#BeyondConferences – a model for multi-school collaboration

I’ve had the privilege to attend four tech/learning conferences this school year: Learning2.0TechEx21CLHK, and most recently, #BeyondLaptops in Yokohama. They are reliably inspiring yet simultaneously frustrating. On one hand, it is always great to get together with likeminded people to share ideas, affirm our hard work, and get some answers. On the other hand, the Déjà vu gets old, and I feel guilty about the money my school spends to send me to another country just so I can have the same conversations I’ve been having for the last 10 years. In a way it’s a bit like a fan club that gets together to talk about their band. (Sure one might prefer Paul to John and some might think Revolver was better than The White Album, but everyone agrees that the Beatles were better than the Stones.)

That’s why so many of us were so excited about Kim Cofino‘s effort to bring people together who were ready to start making their own music. (And to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point before dropping it,) that’s how I envisioned #BeyondLaptops — as a songwriting workshop where musicians get down to the very difficult task of transferring their skills and passions into a recognizable form that the band can follow along to. It’s hard work and some wanted more. Sure, I had lofty goals that weren’t fully realized, but I think Kim was right (and the only one brave enough) to try to start somewhere.

#BeyondLaptops certainly helped to validate some of my medium-term goals, but more importantly, it reinforced my belief that conferences are not enough. They are just a quick introduction to a group of individuals — speed dating, if you like. It’s great to chat and swap a few stories, but now it’s time to choose whose phone numbers we want. Blogs and Twitter are a start, but we need something more substantial. We need a model that will help leaders meet somewhat regularly, not to simply discuss, but to create a tangible, actionable program to take back to their schools. Maybe something like this:

The idea is that traditional conferences are big and people’s goals varied. For those of us looking to do the difficult work of dramatically re-imagining an ICT program or writing curriculum, we need a much smaller group that can meet several times in the year. These people must come from schools with similar challenges and similar goals. Here’s the kinds of schools I would be looking for:

  • IB World Schools
  • Medium sized with existing 1:1 program and solid tech infrastructure across the school
  • An existing integration model that isn’t working as well as people would wish
  • Wide (if not deep) use of blogging or social media
  • Empowerment from administrators to make bold changes
  • A desire to synthesize an integration model (describing what an integrated classroom looks like) with a practical collaboration model (how coaches help teachers)
  • A desire to map major ICT initiatives to ATLs and TD Skills
  • BONUS: Bullish on iPads

I’m sure there are more, but if I could find a handful of other good people from schools like these, I’d gladly give up my tickets to traditional conferences in order to pursue closer collaboration.

Would this provide value to you #beyondconferences? Can schools find enough common ground to collaborate this closely? Is anyone already doing something like this?

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Crisis & Opportunity

An object at rest will stay at rest unless an unbalanced force acts upon it.

Throughout history, opportunities for change have arisen from times of crisis. New leaders emerge and people consider new ideas that had been, up until recently, quite unpalatable.

Remembering what the road of good intentions is paved with,  the more cautious among us may be hesitant to step forward during such times, but we must remember that with or without our input, the problem will have some sort of solution – why not be a part of it? We’ve all had a nagging desire to improve something but we don’t know how get others interested; sometimes a little crisis can provide an opportunity finally get some traction on it.

Here in Bangkok, we’ve had our own little crisis in the form of a biblical flood. My school was forced to close, and teachers were required to provide an online learning program. This was to be implemented on through the class websites. Unsurprisingly, all of the simmering issues people had previously had with the blogs suddenly became important. In comparison to the flooding around us, these problems were pretty small, but trying to provide support to a school of teachers using only an iPhone with a slow Edge connection gives one some clarity on what issues really need to be addressed. More important, those teachers suddenly cared — that’s momentum.

For those of my friends a little further along than us, these may seem like embarrassing shortcomings, but our blogs (WPMU) had no standardized theme elements, navigation structure or categorization, and several specialists teachers were not currently blogging because nobody had ever told them they had to.

When we returned to school, I met with my principal to discuss how to address these issues, and a few hours later, I was presenting a simple plan to the faculty of how we would reform and standardize some of our blogs.  The result was that my ICT colleague and I had what we both felt was one of the most positive work experiences of the year. Each team we met with had a great interest improving their blogs. They saw the direct impact on teaching and learning. It was easy for them to understand when we told them that some of them would need to change their themes, and nobody complained when we tweaked their menus. Teachers who had previously yawned impatiently when forced to sit through training sessions were now approaching us asking questions like, “How to I easily have students submit webcam captures to my blog via Youtube?”

Maybe my best day of the year supporting #edtech: Nothing like a flood and school closure to help teachers embrace the power of class blogs.
@becline
Brady Cline

 

Yes, these are pathetically small potatoes, but something dramatic has happened: there is a shared vision between senior management, teachers, and the ICT department. How about some mixed metaphors: we got the ball rolling and hopefully it will continue to snowball. It’s not a lot of movement, but we’re not standing still.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

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Hello World

Search Google for “ed-tech” and you’ll get three million hits. What’s one more self-promoter on a blog-sized soapbox?  It’s still profound to talk about revolution and the unknown jobs of the future – right?

Yes, I’ve got some of that in me, but there are already enough tech-evangelists in the echo-chamber, so this blog aims to take a step back and examine some of the more concerning trends in ed-tech. What interests me in particular is the popular implication that everything we used to think about education no-longer applies. Far from being unique to ed-tech, these are the same progressive bromides that have dominated education for several decades.

The view that education is a pathetic shadow of what it could and should be is not, however, completely without merit.  Too often though these complaints rely upon the straw man of a really terrible teacher boring a group of nice kids that have all the potential in the world if only the teacher would let them work in collaborative groups to make a poster about their feelings.  If only.

That’s the gist of what I learned in teachers’ college ten years ago. Today, the tech-evangelists are saying basically the same thing, but now they want us to make a blog post instead of a poster. Again — this is not all, or even mostly, wrong, but there’s an awful lot of rhetoric which suggests that serious pedagogy is nothing but an impotent leftover from a crumbling educational bourgeoisie.

Well, I’m not much on Marxist constructs and I’m not persuaded that everything we used to think about education is now wrong. And even if it is, there is still a question to answer: what’s the way forward? It’s not enough to be a cheerleader.  We must articulate arguments and test them in marketplace of ideas.

What better place than on a blog?

Does anything I’ve written strike a chord? As I set out on this new blogging adventure, I’d be thankful if it were more than a conversation with myself. Suggestions, disagreements or just a pithy anecdote would be very appreciated (along with a tweet/like).

Short Bio on Brady

Brady Cline works in Singapore as the Learning Innovation Coordinator at GEMS World Academy. He holds an administrative certificate,  M.Ed in teaching, and B.S. in psychology. He has taught in seven countries in a variety of positions in high school and elementary. Before becoming a teacher, Brady worked in his original home of California as a project manager for a dot-com start-up.

More on Brady here

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