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DLSU keynote reflections

Posted on: December 14, 2015

I seem to be on an annual “pilgrimage” to the Philippines of late.

In 2013, I delivered a keynote for the Philippine eLearning Society. In 2014, I was a plenary speaker for the Policy, Governance and Capacity Building conference. This year, I was invited to keynote at De La Salle University, Dasmariñas.

At #DeLaSalleUniversity #Dasmariñas #Cavite #Philippines

A photo posted by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

My reflection of the keynote I delivered last week in the Philippines has three parts:

  1. The design of the session
  2. The implementation of the talk
  3. Some takeaways from the experience

I have written about 21st century competencies (21CC) but had not delivered a keynote on it. So when the organiser asked me to share some thoughts about it, I crystallised four key thoughts:

  • There are far too many confusing 21CC frameworks.
  • Such frameworks comprise of some competencies that are not uniquely 21C.
  • The frameworks tend to describe 21CCs as destinations even though they are actually moving targets.
  • It is wiser to set direction instead of destination, so I suggested my audience keep learning, unlearning, and relearning instead.

Instead of taking a whole hour as recommended by the organiser, I designed something that could be experienced in 30-40 minutes. Why try to teach more when learning more is the goal?

To that end, I relied on my usual tools of a TodaysMeet backchannel and AnswerGarden brainstorm word cloud to solicit responses. I did this despite knowing that connectivity at the venue was bad.

There was no wifi. About half of the 500-strong audience had phones and perhaps only a tenth had a reliable connection. Up on stage I had a mifi device that swung from 4G to 2G connections on a whim.

Third and fourth year university students also participated in the event. While adults tried participating in the backchannel, some students went off task. But I noticed that the backchannel was self-policing.

The backchannel was not the main topic so I did not refer to what was happening during the keynote. I had also noticed that when I moved from my Google Slides to TodaysMeet to demonstrate the latter, that almost wrecked my presentation due to the unreliable connection. In a different context (and possibly a future one), I would use interactions in the backchannel as a teachable moment.

I tested AnswerGarden several times before I went on stage. Unfortunately, the service was down the morning of my keynote. Thankfully I had the backchannel as a makeshift tool.

Technical aspects aside, I stuck to my plan of telling a series of interconnected stories. Judging from the informal feedback I received, things went according to plan.

Several people walked up to me to tell me how the learn-unlearn-relearn message was easy enough to internalise. They liked the clear structure and stories.

They also liked a slide I use every now and then:

We have 21st century learners taught by 20th century teachers in 19th century classrooms.

I started using this quote several years ago with the hope that I could stop reminding teachers of this. Unfortunately, extremely slow changes in schooling and university means I have not. I can tell entertaining stories as a result, but this is one I would gladly bury. This will only happen if teachers adopt these as core 21CCs: Learning, unlearning, and relearning.

I took a huge reduction in my usual compensation as a speaker because the university could not afford more. But I agreed to do this because I had worked with the contact person two years ago.

There was about 40 days between initial contact to actual delivery. This was a relatively short time considering the administrative tasks that need to happen for an international exchange. But my gut said do this because the message was important. Perhaps having me as the messenger was important too because I live by the tenets of constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning.

These tasks reminded me how administration should support higher tasks like teaching and learning instead of dictating them. If the organisers were not going to let administration get in the way, I was not going to be an obstacle too.

Even though I was in the Philippines for just few a days, I met warm and wonderful people (one outstanding person is Jen Padernal who was recently featured by Microsoft). Like the Bhutanese I worked with five years ago, they do not have much, but they do much with what they have. Like most worthwhile things in life, connecting with people that matter matters most.

With Royston and Jen.

I learnt that the Filipino higher education system will experience a seismic shift next year. Their pre-university or college experience is K-10, not K-12. The K-12 system starts in the middle of 2016 and there will be no first year cohort in universities. This has huge implications on the faculty members. At the university I spoke at, only about 10% of the faculty had Ph.Ds. and the majority were teaching staff. This meant that quite a few could be asked to leave, retire, teach in high school, go on extended leave, or become researchers.

Even though I was not aware of this impending shift before I made my way to the Philippines, my message was poignantly relevant. While this academic earthquake happens, they will need to learn new ways to teach (e.g., video is the new text), unlearn wrong things they learnt in school or university (e.g., lectures do not have to be the default method), and to relearn (e.g., what it feels like to be a learner).

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