FutureSchools Expo – ClassTech conference review. Day One, Session One

I arrived at Australian Technology Park on the Wednesday morning, bright eyed and excited to get a taste of my first conference experience, the networking opportunities and the chance to hear some excellent speakers and, hopefully, learn a lot that I would be able to put into practice in the classroom.

The day began with a brief talk from Sue Waters, an editor and author on theedublogger.com who exhorted the ClassTech delegates to take the opportunity to interact and engage with the various speakers that day and the next and to make contact with them after the conference finished.

The first speaker was Richard Byrne, from Maine, USA, owner of Free Technology for Teachers, and as I was to find out, an invigorating speaker. The first point that I noted down, and that really stuck with me was the fact that we and our students will be Googled, and that we will be Googled for the rest of our lives. As educators, we hold a position within our various communities of respect and responsibility and it is therefore incumbent on us to remember that when we post to social media accounts, whether it be texts, images or videos, irrespective of whether it is a sharing of someone else’s content, or something that we are posting as ourselves, that it can and probably will be seen by someone within our educational community (parent, student, colleague). In this age of ‘Googleability’ our reputation is ever present on the internet, and easily besmirched by our own careless social media postings, especially given that kids will never know not being able to Google something, and that Facebook likes to hide away the privacy settings to make them somewhat difficult to get to.

Richard went on to talk about the challenges of teaching students who are always connected in the classroom and at home, but that it is so often the case that “two places in the world that cell phones aren’t allowed are schools and Al Qaeda caves.”  Richard indicated he felt the need to question the banning of cell phones in school, and related that he would rather they be leveraged as engagement devices. If students are engaged with conversations on their phones, why not leverage that engagement purposefully? It can lead to engagement of not only the student, but also the parent/s.

In the same vein, Richard spoke about how he felt that BYOD/1:1 programs and web-filtering were counter-intuitive, and that web-filters limited the content potentiality of the internet, as well as the dialogue that should be engaged with, around the themes of digital citizenship and internet responsibility. He pointed out something that I imagine every teacher is aware of, in that if students are not accessing it at school, through the school’s infrastructure, then they are probably accessing it at school through their own ever increasing and commonplace, access to 3G and 4G devices, or at home, or somewhere in between.

Moving along, there was as discussion about what are we, as educators, actually preparing our students for? Are we training students to do jobs that won’t exist in ten to fifteen years? Or are we teaching them to be flexible, to be able to evolve and to be ongoing and independent learners with the resilience and skills to retrain and move on as needed? Jobs that exist now, such as Web Content Manager, and Social Media Manager were not even ideas at the turn of the century, and yet, now, they are big money earners for those who are high on the ladder within that industry. Richard then flipped the thinking around and asked “What would Shakespeare or Twain have achieved if they had had access to the internet? What kind of website or blog would they have run?” which saw no small amount of laughter ring throughout the conference attendees. But it goes to show that, as Richard subsequently commented, that “the thinking economy is preparing students for jobs that don’t exist.” I found this to be quite the sobering thought, as I thought about the kinds of jobs that exist now that didn’t exist when I completed my secondary schooling in 2001, and the kinds of websites and social media tools that we now take for granted.

This lead to the topic of responsibility, or digital citizenship, also infringing upon the realms of understanding validity and credibility of information sources. We need to move our students beyond wikipedia, and the first few pages of wikipedia when they are doing their searching, and teach them ways of more efficient and effective searches. Richard related an activity he utilises, wherein he provides a stimulus image, and students are required to come up with questions they can ask about the subject of the image, which invariably pushes students to write down what they know about the topic, or as Eliezer S. Yudkowsky puts it “what do I know and why do I think I know it?” (I should  acknowledge that I can’t recall where I read it, so I may be wrong in attributing the quote to him.. If anyone can help me be a bit more accurate about where it came from, I would like to hear from you)

Google’s Inside Search lists lesson plans for teaching about searching, as well as how the search engines work. Richard pointed out that we need to challenge our students to collaborate more effectively on research projects. I worked with a year five and six class last year who were researching our solar system for a class project, and one of the students asked if it was okay to airdrop the weblink to a useful resource he had found to a friend working on the same topic When asked why, the students said that it would help his friend who was struggling to find information, indicating that students can collaborate when given the freedom and encouragement to do so.

Richard said that he doesn’t like to share quotes attributed to businesspeople who meddle in education often, but nonetheless shared a quote attributed to Sir Richard Branson from June 19, 2013: “Education doesn’t just take place in stuffy classrooms and university buildings. It can happen everywhere, every day, to every person.”

Richard followed this up by discussing some websites, such as Connected Classrooms and Project Noah that provide opportunities to extend the learning outside the classroom, whether it be figuratively or literally, and that with the ever increasing levels of connectivity, and the freedom of the internet, that there are fewer gatekeepers of the knowledge than ever before, reducing the prohibitive nature of ‘the internet’ in learning. He followed this up with a quote from Napolean Hill, who said in 1937 that “Our only limitation lies in the development and use of our imagination.” Richard said that this still applies today, and that it is important to have students students solving real-world problems as often as possible, problems that they do, or will face, or that their parents face such, as this encourages the development and use of the imagination in determining various methods to solve the problems, as well as provides solid links to the real world, increasing the significance of the learning for students, and raising the likelihood of the skill or concept being not only remembered, but mastered and able to be applied to other disciplines.

Richard’s final point, was that if, in classrooms where allow students access to the internet, and our students are ‘wandering out’ in the ether, than it means our lessons need to be better as it indicates we are not engaging our students. It felt harsh at first, but the more I think on it, the more realistic an assessment it seems to be.

I will stop here, for now, and will post part two of session one later on, probably tomorrow.

As always, thank you for reading, and leave a comment.