Di Piero Chiabra, Associazione DiGenova
That digital technologies are profoundly transforming the world we live in is something being said so often that it has almost become commonplace. But it is profoundly true.
The web, and the availability of low-cost smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs in the hands of anyone, has completely changed our way of life, making centuries-old customs and traditions age and disappear, and leading us to discover new opportunities and new horizons. But that’s not all: the new technologies arriving, such as Artificial Intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, quantum computers, promise to transform our world in ways that we cannot even conceive.
It is a real, authentic revolution.
But, as said by someone who knew these things very well, a revolution is not a gala dinner. And the digital revolution is no exception.
Like a flooding river the digital revolution overwhelms everything in front of it by penetrating it, pervading it and disrupting it, and leaving behind a great deal of ruins: dysfunctional organizations, obsolete school systems, outdated ways of communication.
And, above all, many, many people.
Students still prisoners of a school system centered on the obsolete paradigm of the idealistic school, which prevents them from obtaining the tools to understand the future and plan a dignified profession for themselves. Elderly people no longer able to understand and master the new technologies, and for this reason seeing their freedom of action increasingly restricted. Workers whose knowledge and experience has become obsolete, and for this reason expelled from the production cycle, who struggle, due to their age and basic culture, to reconvert themselves to new technologies and to ensure an acceptable professional future. They are the victims of this revolution. They are the “digital illiterates”, according to an increasingly popular phrase. And the situation is starting to become worrisome, especially in light of the arrival of new technologies currently under development and/or introduction: a dystopian, terrifying future is beginning to appear, in which our world, in some way tends to recall the structure of the pre-industrial societies of the “Ancien Regime”: small ruling classes, who hold true power, as the custodians of knowledge, and masses of subject, dominated and influenceable “people”, who can be maneuvered at will, as they lack the basic tools for understanding the world around them.
It is perhaps a distant picture, but not impossible, and frightening.
What to do?
These are the questions that a small number of people have asked themselves. After having spent their entire professional life in the fields of research, development and implementation of digital technologies, and of those closely related to them, they began to wonder where all this was leading. And they thought that, after having made a contribution (for heaven’s sake, infinitesimal!) To the development of those technologies, perhaps they could also contribute to spreading them, making them known and widespread, making them, for that very reason, everyone’s heritage, thus avoiding the scenarios mentioned above.
And they began to think. What to do, then?
What they could do, of course, was something commensurate with their means: they did not have, nor they do, the possibility of changing Italian school, nor of changing Italian culture, so stubbornly anti-scientific and anti-technological. Nor do they have the resources to launch programs for the mass diffusion of digital technologies, or whatever else that could be conceived by thinking on a large scale, as it would perhaps be necessary.
But they thought that, as they had researched and experimented with new things all their life, something could be done.
Research and experiment, in fact.
Conceiving, borrowing, testing, applying, disseminating new initiatives for the dissemination of digital culture, in the context of Genoa and Liguria, a small area, but already extended, with a large city and a vast advanced industrial background framework. With the hope that what they invented, promoted, disseminated would be successful, and become a model adopted by more and more institutions, thus truly contributing to change things.
In short, a startup. A non-profit startup, intended for the development of initiatives for the dissemination of digital culture. And open to collaboration with anyone who wants to join.
From these considerations, diGenova was born: a non-profit organization dedicated to developing innovative initiatives for the diffusion of digital technologies in Genoa and Liguria. Its founders immediately got to work and, despite the initial difficulties, and above all the obstacle of Covid, which forced to postpone and / or downsize many initiatives, they have developed and are currently developing a vast portfolio of actions for the diffusion of digital culture among those who need it most: students, the elderly, people with a technological delay.
The first target of diGenova’s activities were young high school students. Because it is the young people who carry within them the potential for progress, both in their life and in the future of this country. And therefore they are the ones who must be the first target, in order to make them conscious of what is happening, of what awaits them and of the paths that should be followed. And for this reason, diGenova’s actions were initially focused on two types of intervention:
• “Technology pills”. Short seminars, conducted as part of PCTO activities (Pathways for Cross Skills and Orientation, hours of extracurricular activities foreseen by the National Curriculum of high school students in order to familiarize students with the world of technology, work, industry and business ), by experts from each sector, aimed at informing students about emerging technologies, their problems and their potential impact on work and society. A catalog of some dozen of these “pills” has been defined which, presented in a large series of Genoese schools, have achieved success and interest.
• Orientation seminars, aimed at allowing students to have an overview of the opportunities and the evolution of the dynamics of the world of work, in particular concerning the topics and career paths of the STEM type (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ), in order to prepare students for professional choices in these directions.
Over time, diGenova’s offer in the field of PCTO activities has further expanded and differentiated, with the aim, on the one hand, of an expansion of the target audience, including, in addition to the students of the last classes, those of the lower classes; on the other hand, to move from frontal presentations to complex modules with a high degree of interactivity and student involvement. The watchword, in this case, is “gamification”: using again for teaching, even of complex subjects, the learning method that is the most natural for human beings, and which has accompanied them since they evolved from the animal state: play, in order to build a school in which students “love to learn”, because they are induced to learn in a natural, spontaneous and non-enforcing way. Obviously, this is not so trivial, one thing is a school, another is a playground: it is necessary to structure teaching methods that adopt games as a learning tool in such a way as to transmit coordinated and coherent sets of knowledge, in order to define a training path that leads to the mastering and the correct management of the content provided (if it can be done for a video game, structured on various interconnected hierarchical levels …); at the same time it is useful to exploit the advanced methods allowed by technology to structure games which, in addition to providing technical and cultural concepts and contents, are also able to provide opportunities for the development of so-called “soft skills”, that is to say those aptitude skills and personalities, such as communication skills, the ability to carry out work in a team, the implementation of a rational and structured approach to problem solving, the rationalization and optimization of the very way of learning, etc., which are at the basis not only of the possibilities of professional success, but also of the ability to relate to others, and to develop forms of behavior that allow students to become good citizens, to open their eyes to the world, and to develop independent cultural interests.
There are, all over the world, various attempts of this type, from Joshua Dahn’s Ad Astra Nova High School to the Synthesis platform, to the Duolingo platform for language teaching, to the various European attempts and to the increasing diffusion of educational software tending to this purpose. And DiGenova has also taken this path.
Today, the diGenova PCTO activities, which take place in the last 3 years of High School, are based on a series of structured modules, which aim to increase students’ awareness on the fundamental issues in their determination of their study and professional pathways. Through moments of play and active involvement, these activities provide not only basic digital skills not included in school programs, but also an overview of the job opportunities offered by new technologies, whose rapid and constant evolution obliges the world, all of it, to continuous updating. The goal is to give them the necessary knowledge elements in order to face, in a conscious and critical way, the challenging choices that will affect their future. Being informed about the evolution of the labor market in the medium and long term is a fundamental prerequisite for a conscious choice in the construction of one’s life.
The diGenova PCTOs are developed in collaboration with the DIBRIS Department (Computer Science, Bioengineering, Robotics and Systems Engineering) of the University of Genoa. Collaboration with the University is of fundamental importance not only to inform about training opportunities, but above all to activate engaging workshops that allow you to develop specific skills, necessary to understand how tools and working modalities will evolve. (https://www.dibris.unige.it/)
Particular emphasis is given to Soft Skills (or Life Skills) which represent a fundamental component in personal training: through gaming tools, developed by specialized companies, such as “Edutainment Formula”, the main personal skills are described, measured and improved, such as for example problem solving, organization, team work. This is of particular importance, as these skills are now part of the basic requirements for any job position. (https://www.edutainmentformula.com/)
All this took the form of a “package” to support schools for the supply to students of contents which are complementary to the traditional course of study, and functional to the dissemination of the knowledge of digital technologies and the development of soft skills. This package, which can be configured and specialized on the requirements and needs of individual schools, includes, as mentioned, a series of modules, each of which aimed at transferring to students the knowledge related to a certain aspect of digital technologies, and / or to implement a “gaming” experience favoring the development of soft skills such as teamwork, organizational and self-organizational skills, reasoning by objectives, etc. The package is precisely based on the basic principle of obtaining learning through the involvement of students in laboratory activities with a marked playful character, in exercises that attract their interest and stimulate their sense of “playful learning “, and the spirit of cooperation: in these modules, therefore, two different “streams” of teachings are transmitted: the one inherent to the direct content of each module, that is to say the topic that the module deals with, and the one related to indirect teaching, which concerns how to understand the module, and how to actively participate in the planned activities, with the consequent maturation of “soft skill” of importance, an activity which, from a formative point of view, is equal to, if not superior to, the one pertaining to the official “teaching subject”.
To date, the package consists of the following modules:
• A quiz “contest” for the evaluation of digital skills among students, implemented through the KAHOOT software, and divided into four different sections: digital literacy, communication, digital content creation, digital security and well-being, with competition and awards (virtual) for the winners.
• A module for teaching elements of project management, in which, after an introductory “frontal lesson”, students are divided into groups and must draw up a project plan for a designated objective (specifically, the development of a theatrical essay for the end of the year), respecting objectives, budget and product quality, defining tasks, activities and milestones, sequencing and synchronizing them correctly, and making choices regarding the priority and feasibility of the objectives to be achieved. The project plans thus produced are then examined and evaluated by an expert.
• A module to familiarize students with big data analysis; here too, the module is structured on an introductory “frontal” lesson, followed by the use of data mining tools for the analysis and structuring of data, in this case TABLEAU ONLINE, with which to carry out in-depth analysis, interpretation and the presentation of data relating to a specific environment, in the current case a database concerning the athletes participating in the modern Olympics. This is done by various independent working groups, who then present their elaborations and conclusions, which are commented and validated by experts.
• A game development competition, along the lines of the Game of the Goose, through the use of the SmartOCA tool by Edutainment Formula (https://www.edutainmentformula.com/), aimed at familiarizing various contents and cultural issues . Here too, the contest was carried out by competing working groups, which generated four different games: one on endangered animals in the world, one on Greek myths, one on sports and one on a geographic tour of the world. The students were responsible for both the identification of the contents and the development of the graphics (in some cases, such as that of the Greek myths, with very valuable graphical results results) and the generation of the game mechanism, using the configuration tool and the SmartOCA. The results were extremely valuable and original. And amusing too.
• A NERD Dogma: An “enigma game”, developed by DIBRIS, of the University of Genoa, based on the classic principle of “escape from the closed room”: the various work groups must “escape” from a sealed room and, in order to break through the various “locks” that prevent them from exiting, must provide appropriate unlock codes, which must be found through a complex search procedure, which includes mathematical calculations, searching for information on the Internet, solving puzzles, etc. , on the basis of a guideline previously scheduled by trainers. The aim is to familiarize students with the issues related to data security, encryption, and the protection of data and digital content.
• These modules above described, are complemented by some “lectures” intended to inform students on complex problems that are difficult to deal with with gaming tools, such as the dangers and the correct ways of approaching the network (lessons held in collaboration with the CICAP , the Italian Pseudoscience Control Committee, a meritorious organization which has been fighting for decades against fake news and superstitions, online and not), as well as the privacy and security issues of Internet browsing, and the precautions to be taken (the latter held by industrial specialists in the sector).
This package, in two different configurations, has been implemented in a series of important Genoese schools with very positive results, both according to teachers and students, who, as we were able to see ourselves immediately embraced both the new method of teaching and the contents with great interest, at times with enthusiasm, often even going beyond what was required of them as performance, and also expressing the desire and interest to deepen the contents presented, perhaps even independently.
Project management. Data mining and data management. Creation of digital contents. Elements of cryptography and online security. Fight against fake news and careful and responsible use of the web. Web TV and content creation and communication methods. And, transversally, the development of soft skills through teamwork, reasoning by objectives, project management. It is an integrated set of training elements which, although provided with evident limits of space, time and completeness, can, if nothing else, awaken curiosities in students, and stimulate their attention and interest in developing an organic set of skills, able to ensure both the formation of valid professional competences, useful horizontally in all work sectors, and to stimulate the creation of a mentality, an approach to solving problems that leads to an overall maturation of the personality, and to a rational and effective choice of one’s own life options.
Another important trend that diGenova’s activities follow is that of developing a “community” of students, aimed at achieving some predefined results. This in order to allow them to focus on the achievement of shared objectives, working as a team, communicating with each other, without external supervision (or with that reduced to a minimum), as a useful training ground for the development of a maturation of soft skills. which will be of fundamental importance for their future, professional and otherwise.
It falls within this framework the participation of diGenova in the initiative promoted by DiCulther “a thousand hands for one story”, for the creation of a novel written by several hands by groups of students, gathered according to inter-class modalities, and belonging to different schools, an initiative that met with widespread resonance at both national and local level.
Another important initiative which is part of this action line, has consisted in the creation of courses for the creation of a digital Web TV, for participatory digital drafting.
The course focuses on the creation of a “WEB TV” platform in order to raise the students’ awareness of the innovative ways in which the Italian cultural heritage can be enhanced, participated and above all made to “emerge”, demonstrating how through a “smart” use of digital technology this tool allows to give visibility to a cultural heritage that is often hidden and / or little known, and this with reduced creation / operating costs and thanks to the pervasiveness of the Internet network
Moreover, a secondary (but not so much) objective of the course is also to help students develop their creative potential through dynamic teaching, the development of transversal skills and the use of new technologies.
Through this course, it is hoped to achieve a series of results, such as knowing how to effectively manage and disseminate various types of cultural contents on multiple media, in multiple ways, and in multiple places, and to maximize the audience of participants, using differentiated contents and methods. by user, to enhance the peculiarities of the territory, through the Geolocation of cultural fruition, using a critical approach to monitor and verify the effectiveness of the actions carried out to adapt them to the objective
The Web TV-TG course of Digital Culture is part of the SCUOLARETE.IT initiative (https://scuolarete.it/), a PNSD project that aggregates talents and good practices, which intends to enhance the excellence that in recent years have contributed to the positive and silent change of Italian school: this through the work of a group of Executives and teachers who have worked as agents of change, which, by gradually or suddenly changing the working environment, goes beyond the simple concept of digital in teaching, until it assumes the appearance of a real process of adapting school practices and contents to a world in constant change.
diGenova is also developing training and update initiatives under way for the elderly sector, with the purpose to bridge the “digital gap” that prevents them from being citizens and fully active members of society. In particular, a collaboration was activated with the Ligurian Oncological Center (COL), a non-profit association that offers specialist medical examinations at advantageous prices, with the aim of promoting cancer prevention and the early diagnosis of tumors. The Digital Literacy courses, designed by diGenova and offered by COL to its members, provide the basic digital skills to use smartphones and PCs in everyday life, in relationships with friends, institutions, service providers, in order to manage, process and archive data and images that are now part of our daily life. (https://www.colge.org/).
diGenova’s activities continue unabated, as do the actions aimed at finding new initiatives, and new actors to involve in this effort to spread digital culture. It is necessary to expand current activities, design new ones, find new places and new stakeholders with whom to carry out initiatives. There is no time to stop, nor, almost, to meditate: the digital revolution continues, inexorable, and those who cannot ride it are left behind, condemned to isolation and, increasingly, to irrelevance.
It is necessary to spread the digital culture, and that in an ever increasingly extensive, interpenetrated, participatory form. We must spread it in order not to die, as a community and as a country.
We hope that more and more people become aware of this.