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et.lakes went to oppi festival (day 1)

15 Apr 2014

So Oppi Festival was in the country, and et.lakes went there.

The day started with the welcoming songs from two school bands, one sang a ballad and the other rapping. Nice way to frame a education festival: kids go first and we learn from them. The opening talk by Simon Breakspear went pretty fast, but it had plenty of interesting nuggets. In his talk, Simon prioritized the things that matter in education: skills (specially how they are changing), attitudes (grit, overcoming failure), and motivation. However, his key point was the importance of relationships and how being connected to other learners/experts can inspire new ways of learning. It is interesting not to hear any mention towards content. That will explain the interest of publishing companies like Sanoma, biggest sponsor and participant at Oppi, to be part of this new wave. They need to reinvent themselves, and move away from a place where content is freely available and not the central place in education.

In Simon's talk, I could sense that the Algorithm Animation community was into something when they devised the Engagement Taxonomy: Simon presented an interesting theoretical graph that showed how learning and engagement are related. It would be good to know his sources, the animation community is having trouble to prove it.

Next, I moved to the Polish and adaptive session. First the Polish educators gave us a lesson we will not forget by using theatre and live human puppets! The more active teachers are the more passive learners are (bad) and vice versa (good!). The next presentation was something keen to me from my early research days: adaptation. Knewton is a company converting any e-textbook into an adaptive and interactive course. I was impressed with their technology, but they somehow limit the potential of the internet, which they restrict to data-mining and distribution network. I hope they were at Simon's talk to have new inspirations (hint: relationships)! One of the main selling points of Knewton was the power that the tool gives the teacher to lead and guide the learning process, which I liked a lot and reminds me of the work Ilkka Jormanainen. Ilkka's dissertation is titled "Supporting teachers in unpredictable robotics learning environments" and in his work he used data-mining to inform robotic teachers in real-time of possible problems with their students' robots.

Next on my talk-route was Aape Pohjavirta, happy thinker, mentor, and education expert. His talk was titled "Smilification" and it was definitely inspiring: it was great to hear the "cojones" word for once. The Smilification part only came at the end and with a question, rather than with an answer, typical Aape? His talk included lots of great references to previous philosophers and thinkers. His three main tenets for educated, and hopefully employed, masses were happiness, freedom and growth (thanks Aape for the correction/addition!). Anyway, his business case is the huge opportunity in emerging and developing countries for education disruption, something we could not agree more at et.lakes!

Coming next was a possible answer to Aape's case. Neil D'Souza presented the result of his company, Zaya. Neil, previously an engineer at Cisco, and his team developed a smart wireless access point. His vision was to provide internet and educational material to schools in India (Interesting fact: there are more than a million of school in idea). After some time, he realized that making the device was the easy part. Now he has an interesting product that is more useful in London schools as cost saving than in Indian schools. For et.lakes people the list of challenges is quite revealing and should be the start of several discussions on how to address them in our own educational technology products for difficult markets, no matter how shiny or smart the products are:

  • Reach school owners
  • Achieve teacher's retention
  • Fund schools so they can buy the device and retain teachers
  • Create durable/resilience devices/products
  • Collaborate with content providers
  • Literacy of teachers

The day ended with a similar theme: inspiring education, and educative, stories from Ethiopia and India. The first one came from a modern Jesuchrist in Ethiopia who decided to do things differently from tradition and religion. He started his own community and called it Awra Amba. From the presentation we can see that the community is striving. Now, an English team wants to spread the word and create the media material to make it happen, donate here.

From India, we got to hear Sugata Mitra, the man, and the brain, behind the hole-in-the-wall project, which has inspired plenty of us. Last year he won the TED Prize, check his talk at TED about the future of schools, with grandmas!. Sugata's ideas bring computers and the "cloud" to the center, and had Oppi's audience, specially educators, worried about their future role. Questions ensured and Sugata replied that the future of teachers is to be "students' friends", closing the day with a direct link to Simon's "relationships".

It is incredible that what I have reported here is only a tenth of what happened in the first day. The impressive line-up made us wish to be able to be in different places. At least, the time between talks was used to find out new companies coming out with Tekes and Future Learning Finland support. More about them and about the second day in the next report. Keep posted by following et.lakes in twitter and getting ready for our coming Science Festival in Joensuu!

Andrés Moreno

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