January 2022 - looking back to 2021

Again 2021 was like previous year, defined by Covid. Academically it was relatively calm, but our only trip abroad was to NERA in Odense in November but was also connected to a very pleasant visit to Copenhagen, staying with Inge and Axel, also visiting their newly acquire summer house and seeing Jakob and Birgitte. I also attended three conferences electronically, on democratic role of the university in April held at the University of Akureyri, ECER in September and Menntakvika (the Icelandic education conference) in October. With Guðrún and Valgerður I published two chapters on Icelandic education. I also examined two excellent PhD thesis, one at Gothenburg (in March on-line) and one here at the University of Iceland. In October, Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard defended her thesis Conversation as an Ecology of learning: An analysis of asynchronous discussions within an online professional community working to develop a democratic practice in education. 

We travelled quite a lot in Iceland during 2021, played some golf and generally had a very good time with family, especially with the two granddaughters, Heiðrún Kristín and Eva Bryndís, and with the third entering the field, Laufey in September. Also trips with groups of friends, which happened to be to the south of the country this time.

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January 2021 - Looking back to 2020

For Dísa and myself the Covid-19 2020 was very different - as for most people. Academically it was OK, socially not as bad as we feared and our domestic travels were superb, being nurtured by the Icelandic nature and our friends. Many of us feel that the restrictions applied in Iceland were both moderate and sensible.

We managed a very pleasant golf trip to La Gomera in the Canaries, in February just before the pandemic put everything on hold. Two days before we were due to leave, one case had been detected in the whole of Spain, more precisely on the island of La Gomera! However, we did not experience any problems, but the week after we returned practically everything was frozen travel wise on the islands.

Our travels inland, here in Iceland, were numerous and all particularly enjoyable. One week in a summerhouse in Snæfellsnes with our daughters and granddaughters, continuing with a group of  friends to the Northeast, hiking for a week in good weather and beautiful nature, and staying with friends in Akureyri on the way back. A weekend trip with friends to Siglufjörður in early August was followed by another trip also to the east, with another group of friends, also hiking for a week in beautiful weather. We were very lucky with both the weather and the summer-long lull in the Icelandic pandemic situation. There were a number of short trips, golfing – or not - to meet friends outside Reykjavík and two delightful day tours into the highlands, inspired by friends who had not been there recently.

For some reason I got myself involved in various administrative tasks, two at the University of Akureyri, one at the University of Iceland and continuing with one at the Ministry of Education. Throughout the year, quite a number of paper reviewing still comes my way. Also requests for presentations at various venues, which I enjoy, but those later in the year were through Teams and Zoom, which I find less satisfying. I find being on the editorial advisory board of Elm Magazine inspiring.

The pandemic didn’t stop NERA in Turku in March, which I found very good, with the additional benefit of meeting with Chris, Ulpukka and the four children. I hope to write a paper with her on the expansion of HE, this year. I was involved in four presentations and went to many good sessions.

I was involved in the writing of a number of papers. One with Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir on the impact of the university level through academic subjects, which was published in 2020 and two for a series on Nordic policy documents and two for a series on the development of primary education in light of Icelandic educational policy, all of which I hope will be published this year (2021). I wrote a short opinion paper in Icelandic noting the 70-year anniversary of a good colleague, Ingvar Sigurgeirsson. I am also continuing to be involved in the research project on the role of universities in a democratic society, led by the University of Akureyri and will, I hope, continue to be associated with the effort lead by J.C. Couture and colleagues on educational futures.

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January 2020

January 2020 - Looking back to 2019

Academically 2019 was an interesting year - and socially very pleasant.

After the nice time with Dianne and David, Jakob and Birgitte visited us twice and J-C and Mary Lee came during the summer. Dísa and I went abroad twice with Heiða and Robert, once to Ghent and also to Sicily. We were reasonably active playing golf in Iceland, and went also to Spain, Sweden and England playing golf with our friends. We had ample and lively time with our children and two granddaughters.

After NERA in March, I examined a very good thesis, defended by Bent Sortkær on “Feedback, elevperspektiver og ulighed i skolen” at Arhus university at the beginning of April, where I also presented on the directional value of data.

The doctoral students I supervise are doing very well. Björk defended her proposal already last year and is progressing well with her very good and valuable work on school evaluation. The two other projects I supervise went successfully through the interim evaluation, one in the hands of Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard in early May, examined by professors Charles Crook and Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir, and the other run by Jakob Frímann Þorsteinsson in September, examined by professors Beth Christie and Pat Maher. I am very interested in the work og all these colleages, as I feel they are doing both novel and exciting research and I am optimistic that they will defend their final thesis soon, pehaps some in the first half of next year.

I was a partner to three presentations at ECER and presented one paper on my own. Similarly, at Menntakvika, the Icelandic research conference, I was partner to two presentations and presented one on my own. I was honoured to be asked to present at the opening of the annual Delta, Kappa Gamma international conference held in Iceland in July and at conference on educational issues held by the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities in November. I was also happy to participate as a moderator in a very interesting discussion on policy issues and cooperation between different stakeholders at a Nordic conference: Newly Qualified Teachers and Induction: A Nordic Cross-sectorial Network. In late November an Albertan group of teachers and students, lead by Jean Stiles and JC Couture visited Reykjavík schools, where they visited and lead a very successful Social innovation laboratory mainly with Icelandic and Canadian students, but also professionals.

I wrote up, in Icelandic for publication, my reflections on the directional value of data and I was asked to reflect, also for publication on a very wide-ranging and wealthy study on Norwegian upper secondary schools – a project lead by Ellen Saur at NTNU.

I was unusually busy with  peer reviews, both for Icelandic and inetrnational journals. I sit on the board for Sprotasjóður, a fund for innovative projects in Icelandic schools and on the advisory board for the Directorate of Education (Menntamálstofnun). I was asked to chair the board for the Science fund for the University of Akureyri, but this work has hardly started.

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March 2019

Moving into 2019 looks good. Towards the end of 2018 I particpated with Ævar Kjartanson in ten hour long programmes under the heading Education and the future, where we invited a number of people to talk about different aspects of education on RÚV, the national broadcasting service.  See the link. I found this very interesting. But unfortunately I find my piece on inertia in education becoming gradually more relevant, even if that was not directly reflected in these discussions.

Late May last year I went to the Justice in Education (final conference in Helsinki), where I presented both with Guðrún and Pascale and in September I presented on data and its use at the Northern lights (PISA and TiMSS) seminar in Finland. In October I also particpated in meetings with our colleagues from ATA in Alberta and in the selection of a candidate at the Autonomous University in Barcelona; a task which is part of the Serra Húnter Catalalan universities project. Late in the year JC Couture visited from Alberta and early this year David Labaree and his wife Diane Churchill visited us from California and David presented on his new book, A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education. NERA 2019 was in Uppsala this time, interesting as always with a pre-conference on a Nordic project lead by UiO on the documentary backup of government policy making in education. I continued there to discuss my ideas where I question the directional value of data, being careful not to undermine its importance for understanding the world. I had two publications in 2018, one with the group lead by Ulpukka Isopahkala-Bouret at Turku, and it was also a treat to work with Lisbeth Lundahl and Anne-Lise Arnesen on the usefulness of ILSA for educational justice comparisons, especially in the Nordic context. Early in 2019 there was a chapter out with Kristjana Stella and Atli Haþórsson in the Springer book Resisting Education: A Cross-National Study on Systems and School Effects.


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May 2018

NERA in Oslo last March was interesting. I participated in the NERA panel on the nature of the hierarchy or relationship between "pedagogy" on the one hand and "educational science" on the other. It is clear that the latter is taking over, even though my stance is that that there are elements within the pedagogical discourse that are not covered by what we would normally place under the heading of educational science. Issues such as what values we should cherish within education and how the school might best prepare us for the future. This is based on an ethical or a value judgement, rather than conclusions we can derive from research, at least not from empirical research.

I was honored to present the keynote at the teacher union general conference held every four years, where I focused on harnessing teacher professionalism, on the importance of placing the focus more on professional development, and on the importance of giving teachers voice in the educational discourse. The ATA run Ulead conference in Alberta in April was interesting and well attended by Icelandic participants. I found the TwinPeaks pre-conference of particular interest, where the focus was on the "public" in public education. The merging of history, reminiscences and later life of many graduates from Hólar, the ancient and modern seat of learning in Iceland was inspiring in the seminar where Hólar celebrated the 100 year of Icelandic administrative independence.

Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir defended her thesis, in a lively discussion with the opponents, Elisabet Nihlfors, from Uppsala University and Monica Johansson from the University of Gothenburgh. We were happy that Lisbeth Lundahl, from the University of Umeå, who had been on the committee, lead by Ingólfur, found time to attend. I feel the notion Guðrún defends  is of particular interest, i.e., that a school (upper secondary in this study) is a curious and a very complex blend of an institution and an organization. She showed how this curious blend was clearly reflected in the discourse of school leaders at the upper secondary level.

I found it challenging to look back and figure out what characterized the educational discourse in Iceland in the 60's and 70's at the seminar on the department of School Research at the ministry of education that was established in the late 1960's. Presenting the keynote on School and education, school policy or educational policy at the Society for Educational Research conference turned out to be a rather difficult task. One of my main problems, unexpectedly, was to determine if one needs to define what was good education if one wants to define a good school. I am now looking forward to the JustEd conference in Helsinki next week, where I am presenting both with Guðrún and Pascale.

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February 2018

I have been fortunate to be working with a number of very interesting people. The people I am supervising for their PhD, Björk Ólafsdóttir (How external evaluation may influence internal evaluation), Jakob Frímann Þorsteinsson (The nature and value of outdoor education in Iceland in an international perspective) and Pascale Mompoint-GaillardPresident of Learn to Change, Change to Learn  (Teachers’ participation in online professional learning communities) are all very active and helping to keep me academically on my toes. As a co-supervisor I am also inspired by  Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir (School Leaders’ Perceptions of Contemporary Change at the Upper Secondary School Level in Iceland) who has more or less completed her thesis work.

I was very pleased to be involved as an applicant in two projects that were funded this January by the Icelandic Research Fund. One, lead by professor Sigurður Kristinsson at the University of Akureyri, on the role played by the modern university in a democratic society and the other, lead by associate professor Kristjana Stella Blöndal at the University of Iceland, an ongoing international longitudinal study on pupils' development through compulsory school, into upper secondary, to work or potentially dropping out and how their school experiences influence their lives more generally (the ISCY project).

I have found the JustEd Nordic Center of Excellence a particularly successful projects. I have in particular followed the many PhD students who have been involved. I have been involved in one paper that has been published under the leadership of  Ulpukka Isopahkala-Bouret, in Turku and currently working with colleagues on the potential usefulness of large-scale data sets in comparative studies, related to the JustEd arena.

I have been involved with a number of professional development projects for teachers and given presentations related to this. It is very important and inspiring for me to have this good contact with the teachers themselves. The work with the consultation committee on teacher professional development, involving the municipalities, the Teacher's Union, the universities and the ministry has also been rewarding. The project I have been most involved with, is documenting the changes that have taken place within the pre-schools, the primary schools, the upper secondary schools and the music schools for the last decade or so; changes that obviously call for extensive professional development. I have also been involved with Reykjavík municipality on their very ambitious  project, envisaging development well into the 21st century. I was involved with the TU, receiving a group of school-leaders and students from Alberta in Canada, Finland and Norway and looking forward to the TwinPeak and ULead conferences in Banff in April, with quite a number of Icelanders participating.

I am looking foward going to NERA in Oslo in March, participating in a panel on educational science and pedagogy, TwinPeaks and Ulead in Banff in Alberta in April, participating in panels and presentations, attending a JustEd final conference in Helsinki in May, presenting with my colleagues, and possibly to ECER in Bolzano in September, also presenting with my colleagues. I will be presenting at three Icelandic conferences in the spring, so this is a busy time (also hoping to play golf in Spain, England and Sweden).

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July 2017

On June 30th I retired from my post as a professor at the University of Iceland. I started there as a part-time teacher in September 1977, sharing my time equally between teaching experimental physics on the one hand and cognitive psychology and the psychology of learning on the other. After I obtained a permanent post in the department of education I moved more and more into the field of education, where I have stayed since.

The summer school for European teachers run by the European Council Pestalozzi Programme is a very ambitious and fascinating exercise. I have been invited to participate there twice and feel the participation intellectually very rewarding. Here are the notes from my introductory presentation this time. 06 24 JTJ Pestalozzi summer school June 2017

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Summer 2017

The NERA conference in Copenhagen in March was good. So was Ulead in Banff in April, good combination of theory and practice. Spring has been busy with tasks in the Faroe Islands, Gothenburg and Oslo and several different assignments here at home. Also a good vacation in early May with my wife in Rome. Family matters took over in early June. On my way now, with Dísa, to the Pestalozzi summer school in Bad Wildbad in Schwartzwald. Then it is back to preparing for ECER in Copenhagen in late August where I will be involved in four presentations.

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I will be at NERA in Copenhagen in late March

Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir will present a paper, which I co-author: Responses of upper secondary school leaders in Iceland to a new curriculum in an ostensibly decentralized system.

This a based on her PhD work and interviews we did among school leaders some time back. She is developing a very interesting perspective showing both the organizational and institutional side of schools and school leaders, co-existing. Quite exciting.

I will present a paper where I continue developing my argument on the credential growth of HE, with special emphasis on the gender difference and the stability of the effect accross cultures and among different social groups.

The hidden global and local dynamics of the expansion of higher education Jonasson NERA Expansion March 2017

I will also present a paper on the place of lifelong learning and professional development in the educational discourse. I try to argue that these belong at the heart of an educational system; many people concur with that but not the system itself.

Why formal education, lifelong learning (LLL) and professional development (PD) should be a part of the same educational discourse and thus be squarely placed at the core of the system of education (and why not).  03 NERA JTJ PD 2017 conference JTJ presentation


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January - Samuel Abrams brief visit

Samuel Abrams has a stop-over in Iceland and presents his book.

Drawing on his book, Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016), Samuel E. Abrams will discuss the divergent paths taken by education policymakers in Chile, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. In addition, Abrams will address the implications of Donald Trump’s victory for schooling in the United States.

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch described Education and the Commercial Mindset as “an elegant analysis of the workings of market forces in education.” Reviewing the book for Teachers College Record, Margaret Stange-Topkins described it as “exceptionally balanced, meticulously researched, and rooted in a deep understanding of the historical, cultural, and social antecedents of the widespread use of business practices and norms in education.”

This excerpt from Education and the Commercial Mindset concerning Finnish education policy was published by The Stanford Social Innovation Review. For an interview with Abrams about his book, see this column by Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post. Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by Abrams on this January 9th titled “Forget charter schools and vouchers — here are five business ideas school reformers should adopt”, where he critically examines and rejects the business ideas normally adopted, but suggests different ones, - from business but also from Nordic education – that should be considered.

Abrams is the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. In addition to Education and the Commercial Mindset, his publications include a chapter on Nordic education in Utbildningsekonomi: Om lärandets värde (Natur och Kultur, 2017). Committed to sports as well as scholarship, Abrams is a veteran coach in the Ice Hockey in Harlem program.

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