Points of Presence: Part II
27.11.2017

Today I want to tell you about the EdCrunch International Conference that took place in Moscow on September 25-27, 2017.  The founders and the organizers positioned it as “the most influential conference on education technologies”. The first conference in 2014 was initiated by Moscow University of Science and Technology, the online journal Edutainme.ru, and the Digital October Center. It immediately attracted everybody who was interested in the subject. In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Science joined the team of the organizers. From that point, the EdCrunch Conference has been held regularly, more than once a year, expanding all over the “university map” of our country. Each event was dedicated to a specific topic and a corresponded group of projects.

In 2017, the EdCrunch has already been held at ITMO University (Saint Petersburg), at Ural Federal University (Yekaterinburg), and at Far Eastern Federal University (Vladivostok). The themes were “The First Large Forum for Parents on Early Childhood Education”, “The New Education Technologies at Universities”, and “The New Education Technologies at Schools”, accordingly. And every time the discussion was focused on digital technologies, as it is impossible to imagine education at any age, starting with pre-school, without them.

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I need to say that the name of the conference, in my opinion, is very appropriate, because it combines all possible meanings that together create a new multidimensional meaning. The “Ed” part is clear. It refers to “education” and “educational”. The “Crunch” part has many meanings, including “pivotal point, performing numerical calculations, processing a large amount of data, chewing with a crushing sound, economic crisis, and computer programmes”. There are expressions “crunch games” and “crunch job”. Therefore, “EdCrunch” means something like “a pivotal moment to discuss new educational technologies at the moment of rapid development of the computer sphere, regarding the realities of the economic crisis” and “rapid mind games aimed at crunching the modern education technologies in order to come up with more efficient ones”.  Of course, there may be more definitions and explanations of the term.   

Year by year, the EdCrunch project becomes more influential. It requires more and more well equipped venues, and more and more recognized Russian and international speakers.

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In 2016, the Rybakov Foundation joined the project, which made it even more influential. The co-founders of the Foundation are Igor and Ekaterina Pybakov. Their charity involvement is a good example of the tradition, started by such philanthropists as Pavel Demidov, Alexandre Sibiryakov, and Zackary Tzibulskiy.

Igor Pybakov explains his motivation and goals, “The idea is to direct our resources to the projects that make people collaborate. Imagine that each university, college, club, and company is a collider, where social relations get activated and where exchanging ideas and knowledge takes place.  And now imagine a void between those organizations. We try to get rid of that void. For example, in education. Amazing things happen when people from different regions start interacting, for instance, when mathematicians, biologists, and physicians meet in the same room or club. Cross-disciplinary approach has a great potential that can be seen by interdisciplinary teams. Projects supported by Rybakov Foundation are about that. They help to activate social capital. They make people meet, establish trustful relationships, and come up with innovative projects.”

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Rybakov Foundation is a good example of how the ideas of interdisciplinarity and co-creation can be realized in education, research, and business. As a result we have cross-sectorial collaborations that carry out joint projects, such as the EdCrunch.  

Taking part in the Forum was also important for me because in 2018, one of its rounds will be held in our region and TSU will be one of its organizers. In September 2017, several TSU representatives had a meeting with the administration of the Foundation in Moscow. They discussed some organization issues and presented their projects that could be interesting for the Foundation. One of such projects was The School of the Future. Its concept was developed by TSU and it will be launched in 2018.

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Let us get back to what happened at the EdCrunch-2017 at the end of September in Moscow. The key events took place at National Institute of Science and Technology and the World Trade Centre (Moscow). Over 300 speakers from 70 countries addressed the audience of over 4000 professionals from various state and private education institutions, IT companies, and business structures.

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Five major tracks of the Conference captured all levels of education (pre-school, elementary, high school, university, professional training, and corporate) and focused on customization of education and on using digital technologies. The presentation of the project Modern Digital Education Environment in the Russian Federation became one of the key events of the EdCrunch-2017. Its main goal is to make education more accessible and   up-to-date, as well as to increase its quality. Modern technologies, education and scientific potential, Russian universities, online platforms, and business are there to help with that. 

Educational institutions and business have four years to develop high-quality content that will be evaluated by experts and users. 3,500 online courses will be developed and included into the list of courses as part of the curriculum.

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Besides developing the new content, there is another goal, which is to make the online identification ultimately reliable and accessible for users in any realm of the world. The Russian Government will support the project in the amount of 1, 3 billion rubles. Leading Russian universities are responsible for different parts of the project. TSU was one of the first universities in the country that began developing online courses not only for its internal use, but for the international education online platform Coursera as well. Therefore, TSU was invited to join the project as one of the leaders in building digital education environment. The TSU Institute of the Human of the Digital Era, headed by Galina Mozhaeva and Julia Kovas, played a great role in it.  

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This Institute was established not long ago. However, it keeps developing theoretical and practical aspects of online education that had been in focus at the TSU Institute of Distance Learning for 20 years. Its programmes were awarded as best online resources many times. This time, the online course My Friend Robot was awarded as the best educational online resource. The course was developed at the Department of Digital Humanities, headed by Nadezhda Zilberman.

The EdCrunch programme was very rich on events. I participated in two panel discussions: “State Policy in Online Education: Digital Environment for Virtual Mobility” and “Digitalization of Education: Rectors’ View of the Issue”.

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In my report I tried to warn those who support total digitalization and consider the role of digital technologies in people’s life only as positive. I proved my point with the results of the research by Susan Pinker, Canadian psychologist and writer. She is the author of The Village Effect: How Face-To-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, And Smarter. Very often we hear that digital communication, no matter how advanced it becomes, will never replace real life communication. However, many people do not respect this point of view and consider it technophobic. Susan Pinker supports the former opinion with scientific facts. It turned out that the real visual and tactile contact, for example, a handshake, induces oxytocin release in the human blood. This hormone positively influences our psychological and emotional spheres. This particular hormone makes us nice to other people and makes us trust their words. Some researchers call it “the hormone of love and affection”. Oxytocin increases the effectiveness of team work and bonds the members of the group. There are other hormones – neurotransmitters – that get released in the process of life communication. They transfer signals from neuron to neuron and make us stress-proof and productive. Most demographic research ended with the conclusion that isolation and loneliness are death sentences for a human being. 

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As we can see, personal communication is vital. However, life in big cities often limits it. If we consider a small village of 150 people, we will see that social contacts there are much stronger. Susan Pinker came up with the number of 150 as the most efficient one from that point of view, because this is how many people one person can maintain in his or her circle of communication. Life and digital types of communication are like homemade soup and soup from a can. You can eat both but only the homemade product is truly useful. Pinker does not encourage us to give up gadgets and move to villages. She realizes that this is not an option for many people.  What is the option than? She proposes to create personal “village effects” in big cities: to walk more, to talk to neighbors, to invite friends, and to visit them back.

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I see the EdCrunch-2017 as a perfect compromise between digital technologies and “village effects”. Its participants discussed the issues of the digital environment in life communication. I want to believe that this Forum has a great potential and will live for a long time to provide the professional community with the opportunity to discuss new issues, connected with modern education.