Building Education for the Commons
It is nothing short of an honor to welcome a man who risked his life, was arrested, and served time for an idea: Democracy. We welcome Prof. Lionarakis to The Global Center for Advanced Studies. Dr. Professor Antonis Lionarakis has lived an extraordinary life. In 1973 at the age of 19, Antonis and a small group of students took a stance against the Junta, the Greek military dictatorship that had seized power in Greece in 1967. Antonis and the democratic student fighters took their stance at the National Technical University of Athens from November 14-17, 1973, which ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events starting with a tank crashing through the front gates of the university. Students were massacred, which precipitated massive demonstrations that resulted in the Greek people overthrowing the military regime. To this day, November 17th is a Greek National Holiday. Lionarakis received the Greek Medal of Honor for his actions. It is an honor to have Prof. Lionarakis join GCAS.
He will be organizing our open and distance learning programs and methodologies. He will be presenting at GCAS’s First World Democratic Conference entitled, “Rethinking Democratic Possibilities: From Insurrections to ‘Event’” July 16-19th, 2015, Athens, Greece with Jodi Dean, Bruno Bosteels, Maria Aristodemou, Azfar Hussain, Maria Nikolakaki, Creston Davis, Athina Karatzogianni, Kostis Karpozilos, Dimitris Dalakoglou, Costas Douzinas, Leonidas Vatikiotis, Claudia Landolfi and special guests from Syriza.
Dr. Antonis Lionarakis is Greek, currently Associate Professor of Open and Distance Education at the Hellenic Open University, School of Humanities and has worked as tutor – counselor at the Open University / United Kingdom. He was a member of the Governing Board of the Institute of Continuing Adult Education and founder. He was member of the planning Committee for the development of the Hellenic Open University and member of the Implementation Unit for the development of the institution. Since 2003 he is the president of the Hellenic Network of Open and Distance Education and the editor-in-chief of the international Journal ‘Open Education – the journal for ODL and Educational Technology’. Every two years he organizes an international conference for open and distance learning in Greece (ICODL) with hundreds of participants from all over the world. He has contributed to writing chapters in more than 30 books about distance learning and has edited 28. He is in charge of several research projects and member of the Global Advisory Council (GAC) of The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education. He was invited to present his work in several countries, such as France, Cyprus, UK, Iceland, Bulgaria, Turkey and Japan.
Creston Davis interviews Prof. Lionarakis:
Creston Davis [CD]: How would you describe your research interests?
Antonis Lionarakis [AL]: My research interests derive from a long experience which includes the designing and developing of the Hellenic Open University (Open University, Athens). Mentoring more than 1500 academics – developers of learning material I found out that in order to design this material you need principles, axioms, methodology, theory of teaching and learning, human management, interaction. Therefore the learning design of the material and the continuing learning and teaching procedures became the focus of my interests. All the above factors take place in one environment which is defined by social and political dynamics. This widespread interaction has defined my research interests.
CD: Can you discuss your involvement with developing open and distance learning environments?
AL: While designing the development of the Hellenic Open University 20 years ago on a massive base, with a small team we had to train 1500 developers and writers on how to write distance learning material. We had to develop a model of writing by harmonizing scientific text with a text of continuous interaction and flexible writing. This was something unfamiliar to Greek academics. The outcome of this massive work gave us about 600 books in many subjects which became the main learning tools for the students. Since then, we have developed several methods and theories of the learning design. Interactive, flexible, analytical and academic text has to be the center of any type of learning material.
CD: Who are your greatest philosophical influences?
AL: It is interesting to find out that some ancient philosophers are still the point of reference in today’s experimental thinking for a number of academic issues. Aristotle had defined a crucial line on pedagogy. Some others like Erich Fromm, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell and Paulo Freire have shaped the edges of my thinking. Today I find many new intellectuals with fresh and radical ideas for the world who have a great feeling and are able to answer questions that surround human and social inquiry. The Aristotelian ‘why’ still yields many fruitful answers.
CD: What advice would you offer graduate students today?
AL: If they were educators, I would remind them that ‘teaching’ is an act far removed from ‘learning’. Our job is to bridge this gap and harmonize them. Apart from education, the morals and moral axioms are choices which have to define our activities even if sometimes we are asked to act otherwise. As inexperienced graduate students, they should always look behind curtains and ask ‘why’. A great extend of our environment is created by social mechanisms. It is important to be able to understand those mechanisms and how they work. It is not always easy. Things can be dark, sometimes hidden and well preserved. We all have the moral duty to uncover them.
CD: Can you tell us about growing up in Greece and your work in overthrowing the US backed Military Dictatorship in the 1970s?
AL: Some years ago I was invited to talk to children of 10 to 12 years old of a primary school in Athens about the dictatorship. Now, how can you describe to children these issues? I thought the idea of contrasting ‘light’ and ‘darkness’. This contradiction influenced me when I was 15 years old. A 15 years old school kid has no clear political mind, but I was able to see and understand that something was going wrong. Tortures, political prisoners, students and academics in prison, were not a very convincing situation for the population. So, in the age of 16 I joined an illegal youth organization of the left. First time when I was arrested was at school. It was only for one day at the police station of my area.
Three years later as many others I was present at the Polytechnic occupation, November 1973. By that time a number of things had changed and I could have a much better picture of the military dictatorship. Who they were, what they were doing, why and how. Three days later when we were attacked by the army and the police I was arrested by military police. I had to spend nearly four months in complete isolation in the center of Athens. That was a life time experience. It was the first time that I realized and experienced what tortures are, both physical and psychological. The first night I witnessed a murder of a young student in front of me. I believe it was pour luck that I survived without serious health problems.
CD: If you could teach one dream seminar, what would it be?
AL: I believe a good seminar for the teacher is when he/she has a good and demanding audience. The location could be anywhere. An attractive subject, such as ‘social origins of education and the future of alternative educational forms’ would be a great theme. A crucial point would be the use of audiovisual help of many types. They could be movie films and documentaries.