More Teacher Talk

Back to Global: the digital teacher, with Daniela Munca-Aftenev

July 28, 2020 Tatiana Popa / Daniela Munca-Aftenev
More Teacher Talk
Back to Global: the digital teacher, with Daniela Munca-Aftenev
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More Teacher Talk
Back to Global: the digital teacher, with Daniela Munca-Aftenev
Jul 28, 2020
Tatiana Popa / Daniela Munca-Aftenev

In this pilot episode of the Back to Global podcast Tatiana Popa talks to digital education pioneer Daniela Munca-Aftenev about teaching and learning in the digital age.  They discuss the impact of social networking on continuous professional development for educators worldwide and the growing need for teachers to reinvent and reassess many long-held beliefs about technology, teaching and the science of learning.

Show Notes Transcript

In this pilot episode of the Back to Global podcast Tatiana Popa talks to digital education pioneer Daniela Munca-Aftenev about teaching and learning in the digital age.  They discuss the impact of social networking on continuous professional development for educators worldwide and the growing need for teachers to reinvent and reassess many long-held beliefs about technology, teaching and the science of learning.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] ,

Speaker 2:

This is the downer Papa welcoming you to back to global, the place to hear about some of the brightest ideas in education from around the world. Today, I'm speaking to Danielle [inaudible] president at the Academy for innovation and change for education. Hello, Daniella. It is so nice to meet you , uh , today. Um, I know your time is so precious and you are so much involved in all kinds of activities. So first of all, I , um , would like a YouTube

Speaker 3:

Introduce yourself to say something about you and your role in education. Thank you so much for the invitation. To be honest, I have never done a podcast of this experience is definitely interesting for me. I will give it a try myself. I will invite my colleagues, both teachers and students to try it out. So my name is Daniela . I am an educator by profession and when vocation, I would say I , uh , work in the educational system in the public educational system right now, I work for the department of education of , uh , municipal department of education of kitchenette , which is the largest city mobile , but the Capitol city . And I also run an NGO in education. I have been coordinating a series of programs, meant to empower teachers from around Moldova and also international projects that involve teachers from Europe and United States, mainly that connect us students from Moldova to their peers from around the world. So right now I'm specialized in promoting e-learning and everything that is related to digital skills and teaching in , uh, online , uh, let's say medium, whether it's distant education or mobile learning or e-learning or computer assisted language learning. So everything that is related to integrating technology in teaching.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And you , you have a crucial role in moving forward. Um, I would agree with that every single time or mention it. So you've mentioned,

Speaker 3:

How would you describe the collaboration and networking and teaching development altogether in this digital age? You know, Facebook, the idea of social network like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter on the glass Nikita that was very popular in Moldova is not new. And we have been actively , uh , communicating with each other in the digital world on social platforms. But right now, because of the COVID, this communication has acquired, let's say a different, most more important value. So we're not communicating just for the sake of, you know, showing pictures from our trips or talking about day or the books that we read right now, we are sharing very important information to the related to the problems that we're facing. How are we going to teach our kids? Are we going to combine traditional with online teaching? How can we develop the digital skills of our educators, especially those educators that have not been actively involved in , in projects that involve remote teaching in general. So all of these very important questions have made us rethink the value and the opportunities offered by social networking. Uh , and at the same time, those educators that have been actively participating in various online projects, it has been easier for them to adjust to the situation, but unfortunately we have many more indicators or still struggling with online teaching the learning. And what is more difficult right now for them is that there are so many platforms. There are so many networks and they don't even know where to start from. And now there's also mobile learning. And my students, for example, they said, we're not on Facebook anymore. Only granny's on Facebook. And I used when we moved to take talk and we moved to Twitter , uh, so technology has changed so fast. It's very hard for educators to keep up with the technology. So , um, being part of a professional development network is so important because what we can do in , uh , on Facebook or on any professional development network , uh, is as important because we do something that we cannot do traditionally because right now we cannot go to trainings. We cannot go to conferences. We cannot, you know , gather people in one place and train them and develop their digital skills. On the other hand, we can do all these things online, and this is why social networking, has it become such an important tool for communication and exchange of best practices?

Speaker 2:

Exactly. So , um, um, we can attend all of these events, but online and it is cheaper for everybody. And , um , I can save it , um, being a member between in community, I think between us were the best prepared to move online in this , uh , lockdown. And , um , all the , um , teachers gonna agree with me on this , um, also the ion network, but you have promoted for years in Moldova. Uh, it helped enormously the teachers , um, to , um, perform the distance learning. Um, I would like you now to tell us a bit of your background to say, what inspired you to become , uh , so pioneering in the use of the digital tools in indication or social media,

Speaker 3:

I was interested in everything related to online learning back in 2006 and I applied for an exchange program and I became an N one musky fellowship program, participant and alumni after that. So I studied, I went to States, I studied at the university of Mississippi United States, and they asked me at the interview, what is that you would like to study in the States that is not offered in Republic of Moldova? And I said online teaching, and I , I just found it really exciting to be able to communicate with students using blogs and weekends and forums. Uh, Facebook was not, was invented afterwards in 2007, if I'm not mistaken because I was in college. I remember that. So I was very passionate about computer assisted language learning at that time. So being a musky fellow, I did my postgraduate studies at the university of Mississippi. I learned about so many tools that empower teachers, so many tools that can help us continue the teaching process outside of the classroom. And at the same time, our students were so excited about anything that is related to technology, laptops, computers, iPads , uh , we , we didn't have iPads at that time. So I remember the iPods and the MP3 songs that we download are no devices and we would listen. So everybody was so excited about technology. And I said, wow. Technology is definitely here to stay. And teachers, if we want to keep off with our students, we should , you know, look at it as a serious opportunity for us to be next with students, understand their needs. And , um, and , uh , you know , uh, be on the same page with them, which is so important because we don't just teach content, right. We focus on communication and we want to be heard, and we want our students to respond to what we want to, you know, deliver as messages as you know, whether we share the same values or we teach content. We want our students to listen to us. So this is a way to get closer to our students, no matter the age. Uh, so that's why I thought at that time, that technology is very important. And I remember when I came back to Moldova, I studied for two years in the States. And when I came back in 2008, I was promoting iron and I was promoting all my learning. And a lot of indicators were not like taking this seriously. And they were like, Oh, this is cute. And this is nice, but it's not like something we need or it's not like something we have to do. So I remember I had to explain, I had to invest a lot of time and effort in , um, you know, proving that, that this is really important. And this is where we're heading towards to, to this , uh, teaching in the online , um, you know, in, in, in, on , on the internet using all their web tools. So right now I'm really happy that I chose this topic because right now I feel at ease and I can teach so many other teachers. And they're like, wow, I went to one of your trainings like six years ago. And I didn't understand what you were talking about, but right now everything makes sense. So yes, technology is here to stay and we should take it seriously. I know it's, time-consuming I know a lot of educators struggle with it and it's not easy. I'm not saying it's easy. It's a totally different philosophy. When you are in front of the computers, you're supposed to change your methodology, your teaching approach. You're supposed to look at things in a different way, and that requires skill and effort and creativity and imagination if you want. So this is not easy, but I think it's worth investing our time and effort and technology's here to stay, but at the same time, technology can help us connect with each other. Now that we're socially isolated. So we should take care of ourselves or all families, especially people in need elderly people , uh , people there , there might be negatively affected by COVID. And this is why we have technology to help us continue collaborating with each other, continue teaching online, communicating with each other so that we don't feel alone. I was like thinking the other day, imagine that we didn't have the internet and the COVID. Was there any mention sitting in home in your apartment with just the TV and nothing that would have been like,

Speaker 2:

I think we're lucky, sorry to interrupt. We're lucky that the lockdown happened nowadays and on 10 years ago, for example,

Speaker 3:

That is true. That's very true. So a lot of, I remember a lot of parents were like, we hate entering that we're sick and tired of, of online learning and teaching. And we want to go to traditional schools. It's absolutely true. And as a parent, I definitely, you know, I agree with them, but imagine that we didn't have the internet, like the situation would have been so much worse. This is my personal humble opinion.

Speaker 2:

Um, then , um , you can mention to these , can you , um, briefly , uh, what do you think are the main benefits for teachers or school leaders to use social media?

Speaker 3:

Um, social media is a way to get closer to our students so we can continue the teaching process outside of the classroom. This is the most important thing. Second of all , uh, our students will get out in the real world and digital skills are going to be special for their professional development. So we should start as early as possible, developing those digital skills, not just, I'm not just talking about creating a website, I'm talking about how you work with information, how you present information to others, how you process the information. Cause right now, young people are surrounded by a lot of information and it's , it's very hard for them to keep up with , with this huge amount of data that is actually attacking them . So I think if we take technology seriously for , we try to integrate it successfully in the teaching process, then we offer our students more opportunities for professional development and they will definitely use these skills later in life after they graduate. So I think these are the two most important reasons why technology should be an important part of any teaching or methodology, methodology related professional development. A modern teacher needs to know about what is out there in the digital world and should the be able to work with at least two, three tools, including social media , uh , so that that teacher continues the process and meets the objectives of the lesson no matter where he is or she is in the, you know, in the traditional classroom going the virtual world.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Um, thank you for this. Um, can you , uh, share any particular projects or examples of that you are very proud of?

Speaker 3:

Um, one project that I'm very proud of is , uh , the teaching community that I created a few years ago on Facebook, I was on, I was actually honed my maternity leave and I was just, you know, I got bored and I wanted to do something for fun. And I created a group for teachers and I would post everything I knew about technology. Like there is this wonderful blog or there is this network or there's this, you know, even online game that you can play with your students. And in a few years, right now, I have over 22,000 educators or active members of my community. But most importantly, it's not my community anymore. I don't think you can own a , you know, a network , uh, teachers, post webinars and tutorials and lesson plans and , uh , digital work that they created and they can learn from each other and they become themselves virtual moderators, which is absolutely amazing. So think about 22,000 people. I don't think you can actually imagine 22,000 people in one physical place, but then you go, we're all on Facebook. And we're in this, in this group. And we post interesting things every day. And there are so many teachers who are different. They teach in different , um, age level, they teach different subjects. We have chemistry and biology and foreign languages and sciences and language arts and whatnot. All of these teachers are connected by their desire to explore the digital world and to share from their best practices. Uh , you would be surprised, but we had educators were not supported by their school administration or their principals. And they were like, look, I work so much so hard. And I created this digital books, but I, you know, nobody appreciates my work. And we were like, you know, we are here just for both your digital books. Let's have a look at them. Wow. They're really amazing. So I think this community is, is an amazing project because it offers educators the opportunity to share their hard work and , uh , feel that other educators appreciate their work. And at the same time, we're all have the same needs or the same , um, you know, requirements in terms of our professional development. We are , we might be very good teachers in the traditional sense of the world, but the technology is very new to us. So we have to learn like very basic things on , on Sunday morning, we had a webinar and I asked beginners, I mean, teachers were just at the beginning of , of e-learning. I asked them to post questions and you would be amazed. They would like, they would be questions like, Oh, I, I hear everyone talking about share screen. And I don't know what that is and where should they click? And they were like, you know , share screen . This is such a simple thing. No, it's not such a simple thing. You know, you have, nobody explained this to our teachers when they were in college. Nobody, you know , we had no shared screen or we had no basic things. Somebody would ask me, what is the difference between PDF and word? Because I keep asking for the , my colleagues , people asking me to send them a PDF and not a word. And I don't , I don't quite understand the difference because they look the same to me. Why would you need to ? And you're like, wow , this is such a simple question. But at the same time you think, Hey, nobody answered those questions addressed by these teachers before, because everybody just assumed that this is easy. Or this is just so simple. So we should not think, I don't think we should assume that things are easy because they're not technology is moving very fast and sometimes we're adults and we are shy or we're not, you know, we don't have the courage to ask this thing because we don't want other educators , our students to make fun of us or say, Oh, how come you don't know such a simple thing. We afraid of being judged. But at the same time, nobody answered this questions. And there has to be someone to answer the questions. And I'm really happy that we have this Facebook community. And we have teachers who are just collaborating tightly with each other. And we would have questions, very specific questions, like where do I find resources to teach geometry very specific? Where do I find a website that teaches geography? And then everybody would start answering like, Hey, try out this website or this app app or this resource. So the learning process is just naturally happening on Facebook. It is guided. It's true. I invest a lot of time and effort in it, but , uh , overall the result is definitely worth all my effort and all my time. And I think it's amazing what I see on Facebook. And we have teachers who are over 70 years old and they're still active online. And I just respect them so much for being there and being inquisitive and being curious and asking questions. I don't think anyone else would be there for them. So I'm really happy that they created a Facebook account and they decided to join our community. This is how things happen. This is how we make the education better by empowering teachers. And it doesn't matter if we use traditional professional development needs or Facebook, any, any method is good. As long as educators come out with experience and more confidence, more self-confidence . And I think this is why I like this project so much and why I keep investing my time and effort in it because I feel how people become empowered. And we have a lot of librarians and we have educators in general , uh , NGO people , um, members from different organizations, ministry of education, culture , and research, a lot of public servants and their managers of those who work in the educational domain. A lot of people , uh , who use these tools, not just for teaching, but for a project management, for example. Um, and it's amazing how large the community's getting. And right now we're getting more and more requests probably every day , uh , which is, which is a good time for learning because it's almost August and we have to prepare for the start of the new academic year.

Speaker 2:

Well , um , this is amazing. I can confirm that I am a proud member of the online platforms community. Um, I have made some stories too . Um, it, isn't an amazing community and indeed every bond that everybody's willing to share and to learn from each other, and this is truly amazing. Um, we have indeed teachers of all ages of all backgrounds, all subjects. And , um, what do you have done in putting this together and getting all of us in it is just , um , through the , um , amazing. And I think it shifted a lot. So if we speak about , um , social media, how they think , uh , what are the main dangers for professional use of social media? How can we ensure that teachers are keeping safe while being online?

Speaker 3:

Um, first of all, we, we still don't have the, as we call it the culture of communicating online and , um , you know, w we heard about Nantucket and how to behave aligned , but we're still you to, to this. And we sometimes don't know how to communicate correctly. And we sometimes post information that should not be posted online, or we share information we should not share. Or sometimes we don't, you know , look at the information critically speaking. Sometimes we see an article, we just share it because we like it, but we don't pay attention who wrote the article or what the purpose of the article is. Uh , we have a lot of fake news we have to face. So of course the dangers of the online world are there to stay. And , uh, unfortunately we don't, we're not always protected. And there are so many basic things, or we don't know how to address online safety. Um, and , uh, as I said, fake news and other things are , you know, we should keep in mind that, that these things are there and it's an open space. And sometimes we can get vulnerable when we are aligned when we post the picture or when we share an article. And , uh, there is a lot of bullying Alliance. There is, there are a lot of negative comments. Uh, there's a lot.

Speaker 2:

Have you experienced any kind of negative comments, for example, in that online platforms, community, sometimes there were comments more like ,

Speaker 3:

Um, complaints, or like, why are you promoting online? We want traditional and , uh, online teaching will not, will never be the same as a traditional teaching and you should not promote it . And of course, people want to go back to school and I kind of understand why they are like that and why they're angry about the fact that we promote, or I personally promote personal , um, online teaching. Um, sometimes we have comments like , um, we should not let the kids be in the digital world because it's not safe there. And you should not promote online teaching because you are endangering our kids. And again, this is an argument we should keep in mind. It's true. If I tell my students to create an account or to be part of the Facebook group, I should keep in mind that I'm actually bringing them in the, you know, on Facebook and they could they're vulnerable and they could face the same problems with anyone in the digital world could face.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's true. I think , uh , all those negative comments and the people who shared them, they have all changed their minds now in the lockdown learning, but those who are well-informed and for them before that were very confident in using technology. And,

Speaker 3:

Yeah , that's true. And I actually, like, I have this challenge , I like replying to those negative comments. And sometimes I would say, wow, this is such a negative comment, but we both did, our article would love, or we created a tutorial with so much love and you just throw me in a negative way and people like, what, what do you mean? You know , it's like, I just hate online teaching. And I'm like, yes, but look, how much effort we invested in that tutorial? And we added arrows and we added animation so that you like it. And don't do appreciate that whole effort, but they're like, well, yeah, kind of. So I really liked telling people to look at things in a different way. And I, you know, because I understand their frustrations and I feel frustrated sometimes because my kid wasn't the first grade this year, and it's very hard to teach a kid basic, like writing skills or reading skills online. And I had to do a lot of the teacher's work. And that was frustrating for me. It was really hard and I was frustrated and I'm like, no, I want my kids to go to regular school. And even if I like, you know , working online, it doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the traditional teaching gets it's , uh , it has nothing to do with it. I mean, I still love socializing and communicating with my students face to face, of course not. But , um , at the same time, I understand that online teaching should be looked at or taken seriously more seriously than we have done in the past. And we have to , um , integrated into everything that we do, projects, whether it's regular classrooms or whether it's extra curricular activities or international national projects, it doesn't matter. So we can start with small steps, but we should definitely make room for it. I think that's the message that we should all take into consideration, whether you agree with it or don't agree with it. And I will tell you a funny story. When I remember I was in college and when Facebook appeared, I think it was 2007 and then everyone was talking about Facebook. And then I thought, Oh, this is so silly. I mean, adults , people post pictures and other people give them blocks. I mean, and I was like, this is still just not serious. I mean, come on. And I remember it took me so much time to actually see the perspective and see that, Oh, in addition to likes, you can do so many other things. And maybe it's even important for people to get likes. People get upset if they don't get likes, you know what I mean? And so it took me a while. So I understand when people say, I don't want to create a Facebook account. I don't believe in social media. I'm like, yes, you don't believe what social media is there and everybody's there. And if you're not there, you're kind of an outsider. So you may hate it. Or you may not take it seriously, but it's not going anywhere. I think it depends how you use it. It's not, you know , technology in itself is not good or bad how you use it. That's what matters.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. So , um, I will , uh, conclude here w w w w what's your sad, that technology is really good, but technology will never place a real human interaction. So it would be also , uh , such different things. Uh , but still it is mentioned a century and we can't hide, but just to use technology as it is, right.

Speaker 3:

Restaurant , it's just our everyday life and which is not, you know , criticize it or appraise it. It's just there, it's part of our lives and end , but we can decide how much technology we want to use a bad mood this morning. I don't have to open my Facebook account or today nobody forces me. That's the good part about online communication. It's, it's there, but it's your choice if you don't want to be there and you , you don't have to, or you can open your laptop whenever you want to. Nobody's forcing you to do it right now because we have synchronous communication, which is wonderful. I'm going to open the group, the Facebook community when I'm in the mood to do so . So nobody can force me to do, like right now, I'm just comparing synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, yes. I understood. So , um, can you share any examples of where technology has had a real, an impact in terms of training and , uh, it has translated into pupil outcomes.

Speaker 3:

Uh, one of the projects that we coordinate is the North Carolina Republic of Moldova school exchange and Tatiana, your school is one example, cause you have one made to get her from North Carolina was going to join your community as an example. So we haven't been coordinating that project together with the North Carolina Republic of Moldova bilateral partnership from North Carolina, secretary of state, Elaine Marshall is , is a former educator herself and an amazing, so we started this, she just got in touch with us because we've never, we had never met before that. Then she just said, Hey, I looked at your NGO website and Facebook, and we like, what you do, would you like to help us find schools in Moldova to collaborate with schools in United States? And I was surprised that somebody, you know, my secretary of state would find me on Facebook and write me a message. And I'm like, sure, why not? So that project started in 2016. So we have been collaborating ever since we , uh, what we do is we connect Haldol one schools to North Carolina schools. And every year North Carolina schools are organizing book drives and they sent textbooks to Republic of Moldova. And we have over probably a 300 schools that benefited from the book donation since 2016. So , and is one of the schools?

Speaker 2:

Well, we benefited twice. Uh, so , um , we have a lot of books from North Carolina and our own heritage.

Speaker 3:

Thank you. And then part of that exchange, we have American educators who came to Moldova last year and before that, and we also had the American high school students who came to Moldova. And then we had Moldovan educators who traveled to United States two years ago. So there are a lot of things happening as part of this partnership. And the partnership was possible. First of all, because we had internet and we had email and had Facebook and we could connect with each other and we could use zoom or Google meet and , and Google Hangouts at that time, this is still new because of technology. And , uh , because of the due to technology, we were able to communicate with educators and schools and students from United States. And I think this is a wonderful project, by the way, it's based on 100% volunteering on both sides. So we're just, you know, making it happen because we love the project. We loved the outcomes. Technology is a very important part of it, and it helps us , uh, share the common values that we have with our colleagues from, as we say, across the Atlantic and technology is part of it. And it's just there. And I don't think we would have been able to communicate so closely without technology. How do you

Speaker 2:

See the digital, the global networking did our thing.

Speaker 3:

Um, it's, as I mentioned earlier, it's moving so fast and our kids are just picking up technology so easily. And I, you know, I look at my kid, my younger daughter is four years old and you know, you give her cell phone and she doesn't need any guidance or instructions. She just knows what to do with it. And this is just amazing, but it's cares me at the same time. I always think of the poor teachers were going to teach my daughter because you know, she's going to be, she's going to have this kills , the teachers don't and the teachers probably have to keep up with her generation in general. Um, and I think technology is going to move even faster and develop faster. And the new generations are going to pick up easily and they will feel at ease with a , with a self smartphone or with a tablet , which is why we have to keep up. And we should not relax something that, Oh, no , there was just a boom. And now we're going back to traditional. We're not going back. I think it's , everything is just moving forward. It's hard to predict how the technology will change, but I know it will change and it will definitely change us and the way we communicate and the way we teach.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. So , uh , we can't even compare ourselves to the digital natives, your example with your daughter. Um, so , um, what is next for you? What , um, do you think you can , um, create or design in the future for the educators in Moldova?

Speaker 3:

Uh, we are now working on a digital library, which is called , uh, online education. So we have created lesson plan lessons, video lessons for teachers across Moldova on all the subjects, all grades. And this is a project that I'm going to invest my energy. And , uh, I, we hope to have a library very close to like can Academy or Coursera, but, but this time based on curricular, so that every teacher and every kid in Moldova, whether he or she has access to the internet or not can access the library or can , we're going to make them run on TV station . So if a kid doesn't have internet, it's okay, he can open the TV station and watch the lessons online. So this video lessons library, we also create digital activities, interactive activities, games , um, and many PowerPoint presentations, many, you know, things that support the teacher and help the teacher , uh, combine online and digital and traditional teaching. So my next project is developing this library so that every kid in our country has access to quality education to the same curriculum as any kid, whether it's a kid from the capital city or a remote village kid with special needs or an orphan or a kid from, you know , placement for my own furniture. I really hope that this library will be a project that we're all proud of. It's a huge project. There are so many volts, so many people involved in, and I, I plan important role in it because I , um, I tried to maintain this project alive. We were looking for sponsors. We are convincing , um, mainly organizations to be part of it. We are recruiting teachers with training teachers, and we want to make sure that again, every kid in our country has access to education using this online library. And at the same time, of course, we're encouraging teachers to develop their digital skills. So they're not afraid to face the future and they're not ashamed of their age or the fact that they didn't have access to technology when they were educators or when they were , um, I mean, when they were studying to become educators, some such a brilliant idea, Danielle, I am , I mean, it is worth investing all your energy in it. My question is, will this digital library be available for free to all the educators and students? Yes, it is for free. That is the idea it's public, and it's an open library and we also run it on TV stations , all the national TV stations , uh, and it's , it's a project organizing collaborations, ministry, education , um, culture and research, and the CT , whole casino , municipality, and many other , um, partners. We have a lot of partners involved at the technical university of mobile VAR and many sponsors and source Moldova and control elation, and many NGLs and other partners that are helping volunteers when a lot of volunteers involved in the project. So everyone together is working really hard to make this project available with a free access and open access to all the resources are going to posted there. Amazing we'll we should with Daniella , thank you for taking the time to tell us all these wonderful things that you do for the sake of education, for the sake of children and the future of everybody. Oh, this is amazing. Thank you so much . So this is , I've never done this kind of a internet slash web audio webinar, and we call it good luck, have a great day and good luck with your project. I am going to , uh, I'm going to be, you know, looking forward to getting that the edited version is necessary. Hopefully it's going to work fine without, without, you know , too much work invested in, it would lock into Jenna . Thank you again, for, for the time

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] .