New Challenges – New Opportunities: Mobilizing New Paths for 21st Century Education

Indeed, the global Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions and resulted in devastating health, economic, social, cultural and educational impacts.  The impacts have been felt by nations, regions, local communities and by individual people on a scale unprecedented in modern times. Today, after nearly a year of adapting to these challenges we are at a crossroad faced with the reality that the time has arrived to embrace visionary changes permanently for the future.

We are frustrated with the restrictions by the pandemic that have and still are dictating our lives, separating us from social interactions and gatherings in our lives and especially in education. The majority of students and teachers did not envision a world immersed in online classes. They expected classroom education and over the night their educational lives turned to zoom lectures and work online from home. All were unprepared for these overnight and rather dramatic changes.

Moreover, adding to the frustration of students, parents and teachers realised that previous training and preparations were never geared towards online teaching and learning.  The programmes and curricula were more oriented to the traditional forms of teaching and learning, usually with a small percentage of digital technologies. Students were all keen on going back to campuses, to meet with their peers and teachers, especially freshmen who did not have time to get acquainted with the new academic environment. And yet despite the massive disruptions caused to the educational system, most surveys have shown that students recognised the benefits of online education in flexibility, availability of learning materials, possibilities of enhanced communication, wider connections and engagement with others as well as mobility. In sum, it has become clear that online learning can empower students at all levels of education.

Despite the challenges, there is emerging good news for educators and students.  As the number of vaccinated people is increasing and the nice summer weather is coming, the restrictions are significantly easing; schools and universities are opening, giving space to classroom lectures. The pandemic is not over, the restrictions are not over, and it is likely that the future will have different norms than today to protect public health.  Conversely, is there really a new normal or do we deal with new normals all the time but just do not define them as such?

So what now, when we have the opportunity to return to the forms of teaching and learning we used before? Will we be able to distinguish advantages and benefits of gaining more experience in online education, or will we feel compelled to get back to “normal” times? Will the inertia pull us back to the status quo of the way things were prevail?

What would be your choice of teaching – to return to the status quo f2f teaching you did before; to adapt what you have learned so far and make it your way of teaching; to evolve and do a bit more than in the new normal; or to transform more radically the way you teach?

What would be the catalyst to move on with the digital transformation in education? Now we have an opportune moment to move forward, to do things differently and better, to reform and to transform in order to set the path for education in the 21st century.

Digital transformation is not an easy process but it certainly requires a deep immersion in it to be successful.  Therefore, EDEN is taking action to support and help teachers and educators to explore and find answers to these questions. By providing a platform for collaboration and communication for all interested and engaged in the topic of education and by sharing the expertise and knowhow of its members to the world we can truly move forward together.

This month we are holding the EDEN Annual Conference. It will be held online from June 21-24 and hosted by the National Distance Education University UNED. The title is Lessons from a pandemic for the future of education. I invite you to listen to the announcement of the host of the Conference, EDEN Vice president Timothy Read.

The number of contributions for the EDEN Conference is high and we have fantastic keynotes ready to share their expertise and insights. I would like to highlight the PhD Symposium with its aim to foster the exchange of experiences and knowledge among doctoral students doing research in the area of digital education. Registration  is open so do not miss the opportunity to hear new things, to discuss and meet fellow colleagues (even though online fo the time being), to get ideas to be part of the community, to network and to work jointly on the new educational path. We are waiting for you in a virtual space in which we have familiarized ourselves quite well for the last one and half a year. Be there!

Another important EDEN action is the EDEN webinar series #onlinetogether which is going on now in its third round. Started in April this third webinar series is titled Time for Action in Shaping HE 4.0. These webinars provide insight and advice how to make the needed changes to move forward and shape higher education for today and tomorrow. The aim is to support the education community worldwide and provide practice-oriented advice combining methodology and technology examples and resources, to those facing challenges of taking present educational practice to a higher level. I encourage us to build on the motto of navigating out of the stormy waters to reach new horizons. We have covered topics of learning design, sharing and collaboration and re-imagination of traditional lectures. The June 7th webinar topic is digital skills and competences and on July 5th the topic will be new pedagogies for new times. Join us and be a part of a processional learning network and participate in discussions.

Let me highlight the words of Tony Bates in his recent interview for EDEN’s 30th anniversary – it is no more a question if it is classroom or online teaching but how to combine both of these to ensure the best students learning experience and this is where we have to put out thoughts! Also one more important thought we have to keep in mind when preparing study programmes and curricula – we need to prepare our students to be lifelong learners, skilled to be able to live, work and contribute to the world they are living in. This is our duty and legacy to the future.

I’m aware that going forward is not always easy, rowing up the stream, getting out of the comfort zone. It can be seen as a problem or an obstacle but as W. W. Dyer says let us look at the problem from different perspectives. If we change our mind, we can solve the problem. So taking the opportunity to set the new path for education requires thinking about these in new ways. In the end, it is simply a matter of going – and going together.  As the president of EDEN, I invite you to join me on this quest for the future of education.