EUROPE IN SPACE

02/06/2012

Nowadays the European Union not only covers the European continent, but also stretches into space. Through its European Space Agency (ESA) it develops and launches into orbit satellites that enhance navigation and collect detailed data on the state of the environment. The most recent developments in this area include the programmes Galileo, EGNOS, and GMES.

Galileo (as you may guess, named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei) is a high-precision satellite navigation system able to determine horizontal and vertical position of an object on the Earth within one meter precision. Thus it is much better than the existing GPS technologies and has very good potential to be used in plane and ship navigation, mapping, rescue operations, commercial service and other fields. Moreover, it is said that the Galileo signal should be free and open to the public. The first two satellites of this programme were already launched in October 2011 from the Guiana Space Centre. 28 more are expected to follow them.

EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) is another ESA’s bold idea to improve reliability and accuracy of space satellite measurements. It improves the accuracy of the signals of GPS and the above-mentioned Galileo greatly, allowing its usage in very critical and delicate operations, such as navigating large oil tankers through narrow channels. This is achieved through three geostationary satellites and 44 ground stations. The EGNOS service should also be free and open for anyone with a GPS device able to receive the EGNOS signal.

GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is a bit different initiative that is focused on observing the Earth’s “health status”. By connecting together Earth observation satellites, ground sensors, control stations, etc. it should be able to continuously monitor and report the state of the environment, including air and water pollution, forest cover, land use, global temperature, and appearance of cataclysms. Currently GMES is in the development stage with the launch of its first space satellite Sentinel scheduled to 2013.

The EU and ESA were so excited about their space programmes that they decided to showcase and inform the public about them. Thus the European Space Expo was organized. I managed to visit its first edition in Copenhagen, Denmark. My impression: a bit small for space-wide programmes, but nevertheless quite interesting and interactive with a lot of learning opportunities. Personally I was interested in the mapping application of the programmes, as in the international movement “Let’s Do It!” I am part of we are trying to develop the World Waste Map and gathering and visualisation of statistical data about the waste issue in different countries. So, I definitely recommend you to drop in at this exhibition and spend some time at all its interactive video booths.

The European Space Expo will be in Copenhagen until the 5th of June, 2012 (the Danish Constitution Day, by the way). If you are not able to visit it until then, do not despair. The exhibition has 6 following editions taking place in other countries. You can see the dates and places of these editions at the European Commission’s website.

So, enjoy your exploration of the European space technologies!

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3 IN 1

29/08/2011

I will start from rather far away. Each year I set an objective for myself to visit three countries I have not been to before. In this way I slowly, but steadily move towards the goal to see and experience all countries of our beautiful and amazing World.

In 2011 the International Baltic Summer School (IBSS) represented a wonderful opportunity to achieve the above-mentioned yearly objective, because it takes place in three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And I had not been there previously. In addition, there was some strange feeling that I should go for this opportunity, because I might learn something important. So, in spite of rather high costs, my decision-making on this topic resulted in the submitted application for IBSS and further taking part in this Summer School.

However, this article named “3 IN 1” is not about the interesting company visits to Skype and ICT Demo Center in Tallinn, swimming and sunbathing at the beaches in Parnu and Jurmala, adventures of being homeless in Riga, playing in the “fun room” of Swedbank high above Vilnius, admiring the treasures of the Trakai Castle, and in general enjoying the 3 countries in 1 Summer School.

No, the post is about what I have learned and experienced concerning business: Knowledge, Skills, and Ethics – the 3 components that an entrepreneur should possess in order to create and run a modern and successful international business.

1) Knowledge:

This is the most obvious and frequently used “compound” in the formula of entrepreneurship. No wonder there is a saying “Who possesses the information, rules the World”. During IBSS we were taught the peculiarities of doing business in the Baltics, entrepreneurial environment and developments there, as well as shown examples of successful companies on the Baltic market. This knowledge will surely be valuable in the process of establishing business in the region, but it will also surely be outdated by the time the decision on doing it is made. So, the task of an entrepreneur here is to ensure the constant receiving of the relevant and updated knowledge through multiple channels, both physical and virtual.

2) Skills:

Raw knowledge is not enough without the necessary “tools” to process and use it for the entrepreneur’s advantage. These “tools” are specific skills and abilities, both innate and developed through personal and professional experience. Skills to think “out of the box” and come up with the unique idea, skills to identify the business potential in this idea and to make it real, skills to establish and benefit from a large international network, skills to convince other people in your idea and business and thus obtain the customer base, skills to manage yourself and the pressure upon you, and many more. Some of them we have already had, some we have discovered and developed during IBSS, and some will come with experience further on.

3) Ethics:

This component is often omitted from the entrepreneurship formula. Some even say that there is no such thing as “business ethics”. I do not intend to argue with them, because my opinion is that common human ethics is enough to make person respected, business deals trustworthy, and business itself successful. If to wrap it up in a philosophical veil, as it is usually done, I would say that while knowledge is the key to the door of success and skills are the hands that are able to turn this key, ethics is that “inner voice”, which suggested you to choose exactly this door and to obtain exactly this key. But it is quite hard to learn to listen to this “voice”, and many people choose even not to try it. Why bother, when there are so many temptations around?! Nevertheless, the environment, including the business one, constantly tests every one of us on following the ethical way. At the Summer School I was somehow put into conditions that allowed me to check my ethical principles, values, goals, and dedication to them. I suppose I have passed this trial. At least it made me think about all this stuff.

All in all, my key learning point from the International Baltic Summer School (IBSS) was that in order to achieve victory on the “business battleground” an entrepreneur should have all 3 components – Knowledge, Skills, and Ethics – armed and ready. And not only HAVE them, but also USE them every day and in every step towards own business. The 3 components – the “key”, the “hands”, and the “voice” – for one door to success.


GOING INTERACTIVE: SAVI LEARNING AT MUSEUMS

24/05/2011

Museum. Ancient slabs with hieroglyphs stand behind the glass cases. Beautiful tapestry hang on the walls supplied with the sign “Do not touch!”. People walk slowly among the silent showpieces… looking… looking… and looking…

This is the “traditional” image of a museum of any specialization, be it historical, zoological, cultural, etc. You can visit such museums in almost every city of the World. And it is great that we have them to spread knowledge within the society.

However, these “traditional” museums have one very strong limitation – they focus primarily (if not solely) on the visual channel of transmitting information. Thus, they ignore other elements of the so-called VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) or SAVI (Somatic, Auditory, Visual, Intellectual) learning style models. In other words, you only see things, but have no possibility to hear how they sound (for instance, the song of a certain species of birds or the tonality of a musical instrument), to touch them (for example, to know what they are made of), to “play” with them in order to understand how they work, and last but not least to check what you have learned from each visit to a museum.

However, the good news is that more and more museums understand the importance of engaging all information channels in the learning process and incorporate them through various creative projects and exhibitions. This allows attracting people’s attention to and increasing their awareness of even such “simple” and “usual” things as water.

As an example I offer you to watch a short video taken at the mobile exhibition “Train of Ideas: Visions for Future Cities” aimed at informing people about ideas and ways of designing ecologically-friendly and sustainable cities and living in them. I managed to visit it when the exhibition was in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the end of April this year. The video shows only a small part of it dedicated to incorporating Nature into urban structure and the issue of water resource management. There you could try designing your own “green” city, feel yourself as part of it, play music with tap water, learn about the composition of water and where it comes from, see videos about modern “green” city design, and much more.

Within the exhibition there were also sections dedicated to renewable energy, waste management, way of living in an environmentally-friendly city, how people can move towards such living, and other.

As you see, even the simplest but creative ideas may bring significant benefits both to the organizers of an exhibition in terms of attracting visitors and to these visitors in making the learning process more interesting, fun, and impactful. And such ideas should be incorporated not only in the activity of museums, but in education as a whole, including schools, colleges, universities, and specialized courses. This should produce significant synergetic impact, because you engage all elements of the VAK or SAVI learning model in an integrated manner.

So, let’s get INTERACTIVE!


SELF-EDUCATION: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND YOU

21/11/2010

While studying for my Masters degree at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, I have noticed significant differences between the general approach to graduate and postgraduate education in my home country Moldova and here.

Back home the focus is on theoretical side of knowledge, with this knowledge being “fed” to students. Thorough control of each student’s performance is done by teachers throughout the whole study period. Students are required to strictly “obey” the established curriculum, the teachers, and the university staff. Everything is quite formal and official.

This is a more or less opposite case in Denmark and other European countries. The stress here is made on self-education (autodidacticism); that is, every student “knits” his / her own study process.

Firstly, it is you who chooses what courses to take in each block and semester. Of course, there are some core and compulsory subjects you are required to have, but regarding their allocation and choice of elective ones – this is entirely up to you. Selection and allocation is performed by using the virtual system you gain access to before the start of the study period.

Secondly, the education process is constructed in a way to give you more applied side of knowledge and to help you develop corresponding competences and skills. It is not enough to just know how things work, you are required to understand the logic behind it and implement the obtained information and skills in the real world situations. In addition, learning everything by heart is not demanded here; on the contrary, you are expected to develop critical thinking by challenging the truth of theories and applicability of methods and instruments.

Thirdly, students are not obliged to attend any lecture or seminar. You are not checked for attendance and in most cases you do not get marks during the study period; you receive only the final grade based on your exam performance. However, it means that much of the studying is done through individual and group work outside lectures. So, your study and performance are your own business, but this “business” requires much time and hard work from you.

It seems that the self-education approach practiced in many European countries is the best one possible. Still, let us look at it through the “critical eye” and see what are the advantages (the “goods”) and disadvantages (the “bads”) of it.

The “goods” are the following:

– Opportunity to construct your own curriculum and study process – You know better than anyone else what you want to take from your education, so this allows you to align personal expectations and schedule with your studying;

– Focus on every student – This makes students feel themselves important and thus show more dedication to and involvement in the study process (it is like firms’ focus on consumer in a market);

– Informal environment – Students do not have “formality and hierarchy obstacles” to approach teachers with questions, proposals, feedback, etc.;

– Alignment with the real world – Accent on the applied side of knowledge makes it easier for students to understand and transfer it “beyond auditoriums”;

– Opportunity to make and correct mistakes – When you do not get marks, but receive constructive feedback from your teacher, you are not afraid to make mistakes and, most importantly, learn how to correct and prevent them in the future;

– Development of innovation and critical thinking – No doubt that these competences are very demanded on the global labour market, so their development brings significant added value to an individual;

– Team work and leadership experience – Studying and working on a common project together with other students helps you develop these two no less important competences and skills.

However, there are some “bads” here also:

– Somewhat complicated study self-service you need to understand and learn to use – It might be difficult to master the usage of the course selection, internal communication and other virtual systems, especially for the first time;

– Dependence on information technologies – Various system upgrade periods, bugs, viruses and other IT-related issues can pose certain challenges in registering for a course or receiving the necessary material on time, for example;

– Time-consuming – Self-education suggests there is a lot of reading, work on assignments and projects to do outside lectures and seminars. This fact makes it very challenging to get a job or to do something else (of course, if you really want to benefit from your education). And if you have no grant or scholarship to cover tuition fees and maintenance, then it becomes a very serious drawback.

So, as you see, there is no “perfect” approach to education (though many people equal the words “abroad” and “the best”) – each has both its strong and weak points. It is mostly up to YOU how the proportion of “goods” and “bads” will be managed. If you are of the “lazy and not interested” kind, then you will surely find dozens of arguments why current education does not satisfy your needs. But with proper interest and passion in the study programme, you will manage to get the most out of and beyond it despite the overall level of its development.

Certainly, the quality of education also depends on the state’s attention and care for it. If the state wants to have a well-developed internal labour market with high quality and globally demanded local specialists and wishes to prevent the so-called “brain-drain” phenomenon, then it should invest in the development of education and really “think out of the box” to maximize the synergy of the “goods” from various approaches and minimize the “bads” of each of them. Still, in some way it also depends upon you. If you just sit and complain, but continue to follow the established regime, then the state has no incentive to spend precious budget money for improving something where change is not demanded. On the contrary, if you take proactive role in addressing the education issue, then your voice has higher chance of being heard at the “tops”. Even if you cannot reach sanity and rational thinking of high officials, then at least you will be able to improve education quality for yourself and probably surrounding people.

Thus, perhaps we better stop whining and waiting for some imaginary “good and wise fellow politician” to come to power and change the education system for the better with a mere wave of his hand… and perhaps we should get our own minds and hands into it if we really desire an effective and efficient education for ourselves and our children.

As an American actor Jonathan Winters pointed out:

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it”.