Personalized Learning Together: An Interview with Jim Devine

By Mercè Fort
It is always a pleasure to read Jim Devine’s opinion about anything. His clear ideas and common sense make even the most complex ideas sound simple. The breadth of his experience and sharp analytical skills allow him to quickly form a well-stated opinion on any issue. These attributes likely explain his involvement with the NMC as a member of the Expert Panel of the Horizon Report Europe > 2014 Schools Edition, which will be launched later this year.

Nobody can tell what future will bring, but in reading Jim’s assertions, one immediately notices his true concern and love for his profession, as well as his capacity to imagine, to create a circle of ideas that outline a future which is visible and possible.

Last September, the IPTS invited experts, practitioners, educators and all other stakeholders to develop imaginary and sound visions on Open Education 2030. Jim Devine’s input was called: Personalized Learning Together

1.Mr. Devine, could you summarize the idea behind this title?
I had been reading Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and as a great admirer of her work on patterns of online behavior, the cautionary note she sounds about how we are now using pervasive technologies struck a particular chord. An everyday trip on the bus or metro tells the story perfectly – everyone buried in their personal devices as though untethered from the physical world and the joy of serendipitous contact with others. Has the pendulum swung too far? We need to be careful that an idealistic view of learner-centered, digitally-mediated, personalized learning does not succumb to a risk that our significant connections are mediated more in virtual space than in the cut and thrust world of eyeball-to-eyeball human interaction. That got me thinking about schools as physical places and how they might change in the next two decades. Quality and valued school education in 2030 will imply a creative engagement with the very best and most comprehensive digital resources, curated and tutorially supported by challenging and engaging tutor-mentors, in circumstances that place a high premium on the combination of individual and social learning. Parents and society generally will sustain a school culture, because we have deepened our understanding of the value sites of physical ‘togetherness’, but school buildings will change radically as we adapt to more project-based, challenging pedagogical opportunities – we can already look to the Hellerup school in Denmark as a model of a school of the future. I believe that the future paradigm is for learning that is highly personalized, but also highly socialized during the critical developmental years to the age of eighteen.

2. What technological developments would lead to this paradigm?
Who would have imagined a decade ago that in 2014 we would be on the threshold of universal access to tablet and smartphone devices? The challenge for educators is not just to integrate the powerful ideas and opportunities made possible by today’s transformative technologies and platforms, but to imaginatively prepare the ground for what will come next. Already making their way from R&D labs to everyday deployment are aspects of semantic web, ambient intelligence, internet of things and quantified self. Powerful and far reaching observational and analytic capabilities (big data) can potentially help in informing objective judgments about any individual’s performance, based in large part on the digital audit trail of their activities. In the next five to ten years, we will have enhanced our understanding of privacy and protection of the individual and allayed early concerns about such far-reaching analytics. We will have developed a highly sophisticated taxonomy of privacy, and we will have the technologies to implement it in the best interests of the individual. Wearable, biometrically enabled devices will become the ‘internet of me’, a constant point of presence for students in an educational cloud that is place and time independent. Schools will be provided with a wide range of devices immersed in the cloud environment: screens (small and large), wearable augmented reality and immersive devices (glasses and headsets), laboratory equipment, workshop equipment and sports/gaming consoles. It will be a case of any-device-anywhere (ADA): pick it up, and it recognizes the individual and configures to their profile by synchronizing with their wearable ‘internet of me’.

3. What about contents, how will OER evolve?
Quality content and resources that can be easily sourced through trusted, interlinked portals is an important goal. Widespread adoption of Creative Commons licensing and the sense of public ownership of resources and content developed with public monies is helping to foster openness. Of course there will still be a place for commercial products, for example e-books and apps – and it is important to maintain choice. Apart from OER as individual 'nuggets' (often difficult to find), greater importance will attach to OER sets and to the reliability of those who curate such sets. OER curators will fulfill a role previously entrusted to book editors. Rich, dynamic catalogues of high quality, well-designed and educationally validated resources will exist, spanning all disciplines and levels, aligning with national and increasingly international curricula.

4. Will technological development urge schools to change?
The most important drivers of change will be modernization of curriculum and assessment and the degree of autonomy allowed to individual schools in making choices about how to implement a fit for purpose 21C curriculum. The role of teachers is absolutely pivotal and we must ensure that initial teacher education and ongoing professional development provides them with the extended skillset required for digital pedagogy. We need to focus on the dimensions of ‘digital maturity’ for our schools and for our teachers. I am very impressed with the work of Kennisnet in the Netherlands, who have been developing their ‘Four in Balance’ model for a number of years. The ‘four’ in question are vision, expertise, content/resources and infrastructure. In a digitally mediated school environment, I would particularly like to see a shift in practice towards greater collaboration and team teaching. This, of course, also has implications for the design and organization of teaching spaces. Space conducive to creativity and learning does not arise in a haphazard way. It requires thoughtful design, and form should follow function.

5. Is there a kind of European model of learning?
That’s a difficult question! For the most part, what binds Europe together is an enduring belief in education as a public good and public responsibility. However, the environments our Education Ministries create for learning are quite diverse across European Member States, running on a spectrum from highly centralized and controlled to more open, flexible and devolved. A growing interest in Charter Schools in the UK and in Scandinavian countries also marks a new departure. Our best humanist traditions are embodied in Erasmus, whose name now underpins all of our programs, shared values and aspiration for European education.

6. Will the Horizon Report Europe > 2014 Schools Edition inspire European schools?
Yes, of course! The Horizon methodology is well established and trusted, and the reports are widely read. Regional reports provide an international benchmarking opportunity and the forthcoming report will play an important part in focusing an already urgent change agenda for school education at European level and within Member States. The long term value, however, will only be realized if the Horizon process, like OECD PISA, is repeated on a cyclic basis, building up a longitudinal understanding of how change occurs.

Many thanks Jim!


Jim Devine is one of the members of the Expert Panel of the Horizon Report Europe > 2014 Schools Edition. He plays an active role in educational policy development, implementation, innovation and evaluation at European level and has fulfilled an institutional leadership and governance role in higher education in Ireland, having recently completed a 10-year term of office as President of IADT (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology). He has been a member of a number of European Commission working groups in the field of ICT and Education, Media Literacy and Open Education and has a particular interest in issues of digital learning, inclusion, digital competence and e-competence. Interests also include bridging education and the workplace, and he was a member of the ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ advisory group and is a participant in the current ‘Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs’ initiative. Most recently, he has contributed to the work of IPTS (Institute of Prospective Technological Studies) on ‘Future Learning’ and ‘Vision 2030’ and is co-author of the MATEL report (Mapping and Analysing Technologies for Education and Learning). He is currently supporting the work of the Commission’s High Level Group on Modernisation of Higher Education, specifically in relation to new modes of teaching and learning. In Ireland, he plays an active role in the Irish National Digital Inclusion and Engagement Network (INDIE).


Mercè Fort is a freelance documentalist, collaborating in the development of editorial and communication activities about online environments in the field of ICT and learning. You can reach her at merce@miniprint.org.

 

 

Thumbnail by Danka Peter via Unsplash, photos by Craig Garner (first) and Adam Przewoski (second) via Unsplash

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