CESI 2012 | "TEACHnology: Merging teaching and technology in schools"

Last Saturday I attended CESI 2012, a conference organised by the Computers in Education Society of Ireland. It's a conference aimed at teachers and this was the first time I attended. Even though as an IT professional I wasn't really the target audience, I really enjoyed the talks and left the day with my head full of ideas and really happy with the interesting conversations I had.

Random highlights and talk summaries from the day...

Opening talks

As part of the opening talks, Gerard McHugh told us that the lack of engaging content explains failing western schools. Even though many things in life have become more engaging over the decades, school hasn't: we need it to be more interactive, more collaborative and encourage participatory active learning.

For the keynote, Stephen Howell animately encouraged school teachers to do the PR for third-level courses :-) and help students find that spark to discover if they would enjoy a career in IT. The "3 Ds" should be taught in school: Design, Develop and Debug -- not all of them require computers or knowing how to code. Using software such as Scratch, students can be moved to a producer role as opposed to what they do with most wonderful modern devices such as the iPad or xBox, that are slanted toward consuming content. The goal is to get them to make their own games. The Scratch + Kinect demo was quite impressive :)

A brief history of the near future

John Hefferman looked at what technologies are currently being created, citing an interesting quote: "The future is already there, it's just not evenly distributed." If we look at what R&D departments are working on right now, there will be less of a surprise when it arrives into the classroom in 10 or 20 years. "The Horizon Report" relates technological innovations that are coming up. John ended the talk by telling us examples of how all this will affect history teaching and the classroom in general.

One of the questions was about how to bring some of the tools to the classroom, when there are school and curriculum constraints. The answer was that it's better to ask for forgiveness that permission, and start under the radar initially.

Game-based learning in Irish education

Patrick Felicia is doing research on the impact of games in education. His surveys indicate that most teachers agree games are a good learning tool, that improves plenty of skills (with a bit of hesitation regarding social skills, which is likely due to people having different types of game in mind). However despite agreeing on the benefits, only a tiny percentage have actually used any in their classroom. Most of the talk took the form of a conversation with the audience, aiming to figure out why this is and people's thoughts about it.

The main problems and constraints strongly relate to the curriculum and time constraints. There is not a lot of content tailored for the Irish market. Teachers suggested a portal of suitable games, and bringing workshops on how to use them to the schools to make sure people attend and learn about it.

Someone suggested, inspired by Stephen Howell's keynote, to have children develop the content :-) This way they get to use their creativity, meaningful content is created and they are taking responsibility for it. Teach to create!

The iGBL is an Irish conference on game-based learning.

The LiveScribe pen in action

Adrienne Webb explained to us what the LiveScribe pen is, how it can be used and how she uses it to provide additional resources to her students. The pen is a very interesting piece of technology that records what you're writing and your voice, which you can then upload or send as a video. There are cool additional little features, such as clicking an element of the video to listen to the playback of what was said when that particular element was drawn.

She used it to provide sample exam answers, so the students can focus on what they want and ask questions only on what they are having difficulty with. This worked better and more efficiently that trying to cover every question for everyone over 40 minutes. The students - in an exam year - really took to it.

Social networking with our students

Catherine Cronin related her very interesting experience on using social media such as Twitter and Google Plus to interact with students for a third-level module, touching on themes such as digital identity, privacy and authenticity.

Currently there is a tension between the current model of delivering education, standardised, static and stale versus a student-centred model. Meaningful learning occurs with knowledge construction, not knowledge reproduction.

There are 5 stages to go through:

  • Awareness (of what is going on)
  • Commitment (which requires time and learning)
  • Access (to the appropriate technology)
  • Authority (to change things, which is easier at the 3rd level since you can do what you want for the modules you teach)
  • Design

This is about challenging students while still honouring who they are and how they work.

The Google Plus experiment was leaky (in that G+ makes it easy to re-share stuff that was submitted privately to a circle), though this accidentally made the conversation more authentic by allowing the author of a book they were studying, Jeff Jarvis, to join in.

There is of course a dilemma between being graded and having an authentic discussion. From the student's point of view, there was a wide spectrum of opinions with regard to the usefulness of social networks, thoughts on privacy and comfort expressing opinions in public.

Student comments covered a wide range in terms of appreciation of the experiment. The general opinion seems to be that it was useful, but/and messy!

The talk Q&A reflected on the dangers of having students participate in that kind of public discussions, at a stage where they're likely still trying on different identities to find themselves. This is going to happen anyway, so it might as well be within the context of a class with someone to offer guidance.

Moodle in the classroom

Declan Donnelly gave a nice introduction to Moodle by explaining to us how his primary school uses it -- all of which is also applicable to the secondary level.

The presentation mainly focused on the possibilities offered by interactive exercises, notably by linking with SCORM compatible software like Hot Potatoes, which is better than the basic Moodle quizzes.

Thanks to Moodle it's easier to share resources and do grading and assessment. It acts as a digital link between home and school, both to do the work (including drafts) and show off accomplishments to the family.

This link also applies to staff, as the school they use Moodle to publish policies and meeting notes, in a section only accessible by the staff.

Enhanced Learning Futures

After a full day of listening to tremendously interesting talks coming straight from the classroom trenches, I felt the "capstone address" resonated a bit hollow -- it was an excellent presentation but it nearly felt too polished!

Still Steve Wheeler brought up plenty of good ideas and food for thought, regarding the direction society, technology and education are going toward. Tools shape our behaviour, the more we use them.

Some examples of societal shifts: Amazon now sells more Kindle books than paper books. 1.5 billion mobile phones have been sold. Girls are catching up in terms of gaming trends. The gamification of learning can lead to deeper learning because we want to repeat the experience.

Learners need to acquire "digital wisdom". Lovely new term: darwikinism! The survival of the fittest content.


Looking forward to next year's event :-)


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