those playing an integral part in the everydayness of teaching (e.g., Moodle) and have substituted (to an extent) its conventional paper-load (e.g., by uploading digital assignments instead of their paper versions; inserting links to resources thus replacing photocopies; uploading slides instead of blackboard chalk writings and notes, etc.).  

Despite their contribution to a potentially more ecologically oriented pedagogical practice, it is questionable whether online teaching environments have kept their promise. Instead, it seems that technologies have been received as self-fulfilling promises themselves. Very often they are treated as the content of the pedagogical practice, when the interest turns to what brands we will bring into the classroom at the expense of a student-centered pedagogical use. Also what pedagogical use means in different situations.

This instrumental approach to technology integration (whether for online, blended or hybrid teaching), as research has shown, has reproduced patterns of fragmented, a-contextual learning.  

The use of Moodle groups is one example of this situation. Teachers, for instance, often comment that student exchanges in group work are lacking depth, thus limiting the narrative to superficial interactions, comments and so on. Questions that arise, then, concern the root causes of such phenomena. What are the reasons underlying content limitations? And, what can we do to overcome them?  

This is, then, a quite complicated affair that the rhizomatic use of technology makes it even more complex than we are, possibly, willing to admit. 

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Teaching STEM with technology and collaborative work

Voice Analyzer with Gas and Mirrors, Natural Sciences and Technology Museum, National & Kapodistrian University, Athens

Out-of-the-box approaches and practices for thinking critically  

authored by Marianna Vivitsou

Thinking STEM in education

The theme of STEM education is intertwining with many of the basic areas of interest in OLIVE and relates to different outputs and project activities.  

These include, among others, the need to establish virtual peer mentoring teams to strengthen exchange of ideas and learning from one another, to define new practicum strategies and set a framework for shared teaching in the OLIVE partner universities. Undoubtedly, this is a complex situation. Yet, this is not the only kind of complexity that approaching STEM education presents.  

As it spans across major fields of science, research and teaching, considerations arise concerning the epistemologies and the pedagogies that should underlie the effort to introduce a working model of STEM (i.e., an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in education. In addition to that, although science, technology, engineering and mathematics related occupations are expected to experience rapid growth in the years to come, STEM does not seem to be for all.  

Recent studies show that gender gaps and other divides and inequalities in the professional domain are rooted within expectations, stereotypes and structures established and observed early in the education continuum. In alignment with these, an introduction to a collection of articles with a focus on participation barriers, Nature Research and Scientific American point out that many groups are underrepresented in research including women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and socially disadvantaged populations. Far more action, therefore, needs to be taken in institutions and scientific communities. 

Taking these insights into consideration, in the pedagogical team of OLIVE we departed to set some commonly agreed principles aiming to frame the basis of joint work. At the same time, we recognized the need to think and act differently and in ways that would align with out-of-the-box approaches and practices. «Out of the box» is a metaphor that signifies new, creative ways that are go beyond established (here, teaching) practices and look into the multiple dimensions of phenomena with a critical eye.  

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Teaching, assessment of learning, technology and other entanglements

Favorite street on a cloudy day by anim@vit

Co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou & Hanna Posti-Ahokas

How does digital learning challenge our thinking around assessment? 

Assessment is a multi-dimensional and highly debated topic in higher education research and practice. The Olive team gathered in its first pedagogical café to discuss assessment with the aim to think how the digitalization of learning challenges practice. The new ways of teaching and learning require new ways of assessment. How to respond to the change in a way that makes assessment work towards it intended purpose of supporting learning?  

Assessment in focus 

Assessment is multi-dimensional and highly debated. For a start, it draws parallels with research, as when we set off to construct an assessment tool, we should take care that we assess what needs to be assessed. Validity, therefore, is one significant criterion of the assessment process. Second, assessment seems to be often confused with evaluation. While evaluation is product-oriented, assessment is process-oriented. In education, evaluation concerns the outcomes of a course, a lesson or a project, where learning has taken place. Contrary to this, assessment concerns the process that leads to learning outcomes. The fact that what constitutes a learning outcome (or not) is itself a highly debated area makes even more pressing the need to revisit assessment and evaluation as intertwining and overlapping concepts.  

In this complexity, it could be helpful to think of what the focus of our assessment is and what the purposes of assessment are 

In the small group discussion during the pedagogical café, one recurrent theme was how the use of technology in teaching and learning relates with assessment. While it was agreed that the new ways of teaching require new ways of assessment, the path towards renewed assessment practice is not a clear cut one. The functionality of technology and fairness of online assessment have already manifested as obstacles after moving teaching and learning onto digital and technology-supported environments. These may be considered as implications of more fundamental issues around assessment.  

Assessment should be connected to the learning objectives and expected outcomes. However, learning is not always measurable. The instrumentalist, exam-focused culture of assessment does not necessarily capture/support deep understanding. Large student groups may also have influenced the use of instrumentalist approaches. However, as Gandini & Horák (2020), among others, point out, it is essential to seek ways to integrate into technology-supported assessment personalised feedback for students. In this way, we will be able to highlight areas they need to work on and give suggestions, and, thus, guide them through their future learning. In addition, personalised feedback opens up the whole process of assessment and allows the students to get deeper into its logic. Based on this understanding, students can be better equipped to modify their own approaches and practices in the learning process.  

The way forward? 

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