Professor Kloos has told Lectera Magazine about the high-tech educational tools that are being developed by his team.
Carlos Delgado-Kloos teaches at the University of Carlos III of Madrid and holds a number of positions: he is Vice President of Strategy and Digital Education, Director of the UNESCO Chair on Scalable Digital Education for All, and the Director of the GAST Research Group.
- In what directions is the University of Madrid developing new educational tools?
We live in very exciting but also difficult times. Some people say we are in a weaker era which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, you know. So, things are going on and are going on changing faster and faster, and you know that you have to change, you have to adapt to the new possibilities, but there's no given way. So, you have to experiment a lot, try out many things, look what works and what does not into advance continuously.
In the last years what have we done? We have taken advantage of the possibilities of technology in order to improve teaching and learning. For instance, we have the zero courses which are meant to refresh content for freshmen before the first semester. They are shown some of the topics in physics and math which they should know from school. We use the online platform, which was then 2011 an open source, so that they could do it apart from the face to face class. It is important to the personal participation with the professor and teachers. But we also used additional content, video and multimedia content, interactive exercises to help understand the topics. Then we have been taking part of a MOC platform and EDX, the platform funded by MIT and Harvard. And we've developed many MOCs, massive online courses, for teaching around the world.
But most importantly, we have used the same technology to enhance the regular classes. It's a complement or even a change to the pedagogy by flipping the classroom and having the students see first the content. And then in class they can take advantage of the hours with the professor to do other things: more exercises, more explanation, more practical things that can help in understanding content really better.
So, I think it's, as I said, exciting times but it also requires a lot of thinking to see what has worked and what has not worked. And it also implies, and we have a very strong program in teacher training, showing faculty what is possible, what can be done, what apps exist for in-class engagement or how do you talk to a camera, which is cold and you have to smile at it and even act a bit because professors are not actors. We have a program with many different aspects which are taught to our faculty, which is also an important component of moving forward.
- How is the role of the educator changing in an updated learning process?
I think it does not make sense to center on the lecturing aspect, to explain something every year the same, in the same way, with the same jokes, with the same mistakes. It should not be the main focus of the professor, especially for freshmen or basic courses, maybe for advanced it works. But for the basic course, no. It is the same for math and physics, the same principle for economics. This can be done in a video once and then we'll take the twisted professor's time to something that cannot be replaced by tools. So, I think the professor should get from being a particular lecturer to becoming more a mentor. A mentor, I think, should be the principal role of a professor rather than repeating this always the same, the same words again. We should concentrate on taking more practical things and more interactive issues. I think also that the role of teaching will have to distribute on different roles because the professor now does everything: he prepares the material, he teaches, he prepares a PowerPoint, he prepares an exam. Now you need to have different skills to do engaging videos, to do animations or simulations or interactive exercises that keep the attention of the student. So, you need different roles in the university that take care of the different aspects. And then the professor needs to be able to interact with all these different people. So, I think we are living in a time where we have to restructure the roles of professors and take advantage of the technology in what it does better.
- How can Artificial Intelligence help in learning?
I think there's a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. I think the technology is promising but it's not yet mature to be really deployed massively in courses. I think for particular aspects maybe it'll do but it also requires a lot of efforts. We've heard about the experiment by Georgia Tech, where they had to move and they had several teaching assistants, one for the design systems online. It was still Watson but the students like her very much. But then it was a machine. So, this is the good story you hear, but what they don't tell you so much is what effort was behind: the team of four or five people during half a year was training the IBM Watson in order to be prepared for this one course. So, it shifts the efforts somewhere else and we are not really recognizing that this is effective. We are hearing the good stories, right stories but there are not so many similar stories of success. So, it's still a lot of effort to really be deployed massively. So, I think in the future it will come but the things are not yet mature.
- What does new education and high technologies offer to those who don't want to spend 5 years on learning, but do want to try to gain practical experience and apply it immediately?
Well, we are a public university in Spain, so we are bound with the law which explains the duration of bachelor and master programs and we have most of the bachelors of four years, although now it's allowed also to have three years, but still most last four years. And then two or one-and-a-half-year master. So, this is the legal context in which we have to move. I think it would be good also if the legislators see the need. I mean four or five years, it is okay, but I think what we need to do as universities is engage much more with industry and to have a much more practical, not so much theoretical orientation. Even if you have labs or something. It is more useful for industry and we are doing this in some programs. For instance, in aerospace we are very much involved with Airbus and we're working together and with others too. So, I think this is the way to go: to engage much more with the industry where the students will go later on in order to have something much more practical. But still there's a lot of legislation and other conditions which are still quite rigid.
- How can technologies help people over thirty to forty years old learn new professions and skills?
I think this is also a big transformation. Knowledge becomes obsolete, fast and faster, new technology drives new knowledge. You cannot just learn for four or five years and then forget. You have to continually retrain, upskill, reskill. And I think this is transformation we are also doing at the university to have more programs for reskilling and upskilling. Often with companies, so I think this is a trend which we see that the university should become much more present in the later stages of people's lives. Something is needed definitely.
It's to experiment a lot, to train the faculty, to advance in the content, to work together with companies to have something much more applied and to try to convince a ministry that we need also their help. We cannot just work alone doing advanced things. We need also the legislature and the context and the funding to do new things. Maybe to fail but maybe to advance and do something much more sensible.