Leading and learning from the edge – VITTA conference 2011

Another conference, another blog post. This time it’s the VITTA conference with 2 days of ICT bliss at Caulfield Racecourse.

Managing in a constantly changing world – Roger Larson
The keynote by Roger Larson (Senior Vice President, Strategy and Market development, Pearson Platforms) was actually interesting and not the blatant pushing of product that I was expecting. It resonated as a lot of the points he was making are ones I’m grappling with as part of my PhD literature review – the nature of education, the fact we haven’t moved on much in the last century of schooling and the role ICT can play in personalising and evolving what it means to be a learner (or a teacher, for that matter).

Roger referred to some of the work being done in different places on 21st Century skills including those of the Partnership for 21st century skills, The New Learning Institute and Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century skills. In probably my favourite point of the session, he noted the power of technology – it can provide higher quality and personalised learning for all, if used effectively. He then gave an example of schools in London who were now connected to a Managed Learning Environment, bringing together a number of services, learning tools and resources and providing an array of options for learning.

The next part of the keynote was a promising but, as it turned out, over ambitious attempt at using technology to bring together legendary ICT thinkers from around the planet. Yong Zhao and Stephen Heppell were to be hooked up with questions fed to them from participants via the twitter feed however the technology was not up to the task on this occasion. The brief insights we managed to get from Zhao were definitely worth the wait and it would have been a great session had the technology worked.

Copyright in the digital world – Sylvie Saab

Sylvie Saab of the National Copyright Unit ran a very informative session on copyright as it applies to schools – not an easy or straightforward topic to deliver but she achieved a level of clarity that was refreshing. Copyright is definitely an area that many teachers shy away from due to its complicated requirements. However it is both a topic important for us to consider and vital to pass on an awareness of it to our students.

The most important resource is the Smartcopying website with a plethora of information about how the regulations apply to different types of media. There’s not much more I can say on the topic other than to urge you to take a look and be informed – ignorance is no excuse!

Are we there yet? – Lynn Davie & Christian Enkelmann

Another thought provoking session showcasing some of the work that schools are doing around the state to use technology to enhance student learning and provide a range of options for students and teachers. The work of Ringwood North Primary School in using technology to help students connect and contribute to their community and Silverton Primary School integrating technology across their school were both great examples.

The presentation finished with a list of challenges to using technology which would have actually made a good starting point for a ‘think tank’ type segment (had time allowed!). Challenges such as defining what we mean by digital literacy, balancing the need for a standard operating environment with room for individual school innovation and how curriculum and assessment fits in with opportunities for innovation all added extra ‘food for thought’ and are deserving of a discussion in their own right. Save that one for another day!

Education first: Using technology to accelerate learning – Nathan Bailey

This keynote stressed the overriding theme of not just the conference but of any time when ‘technology’ and ‘education’ are used in the same sentence – pedagogy first. Nathan spoke of the changing nature of society from a factory model back to a ‘global village’ and how this is being explored through social classrooms at Monash University. He presented interesting research including a great finding that students prefer lecture style presentations when delivered with PowerPoint, despite further findings that these were actually less effective in terms of student learning! Nathan noted that content was ‘no longer king’ and that community had usurped it’s place and that, if teachers were still focused on content, they needed to prepare to compete with the internet….and lose.

Multimedia making learning real – Lois Smethurst

My final session was a hands on exploration, ably guided by Lois Smethurst of Berwick Lodge Primary. An inspiring session full of practical ideas and different ways to use a range of tools – voki, voicethread, blabberize and tux paint to name a few. They’re all tools that I’ve come across before but Lois gave lots of examples for their use that I just hadn’t thought of and I’m now eager to get back into the classroom to try them out. If you need some inspiration, check out her blog.

Sorry for the long post, particularly after such an absence. Obviously an inspiring day and I’m looking forward to seeing what Day 2 has to offer!

21st century learning

I was part of a staff meeting at my school this week on the topic of 21st century learning.  One of our leading teachers spoke to us about a PD she had attended which talked about the move from traditional learning to student centred learning.  We were given a handout highlighting the differences between the two states of learning although I see it as more of a continuum.  While few of us would consider our style of teaching to be firmly ‘traditional’, a number of constraints work against us to adopt a truly student-centred approach and thus we end up being somewhere in the middle.  The pressure for students to achieve high scores on NAPLAN weighs heavily on most classroom teachers’ minds and makes it difficult to allow the freedom needed to let students explore according to their own interests in diverse areas.  The large class sizes that most classrooms are subject to also make individualising learning challenging.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom.  While there certainly are obstacles to be overcome, we are not restricted to the ‘traditional learning’ end.  As part of this staff meeting, I also presented information recently gained from Release 2 Ultranet training.  Release 2 focuses on learning tasks and the ability for teachers to create tasks online for students to complete, then being able to comment on and assess them.  Parents can then access their student’s information to have a ‘real time’ reference as to how they are progressing.  Putting aside the multitude of technical glitches and a clunky interface (which is a blog post in itself!), this functionality can be used to provide more individualised learning.  Some teachers have already been doing this for years, using learning management software such as Moodle however the Ultranet makes it mainstream and will push all teachers towards this more student-centred approach.  Obviously technology does not change poor teaching by magic into great teaching but the tools are there and accessible to all – let’s hope teachers take advantage of them to deliver the type of learning our students need and deserve.

you’re not alone – fostering a pln

Becoming an ICT specialist has been an interesting and very fulfilling journey, although not without its own brand of frustrations.  Probably the biggest stumbling block I found when leaving my role as a classroom teacher and moving schools to take up this job was the isolation.  They’re definitely a friendly bunch at my new school and there is always someone around to direct my silly questions to but being the only ICT teacher can be a lonely business.  Luckily for me, a week before starting this job, I attended ACEC 2010 and took the first steps towards developing a PLN.

The idea of a Personal Learning Network isn’t new – networking and sharing ideas is something teachers have been doing forever.  However technology takes the concept a huge leap forward, reducing time and geographical constraints.  An example of this recently was my first steps onto the Ultranet.  This has certainly been an isolating topic at my school.  Classroom teachers, already weighed down with a long list of other priorities, don’t have time to play and discover the benefits of this new learning environment and, at the moment, just see it as one more thing on their long list of ‘things’.  Knowing it is up to me and the other lead users to sell the benefits isn’t easy as, to be honest, I wasn’t necessarily seeing the upside myself.  I forced myself to go on and play, in preparation for my Grade 5/6 students coming on board.  Enter the PLN.  I didn’t know how to do something and tweeted to this effect, receiving replies explaining exactly what to do from several people and links to different samples of Ultranet spaces to further inspire me.  All of a sudden, I’m not feeling so alone.  I might be the only ICT teacher at my school but I’m not the only on in the state, the country or the world and I really appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and make connections with others interested in similar topics to me.

So, thanks 🙂

digital citizenship – where to begin?

I’m feeling somewhat energised and inspired, having spent the day at a cybersafety PD run by ACMA. I walked into it thinking that I might pick up one or two new ideas but feeling like I already knew a lot about cybersafety and how to implement strategies.  While it certainly reinforced things I knew, it also opened my eyes to new resources and concepts, both to work on with students and with the school community as a whole.

In particular, I was impressed by the practical and not negative focus by the presenter.  Too many times we hear about the cybersafety message with the words ‘ban’, ‘block’ and ‘limit’ being frequently interspersed.  However that couldn’t have been further from today’s presentation.  The message was to be informed but also realistic.  Students are accessing this technology, whether we like (or approve of) it or not.  If we block it or choose not to discuss it at school, it doesn’t help or prepare them for use at home.  It’s very hard to show students how to get help if they receive unwanted attention on facebook when even teachers can’t access it at school.

There were numerous resources presented for all levels including a video – ‘Let’s fight it together‘ – aimed at Secondary students.  This is an intense and moving resource which left the room in silence at its conclusion.  It tells the poignant tale of a young boy who experiences bullying in all its forms, seeping into every corner of his life and leaving him feeling as if he has nowhere left to turn.  Equally impressive were some of the cybersafety resources created by students which can be found on YouTube – talking to our students in ‘kidspeak’ could be the most effective way to get through on such an important topic.

There was also a very valuable discussion on who should deliver cybersafety education – classroom teachers?  ICT specialists?  Young teachers who were born into a degree of the technology?  Or those who have begrudgingly adopted new technology but whose actions make it clear that they would rather live without it?  Perhaps the students themselves should be trained up to deliver it?

Lots of ideas. . . .but where to start?!

The Ultranet is coming

Yesterday I attended my first Ultranet training session and had a fabulous opportunity to ‘play’. I’m excited about the fact that all teachers, all schools and all students will be moved along the technology continuum.  Previously there has been a big gap between schools conducting innovative programs and those who lacked the skills/equipment/ambition to do so. There will still be gaps but the Ultranet will force many schools to incorporate technology and, hopefully, give them the resources to do it well. Obviously, like any new piece of technology, there are bits which I’m not so happy with but look forward to seeing how it will evolve.

feeling proud

Today I feel like I’m getting there.  While planning for my Grade 5/6 ICT class, I’ve recorded a screencast for them with the basics of how to use Freemind using jing and have uploaded the result to my webpage.  I’ve also finally recharged my pocket pc and put the documents on there that I keep carrying around paper copies of in an effort to get myself organised.

I’m feeling proud that I’m not just teaching it but trying to live it, play with it and learn it myself.  I’ve always considered myself tech-savvy-ish but haven’t necessarily felt competent to teach it with the flair that others seem to have but today, I think I’m getting there.  I’ve also been relistening to Chris Betcher podcasts which has inspired me (thanks Chris!) and have downloaded a range of tech podcasts to keep me inspired on my drive to work.

Let’s just hope this motivation continues.  I’m looking for the best ways to use my pocket pc this week.  Having spent the last few weeks taking paper anecdotal notes has left me with a pile of unreadable script which I’ll have trouble deciphering, let alone using to help me write reports and plan teaching so there has to be a better way.  And I think it’s important for the kids to see me playing with technology as it reinforces what I tell them all the time – I’m not the expert.  I might know a fair bit about computers and lots about teaching but the learning really comes down to what they choose to do with the experiences I construct.

another week down

I’ve set myself a reminder to blog weekly which might seem excessive but I know what I’m like.  If I leave it to blog until I have something useful to say, I’ll never do it!

Have just finished week 2 of my job as an ICT teacher and am loving the challenge although am really just settling into it.  Teaching Prep to Grade 6 gives you a chance to really see how children develop.  There appears to be an obvious leap between the Grade 1/2 students and those in 3/4.  Perhaps a leap of confidence rather than skill?  Watching the Preps is quite telling – they just aren’t explorers.  So much for ‘digital natives’.  I remember being put onto programs when I was younger and have a great time clicking on stuff, just to see what it would do.  So many of the students I encountered this week seemed reluctant to experiment – don’t know if it was fear of getting it wrong or resulting from being told off in the past for clicking things?!

Teaching such a wide cross section also requires you to be very flexible and able to switch focus quickly.  I’ve been using www.tagxedo.com with my Grade 5/6 students this week to create personal tag poems and have had Grade 3/4s browsing stories at www.britishcouncil.org/kids to get some ideas for creating their own digital stories next week.  Grade 1/2s have been using Publisher to create posters advertising our school for Education Week while Preps have been finding their way around keyboards and practicing logging in!  I’m aware that my current program isn’t exactly innovative but it’s going to take me a little while to get my head around where I want to take it.  It has certainly been a big leap from a generalist classroom teacher to an ICT specialist role and it will take me a little while to settle in.  But I’m still loving the challenge 🙂