“Teachers and technology: A love story….”

Eric Roldan Roa — Ph.D. student at the Institute of Education, University of Tartu and member of coLAps — writes about his experience in the International Coimbra Group 3-Minute Thesis Competition where he landed in third place. Congrats Eric!

On 19 March 2021, I had the chance to participate in the preliminary round of the International Coimbra Group 3-Minute Thesis Competition. To explain the problem I aim to address with my Ph.D. work, the importance of my research, and the practical value in just three minutes was an exciting and challenging task. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, this year the competition was organized by filming an individual video in an outdoors setting. I really missed being able to present and hear other colleagues’ presentations face to face, however, I enjoyed every second of watching all of my colleagues’ recorded presentations. Congratulations to all of you! I am happy to share that this year my presentation managed to win third place! Next year we go for the first!

This year, the theme was around a metaphor by Jim Wallis which says “Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster”. This metaphor invites reflection on the COVID emergency we are currently living in and the importance of sustainability in our society with the natural environment to avoid future regrets. Taking inspiration from this phrase, I decided to use it to point out the importance and impact of our research project which deals with education and technology. So I adopted and adapted Wallis’s quote as:  “We don’t want to have a digital disaster to deal with another social disaster”. Technological evolution allows the development of digital systems (pedagogical agents) to deal in an adaptive manner to learner’s needs. However, these systems mainly deal with learners at an individual level. Nonetheless, it is important to consider the teacher’s role in these systems when employed in an authentic classroom setting. In the presentation, I stressed the importance of addressing this research gap with the phrase: “Let us remember that we want technology to help and empower teachers… not to replace them and make them passive in the classrooms”.

My talk concludes with a final note on why this research project is important: the phrase “… let’s revolutionize the interaction between teachers and technology” aims to convey the message that these systems need to allow teachers to directly intervene when deemed appropriate. The why, how, and when teachers should intervene is what we are looking for.  

I share with you the presentation and video-talk I prepared for the competition! Many thanks to Irene Angelica Chounta for your suggestions in the process.

“Teachers and technology: a love story yet to be seen”

“Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster”
Strong words by Jim Wallis. Nevertheless, this has been happening in front of our eyes for a little more than a year.
Education experienced an earthquake during the pandemic that at some point affected 1.5 billion learners. That number represents roughly 90% of the enrolled students according to UNESCO. In particular, I would like to give an ovation to all the teachers in the world that during distance learning have been making a lot… with sometimes too little help. 
The tip of the iceberg allows us to see that educational technology still has a long and urgent way to go, in order to help teachers and students by taking into account their educational and health best interest. We have learned now that ideally, these solutions need to be highly portable to work in classrooms, in hybrid, or in fully online settings. 
But don’t get me wrong, researchers have been making an amazing job towards providing meaningful, innovative, and highly portable educational solutions for some decades now. Let me take you one step closer to my Ph.D. work, researchers have been developing digital systems with the aim to support each student in an adaptive way according to their learning needs. 
Throughout these years, such systems have been evolving to not only instruct the students, but to also support the social, motivational, and affective aspects of learning. To that end, researchers came with the great idea to include in these systems digital entities, or digital agents, that can interact in a social manner with the student while supporting pedagogical needs. You could picture these pedagogical agents as avatars. 
And This is all great and exciting. But there is a blind spot here…  what role do teachers play in all of this? Why are they not allowed to directly intervene the pedagogical agent systems?   
This is where my Ph.D. comes in, I want to allow teachers’ to directly intervene in these systems. And by intervention, I mean that they could take the control of the pedagogical agent to interact with students when the artificial intelligence of this technology is simply not enough. Even more, why not bring these systems to operate at a classroom level where the teacher and the pedagogical agent could collaborate with all students.
Let us remember that we want technology to help and empower teachers… not to replace them and make them passive in the classrooms. 
We don’t want to have a digital disaster to deal with a new social disaster… Instead, let’s revolutionize the interaction between teachers and technology … but this is a story… yet to be seen.

Eric Roldan Roa
PhD Candidate
March 21