ITiCSE 2014, Day 3, Keynote, “Meeting the Future Challenges of Education and Digitization”, #ITiCSE2014 #ITiCSE @jangulliksen

This keynote was presented by the distinguished Professor Jan Gulliksen (@jangulliksen) of KTH. He started with two strange things. He asked for a volunteer and, of course, Simon put his hand up. Jan then asked Simon to act as a support department to seek help with putting on a jacket. Simon was facing the other way so had to try and explain to Jan the detailed process of orientating and identifying the various aspects of the jacket in order. (Simon is an exceedingly thoughtful and methodical person so he had a far greater degree of success than many of us would.) We were going to return to this. The second ‘strange thing’ was a video of President Obama speaking on Computer Science. Professor Gulliksen asked us how often a world leader would speak to a discipline community about the importance of their discipline. He noted that, in his own country, there was very little discussion in the political parties on Computer Science and IT. He noted that Chancellor Merkel had expressed a very surprising position, in response to the video, as the Internet being ‘uncharted territory‘.

Professor Gulliksen then introduced himself as the Dean of the School of Computer Science and communication in KTH, Stockholm, but he had 25 years of previous experience at Uppsala. Within this area, he had more than 20 years of experience working with the introduction of user-centred systems in public organisations. He showed two pictures, over 20 years apart, which showed how little the modern workspace has changed in that time, except that the number of post-it colours have increased! He has a great deal of interest in how we can improve the design for all users. Currently, he is looking at IT for mental and psychological disabilities, finder by Vinnova and PTS, which is not a widely explored area and can be of great help to homeless people. His team have been running workshops with these people to determine the possible impact of increased IT access – which included giving them money to come to the workshop. But they didn’t come. So they sent railway tickets. But they still didn’t come. But when they used a mentor to talk them through getting up, getting dressed, going to the station – then they came. (Interesting reflection point for all teachers here.) Difficult to work within the Swedish social security system because the homeless can be quite paranoid about revealing their data and it can be hard to work with people who have no address, just a mobile number. This is, however, a place where our efforts can have great societal impact.

Professor Gulliksen asks his PhD students: What is really your objective with this research? And he then gives them three options: change the world, contribute new knowledge or you want your PhD. The first time he asked this in Sweden, the student started sweating and asked if they could have a fourth option. (Yes, but your fourth is probably one of the three.) The student then said that they wanted to change the world, but on thinking about it (what have you done), wanted to change to contribute new knowledge, then thought about it some more (ok, but what have you done), after further questioning it devolved to “I think I want my PhD”. All of these answers can be fine but you have to actually achieve your purpose.

Our biggest impact is on the people that we produce, in terms of our contribution to the generation and dissemination of knowledge. Jan wants to know how we can be more aware of this role in society. How can we improve society through IT? This led to the committee for Digitisation, 2012-2015: Sweden shall be the best country in the world when it comes to using the opportunities for digitisation.  Sweden produced “ICT for Everyone”, a Digital Agenda for Sweden, which preceded the European initiative. There are 170 different things to be achieved with IT politics but less than a handful of these have not been met since October, 2011. As a researcher, Professor Gulliksen had to come to an agreement with the minister to ensure that his academic freedom, to speak truth to power, would not be overly infringed – even though he was Norwegian. (Bit of Nordic humour here, which some of you may not get.)

The goal was that Sweden would be the best country in the world when it came to seizing these opportunities. That’s a modest goal (The speaker is a very funny man) but how do we actually quantify this? The main tasks for the commission were to develop the action plan, analyse progress in relate to goals, show the opportunities available, administer the organisations that signed the digital agenda (Nokia, Apple and so on) and collaborate with the players to increase digitisation. The committee itself is 7 people, with an ‘expert’ appointed because you have to do this, apparently. To extend the expertise, the government has appointed the small commission, a group of children aged 8-18, to support the main commission with input and proposals showing opportunities for all ages.

The committee started with three different areas: digital inclusion and equal opportunities; school, education and digital competence; and entrepreneurship and company development. The digital agenda itself has four strategic areas in terms of user participation:

  1. Easy and safe to use
  2. Services that create some utility
  3. Need for infrastructure
  4. IT’s role for societal development.

And there are 22 areas of mission under this that map onto the relevant ministries (you’ll have to look that up for yourself, I can’t type that quickly.) Over the year and a half that the committee has been running, they have achieved a lot.

The government needs measurements and ranking to show relative progress, so things like the World Economics Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (which Sweden topped) is often trotted out. But in 2013, Sweden had dropped to third, with Finland and Singapore going ahead – basically, the Straits Tiger is advancing quickly unsurprisingly. Other measures include the ICT development Index (ID) where Sweden is also doing well. You can look for this on the Digital Commisson’s website (which is in Swedish but translates). The first report has tried to map out the digital Swedend – actions and measures carried, key players and important indicators. Sweden is working a lot in the space but appears to be more passive in re-use than active in creativity but I need to read the report on this (which is also in Swedish). (I need to learn another language, obviously.) There was an interesting quadrant graph of organisations ranked by how active they were and how powerful their mandate was, which started a lot of interesting discussion. (This applies to academics in Unis as well, I realise.) (Jag behöver lära sig ett annat språk, uppenbarligen.)

The second report was released in March this year, focusing on the school system. How can Sweden produce recommendations on how the school system will improve? If the school system isn’t working well, you are going to fall behind in the rankings. (Please pay attention, Australian Government!) In Sweden, there’s a range of access to schools across Sweden but access is only one thing, actual use of the resources is another. Why should we do this? (Arguments to convince politicians). Reduce digital divide, economy needs IT-skilled labours, digital skills are needed to be an active citizen, increased efficiency and speed of learning and many other points! Sweden’s students are deteriorating on the PISA-survey rankings, particularly for boys, where 30% of Swedish boys are not reaching basic literacy in the first 9 years of schools, which is well below the OECD average. Interestingly, Swedish teachers are among the lowest when it comes to work time spent on skills development in the EU. 18% of teachers spend more than 6 days, but 9% spend none at all and is the second worst in European countries (Malta takes out the wooden spain).

The concrete proposals in the SOU were:

  • Revised regulatory documents with a digital perspective
  • Digitally based national tests in primary/secondary
  • web based learning in elementary ands second schools
  • digital skilling of teachers
  • digital skilling for principals
  • clarifying the digital component of teacher education programs
  • research, method development and impact measurement
  • innovation projects for the future of learning

Universities are also falling behind so this is an area of concern.

Professor Gulliksen also spoke about the digital champions of the EU (all European countries had one except Germany, until recently, possibly reflecting the Chancellor’s perspective) where digital champion is not an award, it’s a job: a high profile, dynamic and energetic individual responsible for getting everyone on-line and improving digital skills. You need to generate new ideas to go forward, for your country, rather than just copying things that might not fit. (Hello, Hofstede!)

The European Digital Champions work for digital inclusion and help everyone, although we all have responsibility. This provides strategic direction for government but reinforces that the ICT competence required for tomorrow’s work life has to be put in place today. He asked the audience who their European digital champions were and, apart from Sweden, no-one knew. The Danish champion (Lars Frelle-Petersen) has worked with the tax office to force everyone on-line because it’s the only way to do your tax! “The only way to conduct public services should be on the Internet” The digital champion of Finland (Linda Liukas, from Rails girls) wants everyone to have three mandatory languages: English, Chinese and JavaScript. (Groans and chuckles from the audience for the language choice.) The digital champion of Bulgaria (Gergeana Passy) wants Sofia to be the first free WiFi capital of Europe. Romania’s champion (Paul André Baran) is leading the library and wants libraries to rethink their role in the age of ICT. Ireland’s champion (Sir David Puttnam) believes that we have to move beyond triage mentality in education to increase inclusion.

In Sweden, 89% of the population is on-line and it’s plateaued at that. Why? Of those that are not on the Internet, most of them are more than 76% years old. This is a self-correcting problem, most likely. (50% of two year olds are on the Internet in Sweden!) The 1.1 million Swedes not online are not interested (77%) and 18% think it’s too complicated.

Jan wanted to leave us with two messages. The first is that we need to increase the amount of ICT practitioners. Demand is growing at 3% a year and supply is not keeping pace for trained, ICT graduates. If the EU want to stay competitive, they either have to grow them (education) or import them. (Side note: The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs)

The second thought is the development of digital competence and improvement of digital skills among ICT users. 19% of the work force is ICT intensive, 90% of jobs require some IT skills but 53% of the workforce are not confident enough in their IT skills to seek another job in that sphere. We have to build knowledge and self-confidence. Higher Ed institutions have to look beyond the basic degree to share the resources and guidelines to grow digital competence across the whole community. Push away from the focus on exams and graduation to concentrate on learning – which is anathema to the usual academic machine. We need to work on new educational and business models to produced mature, competent and self-confident people with knowledge and make industry realise that this is actually what they want.

Professor Gulliksen believes that we need to recruit more ICT experience by bringing experts in to the Universities to broaden academia and pedagogy with industry experience. We also really, really need to balance the gender differences which show the same weird cultural trends in terms of self-deception rather than task description.

Overall, a lot of very interesting ideas – thank you, Professor Gulliksen!

Arnold Pears, Uppsala, challenged one of the points on engaging with, and training for, industry in that we prepare our students for society first, and industrial needs are secondary. Jan agreed with this distinction. (This followed on from a discussion that Arnold and I were having regarding the uncomfortable shoulder rubbing of education and vocational training in modern education. The reason I come to conferences is to have fascinating discussions with smart people in the breaks between interesting talks.)

The jacket came back up again at the end. When discussing Computer Science, Jan feels the need to use metaphors – as do we all. Basically, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can explain something as being simple when you’re drawing down on a very rich learned context for framing the knowledge. CS people can struggle with explaining things, especially to very new students, because we build a lot of things up to reach the “operational” level of CS knowledge and everything, from the error messages presented when a program doesn’t work to the efficiency of long-running programs, depends upon understanding this rich context. Whether the threshold here is a threshold concept (Meyer and Land), neo-Piaegtian, Learning Edge Momentum or Bloom-related problem doesn’t actually matter – there’s a minimum amount of well-accepted context required for certain metaphors to work or you’re explaining to someone how to put a jacket on with your eyes closed. 🙂

One of the final questions raised the issue of computing as a chore, rather than a joy. Professor Gulliksen noted that there are only two groups of people who are labelled as users, drug users and computer users, and the systematic application of computing as a scholastic subject often requires students to lock up more powerful computer (their mobile phones) to use locked-down, less powerful serried banks of computers (based on group purchasing and standard environments). (Here’s an interesting blog on a paper on why we should let students use their phones in classes.)



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