Day 1 of the X International Seminar of the UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change was lively and thought provoking. After a warm welcome from Josep Planell, President of UOC, Emma Kiselyova, set the stage for the seminar. Her remarks were a call to action, citing parental and student concerns that the current system of higher education is not doing enough to prepare them for the world of work. She quoted Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Brenda Gourley, former Vice-Chancellor of the Open University UK, introduced Cathy Davidson, who began by stating that her passion was not for higher education but for unleashing human potential. Her message: “Stop thinking about subjects and start thinking about solving problems.”
Cathy shared historical insights into the Industrial Age origins of our system of higher education. The first two organizations to adopt letter grades were meat packers were replacing more detailed feedback in colleges the meat packer’s association rejected the idea, considering it an insult to give meats a letter grade. How sad that cuts of meat would receive more careful and nuanced evaluation than college students! Cathy also asked participants to list the top 3 changes that could be made to improve curriculum. The Wordle below gives a visual representation of the various changes suggested.
One of the themes that emerged throughout the day was that of empowering students with the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing and uncertain job market. Helen Soule shared her vision of 21st century learning through collaborative project based work, emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving in authentic situations. Audrey Cook gave useful strategies for how to teach and even enjoy mathematics. She challenged us to be positive about mathematics, especially with young women.
Another important theme was the need to develop curriculum around a clear purpose. Mark Priestley shared insights he gained while developing Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. Knowledge in and of itself is not a suitable starting point for curriculum development. We must understand the context of the learning and how to adapt it and keep it relevant into the future. Jasmina Nicolik and Karl Royle presented an intriguing demo on using Agile methodologies and open spaces to boost student engagement and democratize learning. Sharing Agile skills gives students proven patterns of collaboration and project management. Agile methods are widely used in software development, although they can certainly be used outside of the computer programming space to organize collaborative work.