Sandra Kučina Softić
University Computing Centre SRCE, Croatia
I hope that you all had a nice summer and enough rest to start autumn fully charged and ready to create and contribute. 2020 has been unpredictable in many ways, and we still have four months to go in the year. After the swift spread of the COVD-19 pandemic this spring, we were faced with both a physical lockdown and with education having to move fully online. Summer brought some relief and the sense that things could potentially go back to as they were before. However, as autumn arrives, the pandemic is again spreading and showing its force.
All of us have been working hard to enable teaching and learning online, uniting in our efforts to provide each other with support and ensure a smooth transition in the best way possible. When the pandemic first hit, EDEN promptly responded with the #onlinetogether Education in time of a pandemic initiative , gathering the EDEN and global education community together in order to share, to discuss, and to engage with each other, forming a strong alliance in support of educators worldwide in their pivot to online learning. As I announced in my previous blog, EDEN is now moving forward with a follow-on autumn initiative of webinars. In addition, EDEN has joined UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition to help in facilitating inclusive learning opportunities for children and youth during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption.
Before the summer break, we also held the EDEN Annual Conference, which was quite unique this year. It was the first EDEN annual conference held fully online. For three event-filled days, we worked, discussed, collaborated, and socialised virtually. It was a great experience, although if we could have held it face-to-face, we would have done so immediately ☺ It is often said that the EDEN community is like a family, and we were all very happy to see and hear each other virtually. Even so, not being able to shake hands, hug, and chat and socialize during free time is something that simply cannot be replaced in the online environment. But the stark reality is that we have only the online environment available to us at the moment, and we have to – and will – make the best of it.
Although we have attempted to return to those times before the pandemic, in order to save the economy and working places, our lives are still much different from before, with most of us feeling as if we are in a sort of vacuum waiting for something to happen to wake us up from this unreal dream. Some institutions have taken all the necessary steps to prepare education for the autumn, while some still continue to hope that we can get back to the time before pandemic. As the autumn approaches, we know that remote emergency teaching will not work – our students want more, and they have a right to it. Is blended learning our “new normal”? Or maybe “Hy Flex” courses, where students can seamlessly shift between attending class in person, join synchronously online, or to later catch the class asynchronously – allowing them the flexibility to can change their minds fluidly from day-to-day (as described by EDEN Senior Fellow Tony Bates)?
Some universities still firmly insist on staying with face-to-face teaching and learning, saying it is normal. But can face-to-face classrooms be normal in the 21st century? Can we exclude technology from education? And what does “normal” actually mean? And was it normal before or is it normal now? I believe that we should and must be creators and agents of our lives, not consumers accepting what is served. It is up to us to work as best as we can for the wellbeing of society. As Don Olcott says in the EDEN Fellows’ blog: “We must relearn to trust our own judgment, to employ technologies and other digital tools because of the wisdom of our judgment, not technology for technology’s sake.”
This is why we are kicking off the EDEN initiative #onlinetogether Education in time of new normal, where we will focus on how universities and teachers have prepared for the autumn, the lessons learned, and how we can shape the future of the education. The series will begin with two webinars, both aimed at educational institution leaders, policy makers, and all those involved in decision-making in education. It is these individuals who carry the major responsibility of leading their institutions, teachers, and staff into another academic/school year and to make it successful. The first webinar “Online transformation of universities – Having faced the challenges of the pandemic, are they prepared for the new normal?” starts on September 14th at 17:00 CET and will be followed by a second webinar on September 21st. The format is the same as in the spring – practice-oriented webinars with prominent speakers and experts in the field of education, e-learning, and distance learning from all over the world. After brief introductions, discussion will be opened to exchange ideas and practices, as we work together to jointly explore the best answers and solutions. These webinars will continue every Monday into October, and for the last webinar, we will present the EU’s New Education Action Plan jointly with the European Commission, discussing the way ahead.
Immediately after the webinar series is the next important EDEN initiative, the EDEN Research Workshop (October 21-23). Planned to be held online, hosted by the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon, this workshop will explore new challenges for research in digital, open, distance and networked education in enhancing the human experience of learning with technology. The call for papers is open, and we hope that you plan to contribute your research on the impact of emerging digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence in improving the quality and sustainability of the human learning experience. After the EDEN Research Workshop, the traditional EDEN European Distance Learning Week will be held in November.
The busy autumn starts! We continue to push forward, to move the boundaries, to be creative, and to be part of EDEN community together, joining our efforts for a better today and tomorrow! Let’s make the best of the current circumstances and continue to look forward to the times when we will again be able to meet personally. Until then, stay safe and let’s get to work. Every effort and contribution matters! Rome was not built in a day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZDqek4t7Do ☺