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.