The University of Guadalajara
I spent last week in and around Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. The Universidad de Guadalajara, whose origins go back to 1586, is the second largest university in Mexico, with about 130,000 students distributed between 15 campuses across the state. It also has a long-standing distance education program, now called Virtual Campus, which offers fully online programs, often through local ‘casas’ or study centres with Internet access (only about 40% of Mexicans, and almost none in the lower socio-economic groups, have Internet access at home, mainly due to lack of competition in the Mexican telephone industry).
I first became associated with UdG (the term used by staff and students) in 1999, when I was on a review team looking at its international activities, but my work with UdG really started in 2004 when they were establishing a Master in Educational Technology which is now still running (Maestría en Tecnologías para el Aprendizaje.) Dr. Patricia Rosas Chavez was instrumental in establishing the MTA at UdG, together with several other UdG staff. I worked with faculty and students on this program in the early days, and as a result I now have many good friends there.
The Agora Project
I was approached about a year ago by Dr. Rosas, who is now the Director, Coordinación de Innovación Educativa y Pregrado at UdG. The university is wanting to initiate a major innovation program for teaching and learning based on mobile learning and social media, which became known as the Agora project, and were looking for consultants. I had no hesitation in recommending Dr. Tannis Morgan, of the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which provides education and training for police, paramedics, fire service and correctional personnel, as well as social, health and community workers. JIBC has a major mobile learning initiative, as most of its students are working and travelling all the time. Tannis pulled together a small team of international consultants to work on the project.
The UdG Agora is the site for the University of Guadalajara Student Centred and Mobile Learning Diploma. The goal of this faculty development program is for UdG professors to confidently integrate student centred and mobile learning strategies and activities into their teaching and students’ learning.
Tannis and her team have done an extremely good job in ‘walking the talk’ with the faculty at UdG. Through the use of practical examples, challenges and experiential learning, the program provides faculty and learners with the tools they need to meaningfully plan, design, implement and share student centred and mobile learning in their courses through a community of practice that fosters the enrichment of student centred learning experiences with the use of mobile learning technologies (iPads).
The program adopts the Agora as a metaphor for an open, collaborative, community where learning happens through interaction and engagement with others. The blended faculty development program ran from July 13-December 17 2015. It began with one week of face-to-face meetings in July, followed by 8 weeks of online work from mid-August to October. It ends with two days of face-to-face meetings in December.
CIINOVApp and Conectáctica
CIINOVApp (Congreso Internacional de Innovación para el Aprendizaje: Redes y su impacto en el aprendizaje: International Conference on Innovation in Education: Networks and their Impact on Learning) took place at a new campus of UdG in Valle, a largely agricultural community about 90 minutes drive west of Guadalajara. The campus takes pride on being closely linked with the needs of the local community. The conference included both campus faculty and students.
Orozco’s ‘The People and Their False Leaders’ mural in the Auditorium of the University of Guadalajara
Conectáctica immediately followed, and was aimed at all faculty in the UdG network of campuses. It was a meeting for teachers of the University Network in Jalisco to seek the exchange of experiences, trends and teaching practices that allow innovation, experimentation and implementation in the development of learners. It opened in the Paraninfo, the Auditorium of UdG. It can be seen from the photos that there are two wonderful murals by the great Mexican artist, Orozco, on the cupola and the front wall in the Paraninfo. The rest of the conference was held at the CUADD campus (Centro Universitario de Arte, Arquitectura y Diseño), about 30 minutes north of the centre of Guadalajara.
The conferences took advantage of the Agora consultants (Tannis Morgan, Brian Lamb and Alan Levine) being in town, plus the addition of myself, Cristobal Cobo, formerly of the Internet Institute, Oxford University and now working in Uruguay, Atsusi Hirumi, Professor of Education at the University of Central Florida, and several Mexican speakers. Faculty from UdeG also made short presentations demonstrating how they had applied what they learned from the Agora. These presentations were very interesting and showed how faculty were creatively applying the lessons of the Agora.
I gave the opening keynote at both the conferences:
- the future of online learning (CIINOVApp)
- teaching in a digital age (Conectáctica).
It was the second time I have given a keynote in front of Orozco’s The People and Their False Leaders, with the dramatic images of the ruling class brutally trying (and failing) to break the ordinary man’s desire for learning.
I also ran three two-hour interactive workshops, two on how to decide what to do online and what to do in class in hybrid courses, and one workshop on selecting appropriate media. In each workshop, participants worked in groups, chose a module or course, and made decisions about the use of technology in those courses. All my contributions drew heavily on my book, Teaching in a Digital Age. I also sat on a panel with the other foreign speakers.
This was a pretty intense week, involving four consecutive 12 hour days when the travel across and through Guadalajara’s congested traffic was included, so I was very glad to escape with my wife for the weekend to a resort at Lake Chapala, about two hour’s outside Guadalajara.
However, it was great working both with Mexican colleagues, who are incredibly kind and generous, and so enthusiastic about adopting new methods of teaching, and the foreign consultants, all leaders in educational innovation, and great people to be with.
Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be retired, but I wanted to see colleagues and old friends once more. It will be my last time in Mexico in a work capacity, and as I have had such good friends and colleagues there, it seemed a good way to say goodbye.
The visit also reinforced my decision to retire. I was really tired most of the time (working in Mexico always requires a lot of energy), but more importantly I can feel that the future of online learning lies elsewhere, in the work of people like Tannis Morgan, Brian Lamb and Alan Levine, who are on top of the rapid, new developments in technology, and in particular have the energy and creativity to apply these technologies in educationally appropriate and exciting ways.
These conferences reinforced my view that we need to move from (but not ignore) best practices in online learning to doing things differently in ways that exploit the power of social media. Best practices in online learning provide a safe base and certainly need to be a foundation for innovation, but we cannot continue to be restricted by the limitations of learning management systems and lecture capture.
In particular, we need to use technologies that are as free as possible from large corporate interests, maintaining the freedom and independence of education from the forces of Internet corporations. My fear for the future is that education will eventually become privatized through inappropriate and mechanical applications of computer technology (I will be discussing this further in my look forward for 2016 in the new year). Tannis and her colleagues are working to ensure that there are alternatives to corporate, behaviourist online learning. It will be Tannis and other colleagues, and the young faculty and students from places such as Mexico and Africa in particular, who are most likely to drive education in new and appropriate ways based on simple, non-commercial social media, which is why this last week has been so exciting.