4/14/14

Oppi Festival 2014

Over the last two days I have attended a fantastic event in Finland this week called Oppi and have been wandering around the beautiful city of Helsinki after leaving the beautiful Finlandia Hall with time to think over some of it. 


It was a truly engaging and thought provoking festival with buckets of personality, crazy humour and positive 'let's get it, not sweat it' ethos behind it. Check out the video link if you want to see what I mean! 

The event was a meeting to think about education in Finland and globally, together with a number of partners, leaders and researchers in education from around the world. 

I have been truly touched by the kindness of our hosts in Finland and the generosity and awesomeness of people here. It is a great place to visit! 


Simon Breakspear (@simonbreakspear) did an awesome job of leading the discussions along with visionary innovators like Neil D'Souza founder of Zaya Labs (@zayalabs) and researchers like Pasi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg).

Big picture stuff focused on how we should deal with systems of education, taking Finland as a departure point. An education system widely studied for its rise over 20 years in terms of Pisa scores and for successfully achieving the status worldwide of being a high equity and high quality system. 

Pasi Sahlberg outlined in his talk a number of important paradoxes in how we see Finland as a 'successful system'. In some sense debunking some of the typical preconceptions of Finland's education system being some kind of perfect liberal paradise.

But recent data from Pisa shows that it is unlikely that it will simply continue in this way forever. As Steven put it, without shifting from global education benchmarking to global learning redesign it is going to be a case for Finland of 'extracting diminishing efficiencies from the current education system'. He suggested that we need to start to think about about designing what he described as 'platforms for deep learning'.

Pasi outlined a number of paradoxes, some of which directly concerned Finland:

1. The results show that the more money you spend on education, the results can tend to decline in Pisa
2. There are actually large inequalities within Finland, one of the most equitable of school systems
3. Finnish schools promote high student learning but there is low student engagement and joy
4. There is a low level of use of technology in schools in Finland, in a very technologically advanced society 

However, it was clear that the Finnish educational establishment was taking these matters very seriously. I attended some really amazing research meetings on ideas about resilience and positive pedagogy that focuses on strengths, not weaknesses with Kristiina Kumpulainen. It was a reflection of the need outlined in the previous presentations and highlighted by Pasi Sahlberg that we should think about the motivation "problem" and think about the purpose of education if we want to move towards the future of education. 

Steven and others challenged us to think more about how educators can learn from start-ups and develop agile schools, or agile approaches within education. As Steven put it 'it's time to shift from extensive plans to rapid prototyping'. He suggested that we don't try to benchmark our way to the future but think about how to reinvent education instead 

Following this there was an engaging discussion throughout the Festival on the role of teachers in education. At one end of the spectrum Sugatra Mitra argued that in the past he had been misinterpreted as advocating for reinventing education without teachers at all. 

In some ways, the correction he described to this misunderstanding was that he wanted us to think out of the box and not to 'get rid of teachers but to try and think without them for a moment. To consider how you would reinvent education if teachers were not at the core and heart of it. 

He also suggested that we need to bring back to students the rationale for learning content, the relevance and direction for learning. Teachers are critically required to choose the direction of learning not to mediate access to it. In short we need to consider that learners may in the future benefit more from a focus on guiding relationships and motivation, than from direct instruction

There was a lot of consensus around the idea that new technologies cannot replace teachers though, and can greatly empower them. Neil D'Souza made the excellent point that 'tablets are good, content is better, and teachers are the best educational ICT investment' of all. Listening to how Neil started up his company from working with orphans in Mongolia, to now working with schools across India it was clear he was incredibly inspiring and down to earth. If you are looking to do work in this area there is info also on opportunities with Zaya on Idealist that might interest.

Simon Breakspear highlighted the interlocking nature of different problems. His presentation highlighted how relationships themselves are at the centre of it, declaring them the one 'killer app' of education. He also emphasised that it was not about substituting teachers with technology but it should be about empowerment. However, he stressed that we need to focus more on demand side measures, to increase education demand and the depth of engagement to focus on deep learning. In short rather than just focus on supply side measures which to some extent have been saturated already.
 
Innovation in the supply of education and its provision is one thing, but it never pays to start designing something and then go about trying to find out what it is that your consumers want afterwards. To me it seemed that although he was advocating for some radical departures, taking start-up culture and agile approaches into education, he was also sensibly advocating for people to do the opposite, to work with the system carefully and design learning around needs and around what does exists that works in terms of supply, while finding the pathways to extend and innovate around demand. I thought that was a well balanced approach. As he put it, "we don't want to digitise kids and put them in the 'learning machine" but create 'learning communities'.  
                          
He also tied this into the debates around learner resilience and grit. He pointed out that you cannot learn on behalf of another person, and we need to teach students to be able to work independently and to really apply themselves to problem solving and tackling challenging tasks in order to develop 21st century skills. In a sense playing safe and delivering mediocrity would end up in delivering more of the same, and would not cut it in a world where informal, personalised and deep learning might shape and deliver at least as much of how learners will come to expect to learn as formal schooling does today.  

Blog posts and presentations

A number of blog posts and presentations are available on the web already dealing with the event. Mozilla's Doug Belshaw's excellent presentation on Webmaker and Web literacy is available via the link below. 

I attended a great Mozilla Open Badges session and got an early sneak peek into what is coming with Badgekit and the Mozilla Webmaker session was a full house. The links from the Oppi sessions below are also available if you missed something or wanted to take part but was unable to clone yourself in time. 


There are some great blog posts available on some of the different topics, from Nesta in the UK here and also from Tom Bennet right here encouraging more debate around the idea that learning should be 'fun'. He debated and presented on the topic himself during the Festival specifically looking at behaviour manangement in classrooms and the notion of whether learning in classrooms should aim to be 'fun'. .

There was a great deal of engagement via twitter also thanks to the innovative and friendly Twitterbug competition developed by Matteo Menapace (@badeo) and  @metodb and if you want to check out the archive of tweets, thanks to Oppibug they are easily accessible on the web. Otherwise check out these hashtags for tweets relating to the event:

@oppifestival
#oppibug
#oppiTAC
#oppistories

Oliver Quinlan whose book 'The Thinking Teacher' has recently come out,held a really great Teach Meet that was attended on-line virtually by over 40 people as as well as being packed out at Oppi. The livestream of the Teach Meet is available here: 


With Marieke Guy from the Open Education Working group at (now renamed) Open Knowledge we worked on mapping out a number of different types of interventions in Open Education at the level of policies, tools, software, licences, frameworks and also had a round table about definitions and ideas for work and cooperation. The group highlighted work on the Open Education Handbook and the working group itself which has had something of a makeover:


I also attended an excellent session on mobile learning and mobile storytelling with the Finnish government supported business agency that is working particularly with vocational education providers to help them get mobile. 

I also attended a session on development and education, with Susan Brown and youth ambassadors talking about the issues they were passionate about. The topic of collaboration was discussed, although it ranged quite broadly from the idea of cooperative learning at one level to the notion of international cooperation at the level of NGO's and aid donors steering discourse together with national governments on issues to do with education. There were some excellent presentations I believe on a project in Ethiopia using technology but unfortunately my cloning abilities did not stretch that far :)

It think it is great that there was a strong focus on education, technology and development or at least education in poor majority world contexts rather than it being just about education in an extremely advanced education such as Finland. There are always problems when you are trying to span such a wide divide between the kinds of things that might be relevant in such different contexts. However I think the attempts to deal with issues around technology, learning systems (rather than education systems) in the future and educational reform showed that common opportunities and problems faced in each context can be tackled together to some extent. 

I think that there is also a very valid space for looking at the problems and the context of developing country systems outside of this framework. There is a real need for people to recognise that you cannot always import or transfer solutions or even approaches form one country or content to another.

However, the good news is that from the other end of the spectrum those groups who have traditionally represented the status quo in this area, the mainstream in thinking and research at least about education in developing contexts are progressively reaching out more and more to engage outside of their comfort zone. Today the World Literacy Summit is taking place in Oxford, and academics, policy people and educators will be tweeting about it on #literacypower.

Crucially they will also be talking a great deal about the role of technology over the next few days. 
To follow updates, check here if you are interested.

Check the topics including new technology and literacy here:

It is great to see how work on this is surfacing here in discussions at a global level, in a wide variety of serious forums. But if anything, it is hard to fail to see how the awesome work of leaders and innovators, and 1000's of my fellow Mozillians and the Mozilla Foundation is not already all over this, and has been tirelessly working to clear the path with tools and energy to turn up the dial on these discussions. Take for example the topic description for the 2014 World Innovation Summit on Education coming up later this year, which is on creativity

Under the theme “Imagine – Create – Learn: Creativity at the Heart of Education” WISE 2014 will explore ways to unleash learners’ potential for innovation and creativity. By supporting their self-confidence and ability to develop talents, think critically, and solve problems we empower learners to design imaginative solutions in their lives and communities.
In order to study how to put creativity at the heart of education, discussions will revolve around three key questions: 

 How do we nurture creativity at all ages, particularly among the youngest?
− How do we design an environment of engaging pedagogies where creative learning and innovative 
   teaching can blossom?
− How do we measure, assess and certify talents and skills in both formal and informal systems?

.... And for the last years people at Mozilla have been developing Open Badges and talking about badge systems...
It is a sort of weird déjà vue sensation, a bit of a Wayne's World moment, you could almost imagine the ghostly voice of Morrison explaining: if you book them, they will come
But is a little overwhelming when you take into consideration the problems of education in so many diverse contexts. Recognising that the deficiencies of education systems are diverse and also deeply embedded, like the barriers to expanding literacy in different ways is good. But it also suggests there are no simple solutions unfortunately...
However, there are some ways to break it down, to see how a number of problems bunch up together to lead to these kinds of roadblocks for literacy at least, this Guardian article does a great job of quickly pointing to some key drivers of this specific problem. 
I would really encourage thinking with this hat on for the future. We (those people thinking from the tech end) need to think a lot more about technology but we also need to think a lot more about people and their contexts. I think we should bring more ideas towards some of the contextual problems at the back of our minds. 
The majority world situations in contexts of education in poverty are pretty intractable. Web-making, badging and web-literacy might seem just as far removed as you can imagine from questions about teacher demand and supply, use of mother tongue languages in education, raising the standards of teachers, expanding into informal and mobile environments, creating more culturally relevant reading materials, creating more links between the world of work and education, making sure that qualifications are more than just pieces of paper. 
But then that is not really true. Webmakers mentors have trained hundreds of new teachers informally, bringing a platform for teaching outside of the limit of schools within communities, and the localisation of content on the Webmaker platform is incredibly managed by a global network that is distributed wide and far creating materials that are culturally relevant at source. Webmaking mentors and the web-literacy roadmap also provides a potential pathway for teachers and their learners to become much more skilled and to raise their standards of technological knowhow. Furthermore, the links between Mozilla's work on badges and the issues described above is also clear in terms of the need for new qualifications and accreditation allowing people to work and learn outside of institutions and within them. 
My final takeaway from Oppi however was the inspirational presentation given by Marko Vuoriheimo who is the Famous Finnish Rap artist Signmark

He talked to us about his learning journey a a deaf person trying to get a decent education. He also talked about becoming a someone who had to fight for what they believed in to achieve his goals. His music speaks for itself and he was amazing. During the Oppi festival we were asked to consider what we would do if we were to put together a commitment or an action plan post Oppi. For me, it was a promise to myself to do something about this at least personally, so I would at a minimum learn to do basic sign language to communicate :) 
So thanks Oppi for a great festival! I will look forward to being here in the future, and hopefully to another Oppi fest in 2015!