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Interview with Giovanni Fonseca

Don't be afraid to make mistakes; just be open to learning from them!

Steering Committee in Potsdam
Photo: Dávid Molnár

Giovanni Fonseca is an international consultant and trainer in the field of education for sustainable development and digitalization. For more than 20 years, he has been facilitating learning processes and supporting learners to experience them as more meaningful. In May 2021 he joined the University of Potsdam as a Pedagogical Engineer for the EDUC European Digital UniverCity. His main goal is to help digitalization, to strengthen e-learning and to support teachers, which just received a significant infrastructural boost, through the Teacher's Journey programme.

  • How long have you been working for your university? What was your main motivation for taking on this job?

Since May 2021, when I joined the University of Potsdam and the EDUC team as an academic staff member of the Centre for Quality Management of Teaching and Learning. When I read the call for applications for the position of Pedagogical Engineer, I found many similarities with the projects I had worked on before as an International Consultant for Sustainability and Digitalisation, but on a new, bigger scale, so, of course, it caught my attention, I love challenges! EDUC is a big one, and I am still totally motivated to face it with my experience and competences in the field. Feeling part of a huge world like EDUC is something I missed as a freelancer. Now I am happy to contribute to this great intercultural team.

  • What was the reason behind your decision to join and work in EDUC?

As I said, I love a challenge and they convinced me by telling me that there would be enough room for creativity and innovative ideas – that's all I need to keep my job interesting. You never get bored working at EDUC!

  • What are the three words that best describe your job, and why did you choose these?

Lifelong learning, creativity and solution-oriented thinking. Not only for my work, but in general I think these 3 concepts have to be present most of the time in the current digital age we are dealing with, where everything is moving so fast, there are a lot of uncertainties and huge challenges to face in order to build a better future together.

  • I know that you are a member of the Pedagogical Engineers Team. How would you describe the work of the PE Team? What advantages and disadvantages are present?

Firstly, the PE team is a group of diverse professionals with many years of accumulated experience in different disciplines. Locally we do different activities and have different responsibilities, some of us work full time as PEs for EDUC, others only part time. This diversity is a great advantage because, as a team, we can analyse these challenges from different perspectives and anticipate potential problems. On the other hand, we are the ones who have the closest contact with one of our main actors in the alliance: the teachers, our "EDUCators", and therefore we are able to get direct feedback from them on how the project is going. This is gold in our hands because we can then be a "touch of reality" for the project managers and suggest changes to the project planning to improve performance in shorter periods of time. One of the disadvantages we have, and it's not just for us as PEs, is that we are generally a small group of people who have to support quite a large group of teachers who are running many teaching and learning projects at the same time. The uneven distribution of working hours in the team also plays a role in our performance as a group, but so far we have managed these differences well enough through efficient, transparent and collegial communication, mainly virtual, but also with the opportunity to meet in person once a year, as we did in Potsdam 2 weeks ago, to discuss the most relevant issues related to our work. 

  • What inspired you to get involved in creating the Teachers Journey programme? 

I have many years of experience in training teachers to develop a variety of competences to promote education for sustainable development. It makes sense to personalise training experiences in order to promote meaningful learning processes. Following this logic and due to my participation in the working group "Internationalisation of Curricula" as well as co-leading the EDUC Teaching Academy, I had the idea to correlate both tasks. Teachers interested in internationalising their learning provision may have different experiences, knowledge and skills to become active participants in EDUC's virtual mobility/exchange programmes. Therefore, simply asking them to fill in an application form (as we did during the pilot phase of EDUC) might not be enough for some of them to really create a solid educational project in an intercultural context mediated by digital technology, which promotes collaboration and engagement among students. Bearing in mind these different profiles and wishing to welcome as many teachers as possible, I proposed to make the application process more flexible and  strengthening it by offering personalised professional development opportunities through the EDUC Teaching Academy, in order to better support our educators in creating amazing projects. The colleagues in Rennes were interested in my proposal and together we developed the concept of the Teacher's Journey programme. We presented it to the rest of the colleagues and other working groups who might be interested, and after their feedback and some fine-tuning, the Teacher's Journey was born.

Giovanni Fonseca im Interview
Photo: Dávid Molnár
  • What motivated the EDUC Alliance to launch the Teacher’s Journey programme? 

The main motivation for EDUC is our students. They deserve a colourful and attractive catalogue of learning opportunities where they can develop their intercultural competences by collaborating with their peers through the appropriate use of digital technology in virtual learning environments facilitated by experts in the field. The only way to achieve this goal is to invite, attract and train our best allies, the teachers, our EDUCators! We are inviting EDUCators to a new adventure, the destination of which is clear: to make our slogan a reality and open up a new, bigger world to their students. How to get there? There are many roads and paths to discover, each teacher can define their own journey in EDUC. The EDUCadvisers will be there to support them and facilitate this personal development process as best we can.

  • What inspired the creation of collaborative online courses, and how do you see them enhancing the educational experience for students? 

In the history of humanity, collaboration has played such an important role. In our current life, mediated (and sometimes over-mediated) by digital technology, working together properly, transparently, fairly and efficiently could be a challenge, especially in intercultural contexts. The skills to collaborate in this way are not innate in humans, they are soft and technical skills that need to be developed. The more effective way to do this is to be exposed to these conditions. 

Providing high quality educational experiences in the intercultural context of our Alliance will open doors for our students to develop the skills needed to face today's huge and complex challenges, such as climate change, to name just one of the top priorities. 

  • In what ways does the Teacher’s Journey programme promote an intercultural dimension in teaching and learning?

If we want our EDUCators to be able to facilitate these intercultural collaborative experiences for Alliance students, we could offer them a virtual space where they can have similar experiences and be exposed to that atmosphere. The Teacher's Journey is this virtual place where EDUCators will meet new colleagues from the Alliance, introduce themselves, interact with each other, not only during the synchronous workshops we will offer them on different topics, but also give them the opportunity and support to create self-directed communities of practice among themselves. We have many experienced teachers who are willing to share their knowledge and best practices within the EDUC community and at the same time teachers who are willing to learn about internationalization and eager to potentiate their wonderful learning projects within EDUC. 

In other words, what we expect from our students is what we offer to our EDUCators. EDUC staff: pedagogical engineers and project managers will support them based on their different needs, interests and curiosities. 

  • What kind of support can teachers expect when participating in the Teacher’s Journey programme? 

Firstly, the provision of a shared virtual space where teachers can interact not only with each other but also with EDUC staff in a fluid, transparent, and easy way. This virtual space is for them and we will love to hear their feedback and continually strive to improve it.

A common question from our teachers is, “How can I find a partner to develop a collaborative learning project within EDUC?” This is part of the support the EDUCadvisors will offer. There is a matchmaking section in the Teacher's Journey where EDUCators can post their ideas for potential collaborative projects, we will monitor these ideas and consult internally to try and identify potential local partners to speed up this networking at the start. Over time, with more EDUCators on board the Teacher's Journey, matchmaking may happen more organically, but as with any digital-social based activity, it will require human action 'behind the scenes'.

A strong point of support will be the development and conceptualisation of their projects. A permanent open call for projects would give EDUCators a more flexible framework to develop their drafts, ask for support in case of questions regarding the development of these project proposals and, of course, get feedback from EDUC staff after submitting their proposals to improve them if we think they are not mature enough to be implemented. We believe that the Teacher's Journey is a game changer that could motivate them to explore new horizons within EDUC.

EDUC Steering Committee in Potsdam
Photo: Dávid Molnár
  • What impact do you hope Teacher’s Journey will have on the participating teachers and students? 

I hope that many of them will try to step out of their comfort zone by embarking on the adventure of internationalization or exploring new horizons and partnerships in a guided way, based on their own interests. Since 2011, when I started working internationally, I have never stopped learning about new cultures, being exposed to different perspectives and challenges. All these experiences have deeply enriched my life and allowed me to develop incredible skills that I never imagined I would be able to use on a daily basis. I really want more members of our EDUC community to have this kind of meaningful and sustainable experience. 

  • How do you see this programme influencing the overall educational landscape within the EDUC Alliance? 

I have studied, learned and experienced the complexity of shaping sustainable development through quality education programmes in many different parts of the world. Beyond all these cultural differences, there is always a desire for a better, fairer, more equal quality of life. The only way I have seen this work is through hard collaborative work. Having the empathy to understand those cultural differences and still work together to achieve common goals based on respectful relationships. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a great framework for the overall strategy, but they require all involved actors to discuss, create a common understanding, and coordinate a global cooperation to tackle crucial challenges such as the current climate crisis. The European University Alliances are a major step forward in ensuring that these goals are achieved, at least at the continental level. 

In this sense, EDUC can contribute with its own resources by facilitating these collaborations among the members of its community through a meaningful, efficient and sustainable use of digital technologies.

  • Looking ahead, what is the long-term vision for Teacher’s Journey, and how do you anticipate it evolving in the future? 

In the same way that we have an overall vision of EDUC for our students within the "ultimate EDUC Student's Journey" (see the image below), I could also imagine having an "ultimate EDUC Teacher's Journey" to provide lifelong learning experiences in various of formats where EDUCators can engage, motivate and evolve according to the demands of our times. For an Alliance driven by digital technology, it is important to have our finger on the pulse of its development. Given the current impact of Generative Artificial Intelligence and its potential to improve the educational landscape in the coming years, we need to prepare for even greater agility in the field. These are very exciting times!

The "ultimate EDUC Student's Journey"
Picture: EDUC
  • If so, how will you gather feedback from teachers and students involved in the programme, and how will that feedback be used for improvement? 

The first and current version of the Teacher's Journey would never have seen the light of day if we hadn't relied on the amazing and absolutely useful feedback from a dedicated group of teachers who tested this virtual space during July and August this year. Thanks to their help, we have simplified the space, made it more user-friendly, and clarified our expectations to align better with their needs. 

  • Are there plans to adapt or expand the Teacher’s Journey programme based on the feedback and outcomes from the initial implementation?

Of course, no question. The only way we can provide meaningful professional development and at the same time encourage the development of quality education for our students is to continually improve this virtual learning environment. Therefore, we will have regular rounds of evaluation, feedback and improvement.

  • If you need to name one of your biggest achievements,  what would it be? 

Learning from the pilot phase, having observed our mistakes, analysed alternatives and deciding to improve the experience of our EDUCators while they enjoy being part of EDUC. The biggest achievement is that we were brave enough to think outside the box and try this new way of working closely with our EDUCators. We will continue to be open to learning from this new experience and responding to the new needs we encounter along the way. It will be an amazing journey for all of us! 

EDUC Steering Committee. Potsdam, 2023
Photo: Dávid Molnár
  • What advice would you give to teachers who are considering participating in the Teacher’s Journey programme? 

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, just be open to learning from them. You will never be alone in this learning process. We will be happy to help and support you as we find and design solutions together for challenges we never imagined we would face. It will be a lot of fun and learning together! 

  • How can interested teachers best prepare themselves for a successful collaboration within this initiative? 

The world of EDUC can be intimidating in its complexity, but don't worry, we can go through it together, one step at a time, you are not alone, so please ask all the questions you have and be open to sharing experiences within the community. We look forward to welcoming you on board the Teacher's Journey!