In the autumn of 2022, my school, Nr. 2 Picior de Munte Boboci Dragodana Middle School, was included in the programme “Every School in Dâmbovița County Deserves an Erasmus+ Project”, an opportunity to send teachers abroad on a mobility course. However, a surprisingly small number of teachers wanted to apply, due mostly to their limited (or lack of) English proficiency. That made me and coleague Monica- the two English teachers in the school- the obvious choice for the challenge, which we promptly accepted. After some research on what courses would suit the programme, we decided on the course “ICT in Inclusive Education”, in Heraklion, on the island of Crete, from 6th to 10th February 2023, hosted by the Oloklirosi Erasmus+ Learning Centre.
The objectives of the course were:
- to understand the concept of digital pedagogy and the need for developing a digital pedagogy of our own.
- to get to know some of the imperatives that drive change in educational practices.
- to learn about the key principles of Inclusive Education and realise the importance of PBL (problem- based learning) methodology.
- to improve student motivation by creating digital stories and games.
- to integrate ICT methods with Inclusive Education.
- to learn how to use web- based simulations for educational purposes.
- to gain a clear understanding of what it means to be a digital content creator and how it can be developed by teachers.
In addition to Europass mobility, at the end of the course we were going to receive our certificate of attendance. The learning centre also promised to organize visits to local schools of early, primary, secondary and adult education, as well as Special needs education schools. Moreover, the programme included a guided tour of the Historical Center of Heraklion, coffee breaks with traditional products, and dinner in a traditional restaurant, plus a small parting gift (a small bag of traditional Cretan products). While most of the promises were fulfilled, one of our greatest disappointments was that the visits to the local schools were cancelled. The first day, Monday, was mostly about the explanation of practical arrangements, presentation of our timetable, presentations of participating organizations, icebreakers and an introduction to the course.
On the second day, we were introduced to to WEB 2.0 basic principles and apps and platforms like Google Classroom, Google Forms, Google Drive, Microsoft Whiteboard, Google Jamboard, Slidesmania and Canva. Our trainer, a very young teacher from Madrid, spoke English with a heavy Spanish accent, which somehow added to the difficulty of grasping so much technical information over the course of a few hours.
On the third day, the same teacher introduced us to Gamification and Game Mechanics based e-Learning. There was a workshop on Gamification, in which we worked with Genial.ly. The objective: creating a game scenario with simple digital tools. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a guided tour to the Historical Center of Heraklion and had a pleasant dinner in a traditional restaurant in the town, all provided by our hosts.
Day four proved to be the better part of the course (in our opinion), where we met our next (and last) two teachers: Ioanna Anagnostaki (who explained some concepts in Inclusive Education and showed us a few examples of classroom games and activities that might help include students with disabilities and learning difficulties) and Nikos Sopasis , who taught us, this time more successfully, how to use some Online Class OBS tools.
On Day 5, we continued with the second part of the OBS tools workshop, followed by a final assessment and then we had a small celebration during which we received our (hard-earned) certificates.
As our readers may have already guessed, our Cretan experience was far from perfect. Among the drawbacks, it is worth mentioning the weather, which was unusually unwelcoming during our week there: we had heavy rain, drizzling, howling gales, sometimes even hail that forced us to go shopping for gloves, umbrellas, beanies and extra socks- it was February, after all, but even the locals assured us that it was not the kind of weather they were used to in winter. However, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our time there- we enjoyed each other’s company and that mattered a lot. The hotel, recommended by our hosts, was nice enough, clean and quiet, surrounded by supermarkets and just a twenty- minute walk away from our learning center. We had the afternoons and evenings to ourselves, so we walked 8 to 10 miles a day sightseeing, sometimes laughing out loud in disbelief at the crazy weather. We took hundreds of photos of the beaches, the waves, the places and the old buildings. Whenever we got a little lost, the locals were always happy to help. The food was good and cheap everywhere. We found a restaurant that we loved, with great cooking, a cozy atmosphere, and nice waiters who never forgot to bring us some nice desert and some local spirit on the house before they collected the rather small bill (and a well- deserved tip). We took a bus to the next town, Rathmio. We visited Knossos Palace and feared we might encounter the gruesome Minotaur…only to meet a very friendly cat in the souvenir shop on our way out. In short, we made the best of our trip to Crete.
What’s more important, we enjoyed interacting with teachers from other countries who were attending courses at our learning centre: we met people from Croatia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland and Germany, from whom we learned interesting things about school in their homeland. As for the course itself, it probably failed to fill our heads to the brim with innovative ideas. It was mostly information, tips, ideas, things that we started there, which we would have to follow up on at home, to continue to learn on our own if we are to use some of them in our school.
It wasn’t exactly life- changing, albeit useful. We left with the feeling that there should have been more there. Nevertheless, we will surely be wiser, make better choices and have clearer expectations of our next course.
Experience makes one wiser, they say, so our advice to our fellow teachers would be never to miss an opportunity like this, to participate in an Erasmus+ programme, as it will surely enhance their life and professional experience in ways they cannot imagine from home.