Paragons of online education; Marta Mena – pioneer and advocate of Latin America
Marta Mena is an online education pioneer in South America who stands out as a paragon. Moreover, she is well known and respected globally in the online education sector. She was president of the Argentine Association of Distance Education and has held important positions in ICDE. During a four years period she was Vice President of ICDE for Latin America and the Caribbean, and then, with the new ICDE Constitution, member of the Executive Committee for two periods.
ICDE have chosen her as our first interviewee in our series of Paragons of online learning.
ONLINE EDUCATION AGENDA
ICDE - Currently, what is the key project you are working on?
- At the moment I am developing two very important projects.
The first one is at the National Technological University of Argentina where I am directing the Virtual Training Program for Researchers-PROFORVIN. It aims to improve the skills of researchers for the development of research projects, especially R & D + I. This program, which this year celebrates its 10 years, has already trained 4,500 researchers and is currently available to researchers throughout Latin America.
The other key project I am developing and building is the Ibero-American Online Education Agenda. A group of distinguished colleagues from Ibero-America are surveying the state of the art of the modality in the region and future expectations that we want and envision. ICDE was crucial for this project since the World Conference in Toronto in 2017 where we lay the foundation for the actions to be developed. We hope that, once our own agenda is designed and agreed, we are in a better position to interact with the distance education international agenda, and that our participation and visions can be integrated into it.
ICDE - How did you become aware of ICDE?
- I got contact with ICDE as president of the Argentine Association of Distance Education. We were always following the international news through the information provided by ICDE. I participated actively for the first time in the ICDE World Conference in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1990. This participation was a "one-way trip" in my relationship with ICDE since from that moment I have participated in all its World Conferences and institutional life.
In my second World Conference, in Thailand in 1992, I managed to participate thanks to the support of UNESCO, thus breaking a permanent difficulty we faced and still face in Latin America, namely the high expenses that our institutions at large cannot afford.
FROM “THE END OF THE WORLD”
ICDE - Tell us about your fondest memory of ICDE.
- There are many moments that I treasure participating in ICDE. The first I remember was when I was informed that some colleagues in Europe had proposed me as a candidate for the Executive Committee. I was thrilled by the news, and accepted with some skepticism because I considered myself, at that moment, an unknown educator who lived at "the end of the world" with no chance of being elected. Therefore, my surprise was huge when I turned elected despite my initial doubts.
ROOM FOR EVERYONE
ICDE - What was the most important thing you learned from being an active ICDE member?
- Clearly you learn a lot by belonging to an institution of the magnitude of ICDE, UNESCO adviser on issues of distance education and virtualization. Both my knowledge of the modality, and of the institutions that had been developing it increased significantly. I was able to know them "in situ" in some cases and interact with their directors, teachers and researchers in meetings and World Conferences. This exchange allowed me to reconceptualize institutional models of Distance Education and increased my theoretical framework. It also allowed me to spread and make known the reality of the distance modality in Latin America, often absent in the consideration of the programs developed in international meetings. I also learned that no matter the role that the organization engages in, there is room for everyone, and all contributions enrich the institution and enrich every one of us.
INTEGRATION OF LATIN AMERICA
ICDE - What projects or initiatives have you worked on within the ICDE community that had the biggest impact on you?
- In these 29 years of membership in ICDE I have performed different activities always tending to the full integration of Latin America in the international agenda of distance education within ICDE. The project that I am presently coordinating for the Construction of the Ibero-American Online Education Agenda, described at the beginning of this interview, is both an excellent example, and the culmination of the labor carried out during so many years in the region under the ICDE umbrella.
First of all, in order to achieve this objective of regional integration, I organized, together with a group of referents and institutions, seven meetings:
Preparatory Meeting for the ICDE World Conference in Düsseldorf.
Sao Paulo, Brazil August 2000.
Regional Meeting of Latin America held within the program of the World Conference in
Düsseldorf, Germany 2001.
International Conference on Distance Education, Lima, Peru November 2002.
International Conference on Distance Education. San Juan, Puerto Rico, August 2005.
International Conference of ICDE. Tecnológico de Monterrey. Toluca, Mexico October 2007.
International Conference of ICDE. Dominican Republic November 2008.
International Conference of the ICDE. Buenos Aires. Argentina April 2011.
We have published three books with the seal of ICDE and UNESCO in Spanish as part of, and as a result of these meetings and the intensive collaborative team work. See the titles below, Facts.
A ROAD TO VIRTUALIZATION
ICDE - What would you say is the most important trend in education today?
- The road to virtualization of the educational offer is today a strong trend in the world of institutions of higher education in general. Educators permanently seek strategies and tools, coherent with their theoretical framework, which allow them to enhance and enrich technology-mediated teaching. Technologists are looking to design and implement strategies and tools for the same purpose. There are many voices and perspectives integrated here. All aiming at interpreting the mandate of the new information and knowledge society.
ICDE - What are the challenges of education today?
- Pedagogues have slowly come to terms with the fact that the knowledge of pedagogical theories "per se" does not ensure the development of the innovations required nowadays. Technologists have also understood that an excellent technological tool "per se" does not ensure educational improvement. Together they have found that new education projects mediated by technology require the design of a pedagogical model, a technological model and other management. The complexity of this new field requires methodological diversification and interdisciplinary teamwork.
In this way, the architecture of new technology-mediated education projects, based on a detected need, translated into objectives and guided by pedagogical principles, takes advantage of technological convergence, the enormous variety of available technological tools and the ubiquitous power of networks to design teaching proposals that, interpreting the dominant paradigm, achieve the objectives set by making the technology invisible. (Mena 2016) .
IMPROVEMENT AND RENEWAL
ICDE- In your experience, how do you think ICDE can contribute to finding good solutions?
- Since ICDE is the most important organization in the field of distance education and has the consultative status of UNESCO, it is the most viable alternative to guarantee a broad and reliable vision of the modality and to shelter the institutions and people who develop it.
The group of experts associated with the ICDE, its 80 years of existence and constant work together with the most relevant organizations and Open Universities, and with distance modality, ensure a constant contribution to the permanent improvement of the field, its status and renewal. To all this, we add the development of the World Conferences that every two years summon the world of distance education to joint reflection, to the presentation of proposals on emerging issues and problems, and to the construction of solutions for continuous improvement.
A BOUQUET OF ROSES …
ICDE - If you were to give a bouquet of roses to someone in the ICDE community, who would it be?
- There are many people in ICDE with whom I have worked in these 29 years who deserve all my respect and consideration. Among all of them, I highlight two excellent colleagues and former presidents of ICDE: Dr. Helmut Hoyer and Dr. Tian Belawati who have worked tirelessly in their role, always generating an atmosphere of openness and constant understanding. Two bouquets of roses then, one for Helmut and one for Tian.
Thank you, Marta Mena, for your wise and in-depth answers. Now we send the baton on to our next paragons, Helmut Hoyer and Tian Belawati, and ask them to provide their answers to our questions.
Name, country: Marta Mena, Argentina
Professor, Educator, virtual learning consultant
Positions in ICDE (present and former): Vice President of ICDE for Latin America and the Caribbean and then, member of the Executive Committee. Now Individual member
Distance education in Latin America. Models, Technologies and Realities. Marta Mena, compiler. 2004
Building the New Agenda for Distance Education. Marta Mena, coordinator. 2007.
The Regulatory Framework of Distance Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Marta Mena et al. 2008
 Mena, M (2016) The Road to Virtualization of Higher Education Institutions . In Prince, A; Jolías , L (2016) Technological Trends. CICOMRA Collection. Buenos Aires.