I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the (short but interesting) international conference on Education and Media in Sofia, Bulgaria today. The event was organised by the media group Bulgaria On Air in cooperation with Bloomberg TV. I was joined by Veselin Vackov (Director of Lidove noviny at Czech Republic),Barçın Inanc (opinions editor (op-ed) and journalist at Hürriyet Daily News in Turkey), and Massimiliano Dibitonto (CTO of madsign.biz in Rome).
With the popularity of free online course materials such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Open University’s MOOC, or the paid content (educational projects) that Lidove noviny or Lynda have been developing, why should people go to university (especially given the sky high tuition fee in the UK)? My talk addressed this concern. I shared my observation about the contemporary media industry, and the pedagogical philosophy and approaches we have developed at UCA Farnham to modern media education delivery. Essentially, I’d like to equip students the knowledge and analytical skills to reflect and think critically, the ability to proactively participate in media through creative communication, problem-solving and self-broadcasting.
Such media literacy and pedagogical approaches have bee nicely echoed and illustrated by my fellow panellists Massimiliano Dibitonto when he talked about p2p learning and ‘learning by doing’ embraced by the makers communities (his talk was entitled “From watching to making: the democratization of knowledge and invention”), and by Barcin Inanc when she noted the diverse voices on social media (or alternative media).
We had received excellent questions from the audience, ranging from how to encourage students to produce good content (focusing on quality not quantity), how to retain journalistic integrity while facing difficult financial situation (it’s a question regarding media ethics and professional code of conduct, how to deal with censorship and influence of political parties and commercial sponsors), how not to be controlled by technology but take control of technology, how we can deal with information overload on social media and in a media saturated environment. All and all, I’d say that having the ‘critical thinking’ skill is really the key. And that’s why we still teach students cultural and social theory to inform their young minds.
During the evening reception celebrating the 4th anniversary of Bulgaria On Air, I learned something that would prove Bulgaria to be a progressive country: Just when Tom Bennett, the newly appointed Department for Education discipline tsar in the UK, is just about to begin an inquiry into how schools deal with pupils’ low-level persistent disruptive behaviour, Bulgarian government has made a law that bans the use of smartphones and tablet computers in schools as growing numbers of pupils are distracted by their mobile devices when they should be concentrating on their work . Angelina Genova (Ангелина Генова), a journalist from Dnevnik 24/7 asked me my opinion on this .
Well, first of all, who says Bulgaria lacks consistency, or determination or efficiency in reform (cf. UK Ambassador to Sofia Emma Hopkins’s recent comment)? My real sentiment is: How horrendous. I think teachers should integrate smartphones and tablets into teaching and learning, rather than confiscating them. I think students should learn when is the right time to use their computer for research, and when’s the right time to pay attention to the lectures or course work. After all, they should learn how to act responsibly and appropriately in different contexts. Banning is not the ultimate solution to dealing with low-level persistent disruptive behaviours; self-regulation is. Despite I feel totally neglected and annoyed by students checking messages on their phones during my lecture, I’d try to integrate the phones into the learning and teaching, and make my lectures more interesting to catch their attention, rather than removing the phones from the classroom. It’s not going to be easy (and nobody says it’s going to be), but I think that’s the way to go at the university level.
More information about this event can be found here.
 More info on the ban on the use of mobile phones in Bulgarian schools: the use of mobile phones are banned the same way smoking and bringing weapons to the classroom are banned, but students can still use tablets or computers if that is somehow part of the educational process and is approved by the teacher. Also the ban does not apply to universities.
 This interview has been published on the 7th of October 2015 – see http://www.dnevnik.bg/intervju/2015/10/07/2623248_juvei_lin_prepodavatel_po_medii_i_komunikacii/?ref=interview
— Tim Pilgrim (@TimThePilgrim) October 5, 2015