The Open Source University: Revolution In Education

Open Source University (EDU)

— We promised you that we would ask the question about who would revolutionize education. Now is the time for this to be fulfilled by the Vice President of the University of Finance, Business and Entrepreneurship – Ms. Detelina Smilkova.

— Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Two days ago, in a bookstore, I heard a young mother explaining to her child what “reading” meant. She said: “Reading is the integration of programs and knowledge in your head.” I asked myself what my kids would tell their grandsons when asked what reading and learning meant provided that we will do this during our whole life, or at least we have to do this during our whole life in the same way as we sleep, eat and pay taxes.

— OK, let’s get back to the main questions: Who will revolutionize education? What’s changing in education?

— It’s an endless subject. Everything is changing. It’s not just technology but the way we study and think as a whole. I’ll allow myself today to quote Einstein a couple of times because already back then he grasped some really serious concepts that “education is an experience and everything else is just information”. I won’t discuss this subject in detail, but I’ll say that even the means of sharing information are different. We used to evaluate libraries by their square meters. Today, they’re evaluated by the amount of data – zettabytes. However, what’s more interesting is the real-life experience. This is what matters. I call it ‘educational experience’. Today we find an answer, a click away for every question we ask ourselves. This is definitely a ground-breaking learning experience. Change in teachers’ role is the most important. We don’t even call them teachers anymore. They’re facilitators, moderators, mentors, coaches – all kinds of nice ‘Bulgarian’ words. Their role and their aim is now to teach us to think and to be able to see the big picture. It’s already a fact that we’re successful in making things compatible which, at first sight, are incompatible: music with physics, psychology with informatics, statistics with design. This interdisciplinary will continue to expand. We turn over the classroom as well. We study at home and put it into practice in class. In the end, this history that dates back 1000 years will change internally and externally as much as people wouldn’t like it too. I didn’t want to skip this slide because I doubt anyone has ever talked about the dark side of technology. Those are my arguments. Excuse me, if someone disagrees. Technologies have democratized education the same way. They did it for mobile services, e.g. booking tickets, access to medication, information, etc. However, sometimes technology leaves students without basic knowledge… I often explain to businesses that a presentation and solving a few cases doesn’t provide you with basic knowledge. Plagiarism has increased not only among students, but already among teachers as well. Further on, technology tends to make some students more absent-minded… Microsoft claims that the focus of attention now lasts only 6 seconds that is very challenging for the teachers. Technology destroys the sense of community. This kind of digitization renders the student deprived of socialization. In my personal opinion, lower respect has been noticed in students-teachers’ relations as a result of the remoteness and as a consequence of the fact that by using only technology you don’t have a role model.

However, what are the driving forces of change? As much as things change, they end up remaining the same at the end. In my opinion, the driving force of the change is the new generation of students, which we will talk about later on. Along them, there are the adaptive and creative professors. I don’t name them like that without a reason. For the first time I put forward the PhD students together with the progressive young entrepreneurs. Of course, there are also the responsible businesses (which we will not discuss today). Last but not least – technologies.

About the technologies

We are the ones who have to control them, not the other way around. We shouldn’t fear that something horrible will happen because of technology advancement. We could use this advancement as a force, as a technology, a tool, or as a force… The new generation don’t want to be passive listeners. They want to be creators of content, they don’t want to pay for coursebooks, they want to pay for tools. They want to work and study at any point of time from anywhere. They want to experiment, they want to play. In our generation back in the days, when we liked an artist, we used to buy their album because we liked a few songs of theirs. Here’s what happens today – via iTunes, students and young people make their own albums. That’s what they’ll start doing and what they have started doing to choose their desired syllabi and to make their own syllabi and the subjects they’d like to study. They’re in the center of all these changes. They’re the ones who give rise to many things. Of course, I’ve pointed out other driving forces, but I won’t discuss them today, e.g. receiving credits from many universities, creating syllabi, etc. I will focus on that linear regime, which was mentioned as something that we used to have: studying, birth, work, retirement, this regime is over. From now on, it will be as follows: learning, birth, travelling, working on projects, career change, then studying again, retirement, studying yet again. We have to realize that this change is a fact, and we just have to follow it. Playing is the most important thing in the new reality. Einstein has said that playing is the highest form of research.

Journalists have often asked divided universities into state and private, and I wouldn’t divide them like this anymore. Today, maybe for the first time, I will divide universities in a different way. First group are the traditional universities – those creative and adaptive professors find their place there because only in this way universities will be able to add value. Otherwise there are the online universities, which progressed forward, gained the lead, and are now falling behind because gaining value through creative and adaptive professors will help study processes, research, and, of course, gamification. I am sure that gamification will come out as one of the forms through which we have to learn and develop. That concerns traditional universities. As I said, professors have to have a main role, otherwise there’s no point of such universities. Specialized universities – that’s the place for direct contact, that’s the place where there has to be content at request, that’s where we will equip students with tools and methodology to cope with such a sea of information, that’s where skills will be taught and not just knowledge. This role is inevitable. “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

— Now comes the main question : What is the technology which will contribute for all these changes to happen?

— This picture or a similar one was presented 3 years ago on the same conference–an innovative and modern conference that is a guiding the way ahead. During those 3 years that passed, I can confirm that the State, the universities, and, of course, the business have changed. They have been changing for the better. However, what is that technology which will connect all these key stakeholders, so that the road isn’t under construction anymore? That’s where the main question is. The answer lies in the Blockchain for education. Let us not confuse it with Blockchain in finance, e.g. Bitcoin. This is a tool, a technology, which is an open system, which is decentralized, in which everything happens in real time, which is transparent and is secure. I’m skipping to this slide so that we can see what the benefits for the participants in this system are. The participants are 3 in total – the universities, the students and the business.

I won’t discuss it today in details, I just want to say that the people who are leading this “Open Source University” project are attending our conference today. The benefits for the universities is that they’ll have a constant connection with the business. Excuses such as “we don’t know what the business wants” will drop out because the business will distribute the tasks openly. The universities will have to promote relevant courses. The universities will keep track of the students’ development and realization. They will collaborate.

What are the benefits for the students? A choice between various courses and access to global realization opportunities. There are also many benefits for the business: keeping an eye in real life, on the candidates in the labour market, developing their own resources. This will challenge some of the third parties, e.g. recruitment agencies. There will be an instant access to a global pool of talents. Next to that, when businesses are observing the programs, Academies won’t be able to hide in silos. They will need to collaborate, not just compete. Everybody will benefit from autonomously verifying learning accomplishments. Have you ever reviewed a CV, which looks perfect, and as soon as you’ve hired that person, they can’t accomplish even the simplest task. Such situations will be avoided with this technology that provides decentralized trust. Of course, it saves a lot of time and money.

What is the current state without the Blockchain? You have a computer, which is not connected to the Internet. What do you access and use? You use what’s on your computer, what you have downloaded, whatever is present there. With the Blockchain, we connect our computer/ourselves with the “Internet of People”, harnessing information and computing power, but also contributing to this global pool, ocean of opportunities. Of course, I’m trying to express myself in this simple way for those who don’t understand the technology to be able to understand the idea behind it. If we used to talk about the Internet of Things, today we talk about the Internet of People. Like it or not, this is it. Whether we believe or not, it will happen (i.e. the OS University). These changes are a fact and this is the place to say it our loud. I have not read this or learned this from somewhere. This is our team of young progressive Bulgarians who are making the future happen. That is why I’m drawing forward the PhD students. There’s Hristian, the project lead, Jordan, the Blockchain developer, there’s the advisory team – Kuzman and Vladi from Investor.bg. There are the adaptive and progressive professors in the team – prof. Sergey Ignatov, prof. Ognyan Andreev, me included. VUZF (University of Finance, Business and Entrepreneurship) is the pilot for this technology project. All that’s left for us is to find our place, to find our contribution, and, of course, to rip the benefits.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

— Thank you Ms. Smilkova. You were incredibly inspirational!

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