Creating spaces for student voices

“Why can’t we be tested on what we learn,

rather than learning what we’re going to be tested on?”

- Colm Keady-Tabbal, secondary school student

When asked to give a keynote at the ICT in Education conference “Student Voices” at LIT Thurles recently, I knew that it would be impossible to speak for 40 minutes about student voices. Students would need to play a key role. Indeed, student voices were present in many of the workshops and presentations during the event — in addition to students participating in the conference as part of the Youth Media Team (described in previous post). As the ICTEdu conference is focused on creating connections across all education sectors, I shared student voices from 3 different groups: third-level students (IT Professional Skills, which I teach), secondary students (Media Studies with James Michie) and primary students (5th class with Maire O’Keeffe). Following are the keynote slides and a short summary.

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The first appearance of “student voices” in the educational literature was in the early 1990s, when educators and social critics like Jonathan Kozol and others noted that in conversations about learning, teaching and schooling: “the voices of children have been missing from the whole discussion”. These critics challenged the previously dominant images of students as silent, passive recipients of what others define as education. Over the past 20 years, many educational research and reform efforts have focused on student voice.
But what do we mean by student voice? The term tends to signify a set of values and behaviours which includes Sound (the act of speaking), Participation (student presence and involvement), and Power or Agency (see Cook-Sather, 2006). Making space for student voices confronts the power dynamics within schools, classrooms, and the relationships between teachers and students. Without addressing the notion of power in these relationships, student voice initiatives may be simply window dressing. When we truly value and create spaces for student voices, students feel respected and engaged, teachers listen, and students and teachers learn from one another.
During my keynote, I included student voices from three different learning environments (as noted above) where students and educators are working towards this goal:
  • 3rd level: The work of IT students was shared via the Scoop.it showcase of student presentations and projects, as well as the CT231 class blog , our class Twitter account, and individual student reflections.
  • 2nd level: James Michie and I have connected for some time via Twitter and I recently joined James and his Media Studies students via Skype to discuss the topic of digital identity. After a fascinating discussion with the students, I asked if they’d be willing to contribute their thoughts on the theme of Student Voices for the ICTEdu conference. They kindly contributed a set of creative slides and videos, many of which I shared, and all of which are available on the CCC Media blog.
  • Primary school: I’ve interacted with Maire O’Keeffe and her 5th class students here in Kinvara throughout the past year, discussing how learning is changing, their own class blog, the 100 Word Challenge and much more. Maire’s students expressed their ideas about Student Voices through a wonderful range of artwork showcased on Flickr, much of which was shared at the conference.

Of course not all students have these opportunities. Students often complain about school, about their lack of choice and comfort, let alone voice. One student whom I asked to share her thoughts about student voice and agency sent me links to these spoken word performances by @sulibreaks — Why I hate school but love education and I will not let an exam result decide my fate, saying “this sums up everything that students feel about the education system and the importance of students’ voices”.

To attempt to give these students a voice at the conference, I invited a talented young filmmaker Colm Keady-Tabbal — still in secondary school — to create a short film for the conference. Colm asked fellow students: “How do you like to learn?” and created a powerful 3-minute film. The message from these students was clear: more freedom, more choice, less listening to teachers lecturing, more practical work, more fun, and more opportunities for connecting and interacting.

Although this film is not directly available online (the participants preferred that it not be shared via YouTube or Facebook), the video will be included in the set of keynote videos which will be available soon from the ICTEdu conference website. Please contact me if you would like the link.

My thanks to every one of these students for their generosity, creativity and honesty. Your contributions led to a powerful learning experience for all of the educators who participated in the conference.

Thanks also to the wonderful Grainne Conole, someone with whom I’ve connected via Twitter, Flickr and our blogs, but had never met before. Grainne explored the theme of Student Voices in her keynote “Learning journeys and learner voices – promoting innovative pedagogies through new technologies”, focusing on the importance of learning design in creating spaces for active, authentic and connected learning. Grainne’s blog post The Trip to Tipp! summarises her experiences of the conference. Thanks also to Martha Rotter, developer at woop.ie and founder of Idea Magazine, who gave a wonderful overview of student voice initiatives globally. Both Martha’s and Grainne’s keynotes are well worth viewing once they are available on the ICT in Education website.
Many thanks again to all — Pam O’Brien and the conference organisers, the participants, and especially the students — for the opportunity to learn and to share.

Student Voices at #ICTEdu

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#ICTEdu Youth Media Team with mentors

Something special happened in County Tipperary last Saturday. At the ICT in Education Conference at LIT Thurles, Pamela O’Brien and the conference organisers stretched the boundaries of the usual conference format. The conference theme of “Student Voices” was embraced, with young voices to the fore. As described by Pam Moran in her conference reflection: at #ICTEdu “adults didn’t talk about children in their absence, but rather listened to children in their presence.” The result was powerful learning, a new appreciation for what’s possible, and big plans (already) for embracing this model even further.

In my previous post I described some of the unique aspects of the #ICTEdu conference. The conference attracts educators from across all education sectors, from within Ireland and beyond. Educators meet to discuss, to share resources, and to share ideas about learning and teaching. As has been the case in recent years, an excellent programme of workshops and keynotes was organised. The heart of the conference, however, was the group of young people who participated in the conference as the Youth Media Team: speaking, interviewing, photographing, tweeting and blogging. The Youth Media Team (easily spotted in their red shirts) was mentored by another great team: Bernie Goldbach, Conor Galvin and Joe Dale. The mentors listened, answered questions and advised, but mostly encouraged each member of the Youth Media Team to engage with people at the conference, and beyond, and to create their own media and narrative of the day. The young people did just that; engaging with and interviewing conference participants — including Junior Minister for Education and Skills Ciaran Cannon — recording their observations and reflections, and speaking about their experiences at the end of the conference.

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Two members of Youth Media Team interviewing Minister Ciaran Cannon

Last year’s keynote speakers, Ira Socol and Pam Moran, joined us via Skype before the conference wrapped up, reflecting on the power of young people as learners. In her reflection, Pam highlighted some of the key questions of the day:

“It struck me that we’ve always had two curricula — that of the adults who want to make sure children learn what they need to survive as adults and that of children who are curious and interested in learning about and how to do things not on the adults’ lists. How do we begin to engage in an interface of those two curricula. How do we know what children want to learn if we don’t ask and then listen? How do we provide opportunities for social discourse across generations?”

The #ICTEdu conference model is a great start.

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Two members of Youth Media Team interviewing Dr. Maria Hinfelaar, LIT President

It must be acknowledged that student voices were present at the #ICTEdu conference in many other ways as well. The educators presenting and sharing their work at #ICTEdu — and at the lively #CESImeet the previous evening — are doing some of the most innovative and exciting work I know of: creating learning spaces for young people to connect, code and create in classrooms and community settings, as well as online. It would be impossible to summarise all of the workshops, but the following is a taster. Please visit the conference blog and audio interviews recorded by the Youth Media Team for ideas shared by other educators at the conference.

  • Mary Jo Bell, a Senior Infants teacher in Dublin, has been using Twitter with her class @MrsBellsClass for over two years. She also uses Animoto, Voki, eportfolios, Skype and Google+. Mary Jo’s Slideshare Technology in the Infant Classroom, well worth sharing, describes how her school’s youngest students are leading the way.
  • Maire O’Keeffe, a 5th class teacher in Kinvara, began using digital and social media with her students at the start of this school year. Since September, students have written hundreds of posts on Ms. O’Keeffe’s class blog and had over 138,000 views. Through their blog, class Twitter account (@msokeeffesclass) and Skype, the children connect with other students and teachers around the world.  Maire spoke about the power of the 100 Word Challenge in kickstarting her students’ blogging; she encourages more schools to try it.
  • Joe Dale, education and technology consultant in the UK, contributed to the conference in multiple ways. As well as mentoring the Youth Media Team along with Bernie and Conor, Joe shared classroom management apps and a terrific range of audio tools for education at both the #CESImeet and the conference. Grainne Conole, a keynote speaker at the conference, tried out Audioboo after Joe’s workshop and recorded this short interview with Joe, in which he describes some great audio apps for educators (see also joedale.typepad.com).
  • Bernie Goldbach, innovative Multimedia lecturer at LIT Thurles, facilitated a workshop also focusing on audio in which he used Audioboo within a live Google+ hangout — a wonderful demonstration of live, global collaboration and learning.
  • Each of the three keynote speakers, Grainne Conole, Martha Rotter and myself, explored student voices in the context of learning. I will summarise these in my next blog post.
  • And don’t miss the conference doodles by Rachael Cooke, a recent Creative Multimedia graduate from LIT — she added a whole new dimension to the conference with her creative artwork!

Finally, my thanks again to the students: the nine members of  the Youth Media Team and the many, many students who voices and ideas were shared by their teachers during the workshops and presentations. The message from students was loud and clear: more freedom, more choice, more fun, more practical work, more opportunities for connecting and interacting. The message from educators at #ICTEdu was also clear: we are listening. We must move forward together.

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#ICTEdu Youth Media Team with conference organiser Pamela O’Brien

Photos by ictedulit All Rights Reserved, used here with permission.

Follow-up post: Making Spaces for Student Voices

ICT in Education Conference 2013

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On Saturday, May 11th, educators from across Ireland and beyond will gather at LIT in Thurles, County Tipperary for the annual ICT in Education conference. As described by its organiser, Pam O’Brien, it is a conference “by teachers, for teachers”, and that includes teachers in the broadest sense — primary, secondary and third levels, adult and community education, and beyond. The theme of this year’s conference is “Student Voices”. The wonderful Grainne Conole will be a keynote speaker, sharing her considerable expertise by speaking about learning design and promoting new pedagogies. Grainne also will offer a Learning Design Workshop on Friday, May 10th. A CESI Meet will be held on that Friday evening as well. All of these events can be booked on the ICT in Education website.

This year, I was delighted and honoured to be invited to give a keynote at the conference as well. The topic of my keynote will be “Creating Spaces for Student Voices”. For the past few weeks, I have been enjoying working with other educators and students at primary, secondary and third levels to create ways for their student voices to be present.

To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

— Paulo Freire

Human beings are not built in silence. We delight in the first sounds of babies, the first words of children; we marvel at their acquisition of language. And in classrooms, at all levels of education, what do we ask of growing children and adults? Too often, while we speak, we ask for silence. The architecture of most of our classrooms and lecture halls both reflects and contributes to this. As educators, many of us have rediscovered the power of word, work and action-reflection in our own learning. We speak, we write, we use social media to share and to engage in dialogue. A growing number of educators are inviting students to do the same. Creating opportunities for students to find and share their voices requires openness and a willingness to challenge long-held assumptions and practices – those of our students and institutions as well as ourselves. Catherine will share the voices of students, from all levels of education, as well as her work and the work of other open educators, as she explores ways to create spaces for student voices.

If you’ve never participated in the #ICTedu conference, I can only describe it as something special. The conference is a unique opportunity for educators to connect — across sectors and all the usual boundaries — to meet, discuss and share ideas about learning and teaching. I attended the conference for the first time in 2011 where I met Mary Jo Bell who had just started using Twitter with her Junior Infants class; I shared this with my 2nd year BSc students and we exchanged tweets with Mary Jo’s class. I met Simon Lewis and Rozz Lewis, editors of anseo.net, and Damien Quinn, creator of seomraranga.com — all amazing examples of teachers openly sharing their resources and ideas with other educators. I met Mags Amond, dynamo of a secondary teacher and organiser of CESI Meets (Ireland’s own TeachMeets), a teacher of rare wisdom and generosity. In 2012, the ICTedu keynote speakers were Pam Moran and Ira Socol, wonderful human beings and educators with a crystal clear focus on learners, student voice and democracy who are helping others to re-imagine learning spaces.

These and many other educators who I’ve met at #ICTedu have helped me to become a better educator and have enriched my life in many ways. As a 3rd level educator working only with others at 3rd level, I realised how narrow my conception of education had become. I interacted with very few teachers from primary, secondary and other sectors — beyond family and friends and the teachers at my children’s schools. Participating in the ICT in Education conference, as well as the annual CESI conference, CESIMeets and #edchatie weekly Twitter chats, has broadened my understanding and helped me to create a rich and diverse Personal Learning Network (including many new friends). All of these educators have helped me to reflect, to learn, and to improve my teaching practices.

If you will be attending the ICT in Education conference, I look forward to seeing you there. If you won’t be attending, you’ll have the opportunity to connect via Twitter (#ICTedu) and the live stream. Many thanks to Pam O’Brien and all of the organisers — I’m looking forward to a wonderful event!

Image source: CC BY-NC-SA pamelaaobrien

Volvo Ocean Race, NUI Galway and online learning

The Volvo Ocean Race is in town! As I write this, the boats are due into Galway (the finishing point of the race) after midnight tonight. The last time “the Volvo” was in Galway in 2009, an estimated 10,000 people crowded into Galway city to greet the boats arriving — at 3:00 in the morning — and enjoyed sunshine and a festival atmosphere for the next 10 days. Such is the spirit of Galway. [03/07/12 Update: huge crowds attended the race finish in Galway in the early hours of this morning.]

The event is about much more than the race. For the 2012 Volvo Ocean Race event, Galway has been transformed. We have a Race Village and a Global Village where you can find food stalls, musical entertainment, comedy, sports and adventure activities, crafts and fashion, as well as science, technology and education events. There is a great programme of events scheduled at the NUI Galway pavilion where I’ll be speaking in the Ideas Lab on Tuesday and Wednesday (July 3rd and 4th) at 2pm.

I’ve been asked to speak about “Online Learning for the Future” and I look forward to meeting people and engaging in discussion about social media in education, open learning, online and blended learning, and the range of opportunities for studying at NUI Galway. I’ve prepared the following short presentation as taster, but I hope that this will lead to conversations, both in person and online.

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I didn’t want this presentation to be only about higher education and NUI Galway — online learning happens everywhere, formally as well as informally, and at all levels of education. So a few weeks ago I asked teachers involved in #edchatIE in Ireland if anyone would be willing to contribute a short video to show how they and their students are using technology. The results, from 10 different classrooms across Ireland, were amazing — see for yourself!

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From my vantage point in higher education, these are our future students, as well as our future citizens. We need to be sure that we are doing our best to welcome, engage with and challenge these students as they enter post-secondary education. That’s a big challenge for us. May the conversation continue…

Image: PAUL TODD at www.volvooceanracegalway.ie

Expanding learning space and time at #ICTEdu

At the ICT in Education Conference last Saturday, educators in Ireland and beyond joined together — in person in Thurles and virtually across the globe — to focus on learners, learning spaces and the future of education. The urgency of these issues cannot be understated. At #ICTEdu, we accepted the challenges we face, but focussed instead on what we can do. We were inspired by keynote speakers/sharers Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran). Pam and Ira created whole-hearted, human-centred learning spaces with us (yes, it’s possible even in a fixed-seat, windowless lecture hall!) both modelling what is possible and inspiring us to do the same — beginning today.

I’ll write my overall reflections on the conference in a subsequent blog post, but the full tweetstream of the conference is available now. In addition, a special #edchatie Twitter chat focused on the conference theme of “Learning Spaces” takes place Monday, May 21st at 8:30 pm GMT. [Transcript of the chat - added 22nd May]

My session at the conference, “Social Media, Learning, Space and Time”, explored how social media helps us to break down the walls of the classroom. Connection and learning can extend beyond class time, beyond term time, and beyond the bounds of our classrooms and lecture halls. Students and educators communicating and sharing work using social media move beyond the artificial boundaries of formal and informal learning, and the rigid roles of “teacher” and “student”. I shared three examples of social media being used in these ways: my own experience using Twitter with students in higher education; the 100 Word Challenge, a creative writing blogging project for primary and secondary students, presented via video by Julia Skinner (@TheHeadsOffice); and the Madhouse of Ideas project, presented via video by Linda Castañeda (@lindacq, @MadhouseofIdeas). Both videos are included in the presentation above.

The social media activity at the conference certainly demonstrated this theme. Bernie Goldbach (@topgold) noted that although the activity at the conference was intense, “twice as many people were following the day’s events at a distance, using Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, and the live video stream”.  This was true in my own session. My sincere thanks to all participants who shared their thoughts and reflections in our room (where we created our own personalised, chaotic learning environment by moving tables and chairs!) and who amplified the session on Twitter so that others could participate. These tweets provide a vivid picture of our workshop — thank you all!

Connecting & learning in schools: students, teachers and parents

On a sunny, blustery afternoon here in Kinvara, I’ve just returned from an uplifting meeting with teachers at our local primary school. Nearly every year for the past 8  years, I’ve participated in information evenings for parents, speaking about internet safety issues related to social networks popular at the time (e.g. Bebo, Club Penguin, YouTube and most recently Facebook) – for example Our Children Online workshops. This year, when asked to give a similar talk, I hesitated. I explained that I simply couldn’t focus on “internet safety” without also discussing social media in the context of learning – for students, teachers and parents.

So today I met with teachers, as a parent and as a fellow educator. We discussed how learning has changed enormously, particularly in the past decade, through technologies such as broadband and wireless internet access, YouTube, Wikipedia, social networking, and open access to education resources. The trend towards learning that is more open, mobile and social provides many opportunities for more authentic learning, at every level of education. Social media, in essence, breaks down the walls of the classroom – the world becomes the classroom, children can become one another’s teachers, and teachers can facilitate deep learning experiences.

Of course there are challenges. Resources are scarce: for faster internet access, for more computers and devices, and for training. None of us were taught to learn nor to teach in these ways.  We rely on our PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) for information, ideas, inspiration, encouragement and support. And we can use tools like Twitter to build those essential networks of support.

I posted a question on Twitter earlier today, inviting messages to our session in Kinvara, using the #kinedu hashtag. Our thanks to all who took the time to say hello and to send encouragement. As I explained to those of our group who are new to Twitter, just this small sample of tweets conveys the warmth, humour and encouragement available on Twitter – plenty of encouragement to begin building a PLN! :)

During our session today we explored Twitter and blogs, checking out some wonderful work by students and teachers in Ireland and beyond, including the #edchatie Twitter chat and community; @MrsBellsClass Junior Infants class on Twitter; @DeputyMitchell‘s QuadBlogging initiative; and Heathfield school students talking about blogging (a great response to this video!). A list of resources which we explored today is below. This is just a starter – please feel free to suggest other resources in the comments so that we can add to this list.

I was simply inspired by the enthusiastic response of the teachers today. “How do hashtags work?”, “How can I get Twitter on my phone?”, and “What can I do with my students on Monday morning?” were some of the questions. Our session ended with lively discussion, plenty of laughter, and promises to check out Twitter, blogging, Google Reader and more. I look forward now to meeting with parents, and to continuing to participate in these essential discussions between teachers, parents and students. We communicate, we connect and we learn.

Finally, several of us will be attending the ICT in Education Conference in LIT Tipperary (Thurles) on May 19th. The theme is “Learning Spaces” and with keynotes by Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran) and workshops by many Irish educators it promises to be a great event. Hope to see many of you there!

Resources explored today (Twitter, blogs and more) particularly relevant for schools:

@SeomraRanga  |  @IrishTeachers  |  @NL_84   |  @fboss  |  @sccenglish  |  @thefrogblog  |  @Parents_GortCS 

@DeputyMitchell  |  @TheHeadsOffice  |  @ShellTerrell  |  @kvnmcl  |  @MrWejr  |  @gcouros  |  @InnovativeEdu   

Irish Teacher Blogs – aggregate of blog posts by educators in Ireland

Anseo.net – monthly magazine-style website, edited by Irish primary teachers @simonmlewis and @rozzlewis

SeomraRanga.com – blog run by Damien Quinn, primary teacher in Sligo, sharing a wealth of resources for the primary school classroom

Coderdojo.com lists all Coder Dojo clubs in Ireland and abroad – great new initiative for young people to learn how to code

NetFamilyNews.org – excellent site for advice on technology and internet safety, edited by Anne Collier

Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum – collection of resources for schools, published by CommonSenseMedia.org

A Parents’ Guide to Facebook (2012 edition) – published by NetFamilyNews.org

Great blog post by danah boyd (@zephoria on Twitter) about parents helping their kids to violate Facebook’s 13+ rule.

Stephen Heppell’s resources on using mobiles, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. in the classroom

What schools are really blocking when the block social media (DML Central, January 2012)

Sincere thanks to all of the teachers and the principal at St. Joseph’s National School, Kinvara.

Kinvara image: used with permission

Willing to learn

“We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.” –  Mary Catherine Bateson

I spent Saturday at the 27th annual PACCS Conference here in Galway (PACCS is the national body for parents associations of community and comprehensive schools in Ireland). In opening the conference on Saturday morning, I began my address with Mary Catherine Bateson’s quote. Bateson’s simple observation has always struck me deeply, both as a parent and an educator.

The day before the PACCS conference, I tweeted a request for resources that would be useful for parents of secondary school students. I sent this request from my own account and from the Twitter account I use for our school’s Parents Association:


My thanks to @fboss, @marloft, @celaV, @maireadflanagan and @frazzlld for passing on the word and offering suggestions, which were shared with parents (and added here). Tweets from the conference were also shared by @frazzlld, @EGSParents and @PACCSIrl, using #paccsirl.

I learned a great deal from the conversations I had with parents over the course of the conference on Saturday:

  • I learned that many parents of second-level students are not fully aware of recent advancements in further and higher education: moves towards online learning, e-textbooks and open educational resources; changes in the nature of learning and assessment; the growing use of blogs, wikis and social networking for learning. A few parents of teens engaging with Facebook, online games and instant messaging told me it was a huge shift in thinking to realize that many of these activities are, in fact, learning — and that the skills and sensibilities learned will help them in formal education and in the workplace.
  • I learned that some schools are happy and willing to embrace technology and to open up the learning environment beyond the 4 walls of the classroom, and that some schools are still wrestling with the cultural shift that this entails (e.g. policies on internet access, mobile phones, etc.).
  • I learned that many parents want to work in partnership with schools to create the best possible learning environments. Despite difficult economic times and an  uncertain future, I was in a room buzzing with energy from parents ready to engage and work with their schools.
  • And finally, I learned that parents want to know what’s happening outside of their own children’s schools. What’s happening elsewhere in Ireland? What’s happening in other countries? What’s happening at third level? What’s happening in primary schools? This larger context helps all of us to think about what’s possible, how obstacles can be overcome, and where to find support for our own efforts.

Thus, today we have started using #coolschools — a Twitter hashtag for examples of innovation in schools. Please feel free to use this hashtag, too. Let’s share what teachers and students are doing: experiments, successes, resources being created. We have much to learn from each other and YES! we are willing to learn.

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