Today’s episode features a past, present, and future approach to the topic of educational technology with guest speaker Maria Zając. Maria has been the editor of the edtech magazine 'e-mentor', as well as a professor at the Warsaw School of Economics until very recently. After a little background about the development of computers and computer science in Poland, we dive into the educational aspects around the 8-9 minute mark. We ended up talking about the problems faced when integrating technology into classrooms and learning designs, as well as the different teaching approaches needed to make the most of existing technologies.
The Learning Experience Lab is made possible by FeedbackFruits.
Hello and welcome to episode 12 of the Learning Experience Lab. A new school has just finished being built outside my poorly-insulated window so hopefully the playful screams of children on their lunch break isn't being picked up too much in this recording. Today we're taking a past present and future approach to the topic of educational technology with our guest speaker Maria Zając. Maria has been the editor of the edtech magazine 'e-mentor', as well as a professor at the Warsaw School of Economics until very recently. And she first got into contact with us at FeedbackFruits to talk about writing an article for e-mentor, during which I saw she had not just a wealth of knowledge in the field, but overflowing enthusiasm to boot. So after our very first talk I was already dead-set on bringing her onto the podcast to benefit from this veteran perspective on learning and technology. For the first few minutes we chatted about the development of computers and computer science in Poland, and around the 9 minute mark we dive into the educational aspect. I hope you'll enjoy listening as much as I did, so let's jump into it.
[Maria] I was born quite a long time ago. I studied computer science. That means that I had contact with computers when I was a student. As a child there was not such a possibility. It was more or less 10 years after the second world war so a completely different picture. But at the time when I started studying, in the late 70s, there were only a few computers in Poland at all. At least in Krakow, one of the biggest academic centers in Poland. Warsaw, Krakow... Just a few cities. There was a very big expensive computer, American computer, bought by the academics at work, for the whole academic community in Krakow. So all the universities that work, that existed at that time in Krakow, at that time had access to that computer, but access means something totally different than what you think now. Because access was in this way, that we had to perform, to punch the cards, then collect a deck of those cards, then go to a special room and give it to the so-called operator. And we didn't see the computer. And so i was so curious. How can I study computer science and not be able to see the computer!? And I had a colleague who worked as a technician, technical operator in that center. And he said, Well, when you come during the night, I can let you call, because the computer was. So before that, it was much more expensive to repair it when you switch it off. And then something happens. It was better and safer to let it run all day and rise around. So it didn't stop never. We said that it is better and cheaper. That means that some people had to be present in all those rooms where all the computers work. And I remember I went there with my husband at 10 or 11pm. And I saw the big room and the big plastic unit. Let's call it big, I mean, five and three meter. And a lot of buttons and lights. And I said oh okay, what is that? That night, of course, that was our first experience with the borrower. I couldn't tell that about my colleagues, I still didn't follow them, because it was illegal.
[Dan] And when did personal computers become a thing? Did you see that while you were studying?
[Maria] And not really, when I was finishing my studies, the University bought the so-called mini computer. That was Polish production. And I wasn't, I was working down and on my master thesis, and my supervisor offered me and some other colleagues to prepare some software for this computer. But the personnel exactly said it was. Well, I can tell you another funny story. It was 1986. I went to Germany. I had three kids at the time. And did you work professionally and stayed at home? And I went to my friends in Koln. And I intended to buy the computer that was Atari. One of the first personal computers. And actually, we plan to bring into Poland to sell it to give back money for my journey, because it was the journey, the visit to France, and we didn't have much money, so I thought I would just sell it. And I remember we went to the shop in Cologne with my friend. We bought the computer, we've ordered it first. And I kept it in my hands, and stayed on the street, in front of the car. And in front of the of the shop and thought no, the computer scientist and having a computer in hands. I must keep it that's that's that's the precious tool to have. And it happened so that when I came home and my parents said: Okay, we'll borrow some money. We help you, you keep it because you are the computer scientist, you have to have a tool at least. So that was the but we mostly use it for play. And we have a lot of family and friends who came to play. Sometimes you end the whole night. Of course it was the computer that used that type, magnetic type here.
[Dan] So when you were standing outside the car with this computer was that the moment where you saw more value in pursuing this future then selling it to make money for the journey back?
[Maria] Actually, I don't remember it was quite a long time ago. But I just remembered the feeling that no, I can't lose it. I must keep it. It's without any particular idea. What can I do is that I say? But I felt I remembered how to call it, separated from my job. I felt that that was my knowledge. I lose my knowledge every day, every month. It gets older and older and more useless. That was it, that the computer science wasn't changing so much as it does now. But anyway, it was changing fast. So I felt disconnected with my profession. And I got the impression that when I try to do something with this computer, I will be able to catch up. What is changing? Yeah.
[Dan] Yeah, digitization hasn't gone away. So it seems like you made the right decision. Yeah, but I wanted to ask you where the educational strands worked into that story?
[Maria] Actually, I was completing my studies without thinking that I will teach anyone. Maybe there was a little tiny dream about staying at the university and teach but there was actually not a chance for that, especially today I have a daughter at the time. So there was no such a disability. And actually, I stayed at home for another couple of years. And then I decided, I found that I need to work, to do something with my knowledge with my skills, what I was, what I've learned, and I prepared for getting the job. And one day my friend came and asked, aren't you going to start your job? Yes, I am. I plan it. Because she was working then at the university, Pedagogical University. It's the university that teaches teachers, current teachers who want to develop their professional skills and future teachers as well. Yeah. And the friend worked in a computer science department, which was fast developing at the time, and she said, we have three job positions, maybe you want to join us. That was the beginning. And when I started, it was 1989. Because it was a computer, because it was the Pedagogical University. The main feature of that university, as I said, was preparing teachers. So we didn't have the computer science faculty, we didn't educate computer scientists. But every teacher profession, every speciality of teachers had to be prepared to use technology, as I said, 1989. So we mostly taught students from different faculties, how to use computers, how to use word processors, PowerPoint, things like that, in the first part of their learning.
[Dan] Gosh, okay, so word processing. Other software's era. Okay.
[Maria] So we then, obviously, we have, we had to change the program, the curriculum of the subjects we taught, because of the development in technology. And in I think, mid 90s, or late 90s. There were also an internet connection at the university. So we also taught students how to use the internet, first the web browser, and then how to create the web pages. So we taught them how to use HTML, things like that.
[Dan] Okay. And this is a very broad question, but what impact did you see the internet having on education back then? Was it quite an optimistic picture that you had?
[Maria] No, sorry. So sorry. Mostly mine, my, you're about educational technology in education is pessimistic, because of the fact that it didn't change, despite, despite this long period of time, in my opinion, leading change much in education. It's a pity it should change. It has the potential that it's not used. That's my private opinion.
[Dan] So the technology isn't necessarily the thing, stopping itself from helping but it's the adoption. It's the fact that people don't know how to or don't want to use it.
[Maria] How people use it. That's, that's the point. Going back to the internet, I think that it was very, very important, technology. It appeared at schools, no doubt, as in other areas of our life. But I remember, as I said, we taught teachers. That means also that students had to have internships at schools. And I remember we went with students because there was one guide, one supervisor for every group of students. At that time, I think the late 90s, early this century, we went to schools, and we saw something that was, in my opinion, devastating because kids were used use the internet for finding information, and they didn't protect it at all just copied from the internet. And then I still remember after more than 20 years, I think, or more or less 20 years, one kid in a class in a lower secondary school presenting something. I don't remember the topic. But the impression was the kid is stay in the front of the class, keeping the paper sheet of paper in his hands and reading out something. And we did the the impression I had. And the students the same way. We talked later about that. We got the impression that he didn't understand even a single word that he read, he just copied from Wikipedia and read it aloud. And the problem was that the teacher didn't say anything. They didn't comment if it does fix Okay, it's ticked. It's complete. He has done his part, his task. And that's why I am pessimistic.
[Dan] I think that's still happening today.
[Maria] Yeah, exactly. In many places in many schools. It happens all the time. Again, not every time, not everywhere, of course. Yeah. But it happens. And that's the problem. It's not enough to find the information on the internet.
[Dan] Do instructors need to adapt their teaching styles, their learning objectives? And what do they ask of students how to assess them? To make up for this? copy pasting, remember and repeat?
[Maria] Probably, yes, yeah, they should, in my opinion, the teacher should formulate your task, they give just their students in a way that it needs to assess it needs assessing the information, not to mention the fake news. That's another problem nowadays. But also 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, it was also the problem, because when you read something, you have to be able to value what you've read, to dig out some some points. And maybe if I met only those teachers who weren't able to change it, maybe I don't know, there were some exceptions. Of course, I want to be honest, it's not that everything is bad. No, there are many passionate teachers who do incredible things with their students. I think that in any country, in Poland, in the Netherlands, in the US or anywhere in the world. But I still see too many examples of teachers that were also seen during the pandemic, that they don't, don't exactly know what to do with those tools that are available. That's the reason for my pessimistic.
[Dan] Now, we can also copy paste from a book from something you've read, any written or visual information. So what makes technology and specifically the internet and access to Wikipedia? What makes that so much more problematic for how teaching styles are addressed and constructed?
[Maria] I I'm not sure what you mean by teaching styles. But when you think about differentiating the style of teaching, depending on the preferences of the student, that's another topic, but in my opinion, started also 20 years ago, the beginning of the century, but it's, it's still undeveloped. It still requires a lot of work, a lot of research, and a lot of training and teacher training. That's the one thing but anyway, maybe I will jump to another question if you allow. If not, you can just stop me. I've mentioned we've mentioned pandemic before we started the real the real talk to be honest, I, a year ago, in April, last year, I mean 2020, I had a lot of hope that finally this unusual, very difficult situation will work for the success of elearning of online learning. It didn't, because people teachers in, in the large amount of I mean, as a total didn't know how to teach online. It's not enough to have Zoom or Google Meet. It's not enough. And now we here in Poland, I I'm not sure how it looks like in the other countries, maybe you can add something bad in Poland. We, I hear, the discussions, what is elearning what's online learning. People try to distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous learning and try this is all my learning. And this is elearning. Complete mess. And people see that in in the, let's say, classic learning, or teaching with technology, technology enhanced learning, let's say better. Teacher is absent. You have record pre recorded the course, based on the good methodology, instructional design properly, but it's already prepared. And so then can get access to that and work, let's say on their own, more or less. And this pandemic, online learning is, in the understanding of many for teachers in Poland now is when you teach synchronously, but it doesn't mean it's better. Those people doesn't claim do not claim, it's better, because it is like transferring the typical lecture in a one to one mode online. So this one is wrong. And this one is wrong. And people, in my opinion, are lost. And that's again, the problem here with technology.
[Dan] Now, you asked what, what I'd seen from this, and it's quite on the other side actually working from a place where in my position at Fredback fruits, I'm talking mainly to the people who have had wonderful experiences with integrating and successfully implementing these kinds of learning tools, learning technologies, for a positive experience. But I mean, the demand is there. And what you say, as definitely resonated with me. And even though I'm coming mainly into contact with the success stories, those stories are only there and in such volume, because they're coming from such a large ground of institutions, teachers, classes, programs, which haven't seen that success. So it's, I have a nice position of being able to kind of cherry pick where it's gone well, but I'm very aware that in many places, the question that comes to mind for me, for quite a while now has been whose responsibility is it to train these teachers, if institutions themselves have not been used to this sort of integration, external companies like feedback for it, so we do everything in our power to provide the support to create content like Nhi and I do in an instructional and sometimes even advisory framing. So, I sometimes feel like we've taken that upon ourselves to be there and to help with this integration, and that it's a necessary part. But in the Netherlands, something I'm also seeing is i-coaches and people who are being hired now over the pandemic, specifically for the purposes of or chiefly for the purposes of training those teachers with these tool sets. I had a Jeroen Mulder on the podcast who not only works as an i-coach as a college chair at a college here, but also in his free time, has a YouTube channel where he largely goes into Microsoft Teams, but also other tools other integrations plugins and says This is how you use it. This is how it works. This is what's new. And that seems to me like such a standalone, small part of what actually needs to be happening, that these resources and training opportunities become more mainstream and accessible, and widely distributed. And not someone, one person deciding on their own to start a YouTube channel to address this huge problem, which is the lack of training. So back to my initial pondering of whose responsibility is it to do that training?
[Maria] It's very difficult question. I'm not sure I can answer it. But I can tell mostly from from our country, because I I, I try to follow what happens in many other countries. But anyway, I have the more precise information of what happens in Poland course. And I can offer those more or less 30 years, I can remember. If you projects, even the national projects funded by EU finance, or something like that, which were aimed at training the teachers how to use ICT. But what was surprising at the same time, frustrating for me, and from some others who observed that, that all those projects started from the same point. I mean, to teach teachers how to use text editors, Power Point, Excel, things like that. And even if it refers to other applications, more common, let's say, it also concentrated mostly on showing how to use this app. And not the point, in my opinion.
[Dan] So the integration of those tools into the pedagogy. Was that never there? Did you not see that?
[Maria] Yeah, I've seen that but not not. So commonly, as I, as I saw the instruction, what are the functions of the application? And then I talked with some teachers, and they said, Okay, that's not enough. That's not enough. And I don't know, maybe I should be responsible, maybe? Well, could be not, not only complaining, not, that's not to complain all the time, I see some, some some good points from various, which happened last year or so among the school teachers, because what one of the one perspective is from teaching teachers from the university or from general teaching students at the University at different universities. And the other perspective is the school teachers. And I saw a lot of groups on LinkedIn, maybe not on LinkedIn, maybe mostly on Facebook, the groups were teachers organized themselves. That was the bottom up approach here. People who exchange their knowledge, who share their experience with some applications, who, who published examples, how they used a particular tool in their teaching. So I see the potential and I see the interest among the teachers. And that's the hope for students for our kids or in my case grantees here. But there is still the lack of the concept, how to support teachers in being prepared for changing the education, why using that technology. Again, I can talk from the from the university background that many teachers even cannot imagine that they could postpone lecturing, I mean that the strict lecture that they want to talk 45 minutes as in the classroom, or Metro or on on Google, Gmail, or Microsoft Teams, just talk, talk, talk, talk, having the PowerPoint, somewhere in the background or on the other screen. And I tried to discuss with some of those people, why they believe that the lectures are in part and didn't work, I wasn't able to convince them that it's not. And it's what they used as a mental barrier, in my opinion.
[Dan] It's familiar, though. And I've, I think I've talked about this before this tradition, no, give an example of a philosophy or history professor standing in front of his auditorium of their auditorium with a captivated audience of students who are paying attention. Now, someone who has been used to that I can imagine, would like to recreate a similar sort of captivating narrative lecture style, even where Yes, Maria, we can agree that transposing offline into online teaching styles one to one and trying to copy everything, it doesn't work. It's not where the focus should be if the teaching. But how do you overcome that mental barrier? is a question that I'm puzzling over. How do you convince teachers that focusing on now if we can be so bold as to suggest some topics, things like focusing on the construction of a learning community, and the importance of that social cohesion and interaction inside and outside of class group work, I think, becomes more important. But that transition, that means learning new stuff, new styles, new approaches? Is there a way where we can make that process a bit smoother?
[Maria] I think Yeah, I can give you the example of a blog, which I follow. It's University of Sussex Technology Enhanced Learning blog. And I get people, that's the center of learning this technology. I don't remember the exact name. But anyway, it's a group of people who try to support and to advise the teachers at their university. But actually, no one can subscribe to their blog, as I mentioned, because I'm also a subscriber. Although it's mostly aimed at the local community, they they try to to familiarize those people with different aspects of technology. Once they write about using Canva, because they use that that system at their university, but on the other blog post, they write about accessibility issues, about different pedagogical approaches, things like that. So it's not enough to tell people yes, you have that this is your account to MS teams, or Zoom, or anything like that. Just use it. People. I think people are. Maybe it's informal foundry of, of, of, of the knowledge, how to use the technology, effectively how to change some people, some because others do not want to change anything because it's more or less convenient, or they think that although I don't know.
[Dan] Can you be an effective teacher if you're not willing to keep learning the developments in teaching?
[Maria] Depends on the subject. Okay, fair enough. The subject. You can't be the effective teacher when you are teaching computer science. No way. But I think my mathematicians, colleagues will. My colleagues or mathematicians will not be angry at me. You can teach mathematics for many years without any change, because it's the subject that doesn't change fast. I talked to some colleagues who told me that it's very difficult to progress scientifically in mathematics, because what could be solved has already been solved. What could be proved? And what is difficult to be proved or to be solved? It's difficult.
[Dan] As soon as you mentioned domain variability, I agree with you. My mind went straight to maths. Have it's been done this way. It's worked this way since before the Greeks the newbians, but even if the subject is staying the same, the learners on is that something that needs to be factored into? How even a very successful traditional teaching style or sorry teaching approach can be applied to maths? Does it need to take into account learner variability, learner differences, which I think we can agree today are bigger than ever?
[Maria] Yeah, you are right. But when you are the teacher who teaches the same topics for 20 years, the person doesn't have to see the difference. Or that the learners are different. Maybe it's now it's still it's not possible anymore. I do not teach since five years. So I am not sure that I remember once a couple of years ago, at the lecture for math students. As I mentioned, the ICT in math DG. And I prepared the presentations, which were quite new than a couple of years ago, as I mentioned. And I I gave them the presentation slides. So they knew they had access to that and tried to make my lecture there were more than 300 students in the room. And I tried to make the lecture interesting and attractive to keep their attention to say that watch, which is very difficult, especially with those big groups. And I remember that after a few lectures, I observed and told them even you know, art, when I make you take notes from the blackboard, there is a silence in the room and you are taking those notes. When I show you something on the slide, you are talking your attention get lost totally, totally disappeared. Yeah, that was strange, because I spotted that from the other lectures when you explain difficult math concepts. And you will write the formulas on the blackboard. I remember from my studies as well, because we have had a lot of math at the time. And moreover, we didn't, we didn't have the textbooks for my subjects. Mid 70s, as I said, so we were keen on taking careful notes and listening. I remember that I had difficulty to follow what the teacher is explaining and taking notes at the same time, I was able to either write or listen and following to understand that because there were concepts. And I started with those students that they were used from the other lectures or other classes during their studies that they have to take notes to write down was on the blackboard. And my observation was that they were totally unprepared to having to having something already by days of technology. And that was I think 20, 25 years ago and I I believe it hasn't changed much since then.
[Dan] I can see where you're coming from. And there could be so many different reasons for it. But one that sprung to my mind was mathematics can be quite good. One says static in a sense, but I was going for Operational procedural internalization of formulas and functions and maybe that's something that's certainly true for myself just needs to be written down and worked out. And only by practicing these written problems, which are done on pad and paper or a calculator, maybe only by practicing practicing practicing, do you actually start to get a world apart from history where it's not about what has been written down, but what has happened, how you interpret that, how you discuss and talk about it. So yes, with Math, second. I also want to note that you computer science scientists have been altering maths education, because of things like Python coming along with mathematical computer programming languages, applications, like Wolfram, which gives us new ways of visualizing and processing data. Now, I think that's becoming an integral part of maths education, which our math teachers are learning and integrating into their teaching. So I am very curious to see how maths teaching is going to change in the future as well.
[Maria] Well, you're right, and Nhi as well, that we have to think about changing the way we teach. But you must remember that when we are talking about young people like you are, it's different. When you are talking to people my age, they want to be willing to change their way. No matter whether it helps or not, they are not ready to change that. I just remember another example from a very dynamic subject when we say math is static stuff than computer science is dynamic. In this context. I had when I still thought I had the lecture about XML. I used to teach from Wharton 10 years of XML techniques, all those structures, which are built around XML, because XML itself is a very simple text language. But what you can do is with the data presented or stored in XML files, it's almost unlimited. And in the curriculum, and there was a lecture 15 years 15 hours in a semester. And I don't remember 30 or 45 hours of classes of lab computer lab. And so I had to do a lecture, because I had to know you remember, I was nervous when students didn't come to the lecture because I was not nervous I was irritated when they didn't come because I intended to present them the theory, a concept. And then I created the presentations, I published them on the Moodle platform because we used to do it 6, 7, 8 years ago. So we used Moodle for many years, then everything was available for them on the Moodle platform. And I intended to use this knowledge stored on the slides as the background as the guide or the hub for them. The students were allowed to use it to have it open on the screen during the classes during the lab. And just make use of what they've heard during the lecture and what was stored in the presentation. And I used different techniques, how to motivate them to come to the lecture, because I didn't want to repeat the same information in every class. Yeah, but I thought that's the point don't have to have that lecture. So I used different techniques to motivate them. I gave them the questions and they got points. And they have the little tickets they gave when they leave then when they were leaving the class after the lecture. So the frequence that the audience was almost full 95% or something like that. But after three or four weeks, I spotted two things. First, they didn't listen to the lecture. They came to the class some some of the students the first group. The students gave half an hour after the lecture was over. And they looked at me as if they heard it for the first time. That was a one observation. Because they were, in my opinion, they they felt, we all have it, chill, give it give it to us. So what's the point? That isn't? Right? And another observer Maya, my other observation was that during the lecture, they did everything they wanted. They had in their hands, laptops, tablets, smartphones, they were showing that the screens work to one another. I saw it all because I usually keep an eye contact with the audience. And I was frustrated. And after a few few weeks, I said, No, no, there is no point in keeping the lecture. That's the problem is technology. I, I stopped teaching and just retired from teaching from from work in university. But if I had to teach students now, actually, when I was leaving the university, I told my colleagues, if only you have the chance to cancel this lecture, please do it. It doesn't make sense. I am not sure. Sure. Now, what would I? How would they would I replace it? But anyway, technology, there is technology, there is information, we have quite easy ways to to provide information. And I think that the classes should be on creating the knowledge, not provided information. That's why I'm against the lectures.
[Dan] Wonderful. If I think about intrinsic motivation to learn and to study, no, of course it comes from within it has to be something where the learner sees that they gain value. And it sounds like your students thought they would gain more value by having this one screen summary, rather than what you seem to have put more effort and time and resources into by preparing these lectures. And so it certainly brings up the question of Yeah, how are the places of lectures in especially hybrid styles of learning these days? And unfortunately, we're running out of time, but we could also go into how do you intrinsically motivate students? Because my very bad go to answer for most of that question has been make something graded. Students will want to do something if they get a grade for it, but that's really not even tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid. Hmm. I'm wondering how we can end on a maybe a positive or a future directed aspect. So are there any other points you'd like to make or tips on how other other professors could reduce the amount of lectures when necessary, find other ways to motivate or assess their learners.
[Maria] Well, maybe it really sound strange after ever see what I've already said. But I believe when when the teachers get try to get familiar with the apps, which are available now, I don't really mean feedback for us of although is one of them, a lot of side jobs. We can if they are familiar with those who is the possibilities of such apps, they can find it then another way to organize their classes, I think that more collaborative work, more project based work, more independent inquiry. These are just these are the matters very briefly very generally, but these are matters that will help students to develop the skills they will need. Everyone talks about the teamwork, about soft skills, things like that, which are necessary in contemporary work, but there is in my opinion, there is a gap between what we how we teach and what we teach and what people need. Maybe it's worth thinking about making use of the potential that we have.
It may sound odd, but for me it was refreshing to hear a perspective which wasn't overwhelmingly positive and optimistic about the integration of technology and education. I think we can all benefit from hearing honest experiences about how it doesn't always go as we want. When we can be concrete about the failures and mistakes we've encountered, the frustrations and disappointments, and when we can really begin to understand those, then that's the only way we can truly address them and work towards solutions. As I mentioned, I operate in a bit of a bubble of talking to the most innovative and optimistic instructors, and trying to build their use cases to inspire other educators. And while I enjoy this approach, it's absolutely essential that we understand the real concerns of the countless educators who have been unheard and under-supported, who can't always make their voices heard. So all in all I hope that in education we can continue to listen to and support each other, responding to the real needs of every instructor and faculty.
Thanks for joining me as a listener for this learning experience, and don't forget to get in touch with any comments, queries or questions. And for more resources about these topics and more, check out the FeedbackFruits website where we have tonnes of use cases, blog articles, technical help, and almost 24/7 support for all your learning design needs. If you enjoyed this podcast please leave a like or comment as it's the simplest form of feedback, and you know we love feedback. In any case, do take care and I'll catch you next time.
New episodes released every 2 weeks! To be the first one to hear about the new episodes, subscribe to FeedbackFruits newsletter.
Dan is an (almost) graduate of science communication and education who lives for learning. For a year he has been investigating course design case studies around the world and is now trying his hand at this new format of gathering and sharing insights and ideas.
Guest - Maria Zając
Editor at e-mentor magazine
Maria has been involved in computer science since her youth, and was until recently the editor of the edtech magazine 'e-mentor', as well as a professor at the Warsaw School of Economics.