Going to a technology conference in Lorne (ELH -Expanding Learning Horizons) is always a nice experience, even if the weather isn’t being as kind as it could be. Lorne is restful, a beautiful seaside town that harks back to another era in some ways. The last time I was there was two years ago, and my experience then was transformative. I went to a five hour session with a guy called Will Richardson who I’d never heard of. He was explaining Web 2.0 tools and I figured I needed to know about them a little more. I’d been doing some work with them, but the penny hadn’t dropped. Five hours with Will changed everything.
That session opened my eyes to possibilities. Within a few months the possibilities had become reality and I started writing this blog. Yesterday, I was a presenter at the conference where I’d been the newcomer to technology only two years before. Remarkable really. In the last year I’ve worked with Will Richardson in our PLP cohort and he’s sat in my kitchen drinking coffee. Even more remarkable!!
Four other teachers and our Network Administrator attended also. All four teachers came out of the conference feeling empowered to use new ideas from the sessions they attended. One of them was putting her new found knowledge into practice yesterday and was teaching others things she had learned. It was wonderful to see her enthusiastically embrace Wordle and Animoto and find ways to make them meaningful for the curriculum.
For me the conference was different this time. I didn’t attend what they call Discovery sessions, I opted instead for the Critical Conversation sessions, opportunities to discuss issues surrounding technology and its impact on learning in our schools today. These sessions extended my thinking; they were artfully managed by Bruce Dixon and he managed to draw out from participants discussion to get us all thinking. Karen Li, Global Education Program Manager from Intel, was interested in finding out what we as educators needed to move us forward. Professional Development for teachers to facilitate meaningful use of technology to support curriculum was a common theme in this discussion. I was taken by an idea Bruce raised; bringing together teachers who are exemplifying good practice and getting them to record three minute videos outlining their experiences. An educational TED conference idea. The videos could be uploaded to a dedicated site (perhaps its own YouTube channel) and could be a Professioanl Development tool for teachers. It’s an idea with merit.
Andrew Douch delivered an excellent opening keynote and extended the conversation in a session exploring appropriate social boundaries. Andrew engages with his students using a variety of means including MSN. He keeps a log of these conversations; a smart idea. His parent body are comfortable with Andrew’s use of this medium and it probably helps that he has established a high profile as an educator exploring social media as a learning tool.
What struck me at this conference was how few participants were using social media for their own professional development and for student learning. An oversight was not having enough sessions exploring how you go about doing this. I honestly think there is merit in holding sessions exploring how something like Twitter can be used for professional learning. I offered to run an unconference type session, but I only had two takers. I really don’t think people understood what these kind of sessions were about.
A Ning had been set up to support the conference but got very little use. Why? Because the program had been printed out and provided to conference participants. There are a number of lessons conference organisers need to learn about running a paperless conference. We all had laptops and free wireless. There really was no reason why the Ning couldn’t have been set up weeks in advance and presenters could have been adding content from an early stage. It would have been a great learning experience for attendees; they would have been forced to use social media if they wanted to find their way to sessions and a community for participants could have been created. It worked that way at Learning 2.008 in Shanghai last year. There were times when bandwith made access a little difficult, but it certainly was used. That Ning is an excellent repository of information about sessions that took place in Shanghai and can still be accessed today. Note to conference organisers; check it out and do it that way in 2010.
I posted my session’s slides yesterday. You can find them here and on my wiki. Steve Collis recorded the session on Ustream so you can watch it if you like. I’ve yet to see it all the way through. I must try and find the time! Funny how you get back to the reality of school and everything seems to swamp you. When I resurface I’ll get to it. I really did enjoy my time at ELH. I got to meet members of my PLN including Adrian Bruce, Julie Squires, Andrew Jeppeson, Steve Collis, Warrick Wynne and Mark Liddell. My thinking was challenged and I was able to convey my thoughts about learning communities and the merit of participatory learning.