How expert use of technology in classrooms is boosting education results: refocusing the open classroom initiative

December 23, 2015 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

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The publication last September of the OECD report “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” has caught a wide attention in the media all over the world. The idea conveyed to the public opinion was that contrary to previous belief data had shown that the use of technology in classrooms doesn’t boost education results after all. In fact, according to the study students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But, students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics. As the report concluded, despite considerable investments in computers, Internet connections and software for educational use, there was little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading.

However, much of the media failed to report the other main conclusion of the OECD researchers in which they suggested that we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology. By just adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices we'll only be diluting the effectiveness of teaching. The message of this important study was therefore, that we need to increase the capacity of our educational systems regarding the pedagogical quality of the use of digital technology in classrooms. In the words of Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, “ school systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning, to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. (…) To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.

The publication of this OECD report preceded by just one week the opening of the EDEN Open Classroom 2015 in Athens. This was a most fortunate coincidence as the conference premiered a new OCLR concept. Coinciding with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of this initiative, we have decided to change the format and focus. The goal was exactly to bring the initiative closer to the school teacher community thus improving our capability to support the transfer of results from research to practice in this most relevant sector, in technology enhanced learning.

Differently from two decades ago, when the OCLR was successfully introduced, the use of technology in the classroom today is a vast territory. Throughout Europe thousands of teachers are conducting smaller or larger innovative practices. In order to get closer to these national initiatives, we've redesigned the OCLR concept. The Open Classroom is no longer a bi-annual event, but a set of networked conferences organised more frequently. By partnering with local institutions, innovative projects and national or European agencies, EDEN can serve the community better by organising locally tailored conferences, thus covering more topics and aspects relevant to the innovative teachers community.

As a consequence of this new format, the OCLR had two editions in 2015. The first EDEN Open Classroom 2015, that piloted the new concept, took place in Athens, 18-21 September, and was organised in combination with the final conference of the massive Open Discovery Space project, one of the ever-largest EU co-funded educational networking initiatives. The Conference also incorporated the final event of the DigiSkills project, a European project demonstrating ways to involve school communities in innovative teaching and learning practices, and empowering teachers and trainers to use, share and exploit unique resources. See the programme, the keynotes presentations, the proceedings, the livestream recordings and the pictures.

As you certainly know, following EDEN's tradition of recognising the quality of research and the best practice in our field, we've introduced this year the Best Practice Initiative Award in our conferences. The winners of the award in Athens were Maria Argyropoulou, Ioannis Chiotelis, Maria Theodoropoulou and George Birbas. You can read their paper here. Another important innovation was the introduction of training opportunities in the frame of the conference programme.

EDEN sponsored the special session Open to What?: the Future of European Education in the Digital Revolution which included an inspirational speech by Alan Bruce and a great and lively debate with Rosa Doran, Antonella Poce and Sofoklis Sotiriou

The Athens conference included an emotional moment when EDEN Fellow Nikitas Kastis was honoured for his contribution to the field of educational innovation in Greece and his leading role in the development of the Open Classroom initiative.

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Nikitas Kastis receiving an honorary award for his achievements and contribution to school innovation

EDEN is most and foremost a network of researchers and practitioners. As I had the opportunity to underscore in my final address at the conference, the new OCLR concept expresses that focus (you can find the slides of my keynote here).

We are much grateful to the extraordinary support received from the Elinogermaniki Agogi and in particular, EDEN Senior Fellow Sofoklis Sotirou and his great team. Thanks to this great collaboration, the Athens OCLR 2015 was a tremendous success. With a record attendance of more than one hundred and seventy teachers and researchers, plus over one hundred additional followers online, the conference portrayed at best the current impact of open education in European schools .

Sofoklis Sotirou and myself at the closing of the OCLR 2105 in Athens, celebrating a great partnership

The OCLR had a second event in 2015. This was the D4Learning conference, held in Aalborg on 17-20 November, exploring the most relevant topic of innovations with digital learning for inclusion. Although more thematically focused, this event represented another important contribution to our field.

The Utzon Centre in Aalborg where the D4L conference reception took place. Photo by Utzon Center

You can view the programme and the proceedings online. The D4Learning 2015 - Open Classroom Conference Best Paper Award had two winning teams of researchers. These were Thomas Kjaergaard and Christian Wahl, from Denmark, and another team of authors including Francesca Pozzi, Andrea Ceregini, Francesca Dagnino, Michela Ott and Mauro Tavella, from Italy. As the jury stated, both papers were well-elaborated and positioned themselves in the intersection between learning, technology and inclusion point to central global issues that “foster an open and collaborative culture” and “provide inclusive, equitable, quality education for all” (Incheon Declaration, 2015).

A glimpse at the special atmosphere of the D4L. Here in a session lead by EDEN Senior Fellow and conference co-chair Alan Tait (far right).

Once again, the quality and engagement of the local support was critically important for the success of the conference. We would like to thank the great support of the Aalborg University and the drive and inspiration of EDEN Fellow and NAP Steering Committee member Elsebeth Sorensen, EDEN Senior Fellow Alan Tait, conference director Saifuddin Khalid and all the D4L organising team.

As we approach the end of 2015, we proudly recognise that the redesign of the EDEN Open Classroom initiative was one of our achievements this year. More importantly, the renewed OCLR initiative will be more focused, practical and inclusive. As such, these events will also equip practitioners with more effective and more widely used tools to improve the quality of the use of digital technology for enhancing teaching and learning in European schools.

On behalf of EDEN, I would like to thank all the gallant champions who have been helping us carrying the OCLR initiative forward throughout the years. Long live the EDEN Open Classroom and all the brave ones who have made it (and will make it) possible!