fresh-baked thoughts about my recent #LINQ2015 experience

It was definitely a very fruitful, or should I say chocolaty, experience. When boarding the plane from Manchester to Brussels, I didn’t know what to expect except the weather,if the forecast was right: sunshine, It was my very first LINQ conference.

In a country and city I had never been before and where my language skills really let me down… this was so  frustrating,,, not being able to use the Internet to navigate through Brussels was an experience in itself and really proved how much we rely on digital technology. It did feel strange not to be able to use Google all the time and find my way through the city. Maybe especially because of my lack of French…. but I managed in the end.

It was lovely to be among colleagues from around Europe. Greece was represented very generously, I have to say. The theme of the conference seemed to echo the OER15 conference earlier this year and the main question open as default was challenged. I had the opportunity to find out about a number of really interesting mainly funded projects in different education sectors. The keynotes really framed the conference. It was great to hear Bono Richter from the European Commission to express his support for grassroots innovation in the area of open education. But he did remind us that open education is not really new. Sharing of ideas, resources and practices always happens among teachers. Bono expressed a difficulty the Commission is facing to develop teachers skills and competencies across Europe. He asked us: “How do we ensure our teachers know how to teach?” A bit earlier Prof. Alexander Khoroshilov from UNESCO highlighted also the importance of developing teachers and develop sustainable solutions for professional development. What are the possibilities and how does the knowledge society fit in with this but also the right of every citizen of our world for primary, secondary and further education (is higher education included in this? I am not sure and didn’t ask the question?..) Alexander and others really highlighted the important role of the teacher in education more generally but also open education. But not a teacher we used to know. This put a smile on my face and links nicely with my thoughts and practice. Our new Open Facilitator Project, an informal collaboration among MMU, the open Knowledge Foundation and Carol Yeager will hopefully shed some light around this and the very first collection of open facilitator stories as well.

Grainne Conole’s keynote was interesting as it brought out some of the dangers. Too often we seem to place ourselves in a soft bubble where everything is lovely, sweet and caring… but what happens when this bursts? Nasty things can and do happen… And we feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and hopeless. Some won’t have the strength to pick themselves up again… but how often can you pick yourself up again, before you had enough? So what is the answer? Grainne mentioned that technologies are pervasive and the book Information Bomb by Paul Virilio  mentioned around this sounded really interesting and I am looking forward to reading it.

Prof. Alan Bruce’s talk linked nicely with parts of Grainne’s keynote as well as Alexander’s. Alan approached it from an inclusivity angle and alarmed us that the imbalance is actually increasing and that we live in denial. Is open education exclusive? We talk about shared prosperity – but is this a reality for all? Others have written about it too. Prof. Andy Lane’s work springs to mind.

Project and enquiry-based learning featured strongly as pedagogical approached used on a number of projects, mainly from the school sector. as well as the need to collaborate among institutions was highlighted in a number of projects across Europe.

The Inspiring Science Education is an ambitious and .very useful project with partners across Europe that connects STEM school teachers, enables them to share resources and connect with other teachers in communities based on their interest and needs. There seems to be an emphasis on creating and sharing learning scenarios and learning through enquiry and problems. examples from Romania, Belgium and Greece were shared. One of the speakers said characteristically: “today is about collaborative problem-solving“. What a fantastic idea. How can we make this happen for HE? I am wondering if JORUM would be open to develop community features and explore if this would or could increase the use of the repository, sharing, development and collaboration among practitioners in HE and more widely.

The CAMEI project presented by Dr Stathis Konstantinidis from Nottingham University  in the area of medical education is producing useful findings and frameworks that can be taken further by other practitioners in medical education but also more widely. I am looking forward to discussing opportunities for collaboration with Dr Stathis Konstantinidis in the near future but also with Dr Nicos Fachantidis from the University of Macedonia who has an interest in playful learning among other things and the three of us had really good discussions (in Greek) during the conference.

Dr Yves Punie’ talk on the second day was really useful too as it provided an up-to-date insight into the research the Commission is currently doing in the area of open education, Preliminary findings from a survey shared with universities across Europe about open education showed some interesting results. The replies around why open, were left me wondering… Universities seem to engage in open primarily to extend reach (marketing tool?) and do public good (which is great). For universities across Europe at appears to be less about reducing costs. What I missed completely was the desire by universities to connect learners and teachers to learn collaboratively within and across wider and more distributed communities that have the potential to enrich learning experiences. Isn’t this one of the great advantages of open education?

A mini conversation I had with Grainne and Yves about formal, informal and non-formal learning was also useful and I think it did help me understand the difference between informal and non-formal learning which I had found confusing. I think it makes sense now 😉 Must check with my dear Sue.

Looking forward to keeping in touch with colleagues I met at LINQ2015 and see were this journey will take us.