Planes, Trains and Conferences – Part 1: ISTE 2012

(Sorry, late getting to some reflective posts about recent conferences. I’m holidaying with the family, and have decided that they deserve more of my focus than this space. A good call, in my opinion!)

Planes:  Did you know it’s illegal for groups of 3 or more to congregate in the aisles of planes flying over American air space? I didn’t, but was enlightened when this was announced on my flight to Los Angeles en route to the ISTE 2012 conference. I have to admit to entertaining the idea of amassing a crowd just to see what would happen. Would some air space tracking system notify authorities? Would an air marshall make him or herself known and disperse the offending party? Sensibly, I pushed the radical thought to the back recesses of my mind and settled down to view a film called 50/50. I was a sobbing wreck by the end of that one, and drew enough attention to myself that way, nullifying any need to create a scene by congregating with others in the aisles!

Trains: Well, it sounded like a good title for a post, but a trolley car in San Diego doesn’t quite qualify for a train. I caught one of those with Ashleigh, a teacher from Sydney who accompanied me to the mecca that is Seaworld. See my previous post for a review of that experience.

Conferences: Aahhh. The true intention of this post. ISTE 2012. My first ISTE Conference was Denver, 2010, so I had an idea of what to expect. A massive convention centre with thousands of educators congregating and an almost indecipherable conference program to make sense of. After re-reading my 2010 ISTE reflection, I note that I’d identified the need to scrutinise the conference program carefully and select sessions early. #FAIL on my behalf. Once again, I was rushed off my feet getting my ISTE conference presentation prepared as well as correction and end of term report writing before boarding the plane. But, I did make a better go of getting to more sessions this time around. Last time, I found myself locked out of sessions I’d wanted to attend. This time, I got to sessions earlier and had booked some when registering for the conference. That doesn’t always mean you’ve made the right selection though. It’s kind of frustrating watching the twitter stream and being envious of the folks who are tweeting from a session you didn’t even know was on offer. I suppose that’s the issue with a conference of these dimensions. There are often 30 or so sessions running concurrently, and you can’t be in more than one place at a time!

Why I was there

Well, my real purpose for attending was to present about the work we have been doing at Toorak College to scale change beyond the classrooms of the few to the classrooms of many, and hence ensure all of our students are exposed to a skill set that prepares them for life in a knowledge economy. Here’s the premise I was working toward:

At Toorak College (Victoria, Australia) our Library Media Specialists have introduced an Information Fluency initiative to help both our teaching staff and students garner skills in keeping with the digital age we live in. We have introduced the TPACK model and the SAMR model to our teaching staff, and are working on re-envisioning curriculum with these models in mind. We have used the ISTE Students NETS curriculum planning tool to help us create Information Fluency Certificates at Yrs 7, 8 and 9 that embody a skill set we desire our students to acquire. Our Library Media specialists are working in a co-teaching capacity in classrooms to assist our teachers to help our students acquire these skills. We have introduced an edublogs platform and every student from Yrs 7 -10 has a blog they are using as their ePortfolio. It is our aim to have our students demonstrate their acquisition of skills, develop their own digital literacy understandings through use of a public web platform, and develop a positive digital footprint for themselves that they can share with their families, potential employers and University admissions officers. We are looking for whole school systemic adoption of a much needed skill set for the world our students are living in and the world they will find themselves working in.

You can find the presentation on my wikispaces site. (Once again, I’m frustrated that my Sliderocket presentation won’t embed here). My Principal, Mrs. Helen Carmody, agreed that, as educators, in the spirit of sharing, we should publish the Information Fluency Scope and Sequence document under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike  license. We’re not suggesting it’s perfect, but it may help other educators get a start on scaling change beyond teachers’ individual classrooms. It’s also embedded on the wikispaces page. I encourage you to visit and take a look. It would be great to get some feedback on it too. Leave a comment if you feel so inclined.

Some highlights

Yong Zhao’s keynote was fantastic. The guy just makes sense. Don’t take my word for it. Watch it yourself.

The keynote on the final day was also worth attending. So many attendees leave the conference early, and it’s a shame they missed this. Dr. Willie Smits discussed the collaborative work being done with educators to combat the decimation of the rainforest in Borneo and the resultant threats to the Orangutan population. Brisbane teacher Christopher Gauthier joined him later in the presentation to explain how his students had become ‘Earthwatchers‘ as part of the DeforestAction campaign. His passion for his work was palpable; this was exactly the kind of keynote that should have opened the conference, when attendance was at a premium. Take a look, it’s worth it – you’ll have to fast forward to get to the start of Willie Smits’ presentation so let things load and fast track through.

Doug Johnson, a Teacher-Librarian from Minnesota, never disappoints. He writes The Blue Skunk Blog, and he is an excellent presenter. He infuses humour and practical advice into his sessions. This session was about Bricks and mortar libraries, and what is necessary to ensure school libraries remain relevant in schools today. His wiki page supporting this session with links to posts he has written is accessible here. If you’re not already reading Doug’s blog, then you should be.

Ewan McIntosh delivered a presentation about Data Visualisation. This is a topic I’m very much interested in. I think teaching students how to work with data and present their findings in interesting, accessible ways is something we need to be exploring in schools today. Ewan introduced me to the work of David McCandless. I’ve since discovered the TED talk he delivered that encapsulates many of his visualisations and what they tell us. Again, best you take a look yourself.

The real highlight

Honestly, the real highlight of any conference like this is connecting with new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Getting to see Lisa Parisi and Diana Laufenberg again was just great. Lisa made a special effort to meet me in New York on a previous visit (Forever grateful for that Lisa) and I met Diana at Educon a couple of years ago. We’ve since met up in Melbourne and shared a night out together when she was presenting here. Seeing Sheryl Nussbaum Beach again was another highlight- a very good friend now thanks to our PLP time together. Getting to meet Ann Michaelson from Norway was fabulous- we both write for the PLP Voices blog and have now organised to connect our classrooms together in September. I was more than thrilled to get the opportunity to finally meet Carolyn Foote, a Teacher-Librarian from Texas. Carolyn and I have been twitter friends for a long time now, going back to 2008, so it was wonderful to finally meet face to face. There were many more catch ups with educators from all over, but I’d be writing for the next three hours if I tried to mention them all.

What was really wonderful about this conference, and what made it a special experience for me, was catching up with some Australian educators, and meeting some for the first time. Weird really, that you have to travel so far to meet people who live in the State next door (New South Welshman!). Cameron Paterson, Stacey Taylor, Maurice Cummins, Leanne Windsor, Tom Lee, Mike Wheadon, Angela Thomas – thanks for sharing some really fun times, and for being such a supportive Aussie contingent at my presentation. I hope we get to meet up together again sometime and share a meal together – you made my time in San Diego one full of friendship and laughter. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, but I found myself gravitating to Australians at both Denver and San Diego ISTE conferences. Maybe there’s comfort in sharing common ground, or maybe it’s just that the people I’ve hung out with are just great people. I’d like to think the latter. 🙂

Takeaway

It still perplexes me how much time is spent discussing hardware at conferences like this.  A number of sessions focused on the idea of Bring your own technology and iPad rollouts. To my way of thinking, the discussion needs to centre around why you’d want to roll out the hardware – what is it our kids need to be doing with it to make the learning better? The other thing that struck me was how the tools based sessions had educators spilling out the doors. It seems like we haven’t gotten past people needing to be taught how to use a tool. Hand holding still seems necessary rather than people taking it on board to self direct their own learning. Heads up people – YouTube is full of screencasts explaining pretty much most things these days – take a visit, you might like what you see.

Like last time, I’ve come away from ISTE feeling like Australia is in pretty good shape. Even Alan November was telling participants in his session that they’d be at an advantage if they were sitting next to an Australian. We might bemoan our systems at times, but at least we’ve seen our Government recognise the need to build capacity within our population to meet the needs of a global economy head on. Perhaps it is still our tyranny of distance that makes us look outwards and try to find ways to link ourselves to the rest of the world. Maybe ISTE should be looking to us for guidance? They are running a study tour visiting our shores later this year. It would be interesting to hear from participants on that to see their impressions of our education system here.

San Diego- thanks for putting on a great show. Those clear blue skies in the middle of a freezing cold Melbourne winter really helped quell the seasonal affective disorder!

Moving to a Networked School Community using ISTE Standards, Australian Curriculum and an Edublogs platform.

It’s been a busy year. Really busy. Not only have we opened a new library, and dealt with moving and fitting out new learning spaces, but we have been leading change in our school around information fluency understandings and enabling our students’ growth as digital citizens.

What’s become apparent to my staff and I, is the pressing need for our students to become information fluent for the age they are living in. This means addressing all of the traditional information literacy understandings we have always concentrated on, but also helping our students have an understanding of new technologies and how to use them effectively, understanding the ethical use of digital resources, and knowledge of the importance of creating and maintaining a positive digital footprint. It’s not only the students who need this knowledge base; our teachers need to be well versed too.

So, what are we doing about this?

At the end of last year, with the support of our Head of Learning, we presented what we called an Information Fluency Initiative to our Heads of Faculties and proposed we begin the introduction of this for 2011. First up, we introduced to staff the idea of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge – the TPACK model, developed by Koehler & Mishra.

Source: http://tpack.org/

When using this with staff, I see a lot of nodding heads. They understand the need to integrate technology to support their content knowledge and pedagogical practice. They don’t always know how to do this using new technology tools that support meaningful learning, and aren’t just gimmicky add-ons. As Teacher-Librarians, we work hard at staying on top of new ideas in this arena. We have committed to work closely with our staff, both in the library and in classrooms, to help staff and students come to grips with new ideas using technology to support their learning.

When looking at existing and new ideas for curriculum offerings, we are encouraging our staff to use the SAMR model to inform their planning. I first saw this last year at the AIS Conference, where Martin Levins was leading a sandpit group talking about how to use it to modify learning tasks.

Again, when explaining this model, I see heads nodding in agreement.  Teachers ‘get it’ when you use models like this, and they pay attention to models that have a research base. SAMR was developed by Ruben Puentedura, and from my perspective, it, along with TPACK, should be the basis of any discussion in schools about the use of technology in the development of learning tasks.

The next layer of our Information Fluency initiative was the development of Information Fluency certificates for Year 7, 8 and 9. These have been created using the ISTE NETS for Students as the basis. Key understandings and skills they introduce as critical for today’s students are the following:

  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Conduct research and use information
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productively

We have used ISTE’s NETS.S curriculum planning tool to help us identify skills we think students should have acquired by the end of  each year.  We were looking to develop an identifiable skill set that we could measure in terms of acquisition. I’m not a strict proponent of a ‘tick the box’ measuring scale by any stretch of the imagination, but I did want something concrete that we could use with our students and staff.  We recognise the need to address the upcoming Australian Curriculum and looked to ACARA to see what was being developed there. What is contained within the General Capabilities underpins meaningful teaching and learning, and is really quite closely aligned with the ISTE NETS for Students. What we have done is to tag each skill within our Information Fluency Certificates with the appropriate General Capability it addresses.  As our staff plan curriculum, we feel these certificates will help them to identify how they can embed new technologies and practice into their delivery of curriculum, knowing that they are addressing aspects of the General Capabilities that ACARA have identified as necessary.

What has taken up considerable time this year, has been the introduction of an Edublogs platform to enable all students from Years 7 – 10 to have an ePortfolio as a means of documenting and demonstrating their learning. In the early stages of planning this Information Fluency initiative, I could see we were going to need some means of sharing the learning that was happening in classrooms. We investigated a WordPress Multi user setup, but felt that the management of this would fall on individuals already tied up with full loads, and our under the pump IT team who already work tirelessly to maintain a robust network. An Edublogs platform that costs, but allows for blogs to be set up with our school’s domain name and comes with support, was decided to be a more workable option. The initial creation and linking of blogs to home page class blogs took some time at the start of the year, as did the work that took place in classrooms teaching students how they managed their blogs/ePortfolios. We have allowed students to select their own themes and customise sidebars with widgets. One of the critical elements of the set up was having students create categories within their blogs/ePortfolios. We recommended they set up a category for every subject they were studying, and other categories that reflected key school directions and co-curricular involvement. Students were taught how to write their posts and add a category or multiple categories to each post. This has made it easy for subject teachers to check into student blogs and click on their subject category, seeing all of the posts written by that student for their subject area.

We have encouraged our teachers to use these these blogs/eportfolios for formative assessment, and students have been encouraged to use them on their own initiative to write about what they have been doing in their classrooms and in co-curricular activities. Over the course of the year we have seen some wonderful ePortfolios created, supported by teachers who can see the positive benefits for our students as they create their own digital footprint. When you see a student’s blog as Google’s top result for a search for Yr 7 Unit of Inquiry, it’s pretty impressive. (One of our staff members was conducting just such a search, and sent me an email excitedly relaying what she’d found!) Students have embedded Clustrmaps in their sidebars, and have seen the reach they have by writing in public spaces. We’ve even recently had the author Susanne Gervay leave a comment on a student’s post that was discussing her novel, ‘Butterflies’. Not every student ePortfolio is brilliant, and some year levels are working much better than others, but we are in our infancy still. It’s accepted that this is part and parcel of the pedagogy now, and we will continue to develop the platform in 2012 and onwards. What these blogs do is provide terrific feedback for students, something that has been a key focus area for our staff as we explore elements of John Hattie’s research. It’s also really encouraging to see students providing feedback to one another  – they are remarkably supportive of one another. We’ve also seen parents and grandparents leave comments. It’s this critical school/home nexus that is seeing our school move closer to a Networked School Community, the type proposed by Associate Professor Glenn Finger and Mal Lee.

Our Edublogs platform has seen many of our students develop skills identified on the Information Fluency Certificates we created. We do recognise the need for the certificates to be fluid documents responding to new technologies as they arise and present our students with new opportunities and challenges. 2011 has been a year of development, and 2012 will be a year of  implementation. We need to map our curriculum to ensure all faculty areas take on board the skill set and understandings we have identified as being critical for the development of effective citizens in our world today. This is not easy work, particularly as it often means teachers need to accept the idea of working in a co-teaching capacity when they themselves don’t have the necessary skill set.

Something I would like to look closely at next year is the AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) National Professional Standards for Teachers and see how the work we are doing aligns with these standards. Helping teachers see the connectedness between school initiatives and their professional development is an important part of this process.

As a Teacher-Librarian, this is critical work. We are working as change agents in our school, and in the process, doing the best kind of advocacy we can for our profession. This is the work of a Teacher-Librarian today, if you are prepared to stay abreast of change and develop the skill set that can move your school and student population where they need to be.