School today VS Pew Internet advice

Sometimes I feel disconnected from other teachers. I think this happens when you envision a different future, away from pen and paper teaching and exams.

A recent conversation brought this home to me. I was advocating for an eportfolio contributed to by the students themselves, and the argument against me was for paper copies evidencing student achievement. The point being made was that the final exams students will face are pen and paper driven, so these were the examples teachers wanted to use for reference purposes. A comment was made to the effect of, “You come from a different world Jenny”.

Maybe I do. Maybe what I advocate is off the mark. It’s just that I don’t think that it is. I think I’m forward thinking and I think I’m advocating for the kind of world and workforce our graduating students will encounter. Regardless of whether or not they complete a pen and paper end of year exam.

I came across slides from Lee Rainie today, who was supposed to keynote at the VALA conference here in Melbourne, but was detained by inclement weather conditions in the United States. Lee is Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and his presentation was for a public library audience. There is much in the presentation that can be applied to school libraries; it goes someway to addressing the skills we need to be imparting to our students. Lee’s slides and accompanying speech (linked to in this post) discussed the democratization of media and the rise of user-generated content. Take a look at the slides and see if you make the connection.

The Philadelphia experiment – Educon 2.2

Educon 2.2. I’d flown halfway around the world to attend this conference. The merging of minds from across the United States. The conference to go to according to all in the edublogosphere. Now, how do you analyse the experience?

If my intention was to go there to meet the people I network with, then my experience was above my expections. I met wonderful people; the people who share knowledge with me, support me and my thinking, read my ponderings and co-exist in online spaces. People like Susan Carter Morgan, Carey Pohanka, Debra Garcia, Melanie Hutchinson, Silvia Tolisano, Lisa Parisi, Dianne Cordell, Beth Still, Nancy Caramanico, Mark Carls, Paul Wood, Paula White, Ben Hazzard, Rodd Lucier, Michael Wacker, the list goes on and on. From that perspective, the experience was wonderful. It does make a difference when you meet people face to face. Sometimes it’s awkward, but this experience for me was pretty positive. Friendly, interested, involved and caring teachers who are obviously all doing their level best to effect change in their learning environments and beyond.

I attended some interesting sessions where we created content and discussed how we teach and what we can do to make it more interesting for our students and maybe for us too. Ben Hazzard and Rodd Lucier led a session where we created an ebook called ‘Field Guide for Change Agents‘. A lot of fun and a good way to push people into using some tools they may not have been familiar with.

Michael Wacker led an interesting discussion about the place for direct instruction supported by screencasts, podcasts, web conferencing etc in our classrooms. Direct instruction gets a bad rap at times, but I think some educators are kidding themselves if they think there is no place for it in classrooms. Michael created a really useful Google site supporting the session that you should visit.

Sharon Peters and Cheri Toledo led a session about the potential uses of backchannel discussions in classrooms. The backchannel was working hard throughout the session and it was great interacting with people participating in the conference from outside locations.

My intention when signing up for  Educon was to be challenged intellectually; to be exposed to new thinking or ways of looking at things so that I would come back with more to share. The talk surrounding Educon is that it’s all about the conversations. I enjoyed the conversations I participated in, but I did  feel that there was room for some deeper analysis.  I really feel there’s a need to reference relevant research that’s taking place, to have discussions about how we go about systemic change, not just change in our individual classrooms or schools. I felt the the world view was lacking.  Yes, it’s an American conference , but these challenges are being faced in all corners of the world and maybe the solution lies in banding our resources together. After all, that’s what this technology is about; the ability to connect us as one. That is exactly what is happening at the research end of the spectrum. Grassroots educators need to be getting involved in those discussions. Maybe I just wasn’t talking to the right people or sitting in the right sessions. Conversations that took place at ELH here in Lorne were posed as critical conversations and really cut to the chase of how education might respond to a connected world. I felt more of this would have been worth exploring at Educon considering the quality educators a conference like this attracts.

The experience has confirmed what I was already thinking. What is happening in Australia is good. Really good. Our Government and education system is recognizing the need for action and is implementing change from the top down. Sure, we may criticize some of the methods, but at least it’s happening. We have some pretty sharp minds in our sphere who are thinking outside the box and pushing the edges. I’m so pleased to be part of a Reference Group informing ACER, because I think that’s what this push needs; the validation from a legitimate research base that education needs to look at new ways of integrating the connective tools that pervade our lives into the education of our children, enabling them to know how to use these tools to their advantage and how to do it safely and ethically. We need to look outwards, but much of what is happening internally in this country is forward thinking.

Science Leadership Academy, SLA, is a good school. Is it an outstanding school? I’d have to spend quality time in classrooms to work that out. It had the feel of schools I’ve been in where you know there’s a healthy mutual respect between staff and students. There’s common purpose and a feeling of connectedness in their school community. You can tell that from your interactions with their student population; the sheer fact that the conference was supported at a logistical level all weekend by students and parents is testament to that. Obviously leadership plays a large part in that and Chris Lehmann deserves recognition for all he is doing to bring that community together.

One of the great things about Educon 2.2 was that it was supported by Elluminate (with the help of Steve Hargadon) and all of the sessions were recorded and archived in the site. One of the realities of attending any conference is that you can’t be everywhere; invariably, you miss some of the good stuff. I’d encourage you to visit the site and look to some of the archives to see what was happening.

I’m glad I decided to attend Educon 2.2. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet members of my online network and gain some perspective of the US education system. I’m worried that a National Curriculum and the MySchool site are going to push us here in Australia into the testing regimen that pervades the public system in the US. That would be a huge mistake. The flexibility we have to develop curriculum is the thing we have, and need to hold onto, that will aid our students to become the creative individuals we need in our world.

School’s out Friday

Yes, it’s late. Why?

Because I’ve travelled thousands of miles in the last few days. Over 30 hours in transit on three planes takes it out of you really. I thought I was doing pretty well until yesterday afternoon when I was replenishing the family’s pantry at a local supermarket. I was overcome by this feeling of intense malaise. Jetlag, hence the video above. I stumbled through the afternoon but by 5.30pm I had to admit defeat and head to bed for what I thought would be an hour or two. Fifteen hours later I woke up, hence this late posting!

I’m still in the throes of getting a post together about my experiences at Educon 2.2. I put a post together pretty quickly afterwards, but thought it needed a bit more considered reflection. I’ll get something up over this weekend for those of you interested in my time spent in Philadelphia.

Hope your weekend treats you well. I’m thinking more sleep is the order of the day for me!