Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NERA 2015 Day 1 #NERA2015GU

I will "report" on my first NERA conference in the same way as I report on other conferences I attend - through quick notes written throughout the conference. The conference lasts for three days, and I am having a presentation on Friday morning (and an early version is available on YouTube...) Hesitatingly, I will do the notes in English, as most of the presentations will be in English, even though most participants are Swedish and Norwegian.

After registration and lunch, the first thing on the programme was the opening, of course. Dean Roger Säljö welcomed us and gave a brief introduction to the Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg. There was also an introduction into the research activities in the faculty.

The first plenary talk was by professor Hugh Lauder, titled "The Repositioning of Education in the 21st Century and what Can Be Done About It". His starting point was the tightening bond between the economy and education in the 20th century - which he claimed is now eroding. In some countries, education's only goal (in political documents) is the economy. It has been assumed that education leads to upwards mobility, but that is dependent on an increasing number of jobs at the top (or downwards mobility on the top). Education is also seen as important for global citizenship, but this is dependent on children seeing a future, which they don't always see.

Now, there is an increasing polarization in wealth and income, and there is an increasing competition for a decreasing number of top jobs - the corporate ladders are now flat. We see the emergence of a global education system which educates multi-lingual multi-cultural candidates for transnational corporations. Those not "talented" are hitting a glass ceiling. (The argument is unconvincing, as education could certainly be economically worthwhile even though it does not give top jobs in multi-national corporations...)

32 percent of the poorest 10 per cent of British people are graduates - meaning that graduation is not guarantee against poverty. An increasing percentage of graduates are poor. (But again, this does not mean that education is not worthwhile for the individual. And it certainly doesn't mean that education is not good for the economy as a whole.) There is an insufficient supply of high skilled work.

(By the way, Lauder is the kind of lecturer who has a Powerpoint with huge amounts of text which he shows as he is saying something else. This doesn't work very well for me, maybe because I'm not a native English speaker and reader...)

He ended by saying that we cannot claim that education is there for the economy, what is then the purpose of education and how can we then get funding for it? (But of course humankind have discussed for thousands of years what education is for, so we do have plenty of non-economic answers to that question.)

As I have said, I don't find the arguments in this talk convincing - the numbers don't seem to add up to the conclusions he is stating. The data are on the outcome for the individuals, not for society. Perhaps the reasoning is better explained in his book(s). (But as was commented later in the day - in that case it would be good if he put his best arguments into his talk.)

Then, after a coffee break with a conspicious lack of coffee, there was the first parallel sessions. I went to the ICT & Education session, where three of my colleagues from Oslo presented. But first, Ann-Katrin Perselli had a talk entitled "From computer room to one-to-one". She described a phenomenological study with four teachers from two upper secondary schools, in which all students had their own computers. Among her findings: each student having a PC meant less fighting for the computer lab, while PCs were also disturbing. Teachers based their teachings on tips from colleagues, trial and error and websites - this was time-consuming for inexperienced teachers. Good relationships with students and teachers were a help. The study apparently shows how teachers' "lived experience" influence their approach to using IT in teaching. School leaders need to be aware that teachers are different.

Then, Bård Ketil Engen and Louise Mifsud presented work on an online course on collaborative learning activities - on master level. The course has been held for four years. They discussed different ways of engaging students online, now using Adobe Connect and Second Life. Asynchronous student collaboration was mediated via Etherpad and Wiki. The semester is designed with student activities alternating with online synchronous lectures, and finally there is an exam where students write a paper on the work they have been doing.

Technology influences communication. Students often get more passive online, and maybe a bit uncertain. Asynchronously, we see that students start out cooperating (dividing the labour) instead of collaborating. Overall, students are learning about CSCL activities while learning about CSCL. (I happen to be the boss of these fine teacher educators, a fact there's no reason to hide.)

Finally, Marianne Vinje had a talk with the title "Teacher Strategies for Meaningful Learning in a Blended Environment". Many challenges are facing higher education - resources are moving away from teaching, and research is rated higher than teaching. The role of instruction gets less important, teaching complex (higher-order) thinking is more important. Technologies give endless opportunities which have to be developed. One such opportunity is blended learning, which is what Vinje has been working on, using a community of inquiry (CoI)framework.

Teaching online is something else than traditional teaching - other factors are important than in traditional teaching. Studies show a change of many teachers from an instructional mode of teaching to a more Socratic mode of learning. Also, many teachers are more precise in their messages/information. Vinje thought blended learning gave her more classroom time to get to know her students.

As the last stop of the day, I chose the parallel session on Gender and Education. The first talk here was by Ingólfur Ásgeir Jóhannesson on "Does the National Curriculum Guide 2011 pave way for gender and queer studies in Icelandic schools?" The Icelandic National Curriculum has six fundamental pillars, one of them is equality. This talked is based on text studies and interviews of teachers. There is a focus on equal opportunities in the rest of the curriculum, but rarely on gender studies. Sexual orientation is mentioned, queer and queer studies are not mentioned. One of the books analysed was "I, You and We All" (for 6th to 8th grade) in this, intersectionality is clearly used, and there is a social understanding of gender.

Gender studies is an elective course in some upper secondary schools in Iceland. This is a course without a textbook or final exam. Queer studies is not a specific course anywhere, but is a part of gender studies. The inclusion of gender studies as an elective course is the result of a spontaneous movement among upper secondary teachers, supported by student interest. In one school, Pink Holocaust is taught.

The second part of that parallel session was Anja Kraus' talk on "'Gender' as a Tacit Dimension of Pedagogy". Her starting point was that the the aim of pedagogy is to set people free, the idea of Bildung. Gender can be seen as an analytical tool, helping to understand the constitution of practices and knowledge domains. Traditional pedagogy tends to rely on logic and on concepts that are supposed to exactly fit reality, she argued. Postmodern approaches rely more on self-interpretations. "Bring the body into the discussion" was one expression used. Queer theory, Butler's performativity and body-phenomenological concepts were contrasted, and apparently the latter was the preferred one.

As far as I understand it, a text is seen as problematic because it imposes logic on the world, which makes it a bit problematic to give a talk (a text) on a postmodern approach (or on anything, really).

Thus ended the first day of NERA 2015. A very varied day - a bit more varied than I prefer, I guess. But I do bring some interesting points with me from this day.

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