Flexible learning, social entrepreneurship, and the metaverse as new dimensions of learning in higher education were the hot topics in the SPARKS 2022 Hybrid Conference held last 21 November 2022 at the Novotel Hotel, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City.
SPARKS, an acronym for Synergizing Partnerships in Advancing Research, Knowledge, and Service, is an annual international conference hosted by Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU). This year, the event was co-hosted by the West Visayas State University, the Shandong Yincai University (China), and the Hanbat National University (South Korea). With speakers and attendees present onsite as well as through the Zoom platform, the hybrid affair opened with messages from the hosts: Dr. Caroline Marian Enriquez, OLFU President; Dr. Joselito Villaruz, SUC President IV of WVSU; Professor Cui Kuiyong, SYU Vice President, and Ki Seok Kwon, HNU Vice President.
Dr. Enriquez said that the COVID-19 pandemic had a silver lining in that it served as a “wake-up call for innovation”, revitalizing the academe’s goal to seek meaningful and impactful research for the betterment of the community.
In his special message via video feed, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman, Dr. J. Prospero de Vera III, reinforced the CHED’s commitment to support research activities and extension programs and praised SPARKS for its collaborative cohesion of multiple academic institutions which re-stimulate internationalization.
For her keynote address, Dr. Patricia Davidson, Vice Chancellor and President of Australia’s University of Wollongong, set the tone of the learning affair when she shared the COST of furthering higher education in the new dimensions which are, namely, the Challenges, Opportunities, Strategies, and Technology. Citing studies conducted, Dr. Davidson remarked that academic mobility should be a primary offering of progressive universities of today, and that internationalization should be a conscious strategic intent if it were to prosper within an institution.
Moving on to the meat of the conference, Dr. Michael Joseph Dino set up his discussion piece by outlining the fact that, while the recent years have seen the rapid progression of globalized learning brought about by technology advancements, the internet, and the worldwide web, learning preferences have also shifted as rapidly towards online learning— challenging universities to explore multiple formats of learning utilizing virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality; with “Metaversity” coming in as a new concept in the future of education. Dr. Dino describes “metaverse” as a digital universe that allows individuals to participate in an extensive virtual world, while “metaversity” is a digital university that gives students the ability to learn in an extensive virtual world. Using the Bartle Taxonomy of Students, he juxtaposed students labeled as competers, socialites, achievers, and explorers against their roles of “acting” or “interacting”, and whether they operate as individual players or impact on the world. Moving forward to learning designs of metaversities such as the field trip, role play, scanvenger hunt, and more, Dr. Dino shared that OLFU had just been awarded a grant by the Department of Science and Technology to put into motion OLFU’s proposed project, MARVEL or Multiple Applications for Reality-Virtuality Experience Laboratory. This was his cue to call upon the delegates to “find their ikigai”. Ikigai is a Japanese phrase which translates to one’s “reason for being”. In a researcher’s life, this would mean finding one’s research purpose by defining four factors: what one is good at, what one loves, what one can be paid for, and what the world needs. Intertwining these said values, Dr. Dino said, will fulfill one’s passion, mission, profession, and vocation— and when that happens, it can be said that one has found one’s ikigai. He closed with his four P’s in finding the way through Metaversity: Place (how learning “spaces” have changed), Presence (how to have “presence” in education), Perspectives (what insights have been gained), and Power (how to empower researchers).
Blockchain in the Oxford Dictionary is defined as “a system in which a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network”. Dr. Teck Ming (Terence) Tan was invited to SPARKS to demystify the concept. An Associate Professor at the University of Oulu in Finland and an Advisor of the Helsinki Blockchain Center (also in Finland), Dr. Tan talked extensively about how corporations around the globe have begun to strategically utilize blockchain networks for a more efficient and transparent transfer of assets. Among leading educational institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Michigan Institute of Technology, blockchain courses have already been introduced as part of the program offerings. Relatively a fresh concept in the world but is quickly gaining ground, Dr. Tan stated that “decentralized trust” is an imperative in sustaining a blockchain because digital assets will be open for access within a blockchain network. Also, part and parcel of a blockchain is the use of cryptocurrency as the means of transaction. Dr. Tan noted that, in the Philippines, 16% of Filipinos already own cryptocurrency in 2022, and that 12% of Fintech or financial technology is related to blockchain or cryptocurrency. That said, the Philippines is ready to take on the blockchain concept which is hinged on five principles: 1) A distributed network; 2) Peer-to-peer transmission; 3) Transparency with pseudonymity; 4) The immutability of records, and 5) Computational logic. On the other hand, blockchain in the academe can impact on university curricula, Dr. Tan shared. Blockchain presents newness in how activities are implemented and coordinated across conduits; in how it can serve as a foundation for data management across groups, and in how crypto-assets can be used as digital assets or security tokens. In the interplay of these factors, blockchain-based education could very well be implemented to programs relating to business, law & ethics, information sciences, engineering, medical, and even allied-medical.
From the very technical blockchain concept, the next SPARKS segment dealt with the more pragmatic and experiential side of “Learning to Flex” courtesy of Galvin Radley Ngo, Director for the Ateneo Institute for the Science and Art of Learning & Teaching (SALT), Ateneo de Manila University. Taking off from the premise that the academic world is now in transition towards hyflex or blended learning, Ngo discussed the challenges, opportunities, strategies, and technologies around it. The key is to be flexible, he says, underscoring the dictionary definition of “flexible” which is to be “capable of bending easily without breaking”. Such can be achieved through great planning and supportive technologies. He emphasized the role of the teacher in a blended setup whereby he or she ensures that online students feel that they are relevant in a class that is being held onsite, and that the teacher trains their onsite students to believe and feel that their online classmates are just as important during the blended class. Further, Ngo shared a matrix plan for a flex class that a teacher can work on to define the roles and activities during the class: what does teacher do, what onsite learners should do, and what online students should do. Activities can be delineated into demonstration of skill, work examples, and practical seatwork/homework. In the matrix plan, the teacher also outlines the tools for each planned activity.
The last two guest speakers gave the Filipino audience much to hope for in terms of support of research and development initiatives. Both from the Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD), Executive Director, Dr. Enrico Paringit, and Human Resources and Institution Development Division Chief, Dr. Ruby Raterta, showcased the DOST-PCIEERD and the abundant well of resources it has for qualified grantees. Before diving straight into that, though, Dr. Paringit introduced the pursuits of his organization in helping in the following areas: 1) Support for Research and Development, 2) Human Resource and Institution Development, 3) Science & Technology Dissemination and Promotion, 4) Support for Technology Transfer and Commercialization, and 5) Policy Development and Advocacy. Dr. Paringit noted that the Global Innovation Index ranking of the Philippines slid down in 2022 and commented that while national spending on research and development was less— productivity, on the other hand, had increased. Looking into the future and beyond, Dr. Paringit intimated that the DOST-PCIEERD is keen also about funding studies on emerging technologies on: Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence or AI Robotics, Quantum Technology, Intelligent Sensors and Actuators, Additive Manufacturing, Internet of Things (IOT), and Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality. On the other hand, Dr. Raterta focused on the various types of programs that DOST-PCIEERD funds, along with the grant amount in store for qualified projects. For instance, a Visiting Expert Program would command Php 300,000 in grant aid; a Research Attachment/ Fellowship, Php 300,000 in grant aid; a DOST Facilities and Labor Grant, Php 250,000 in grant aid; Presentation of Scientific Outputs in Conferences, Symposia, Fora, or Seminar— Php 200,000 in grant aid; Publication of Scientific/Research Papers or Technical Journals, Php 100,000 in grant aid, among others. As a whole, the grants in-store for qualified proposals were quite encouraging given the variety, the breadth, and extent of support awaiting the grantees.
OLFU Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Heracleo Lagrada, did the honors of recapping the most significant takeaways from each of the SPARKS resource speakers and demonstrated the organizers’ heartfelt appreciation for gracing the event.
The SPARKS 2022 Hybrid Conference was also made possible through its sponsors: C&E Publishing, Inc., Turnitin, and Sigma Phi Gamma Chapter.