Shortly after writing about how useful Twitter has been in expanding my PLN, it threw me another marvellous feast: the 2010 Reform Symposium, an entirely online and entirely free conference held almost non-stop from July 30th to August 1st. Like many of the education community out there, I was extremely impressed by the whole event from the organisation to the presentations themselves to the fact that I could participate in it all from the comfort of my own home. In last night’s excellent closing keynote, Steve Anderson urged us all to talk, tweet, tell our colleagues and blog about what we had taken away from the event so, now that I have interrupted the holidays of my fellow teachers with emails and links to numerous presentations, here’s my post!
The need for change
A recurring message in the presentations I was able to join was that things need to change. Teacher attitudes, individual school and local authority policies and parental awareness of the role technology can play in education today must all be addressed. Mike Hogan’s talk covering the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant divide (to be viewable here from the archives) stressed the fact that the environment kids grow up in today is completely different to that of previous generations. At a younger and younger age, kids are exposed to all sorts of exciting and innovative technologies (like my 4 year-old son and his Wii!) which inevitably changes the way the think and connect. And yet, as was mentioned in a lot of the sessions I attended, classrooms are still trapped in the past with straight rows of desks, whiteboards and teacher at the front. This all needs to change to engage today’s learners in education, critical thinking and digital citizenship.
Ways of addressing the needs of digital natives and the concerns of non-natives were discussed and I wonder if the answer may lie in the technology itself. Taking the Wii as an example again, what has impressed me about it is not so much the way my little boy has mastered the controls but the fact that his tech-shy grandparents, who struggle to even send email or log in to Skype, were able to pick up and play after just some basic instructions. Things like the iPhone, iPad, Flip cameras etc are so easy and to use, they almost feel natural. I believe this will help debunk some of the lingering myths that specialist knowledge is needed to get the most out of electronic devices.
Selecting the right resources for the right reasons
But of course, technological devices, software and web apps themselves do not bring about change. The way they are introduced and the reason they are introduced must serve a purpose and this was the topic of another excellent talk by Mary Beth Hertz (already archived and available from here). This struck a chord with me as I have encountered many teachers who expect educational technology resources to do the lesson for them. In my school, I have given in-house seminars and workshops on effective use of PowerPoint and Movie Maker (we only have one computer with a projector per class) but the attendees always expect a ‘how-to’ instructional session plus some sample materials they can use directly in class whereas I try to get the point across that you have to consider what you are using the tools for and why. The video clip shown of two kids really getting into an audio recording and engaging the story they were reading was a gem and I’ll have to make sure I have my little video cam handy in class for similar episodes in my own classes in the future – showing people what you mean is always more effective than telling them!
Alexandra Francisco also touched upon similar point in her session (here) as she approached available tech tools by asking ‘What’s in it for my students?’ (a much better question than the one I’m used to hearing from teachers - ‘What’s in it for me?’). As Alex, like me, works in an EFL context, the tools she showed and the reasons she gave for using them were very useful and thought-provoking. I also liked the fact that she gave us six resources to look at rather than the usual one championed by the speaker or the impossible to follow long list given at other conferences I’ve attended. I shall certainly be making use of Domo Animate and Live Typing with my students next year!
Another presentation I had the pleasure to watch was given by Dorie Glynn concerning using Twitter in elementary classrooms (link to come here). It was good to hear about a working example of how Twitter can enable classrooms from around the world to connect and exchange information and knowledge. Such ‘social networking’ sites are locked at present in my school but showing examples such as these ones will hopefully help in persuading the powers that be that they have educational value if used in the right way.
All in all, an enlightening and engaging weekend. My favourite thing about the entire event is that it is not over yet! As all sessions were archived, I still have the chance to catch the ones I missed! (Available from the links on the Meet The Presenters page of the website). I shall now spend the weeks before we reconvene for Semester 1 prep readying my arguments for a more open and forward-looking approach to integrating technology into my school. I believe that practical examples of the work that has been done and can be done with the right resources chosen for the right reasons will help us achieve the necessary changes.
Oh, and my favourite quote from the event (courtesy of Alex’s presentation): “The future of teaching is learning” I couldn’t agree more!