ACEC 2010 reflection

It’s been a very busy school holiday period for me. The Australian Computers in Education Conference was held at the Exhibition Centre here in Melbourne and I had three presentations to deliver, one each day of the conference. No rest for the wicked!

It’s always great being able to attend conferences like this where people from your online networks congregate. Talking in sentences longer than 140 characters can be a lot more meaningful! I was looking forward to hearing keynotes from Alan November and Gary Stager. I’ve heard Gary before and knew he would stir up some debate, and he didn’t disappoint. Gary has been visiting Melbourne for over 20 years and was here when MLC became the first school  to go 1:1 with laptops. Gary was (I think) asking the audience to look to the examples from the past and learn from them rather than try to reinvent all the time. While I think there’s some benefit in doing that, the means by which we can use technology for learning purposes has come a long way in the last few years, and some recent examples would have been beneficial for the audience. I found myself agreeing with Gary, but he lost me momentarily when he launched into an attack on Twitter, something I’ve heard him do before. He doesn’t see the value in using it for networking purposes and obviously, I hold an opposing view. And I was running a session called ‘The What, Why and How of Twitter‘, that afternoon! Gary made some contentious statements, one of which suggested that our Government obviously doesn’t like teachers very much. There were some audible mutterings of disagreement re that one around me, but I talked to others later who thought that was perfectly valid. Gary’s keynote was recorded by the amazing Steve Collis, who helped people participate virtually by ustreaming his own sessions and the sessions he attended. Visit his ustream channel to check out Gary’s keynote and formulate your own opinion. Gary has written a post about Steve Costa, who was instrumental in the launch of the first laptop program in the world at MLC (Methodist Ladies College). It is a very complimentary piece recognising Steve’s efforts and I would encourage you all to read it.

I have to say I was expecting more from Alan November’s session. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he asked if we knew about Ferris Bueller! (My Twitter comment was ‘Yes Alan. We know Ferris Bueller. We are part of the modern world.’ Honestly!) I’m not referring to the content, but the level of preparedness. Alan’s keynote felt under prepared from my perspective. Keynote presenters get paid a significant amount of money, a whole lot more than the nothing I was paid for three presentations, and, I was expected to pay to attend the conference. (Not even a free conference dinner was coming the way of any people who generously offered to present. Thanks to the Independent School’s Victoria (ISV), I was able to access a grant to go.) Alan hadn’t pre-loaded videos from Youtube, we had to watch as he leaned over the lecturn and did search on the fly. Sorry, but I want to see a keynoter who has thoughtfully prepared a presentation for an audience who have outlaid significant money to attend. Even preloading these videos saves valuable time when you are trying to make a point. Alan was making some good points about the value of providing meaningful feedback to students and was referring to the research of New Zealander, John Hattie. Alan believes that the use of technology can assist in providing immediate quality feedback, using devices like clickers that enable you to monitor student understanding of key concepts. I’ve never used polling software in my classes, preferring instead to work at getting the climate of the classroom right to encourage the sharing of ideas, but maybe it’s worth trying. Alan spoke at length about the need to teach our students search skills that will enable them to dig deep into the Web and extract returns that are meaningful. I hope people in the audience were listening and go back and utilise the skills of Teacher-Librarians to assist them with this. Alan did relay a positive message, and that’s important, to me anyway. I want to come away from a conference feeling inspired to try new things, and I think Alan did that for some people.

I went to Greg Gebhart’s session about Cybersafety. Greg definitely knows his stuff; any presentation I’ve seen him deliver is full of detail and helpful advice. I do wish that he would include some reference to working actively with new technologies so that we can embed digital safety lessons into classroom practice by modeling safe and ethical use. That’s a message educators need to hear. Greg was telling us how ACMA has recently employed more people to help with free internet safety sessions for schools. There’s a definite need for this, but I think the need far outweighs the manpower ACMA can provide. It’s going to have to be educators who take on this work in their schools. I’d like to see ACMA providing slideshows on their site that educators can access to assist them with the transfer of the digital safety message.

John Burns is a iPhone (probably now iPad too!) app developer who shared with us his methods for getting an app created and into the Apple App store. Wow – what an experience listening to what he’s done. John created the ‘Measure it’ app, that featured on an Apple ad on TV. I purchased that app because of that ad!! This presentation made me think- it really did. Firstly, it got me thinking of the need to teach our students the basics of coding so that they aren’t intimidated and can venture into creative work like this. (Gary Stager delivers the message about the importance of teaching code too.) Secondly, it made me think of what I could have been putting my energy into these last couple of years or so! Maybe I’d be rolling in it if I’d invested in me instead of sharing my knowledge with everyone through here! Maybe; but would I be happy? I’d love to answer ‘no’, but the answer just might be ‘yes’.  ; ) Check out John’s very helpful site where he linked to many of the sites he uses to assist him in the process of app development. (if you’re on a Mac, he recommended you view the page in Safari).

It was great to see Chris Betcher delivering a keynote (Yay – an Australian on the stage for a keynote. All too often a rarity in this country!). Chris left the audience with a positive take on the changes occurring and how all educators can become involved through participation in learning networks.

Judy O’Connell’s presentation ‘Content used to be King’, was supported with an excellent slide presentation that she has kindly shared on slideshare. I’m embedding it here in the hope that you look at it and follow some of the links that take you to other search alternatives you can use with your students. Judy’s discussion about the semantic web and the potential it holds for the way we interact with the Web was insightful. Thanks for an excellent presentation Judy.

I presented three sessions. One each day. Like I said, no rest for the wicked! All three can be accessed on the wiki I maintain that supports any work I’m doing. You can find it here. The presentations were ‘Virtual Learning Communities – Time to get connected‘, ‘The What, How and Why of Twitter‘, and ‘Creating a Virtual Learning Community using Ning‘. I’ll try and embed the presentations in this blog the coming days. I just can’t believe how long already it’s taken me to get this post written – that’s what happens when you catch your breath on the weekend after a conference and head back into the first week of school and the business of working full time.

The end of the conference brought with it a very pleasant surprise for me. I was one of the recipients of the inaugural ACCE Australasian Education Media awards. Chris Betcher was also awarded this honour. ACCE’s purpose behind creating this award was to acknowledge the contribution of Australasian educators who support the learning community through blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, mailing lists, virtual communities and other internet resources. I’m extremely honoured to be the recipient of this award. It means so much to me to have the work I’ve been doing to share my learning with others recognised. I do try very hard to support educators and to be encouraging of people who are new to technology and what it has to offer us as classroom practitioners. My thanks go to the Australian Council for Computers in Education for acknowledging the work of educators who share what they do for the love of it, and the desire to see teaching and learning practices reflect the world we are living in.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “ACEC 2010 reflection

  1. Jenny, no wonder it took you so long to write this post – it’s a thesis. Thankyou for taking the time to synthesize your thoughts and provide us with your honest opinions. Thanks, too, for the links to videos and resources. I also cannot believe that presenters had to pay for everything; great incentive, huh? And congratulations again on winning the award which acknowledges what everyone knows about you – that you are consistently supportive of the online education community. Be careful not to bite into that Apple ;)

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for the discussion.

    Either I was inarticulate or you didn’t understand me correctly. I didn’t criticize Twitter, as if that mattered one bit anyway.

    During my keynote, I criticized the systematic lowering of expectations set for teachers made evident by the fact that Twitter PD is being provided and workshops on “how-to-use Twitter” are popping up on conference programs. This itself should cause alarm, especially to Twitter users such as yourself, unless of course you think that you were capable of learning to use Twitter in 19 seconds, but that your colleagues need a great deal more help. Who taught the millions of others to use the Twitter “walkie-talkee?”

    It’s ironic how people making Twitter presentations are so sensitive to the mere mention of the term. It would be unfair of me to reduce your professional practice to Twitter, just as it is for your review of my work to be based on an imagined slur against a piece of web software.

    Another thesis of my talk is that although new software tools might exist – Twitter for example – it is simply not true that “technology for learning purposes has come a long way in the last few years.” In fact, I was arguing that we expect and see a lot less substantive work and accompanying school reform now than we did 15-20 years ago.

    If you want to see some other ideas for using a computer for learning purposes, I recommend http://bit.ly/aAdrhB even if better recordings may exist. You might also enjoy this audio from a Webinar I did for Discovery a few months back – http://bit.ly/aNjBcE.

    All the best,

    Gary

    • jennylu

      Hi Gary,

      Actually, it took me a whole lot longer than 19 seconds to figure out how to use Twitter for learning purposes, and that is why I see no problem with offering a 60 minute session helping other teachers to make sense of what you can do with this tool. I don’t see it as a lowering of expectations, just a helping hand that may mean they struggle less with making full use of what you can do with lists, hashtags and search.
      As you have alluded to, the sum of my professional practice extends beyond Twitter. I have been an educator for 22 years and have worked in a 1:1 school for five years, but it is the ease of use of new tools that has enabled me to make much better use computers in the classrooms I operate in. I never learned code and would find it difficult to build a video program and maybe even a robotic ballerina, but I am certainly doing my level best to do all of the other things you mentioned in your ULearn presentation. I see more people willing to use computers as more than just word processors now; peers of mine are feeling more confident to leap in and explore the communicative, sharing environments to help their students build understanding.

      Thank you for replying,

      Jenny.

      • Incidentally, an important theme of all of my presentations last week was a tribute to the extraordinary work that once placed Australia at the forefront of edtech. Sadly, I don’t think anyone can make that claim today. In fact, the edtech no longer represents the leading voice in educational progress (another theme of my keynote).

        You rightly noted this by linking to my blog post about Steve Costa. I have tried FOR YEARS to have Steve recognized by the Aussie edtech community, but to no avail. That’s a lot more outrageous (IMHO) than me speaking at ACEC.

        • jennylu

          Who do you think is at the forefront of edtech Gary? Or should we just be talking about teaching and learning and leaving the ‘tech’ word out of it?

          • It would be nice to talk about learning, but computers hold enormous potential to amplify learning opportunities.

            There are a handful of people and schools (IMHO) doing great stuff with computers and kids, but not as many as there should be and not as many as there once were.

            Imagine if what kids did with computers in schools was truly good and was as complex as, say playing the cello.

            Be well,

            Gary

          • jennylu

            Really, we should be seeing schools doing interesting, complex work with students consistently, given the ubiquitous nature of computing in students’ lives today. I consider growing a community to support learning a complex process; it requires dedication and discussion building skills. Skills some of our students are not particularly good at.

            I didn’t see Sylvia’s keynote unfortunately. Commitments with my children prevented me from doing so.

            Thanks for the discussion Gary; it’s been interesting.

            Jenny.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful recap of the highlights of this conference.

    And congratulations on your award!

  4. Nice review Jenny,

    I agree with your some of your observations about Alan. He’s always done the “live search” and never used a slide deck or downloaded videos. I’ve always been wary of that approach for myself. His message hasn’t changed much over the years and while it’s an important one, it’s likely one that many now are advocating.

    I think I remember Dean Groom stating the need to use more local people. I’m glad Chris got a chance to keynote. I was able to keynote our provincial conference last year and if nothing else, demonstrated that there are lots of capable people in your own backyard.

    I have no problems with outsiders coming in but I get the sense that Australians, like Canadians, are a bit tired of American presenters dominating our conferences. I’m not blaming the presenters either, I’m saying that more conferences so acknowledge the work, efforts and ideas of local people. It’s a sad commentary on our own self image.

    • jennylu

      I agree Dean. Someone once said to me, ‘You can’t be an expert in your own backyard’! I suppose conference organisers have to ensure they get the attendance they need, and sometimes that means looking beyond local expertise. Maybe we’ll see a day when a major conference runs with all home grown presenters – we’ll wait and see.

  5. Mira Danon Baird

    Hi Jenny and thanks for this great post.

    I think you hit the nail on the head as far as my own observations of the conference go. While overseas presenters can be refreshing, I do think that any local audience is likely to be riled when met with apparent criticisms of matters relating to our own context. (‘How did you let a National Curriculum happen in this country?’ for example.)

    I am admittedly also a little weary of non-local keynote presenters, and as you have pointed out Chris did a great job on the final day of the conference to bring the home team across the line. I agree with Dean Groom who pointed out that conference organisers need to start advocating for and showing some faith in our own home-grown talent.

    Similarly with Alan November who certainly has a lot to offer, but I also felt what I saw as under-preparedness (and yes, maybe he does present in this way most of the time, but I expect something slick from an expensive keynote) did not reflect well particularly since we are all aware of the costs of securing overseas presenters. Again, as Dean Groom has said in his post, organisers could easily use the money they save on expensive flights etc and re-invest this in appropriate reimbursement (even if in-kind) for local presenters rather than relying on our own delegates to present for free. Again, for a high profile AU conference of this nature, I wasn’t expecting a colleague and fellow delegate to take responsibility for live-streaming part of the event (for free) although thankfully he did.

    Having said this, there was so much in the way of relevance and learning to be had. Adrian Bruce, Roger Prior, Greg Gebhart, Steve Collis all presented fabulous sessions as I am sure did others.

    As one of the organising committee of our AIS NSW ICT conference last September and again for this year, I humbly take my hat off to the many people who gave up their time to arrange this conference while probably juggling full-time roles elsewhere. It’s a thankless task and one which never quite meets the needs of all delegates, however the opportunity for discourse is valuable no matter the few shortcomings.

    Mira Danon-Baird
    @mdanonbaird

    • jennylu

      Mira, like you, I don’t want to take away from the enormous effort that is required to put together a conference of these dimensions. Conference organisers do work tirelessly for little to no financial reimbursement. I take my hat off to them.

  6. Jenny,
    At ACEC I was standing with the conference organizers listening to people come up and tell them all sorts of conflicting things about the keynotes and presentations (too many, not enough, too academic, not academic enough, etc.), plus the comment about too many from the USA and the lack of gender balance.

    At that point I had a conversation with several people standing there about how to “grow” keynotes and speakers who represent a deeper and more diverse cross section of the community. Could there be “boot camps”, ways to groom people with potential, things like that? Could there be acknowledgement of the fact that women and minorities are less likely to become speakers and leaders – and then tackle some of those issues? Perhaps by working on this, we can go from just talking about how wrong it is to changing it with positive action.

    • jennylu

      Great ideas Sylvia. You’re right of course. We need to be proactive in finding solutions rather than just complaining. I do think there is nothing wrong with healthy discourse, as has been happening here in this comment thread. Please don’t think I totally disregarded your keynote; I wasn’t presenting until late in the afternoon and had some things I needed to do with my children in the morning. A shame, as I felt the need to support you – you were doing your bit for the female gender!

  7. PS: I sure hope you caught Sylvia Martinez’ ACEC keynote.

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