My new interview, this time with Chryssa Themelis, an educational researcher, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years. This was for the special edition of ELTA Newsletter and it appeared first here
A day in the life of…..
by Vicky Papageorgiou, Metropolitan College, Athens, Greece
Chryssa is an educational researcher focusing on research that changes practice and thinking, teaching that transforms people’s lives and engages actively with students, businesses and communities. She has a 20-year experience of teaching face to face classes, blended learning courses and vocational workshops in e-research and technology-enhanced learning. As research assessor, she evaluates UKERI proposals for the British council and European Union proposals for H2020 FET Innovation Launchpad Calls.
Vicky : First of all, thank you for accepting the invitation for this interview. We are thrilled to have you here!
Chryssa : It is my pleasure.
Vicky : You are an expert in technology-enhanced learning. And currently a staff member of the University of Lancaster. Can you share a little of your personal/professional story so far?
Chryssa : Before coming to Lancaster, I spent years working for EU funded projects and teaching at Hellenic American University and English language centers. I still run a foreign language center (EXThemeli.OE) in Athens as well. I coordinated the VocTEL conference aiming to promote TEL in Europe in 2015. I hold a BA in Economics from Deree College, an MSc in Networked Learning, and a Ph.D. in the field of “E-research and Technology Enhanced Learning” from Lancaster University (department of educational research). I review UKERI proposals for the British council and European Union proposals for H2020 FET Innovation Launchpad Calls. I blog regularly at AACE review (Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education) and review papers at IRRODL, open praxis, education sciences, educational researcher, Ed-media conferences.
Vicky : Could you tell us about the various projects you have managed or you are currently managing, like the VocTel conference, ViLi project, etc.?
Chryssa : European funding was the only opportunity I had to work more on educational research and create a vision of a more inclusive education. Therefore, I have initiated several Erasmus + projects in the field of innovation in higher education, working closely with Prof. Julie-Ann Sime.
Currently, I have been working on Digital Wellbeing Educators that has a clear objective: increase the capacity of lecturers and teachers to integrate digital education in a way that promotes the digital wellbeing of students. Through building teacher capacity, the project will improve students’ abilities to manage their online time, make the most of digital learning, critically assess the media they consume and create, and become responsible, confident digital citizens. You can download our Digital Wellbeing Compendium which highlights 14 innovative examples and our analysis of the risks, challenges, opportunities and future directions: https://www.digital-wellbeing.eu/learning-portal/compendium-of-best-practice/.
My favorite project though is the CiELL project. The CiELL is a KA2 project, innovation in higher education. It focuses on inclusiveness in English language learning. An app is designed to offer informal, flexible, and alternative ways of English language writing using comics as a mnemonic device. The comic, mnemonic devices or the so-called stories have the potential to assist students to remember writing structures of essays, articles, and reviews with close reference to Cambridge English examinations (IELTS & PCE). Comics could be a very effective pedagogical tool to teach children and adults any subject in any level of education (Bessette, 2020)
The stories address the 17 UN sustainable goals that set targets and indicators to make the world a better place for all, by 2030. Issues such as poverty, homelessness, well-being, and climate change are turned into graphic narratives to inform students of the UN initiatives, picture the global challenges and raise awareness of social justice.
This first version of app will be ready to download on the 11th of May 2020.The innovative and experiential approach of the pilot design needs to be further investigated to better accommodate English language learners and storytellers of the world. More information about the project and the app is available on the CiELL project website: https://ciell.eu/ and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CIELL-386234128802711/.
All resources created by EU funding agencies are open access; so educators can learn about new pedagogies, approaches and tools at their own pace. For example, another research, the vili-project, could inform educators about visual literacies and the MOOC will be open for all for the next 5 years (https://mooc.viliproject.eu/ )
Vicky : Can immersive technologies guarantee more active engagement in e-learning environments?
Chryssa : Immersiveness (bringing learning to life) is regarded as today’s and future’s essential knowledge and skills. It is widely used in medical fields, science labs, manufacturing, law courses (mock trials) and even language learning. Indeed, by 2021, 60% of U.S.-based higher education institutions will use immersive technologies to create an enhanced simulation and learning environment (Gartner,2017). The market for educational VR was worth $269 million in 2017, and is forecast to reach $1.7 billion by 2021, a 55% compound annual growth rate. North America is expected to be the fastest growing market due to heavier investment and a swifter rate of technology adoption, according to VR Education Holdings (Chawla,2018)
Given this backdrop, education providers should begin now to create strategies for immersive learning experiences. The world of immersive technologies is still unexplored territory for educators and their students especially in EU Universities, despite their immense potential.
Vicky : As technology becomes more and more integral to everything we do, it can sometimes distract us from the things that matter most to us. Isn’t it true though that technology should improve life, not distract us from it? Are we in control of technology or is technology in control of us? What are the tools we need to develop a good sense of digital wellbeing?
Chryssa : Good point. Educating people about the side-effects of technologies in all levels of education starting from kindergarten is crucial. Raising awareness about digital wellbeing is very important for all of us and especially for the so-called ‘generation z’, that is, ‘digital natives’.
Smart devices have undeniable benefits for productivity, social connections, entertainment and technology-enhanced learning. The concept of digital wellbeing (mental and physical health-related to the use of digital tools) assumes that private and professional life is saturated by technologies that do not always serve their purpose but may, at times, function as an obstacle, distracting students and educators from their daily tasks, damaging interpersonal relations and encouraging undemocratic values.
New words have been born, for example cyberloafing (Selwyn, 2008), which describes the practice of pretending to work on a screen but surfing the internet instead. Julie Aranda, a researcher from Google, stated: ‘’Across the board, mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps, were creating a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress’’. It is part of the so-called smartphone addiction, or Nomophobia (No mobile phobia), that embraces many adverse psychological effects such as stress, depression and anxiety (Gökçearslan, Uluyol, & Şahin, 2018). Relationships with colleagues and students, or personal relations, may become less meaningful due to lack of face-to-face communication and dialogue even though sharing (photos, tweets and documents) is a prominent cultural norm. Educators have become more and more aware of the collateral repercussions of digital overload and uncontrollable use of digital media.
Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report (2018, p.8) found out that:In 2017, 88% of adults aged 16 and over go online, unchanged since 2016 (86%) and 2015 (87%). Facebook is still the most common site on which to have a profile, with 91% of social media/ messaging site users having a profile/ account. Adults are more likely than in 2016 to use a smartphone to go online (70% vs. 66% in 2016). This has been driven by those aged 35-44 (90% vs 82%) and 45-54 (83% vs.73%), those in the AB socio-economic group (77% vs. 70%) and women (72% vs. 66%).The 12th Annual Digital Learning Tools survey (2018) categorized the most used tools in 2018 as YouTube, Google, PowerPoint, Word, LinkedIn and Twitter among others.
On the other side of the argument, professor Benjamin Curtis from Nottingham Trent University, UK, among others, regards technologies such as Google as an extension of the mind. ‘’This is not science fiction, but an implication of what’s known as the extended mind thesis, a widely accepted view in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience’’ (Curtis, 2018, para. 1). Since 1998, Andy Clark and David Chalmers, philosophers and cognitive scientists, claimed that: ‘’when we integrate things from the external environment into our thinking processes, those external things play the same cognitive role as our brains do. As a result, they are just as much a part of our minds as neurons and synapses’’ (Curtis 2018, para. 5). In the same frame of mind, Ludwig (2015) states that tools such as Google and Wikipedia are forms of extended cognitive processes and lead to an explosion of knowledge.
The Economist’s front page of the 4th January 2018 claims that the next frontier is “Using thought to control machines: Brain-computer interfaces may change what it means to be human”. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are helping people to make use of their artificial hands through thoughts, and this provides some evidence that mind-control can be done. Further, it is also possible that ‘’Researchers can tell what words and images people have heard and seen from neural activity alone. Information can also be encoded and used to stimulate the brain’’ (Economist, para. 2). For example, over 300,000 people now have cochlear implants which convert sounds into brain signals. New tools integrated in Google such as Google Assistants, or Apple’s Siri, provide intelligent assistants that could rapidly become an essential extension of the mind. This means that a clear definition of digital well-being is needed to safeguard, or reclaim, our mind and psyche.
All in all, there is an increasing need to be able to promote digital well-being by adopting healthy and productive habits when using digital technologies in all levels of education.
Vicky: While online learning seems to be gaining ground, it is not treated with the same ‘seriousness’ as face-to-face learning, the latter being considered still the most effective way of learning. In your opinion, will online learning eventually overtake face-to-face learning altogether? What is stopping it now?
Chryssa: Learning is a never-ending process. Certificates and degrees capture, as photographs do, the moment. Knowledge flows rapidly and technologies advance at a crazy speed. To catch up, most professionals need to learn for a living. Therefore, ‘anytime anywhere’ (e-learning) education gives the opportunity to bring people together from different continents and build communities of practice.
Human to human interaction is a key element for learning but we have the technologies to support it with video conferencing, immersive technologies and even holoportation (Themeli & Sime 2020).
One barrier is, of course, the cost (cost of tools and training) but it is decreasing steadily. The second barrier is that people are afraid of changes and they are not aware of the fact that unlearning is equally important to learning. Unfortunately, some educators and policy makerσ are ‘resistant to change’.
Vicky: How do you envision the future of e-learning?
Chryssa: One word describes my vision for education in general: Inclusion. Inclusion is defined in the UN framework as:
a process of systemic reform embodying changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education to overcome barriers with a vision serving to provide all students of the relevant age range with an equitable and participatory learning experience and environment that best corresponds to their requirements and preferences. (United Nations, 2016, para 11) RPD (United Nations).
E-learning is a choice and it is important to give students choices.
Vicky : Thank you very much for your time!
Chryssa: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work.
Curtis, B. (2018, September, 3). Google at 20: how a search engine became a literal extension of our mind. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/google-at-20-how-a-search-engine-became-a-literal-extension-of-our-mind-102510?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=facebookbutton
Gökçearslan,S., Uluyol,C. & Şahin,S. (2018). Smartphone addiction, cyberloafing, stress and social support among university students: A path analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 91, 47-54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.05.036
Ludwig, D. (2015). Extended cognition and the explosion of knowledge. Philosophical Psychology, 28(3), 355-368, DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2013.867319
Selwyn, N. (2008). A safe haven for misbehaving? An investigation of online misbehavior among university students Social Science. Computer Review, 26(4) 446-465, DOI:10.1177/0894439307313515
Themelis, C., Sime, J. (2020)From video-conferencing to holoportation and haptics: How emerging technologies can enhance presence in online education.In: Emerging Technologies and Pedagogies in the Curriculum. Singapore : Springer p. 261-276. 16 p
Vicky Papageorgiou is an ESL/EAP instructor and an art historian with approximately 20 years of experience, mainly with adult learners. She holds an MA in Education (Open University of Cyprus) and an MA in Art (Goldsmiths College, UK) and she was also awarded a PGCE in Technology Enhanced Learning with distinction from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David . She studied in Greece, Italy and the UK but also participated in an international project for the McLuhan program in Culture and Technology for the University of Toronto, Canada. Her fields of interest are Technology-enhanced learning, Art in ESL, critical thinking, Inquiry-Based learning and teaching adults. She is also the website editor of the Visual Arts Circle. She currently divides her time between Athens (Greece) working as an ESL/EAP instructor and teaching EAP in the UK..