Rooms with a view
Last week I was like more than 500 other attendees present at the annual eTwinning Conference which took place in Rome. The conference theme was Opening Education – Innovation in teaching & learning.
The theme reflects my working area of the last years. I am not a teacher in a classroom anymore but involved in professional development for teachers who learn in communities.
At the conference I led a workshop on the use of Twitter in the Class & Staffroom. The setup was a bit special. Arjana Blazic co-presented with me from the USA through a video conferencing system. Together with the audience in Rome we also had teachers present online.
Twitter is honest and open. It is messy and democratic. It is a free world. We can’t build fences to select a certain group of our followers who can read our message. It is all or nothing. But despite its simplicity it is not always easy for newcomers to understand and manage the Twitter anarchy.
At the workshop Arjana and I gave some ideas of how to connect Twitter to education, both to the classroom practice as well as to the continuous professional development of the teacher. It is certainly a field we will further explore and share.
It was my 6th participation to the annual conference and it is always nice to meet people you know from previous face-to-face or online meetings. It is also great to meet new people. There were a lot of newcomers too, overwhelmed, opening their eyes and embracing the open world of teaching and learning with eTwinning.
eTwinning teachers keep on rocking.
Bart Verswijvel – @BartVerswijvel
Arjana Blazic – @abfromz
My professional duties brought me to Malta and Gozo. My first stage was St. Julians where I attended the Esse conference for early school leavers. Unfortunately there is a large number of youngsters who don’t adapt to school life and who either skip classes or leave school before graduation. In different countries governments and institutions set up programs to deal with the problem. I know that the problem is complex and not easy to solve completely, but when a speaker mentioned that youngsters get motivation out of collaboration and project work, it sounded like music into my ears.
The next day I took the ferry to Gozo, the smaller island next to the main island of Malta. I was there to deliver a workshop at a 3-day seminar for eTwinning ambassadors. Meeting eTwinning teachers is always nice and inspiring. Ambassadors are educational frontrunners and they promote and support the eTwinning network in and outside their schools.
The venue was a hotel in Xaghra, an idyllic and typical small town of Gozo. The group of almost 60 ambassadors spent the days with a program of workshops tailored for their work. Even more important at these events is the interactive backchannel of networking amongst the participants. I am sure they will go back home full of energy to share the ideas of eTwinning collaboration and project work.
We all loved Gozo. Even though it was late October, it was still bathing in the sun and the warm temperatures most European countries only have in summer time. After the seminar we made a short tour on the island. In whatever direction we looked we saw the beautiful and many churches at a distance or close by.
And then there were the stunning views at the sea. We were at Azure Window, a limestone natural arch and a place never to forget.
This must be the ambition of education: give the students an Azure Window to the world and to their future lives.
I was in Estonia, the country where the E has become a national identity. Estonia is the land where Skype was born and where society embraces new technology on all levels and in all domains.
It was no surprise that eTwinning Estonia organized a Professional Development Workshop on coding. More than 120 teachers from 22 countries attended workshops about different coding apps and software. At the same time they set up projects and embedded the coding activities in the eTwinning framework of collaborative and cross-curricular learning.
At the start of the event we attended an impressive keynote by Jürgo Preden about the Internet of Things. He described how we are and will surrounded by pervasive, ubiquitous computing that monitors our daily life. Our cities will become smarter by this invisible and seamless interaction between devices. On the other hand it is also scary to know that machines are taking over from man and that we will lose our privacy. Educators have a role to play and they have to be on the technology scene.
During my visit I also managed to pay a visit at the HITSA Future Classroom inspired by the FCL of European Schoolnet in Brussels. The classroom will soon be operational and will welcome Estonian teachers who will get inspiration here to take back to their own classroom.
Tallinn is a beautiful city. The historical old town is well preserved and certainly worth a visit. With the eTwinning colleagues we had dinner at Balthasar, the garlic restaurant.
E-land Estonia. With the E of excellent.
I was in Lisbon again, for the 3rd time in one year. The University of Lisbon invited me to give a presentation about the Future Classroom Lab and the Future Classroom community. As many institutes in Europe and in the world, the University of Lisbon got inspired by the Future Classroom Lab, the innovative learning space located in Brussels on the premises of European Schoolnet. The University of Lisbon wants to build a Future Classroom as well and integrate it in the curriculum of initial teacher training.
At the event I spoke to an audience of stakeholders and potential commercial partners. One of the key elements of a FCL like we have at European Schoolnet, is the ongoing dialogue with different stakeholders: industry partners, policy makers, educational institutes, Ministries of Education and of course the community of innovative educators. A Future Classroom, as we envision it, acts as a lighthouse and inspires educators in the area.
At European Schoolnet we have a blended communication model with our audience. First of all we welcome the many visitors and users of the lab in face-to-face encounters. Face-to-face meetings will remain very important but they have their limits. Therefore the Future Classroom is also becoming a brand for the online community of teachers who are or have been engaged in one of the projects of European Schoolnet.
I am convinced that the University of Lisbon will succeed and will soon have a learning space for trainings and for discussions and reflections about the future of education. For industry partners it will be a perfect occasion to disseminate and validate new technology in a real life learning context.
On my way back I took a picture of a quote on the walls of the metro station Cidade Universitária. It is the metro station students take every to go to the Univerdity of Lisbon.
This is the spirit of the lifelong learner. The Future Classroom belongs to citizens of the world.
Last weekend we had the 6th edition of the Flemish-Dutch eTwinning ambassadors meeting. This time around 20 participants met for 2 days in Amersfoort in the Netherlands.
The ambassadors weekend is a 2-day programme of workshops, of sharing good ideas and of team building activities. We started with an inspiring workshop on multiple intelligence and got great ideas to integrate different learning styles in eTwinning projects. The next day we focused on video conferencing tools and we explored the Social Toolbox for etwinning ambassadors. There was also the Teachmeet where all the ambassdors shared one good idea.
In between we did some social activities. We made etwilfies (selfies for eTwinners) and we did a gps treasure hunt in the refreshing nature of Soesterberg.
I am sure the ambassadors will have gone back to school with more creative energy, with professional input to inspire their students, colleagues and project partners. The network of eTwinning teachers and eTwinning ambassadors creates an on-going stream of CPD. The members meet Face-to-face and in the cloud to inspire and to be inspired.
eTwinning teachers enjoy the continuous treasure hunt for the best education.
Living Schools Lab is a 2-year European project aiming at mainstreaming innovative practices in education, especially in the field of technology integration. Schools taking part involve all stakeholders within the school and they also connect to other schools from the same region as well as to other LSL schools in Europe.
This weekend Living Schools Lab organized a Summer School in Dublin and around 120 delegates took part. The participants presented their work and shared good practices.
I had the honour of taking care of a group of students who acted as journalists but they also played a role in the core discussion of the summer school. The Scoop Ducks, as I had called them, had started their own group blog some days before they came to Dublin and they also used a group account to send tweets.
During the whole 3 days of the conference we had the Italian students Chiara, Lorenzo, Gabriele and Andrea. On the opening day Courtney, Aoife, Sinéad, Sian and Magaret, all coming from Dublin, were present as well. The students did short interviews, made pictures and created and presented movie clips and slide shows. The Italian students also took part in the main programme and had panel discussions together with the teachers. They presented their 10 priorities for education and it really made an impression.
At the closing day Scoop Ducks stole hearts of the participants again with a fab farewell song. All participants agreed that the presence of the students at the Summer School gave wonderful dynamics to the conference.
Putting the kids on the stage, that is what education is about.
Slovakia was not yet on my list of European countries I had visited before, but now it is.
I was in Bratislavia for 3 days and I enjoyed it. My primary mission was to attend the eTwinning Seminar but I had another appointment for starters. My friend Kornelia Lohynova invited me to attend an event organized by the students of her school, the Hotel Academy of Bratislava. The project was a wonderful example of entrepreneurship education. In 3 months’ time the students prepared and organized an event for more than 100 guests. They found sponsors, they found a venue, they arranged new outfits, they hired a popular presenter of a national radio station, and they prepared wonderful food and drinks.
So I went to the Holiday Inn hotel of Bratislava and I had a great night. We could taste the dishes and drinks, but the students also treated the audience with a line up of great entertainment acts with music, singing and dancing.
Students, parents, headmaster and teachers, they all looked proud and they had all the rights to be it.
At the eTwinning Seminar I delivered 2 workshop sessions. I will never get enough of meeting and teaching enthusiastic teachers, somehow entrepreneurs as well, managing eTwinning projects and a community of students and teachers.
The evening dinner of the eTwinning seminar took place on a boat at the Danube. The river makes you dream of travelling.
Bratislava is a lovely city. You see a rich history of many and diverse political histories. You see many young people in the streets.
They have all the rights to be proud.
Less than one week after my visit to the Microsoft’s Global Forum in Barcelona I took again a plane to the sunny south of Europe. I was invited to represent European Schoolnet at the School on the Cloud project in Athens in Greece. School on the Cloud is a Europe funded project with more than 50 partners: schools, institutes and NGO’s. The aim of the project is to share expertise on organizing and implementing cloud based solutions. The 1st project summit took place in the very well-equipped Doukas school.
In the morning I gave a keynote and told the audience about my experiences as a secondary school teacher. Like many others I have seen the shift taking place of What You See Is What You Get classrooms to environments with an augmented reality. But the same transition took place in the staffroom as well. The cloud brought opportunities for Continuous Professional Development for teachers as they can connect in virtual networks.
The condition of having the benefits of the cloud is that you need to fly. Sometimes there is fear of flying, sometimes teachers don’t have access or don’t know how to reach the cloud.
In my workshop in the afternoon we explored some cloud-based applications. It was fun but the cloud was just a tiny bit… cloudy at a certain moment. Also this is a reality: fast internet is a priority and the school on the cloud is still an ongoing process.
I spent the morning of the next day in the city of Athens and I made a walk around Syntagma and Monasteraki. I enjoyed a Greek salad with retsina.
The Greek sun up in the air was as bright as could be. With the cloud the sky is the limit.
Etwion is the latest educational project that Arjana Blazic and I developed. When the name Etwion was coined it referred to a 5-hour Twitter discussion marathon we organized for eTwinning teachers but also for anyone else interested. The event we held in December 2013 was so successful that we decided to keep the brand as a name for Continuing Professional Development for (eTwinning) teachers taking place on social media channels.
This time Arjana and I set up Etwion in Wonderland, a 10-day online Learning Event for 190 European eTwinning Teachers. As usual we built a Learning Lab platform with resources and descriptions of activities. For the deployment of the tasks the teachers went out to social media. We created a closed Facebook group but we also went to open air, especially on Twitter.
During the Learning Event the teachers explore from within the opportunities of social media for both students and teachers. The interconnection between staffroom and classroom is typical for eTwinning teachers. Teaching is learning and vice versa.
This is the third Learning Event Arjana and I organize, but this one is really special. We have never seen so much enthusiasm, so much creativity, so much innovative attitude. It’s a learning roller coaster. It’s a learning disco.
The climax of this learning party will be the 3-hour #Etwion chat of Friday 7 March. Everybody in the virtual universe is welcome to join us on Twitter. The discussion topics will be chosen by the audience.
Let’s see if the internet is big enough for all of us.