In Dying Brazil, Is Open EdTech Dying As Well?

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Sill Pontes, Open Educator from Curitiba, Founder & Senior Instructional Designer, TODRAW.COM.BR

By Sill Pontes, TODRAW.COM.BR
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2020 was a year of dying!

From my point of view, we had a regrettable regression with regards to distance education —or should I say “distanced” education?— in Brazil in 2020. National school officials are using the term “emergency remote teaching,” which translates to very clear Portuguese as “improvisation”. Did we spend a whole year improvising, at a time when the greatest lesson to learn was about the perils of not having sound and sustainable systems capable of managing risk?

Well that is the past. Will we continue the year 2021 improvising?

We are exhausted inside our face masks, lathered in alcohol gel and improvisation in the education for the people. On the verge of madness or collective hysteria, people still take time to place blame on the “new” model of living and learning. They seem to forget that, item by item, the precarious situation of education in Brazil right now —not unlike most of the developing and even parts of the industrialized world— is due to a very “old” model.

I have to be understanding about our people’s lapses in memory. After all, brain fog is a known lingering effect of COVID-19.

Elearning mistakes we’re ready to keep on making

We are exhausted, and on the verge of collective hysteria. Sill Pontes TODRAW

In a stifling year, racing towards no goal, delivering false forms of education full of misinformation and through severely lacking teaching and learning conditions, it was hard to stay positive. Teachers, parents and students around me felt stressed, tired and discouraged.

Is there a reason to feel positive for 2021? Are even allowed to?

I have been in the trenches of “EaD,” distance education in Brazil for more than 30 years. I witnessed the process of creation of the nation’s Law of Directives and Bases of Education (LDB) 9394 of 1996. 25 years later, it is difficult to account for something the LDB has let us build, until the pandemic hit.

It seems, however, that it has finally woken us up.

2021 will be a year of change and reform, but it will likely follow the dynamics of the pandemic itself. It will become a boon for some, it will fill most of us with anxiety and impotence, and will leave a significant part of our society left out, without an opportunity to benefit from these much needed changes.

Good things will come, but this handful of new things will take root in the same old, broken, structurally flawed model. The LDB made education a fundamental and mandatory right. It proclaimed education as a free and universal right, a goal that we would be reaching towards “progressively.”

There was no deadline for this universalization.

Do you think there were considerations about training teachers? Lifelong learning? Do you think there was any mention of technologies to the service of education, let alone a discipline related to the work and craft of virtual learning environments?

The suffering will not end here. It did not start with the coronavirus. But as everyone in the fields of ​​development, networking, hosting, consulting and so on thrived, the academics among us struggled that much more with their health, finances and mental state. If teachers, students and parents do not come out of this depression, how will professionals make sense of our strengths and chart paths for the future that are not depressing?

In 2020 I had many days of crying, and few smiles. Fortunately, nothing the Brazilian spirit and the Brazilian way does not know how to handle. What I loathed the most in all this was the outright lies from adventurers who entered EaD —the business, that is— without a minimum of “elegância”, really showing that they knew nothing about learning, and joined us to find profit in a troubled enterprise.

I never wanted to stay pessimistic, but 2020 was a year of discord. Money spoke louder than usual, making people from the same “tribe” act like cannibals, going crazy, forgetting, foggy brains of theirs, that collaborative and community-based educational paradigms, appropriated into the multitude of Brazilian contexts, have demonstrated to be successful, reliable and sustainable models of social and economic development. Just admittedly not quick capital gains.

Good thing that Moodle exists!

Moodle offers everything we need in a clear pedagogical, robust way, and with a beautiful educational philosophy underneath. It reflects a never-ending discussion that’s taking place for 18 years all around the world, including Brazil. Moodle was born in Australia, but we adopted it and in many ways we’ve fostered it.

I see Moodle as an environment that delivers integrity. First, because it guarantees perfect traceability, an essential ingredient for successful distance education. Second, because it allows us to reflect who we are with a higher fidelity than anything else in the market. But as we deliver interactive lessons, gamification, learning paths and many other resources, I begin to wonder: Are we, “moodlers,” getting old?

Today’s challenges as educators are, in a way, Moodle’s challenges. An overloaded information society has now become an “attention society.” What matters today is what we all —or more accurately, some majority— pay attention to. And with so many attention grabbers out there, it is easy for Moodle to be forgotten, get lost, or even commit a capital sin: Becoming ugly.

Just so we’re clear, Moodle need not be ugly. Just take a look at my portfolio, or those of thousands of designers out there, and see how Moodle can be a cradle for creativity, that let us express who we are and how we see the world as educators, human beings, artistic souls even.

Moodle can also be a place that reflects our suffering. And that is a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to process our conflicts, elucidate our struggles, and move forward by building something new. We can evolve with Moodle, and so Moodle grows along with us.

Perhaps if Moodle still looks “ugly,” it’s because our suffering needs more reflection, and our conflicts more time and attention before we can grow.

To stop suffering, let’s look at each other. There we will find our inspiration. And technology can help

Suffering and struggle can be good for the soul. What I don’t advocate for, is worry. Please stop worrying. Sill Pontes TODRAW

Suffering and struggle can be good for the soul. What I don’t advocate for, is worry.

So please stop worrying. So you don’t like Moodle, and you prefer something else. An app others might find questionable. Don’t worry! Above all, don’t let your worries keep you from using or trying out new things.

Much like the creative process, trying out new tools for educational expression does not take us through one lone path, but several. Many of them will not be fruitful, maybe most of them will not be. But a handful of them will let us branch out. They will nurture the “trees” that we are. They will reduce our suffering, and help us reduce the suffering in other people a little bit. With these tools, we will be able to provide cover, protection and nourishment to others, and one another.

So please stop worrying.

Moodle therapy

I am fully aware that Moodle may not be for everyone, and that certain enlightening experiences can take place in Moodle just like through another tool that also helps our souls express and learn in community. But when I talk to people who had the chance to use Moodle and ended up having a negative experience, I realize they are not willing to undergo the “suffering” of trying out activities, settings and plugins with willingness and the awareness that many of them will not bear fruit. It’s easy to see how most people will think of trying out things that will not work as a waste of time.

But nothing has been wasted. Trying out a possible tool to express yourself, connect with others and help each other grow, implies a deliberate practice of skill, judgement and self reflection. Furthermore, this is all happening in the context of a broad community, where we learn from each other, and learn how to do it better every day. We know to go only through the path others have not taken before. We innovate, or more accurately, try out some new tech and see if it stacks up; then we report back. We quickly learn what is going on, what is being updated and what is not worth wasting time on. We try not to invent the wheel again.

H5P relief

A very cool example is H5P. I was very worried —and very vocally so— about the native integration of H5P in Moodle. But the community and the H5P development team were engaged and responsive. It gave me more security and confidence to rely on the integration and promote it among my clients and circles of influence.

The new H5P Interactive Book was, admittedly, another reason to be hopeful and excited. With a higher-level intuition of the interactive learning experience and improvements on their gamification processes, I can say that I am pedagogically happy with H5P Interactive Book.

Open EdTech: A soul forest that is also a single living entity

In a way, these open elearning technologies transcend some longstanding, but quite old —and not very “beautiful”— frameworks about education. But in another, more prescient way, they let us deliver elearning experiences that can demonstrate progress and effectiveness in the way they help progress towards a learning path or a competency framework. There is no pyramid, taxonomy or intervention model that open source technologies within an open, interoperable ecosystem cannot successfully incorporate. Ultimately, we’re in a game of evidence and discipline, for which there’s little wiggle room and no shortcuts.

I believe we have a mission to design new ideas and new concepts, that are grounded, organized and that promote “true” teaching and learning.

Whether to be optimistic or not for 2021, it’s not really the right question. Instead, what I ask myself is how to make a better effort every day to deliver on that true learning. Doing my best right now is the only way that I could be able to allow myself to be optimistic, in a future that will look all that much brighter because of mine and everyone in the Open EdTech community’s work.

I must say, though, that the Open EdTech universe that runs in parallel to us is much nicer than the real thing here. Over there we spend our time building multidimensional portals, fueled by imagination and limited only by the speed of innovation. We’re eager to walk multiple paths at once, feel awe at one beat and confusion at the next, and be ready for all of it. We believe in showing measurable achievement for the real universe as a way to sustain the one that sustains our souls; knowing full well that these grades and accomplishments are but a small part, and by no means the more important one. The programmers, developers, educators, instructional designers, teachers, that inhabit Open EdTech, work hard together to make for a more luscious ecosystem.

And of course, you and everybody is always welcome to visit.

The Open EdTech universe that run alongside yours is beautiful, lush, and covid free! And you are always welcome there. Sill Pontes TODRAW
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