If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed an occasional tweet tagged with #amoresproject, such as this one I had pinned to the top of my profile page for a while.
I doubt anyone’s been wondering what that’s all about to the point of losing sleep, but I thought I’d enlighten you anyway. Okay, not the most inspired of openings, I know. It’s not meant to sound flippant as the AMORES project is actually built around an incredibly worthy cause – especially to a die-hard bookworm like me.
How I got involved
If you’d asked me a year ago to comment on the reading habits of kids today I would have probably said they’re always on Facebook (or whatever social network is popular among a particular age group) and read very few actual books – paper books, that is. Or books in any format, for that matter. I would’ve mostly based this on media reports read or heard in passing, and I wasn’t overly concerned with the issue, to be frank. I don’t teach kids, so I was hardly in a position to do anything about it anyway.
Then last fall, when I’d already moved to Belgium, I was asked by the Croatian Academic Research Network (CARNet) to join AMORES. Which is CV-speak for badgering my current boss to let me join the MOOC team, who eventually went on to design and run the first Croatian MOOC earlier on this year…oh, how I do get sidetracked. Sigh. As it turned out, she didn’t need me on the MOOC team, but asked if I would be interested in working on AMORES, which was starting soon, as they needed a researcher.
What is it already?
You’re probably wondering by this point if you should just go and google it yourself, but no need – AMORES stands for An Approach to Motivating Learners to Read in European Schools. You will no doubt have noticed that the acronym doesn’t fit to the letter, but it’s close enough. The main aim of this EU-funded project is to spur kids on to greater engagement with literature with a little help of ICT, specifically through the creation of digital artefacts. Besides CARNet as the lead partner, there are eight partner organizations from a total of six countries: Croatia, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the UK.
I could tell you more about the rationale for the project, about the partners, the aims, stats on kids’ reading habits and so on, but the website will do a better job of this. Instead, I thought I would share snippets of what I’ve been doing since the project started. You know, a kind of behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like working on an EU-funded project, from the viewpoint of someone who is doing this for the first time.
Things officially got under way in December, or at least we had a Skype meeting to get to know each other and talk about the first steps, what everyone’s role was going to be, and so forth. But I wasn’t actually required to do anything much until February. To be honest, when I talked about how I saw my role in the project during the Skype meeting, I wasn’t quite sure what it would entail. I understood that my experience with online learning (designing and moderating my Moodle course), and my pedagogical training would play a part, but was a little vague on how exactly. I went through the project description, a 100-page monstrosity, which wasn’t unhelpful, but it was a tad abstract. Of course, when I’d talked with my boss about what my responsibilities would be back in September, things had seemed clearer. Almost five months later, not so clear.
February was spent in the office. My main task was to assist the head of work package 1 – there are 8 of these work packages, or WPs for short – in preparing the foundation for the remainder of the project: compiling a literature review which describes the way digital content creation is being used (or not), specifically in teaching national literature, and conducting a needs analysis to determine the situation at each of the five schools taking part in the project, in terms of the learner context and learner and teacher needs.
Enter another project management term which had seemed abstract before – deliverable. The person who did most of the work on putting together the two deliverables of the paragraph above was the WP1 leader, but most partners were involved to some degree. In the meantime, work on some of the other WPs had commenced as well, and as I was conveniently in the office – seated right across from my boss (the overall project coordinator) – I helped out with whatever was necessary. For instance, at the time we were running a contest to choose the project logo and contributor guidelines had to be drawn up.
One of the things I remember most vividly from the period is how draining I discovered sitting a whole day in the office can be. I had used to spend a considerable amount of time in the Octopus office, so I thought this couldn’t be any different. Get yourself a decent chair, that helps. Another thing I recall was to what extent I came to identify with the project. Most of the other partners were going about their jobs and contributed some of their time to AMORES – all in line with the project plan. The teachers would start getting more actively involved after the teachers’ workshop in March, for instance. I, on the other hand, was spending almost every day amoresing and eventually felt very disappointed I wouldn’t be going to Athens for the official kick-off meeting, since I wasn’t a member of the steering group. How could I not be?? How would they even get on without me there?? 🙂
The steering group met in Greece in early March and I returned to Belgium. Soon afterwards the teachers met for a workshop in the UK, marking the start of WP2. The idea was to have the teachers develop as a team a draft of the methodology which would eventually be used in the pilot implementation stage (WP3), when the new school year started. March and most of April were quiet for me. There was less to do in my researcher role, and not entirely surprisingly, once I was away from the office, other things surfaced which needed to be taken care of.
Then the online course for the teachers began. During the workshop the teachers had decided on the technologies they wanted to introduce into their literature lessons, in order to encourage pupils to create digital content and collaborate online. The course was meant to allow them to develop a familiarity with some of these tools and gain confidence, particularly with more challenging ones such as videoconferencing, so that they could easily incorporate them into their lessons.
The eight-week course was held in Moodle. Now I’m no Moodle expert, but I am pretty familiar with it by now (and enjoy using it), so during this stage I was able to help with the syllabus design, and also in terms of adding course content and moderating discussions. We actually haven’t analyzed the feedback forms yet to see how satisfied the teachers were with the course, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say improvements are in order. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it would be not to run an online course for teachers at the end of the school year. It is just lousy timing. In any case, some revisions might have to be made taking the teachers’ heavy workload into account.
June & July
June saw me back at the Zagreb office – this time I got the desk right next to the boss. 🙂 The online course only finished in the last week of June, so that took up most of the month. The rest of the time was spent finalizing various WP1 and WP2 deliverables, some of which will eventually be published on the AMORES website. Yes, we are a little behind with some of these – summer holidays and all that.
The other area I’ve been dabbling in over the past two months is dissemination. In fact, it has a work package all of its own; dissemination is
apparently a serious business. I didn’t expect to contribute much to WP6 initially, but that changed when the project website went live and AMORES got its Facebook page. A brief digression here – while I was at Octopus, I managed the school Facebook page. It drove me mad at times because I’m not a trained community manager, and I also feel distinctly uncomfortable publicizing my product or service (which is a whole other story). But at least the page content was regularly updated and people could see the school was still in business.
The AMORES page was a tad neglected over the first couple of months, and I often found myself itching to post something. Towards the end of May we agreed that I would play at being community manager for a while, since disseminating project news on Facebook is part of the project plan. The thing is, you can’t just occasionally post updates on the project (we don’t exactly have news breaking on a daily basis) – it’s a good idea to include other content as well.
To be continued…
That would refer to the project. The post is done – goodness knows it’s long enough. How is it that I can’t manage a short post? Maybe the secret is in writing more regularly? Anyway, I hope this has been at least mildly interesting if not exactly useful – especially if you were expecting something to do with language teaching, which I guess would not be entirely unreasonable, given the tagline.
5 replies on “That’s AMORES”
I’m glad you’re back with a new post. I really love visiting this space. You know, it’s easy to miss a tweet of yours because, as you say, you do share your products humbly. Anyway, the AMORE project looks interesting and beneficial, especially these days, when kids seem to have forgotten what books are. I wish you good luck. However, whenever I hear ‘EU-funded’ project, I shudder. I haven’t participated in a project the way you did, i.e. I didn’t take part in the initial process of creation and organization, but I was one of the foot soldiers helping to implement ideas into practice. Unfortunately, and I hope my bosses won’t read my comment, I mainly found those projects a waste of time and energy. The original creators probably meant well, but their innovative ideas were lost in translation, so to speak. It’s only about money the school gets from the EU. Sadly, next to none of the money ends up on the teachers’ payrolls, even though they have more work, and the students never benefit the way they should. This happens owing to various legal loopholes and ignorance in general. Well, I hope and wish this project will finally be implemented into practice without being abused in any way.
Thanks very much for your support. I for my part am glad you’re so quick to read, comment and offer your views – this does have a very encouraging effect. Even if it doesn’t translate into more frequent posts. 🙂 About the concerns you mentioned: my experience with these projects is limited to AMORES, so I honestly don’t know what the usual outcome is. Whenever larger sums of money are involved there’s a chance some of it is going to end up in the wrong pocket(s), I suppose, although to my knowledge the budget, once set, is not very flexible (meaning you couldn’t spend the money allocated for, say, dissemination, on something else without sound reasons and endless paperwork). There is the question of what happens with the money once the partner institution gets it, though; I guess that’s where problems could arise. I haven’t had a chance to interact much with the teachers socially (except for one of the Croatians), so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask whether they get paid more as a direct result of the project or if the school hangs on to the money. I think the Croatian school used some of the funds to buy iPads and PCs that will be used for AMORES (and I assume regular classes too). But I think the teachers there knew that would happen right from the start.
I think of you as someone who has a very positive outlook on things, so I take your disillusionment with EU projects seriously and find it a little worrying. As I see it, teachers and students are supposed to be at the center of the project and it would be extremely disappointing if they were to benefit least of all. I hope we’ll find ways to deal with the loopholes and ignorance. I’ll keep you posted in any case!
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