Prof. Vincenti, eLEOT 2015: ‘Many movements are bringing a breath of fresh air to innovation’

Prof. Giovanni Vincenti is Assistant Professor at the Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies of the University of Baltimore, USA and director of B.S. in Applied Information Technology program and will chair the 2nd International Conference on e-Learning e-Education and Online Training (eLEOT) which will take place in Novedrate, Italy on September 16–18, 2015. We talked with him about the upcoming conference, with a focus on e-learning initiatives related to STEM disciplines and efforts to bring education, science and industry closer.

What is, in your opinion, the added value of eLEOT? And what are your expectations for the next edition?

I have found that one of the main characteristics of educators is the willingness to help others. As education sits at the core of eLEOT, those who attend this conference share this amazing trait. Coupled with an aptitude towards technology, it is amazing to see the conversations that take place among participants. The conference nearly resembles a large workshop, where everyone is genuinely interested in learning from others and improving their own projects.

Through my years of attending conferences, I often notice relatively small groups of people discussing briefly their own projects. The more I participated to such discussions, the more I noticed that the typical paradigm was that of a lecturer explaining something to others. Of course, when the turn to speak would be passed to someone else, the group would have a new lecturer. Every time I participated to a conference related to education, and to eLEOT in particular, I noticed that the group dynamics were very different. The group was interacting, rather than being subjected to someone’s lecture. Everyone was pitching in ideas and possible solutions to problems that some may have been having.

Overall, you could sense the support that is typical of educations, and since technology was a “nerdy” aspect that each participant had, there was much synergy in the group. I genuinely hope that we will be able to preserve this atmosphere of collegiality and especially reciprocal support.

eLEOT 2015 will focus on e-learning initiatives related to STEM disciplines. How can technology-based educational solutions facilitate the way students approach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics?

Prof. Giovanni Vincenti, General Chair of eLEOT 2015
Prof. Giovanni Vincenti, General Chair of eLEOT 2015

Nowadays technology is at the core of everything. If we wish to go to the doctor’s office, most likely we will be interacting (directly or indirectly) with a computer system. As the advancement of society has relied significantly on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, it is only to be expected that a significant amount of resources should be invested in such areas, especially in terms of education. Of course, the concept of investment does not have just a monetary value attached to it. Every time someone spends some time to create a video lecture, a new assessment tool, or simply a document that summarizes a certain topic, that person is making an investment which will have some return.

For teachers, such return is often invisible because students may have to grow into professionals before certain notions will be applied. There are some occasions though when such return is relatively immediate. Imagine a scene that happens way too often in today’s education system. A student is not performing well in a particular subject, and they simply shrug it off and say “I am just not that good at math”, for example. But… what if some educator were to create an app that sparked the student’s interest just enough to give it one more try? And what if that try is the proverbial drop that fills the bucket enough to make the student “get it”? This is the instant return that is possible when applying educational technologies to STEM disciplines. Subjects that are typically rather difficult, made more approachable through technology. Of course, this is just a simple example. To find out more about how educators are revolutionizing STEM education, I recommend attending eLEOT.

The education sector is facing huge changes at the moment. Do you think it is possible to bring education, science and industry closer by using modern ICT in an innovative way?

I believe that these three fields have very different drives. For example, education typically does not generate money, while industry’s main driver is profit. Finding an intersection among these three fields is certainly possible, but it would require thinking outside the box.

There are some for-profit realities that are blending these three concepts together. In the past few years we have seen the rise of several private universities, for example. In that case subject matter experts who likely are scientifically active are helping professionals in educational technologies create content for college-level online courses.

Often though projects that involve all three domains do not interface easily. It is often the responsibility of the academic institution to engage the scientific world as well as industry to bring together some group. We are living in times where every minute needs to be budgeted or billed to someone. With the significant cuts that are affecting academia (and research in general), scientific and industrial partners are often reluctant to invest in areas that are not at the core of their operations.

I am somewhat optimistic though, and I think that the many movements that we are seeing these days (the maker culture, hackerspaces, and citizen scientists for example) are bringing a breath of fresh air to innovation. I believe that it won’t be long until we will start seeing significant projects in education -perhaps including STEM disciplines- based on non-traditional efforts.