Category Archives: Conference Reflections

Out of the stock exchange into the climbing gym

Living most of my life on the West Coast has caused me to view our public education system with defensive dismay. Upon entering the teaching profession in the late 80’s no one warned me that I would experience negative perceptions from all levels of society- friends, strangers, media, government representatives and even fellow colleagues.

My first exposure to jaundiced public perception was in my first year of teaching when I listened to MLA’s publicly berate teachers with derogatory comments  such as, “Get your buns back to work” (Randy White, MP, Abbotsford) inferring we were delinquent malcontents who enjoyed celebrating  the disruption of the school year.

I stopped engaging in and defending the “teacher horror story” conversations that would spontaneously erupt at parties and filled numerous newspaper headlines aching for attention especially at the beginning of a new school year. I became numb to the numerous reminders of  how “lucky” I was to have a job that offers so much time off and short working days.

Anyone who lives with a teacher knows a different reality.

Some days I felt lucky to be a teacher.

Some days it felt like a curse…

This rant explains the mindset I arrived with when I attended The Seventeenth National Congress in Rural Education in Saskatoon last week.

Within minutes of being at this conference I immediately sensed a different connection among all levels of those who worked in the education system. The formal introductions at the beginning of the Conference included the Mayor of Saskatchewan, a MLA, the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Association President, the Dean of Education at The University of Saskatchewan-ALL OF THEM were actively involved in this conference.

I soon discovered that the conference was attended by many school board trustees, parents, and reps from the Ministry of Education as well as teachers. I had never attended a conference like this before.

It felt like I had lived most of my professional life in an environment that resembled the stock exchange floor and someone just opened the door to the climbing gym where everyone seemed to express their role primarily as a support for one another.

While sitting there I tried to remember:

When was the last time I saw a MLA or an MP at a public school conference? Never.

When was the last time I attended a conference in which there just as many trustees, parents as there were teachers?

Never.

When was the last time I saw a sense of pride for the school system and those who work in it?
I wish I could remember.

Which makes me wonder… Why?

Why don’t I see MLA’s MP’s and representatives from all levels of education attending the same conference and meeting one another to discuss the topics that inspire and challenge them in British Columbia?

Maybe if this happened we wouldn’t find ourselves in acrimonious positions that result in loss for everyone.

Do Half Baked Ideas Belong At Conferences?

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WorldIslandInfo.com’s photostream

I estimate that I spent about ten hours listening to presentations last week at ELearn 2009. I became increasingly frustrated with the structure of this conference when I realized that I would be facing four days of traditional fifteen minute lectures.

Is this the optimal way to share ideas and expertise? Given the collective ingenuity of an estimated four hundred attendees the 15 minute lecture format seemed like an obsolete approach. With the  plethora of networking and communication tools available to us surely we can break out of conventional constructs of transmitting knowledge and experiment with these tools to widen our understanding of any given topic.  I attempted to do this with my presentation and invited members to share their ideas and insights before my scheduled presentation time (http://sites.google.com/site/socialmediaelearn/) I was initially uneasy with my invitation. What if people thought my presentation was ‘half baked’ and didn’t feel it was their responsibility to help me organize my ideas? What if people thought this wasn’t legitimate knowledge because I was just revealing some reflections and assumptions? What if someone deleted my wiki pages or severely criticized my ideas?What furtive conference rules was I breaking? What did I have to lose? So I extended the invitation twice on the conference Twitter site. One person added to the presentation. I’m not sure why this is and  I didn’t have any stats to include how many people visited the site but I was surprised once again that I didn’t receive more feedback. This proves to me once again that rapport=adoption. If I specifically invited people who I had met at the conference and asked them to add to the presentation I may have received more contributions. Will I attend a conference such as this again? It will depend on my objectives. If I need to establish my professional identity in an international venue then I will consider it. If I need to actually learn something new about technology innovations and proven adaption practices then I will  look for smaller venues and more interactive opportunities to accomplish this objective.

Praise and Pans for E-Learn Conference 2009

elearn2I just finished returning from the week long E-Learn 2009 in Vancouver. This was my first multi-institution, international conference and I experienced a few disappointments and surprises.   Most of the presentations I attended were traditional lecture style speeches using PowerPoint. The information was interesting for the most part but the delivery of this knowledge struck me as bone dry. Many people talked about constructivist knowledge building but the communication style of sharing these ideas was traditional lecture style transmission. Augh! In an effort to stay engaged with the speaker and the material I would use Twitter to send messages about key points, additional info, or pose questions. The ELearn Twitter channel was moderately active but not what you would expect from approximately four hundred attendees all involved in promoting technology tools.

The presentations that were very interesting and the most engaging included:

– all of the Round Table discussions

The Missing Link by Dina Kurzwell, Uniformed Services, Univ. of the Health Sciences, USA

Dina discussed the identity of instructional designers and the need for these experts to be more involved in the research process with the professors.

Keynote Speaker: John Bowermaster  Using Adventure and the Internet For Environmental and Global Education

John showed us not only just how boring our lives are but how to engage society in issues concerning the environment and climate change through personal narratives.

-Adventure Learning 2.0 Aaron Doering  and Charles Miller University of Minnesota

These guys made a very slick presentation about their research in the northern Canada. Check out more at www.polarhusky.com/

-Creating Technology Awareness Among Staff and Faculty Colin Elliott, Athabasca University

The only speaker I saw that did not use a typical presentation software to illustrate his understandings. Bravo!!! Colin used Prezi a non-linear online presentation software application. A perfect balance of practical and theoretical insights.