Love and Learning at PELeCON #pelc12


“Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people.”      – Paulo Freire

You won’t be surprised to know that “learning” was the most tweeted word at the Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference (PELeCON) recently. But you might be surprised to know that “love” was in the Top Ten (#9) of over 14,000 #pelc12 tweets. So, yes, PELeCON was about education, the future, learners, learning technologies, pedagogies and literacies. But the outstanding feature of the conference, for me, was the sense of warmth, connection and community amongst the participants, and their “profound love for the world and for people,” to quote Freire.

Glynis Cousin, among others, has spoken about the often unreflected emotional substructure to teaching and learning. Educators who embrace the ideals of authentic, student-centred learning, and who seek to move their practice towards this goal, are engaging in a revolutionary act: giving learners more control over their own learning. Almost everything about our formal education system — from standardized curricula to grading systems to the architecture of our classrooms and lecture halls — reinforces the power of the educator over the student. Those of us who choose to swim against this tide, even in small ways, must first look within ourselves to uncover our own investment in these systems and traditions. Engaging in real dialogue with students, opening our classrooms and our practice to the world — none of this can be done without respect for and trust in our students. This was the ethos at PELeCON, and why it was such a powerful experience for many of us who attended.

In the 2+ weeks since returning from Plymouth, I’ve been reflecting on many of the ideas and themes that arose. More than that, though, I’ve been connecting furiously with many who attended the conference. I’m working with Julia Skinner and Linda Castañeda who will engage with Irish educators at the ICT in Education conference on May 19th. Helen Keegan and I have plans to connect our students at Salford and Galway with students in several other countries next autumn, using social media. And there have been countless other connections via Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and email — a rich web of connections as Sharon Flynn describes beautifully in her PELeCON blog post.

I’ve already recorded my summary of the Student Showcase on Day 1 of the conference, in which primary and secondary students shared their work. It was one of my highlights of the conference to hear students describe how they are using YouTube, Google groups, WordPress, Livescribe pens and more to collaborate and create video tutorials, blogs and online school newspapers. I was immensely impressed by the confidence of these students, their pride in their work, and the trust their teachers showed in them to tell their own stories.

The excellent keynote and spotlight talks were diverse and challenging — the PELeCON video library of these presentations is a wonderful resource, well worth bookmarking. Sincere thanks to Alec Couros, Helen Keegan, Simon Finch, Keri Facer, Leigh Graves Wolf, David Mitchell, Julia Skinner and Jane Hart for sharing your work and challenging our thinking.

Thanks to all of the participants at PELeCON, for your openness and your friendship.

And enormous thanks to Steve Wheeler, and the hard-working PELeCON team, for throwing a 3-day party (Steve’s words!) with time to learn and to enjoy, and opportunities to nurture the seeds of future ideas, collaborations, and most importantly, relationships. My head and heart are full. Thank you all.

For more information on the conference check out the PELeCON blog, which includes links to Oliver Quinlan‘s excellent liveblogs. The following blog posts also capture the spirit of the conference especially well:

Postscript: See also PELeCON 2012 (in ALT online newsletter), authored by Matt Lingard, Farzana Latif, Santanu Vasant and me.

Image: CC BY-NC 2.0 bitzi

PeLC11 workshops: valuable takeaways

As described in my previous post, the Plymouth eLearning Conference (PeLC11) offered a wealth of opportunities for learning and connecting with other educators. In the month since the conference, my own reflections and conversations with others have highlighted the relevance (for me, at least) of four of the workshops. These are recorded below, for future reference.

Writing for the Web ~ Matt Lingard @mattlingard

In his practical workshop Writing for the Web, Matt provided plenty of useful information as well as inviting us to apply the ideas to our own work.  Among the concepts Matt shared were the F-shaped reading pattern on the web and the journalists’ inverted pyramid. Another takeaway was the importance of a blog post title. Most people see only this; it is the basis on whether readers will click through to read the post — or not!

eSafety ~ Simon Finch @simfin

Simon began his session with a powerful video (based on a Rhianna music video) on social media and the mixed messages received by young people. Even more useful, for sharing with educators and parents, are 3 short videos recorded by Simon at the conference on the topic of eSafety at schools: Use of Social Media and mobile devices in schools ; New teacher behaviours ; and Acceptable use policies (AUPs) in schools. Thanks for these useful and sharable resources, Simon!

Creating a Community of Learners Online ~ Lynn Boyle @boyledsweetie

Lynn Boyle from the University of Dundee spoke about her experiences in creating a community of learners online. I missed Lynn’s workshop, but enjoyed speaking with her about what she’s learned about creating community online using informal, weekly webinars. Lynn recorded two terrific videos at the conference, which I have since shared with all of our online facilitators on the online MScSED programme at NUI Galway. Thanks, Lynn — and thanks for photo, too!

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 1

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 2

               

Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills ~ Bex Lewis @digitalfprint

Dr. Bex Lewis from the University of Winchester spoke how Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills. The presentation was based on her experiences teaching a “Manipulating Media” module focusing on critical thinking, evaluating sources, referencing, analytical and critical writing, and self-directing learning. Social media tools were integrated throughout the module — to considerable success. This is an excellent presentation, filled with useful links for further reference.

Open, Connected and Optimistic: Reflections on PeLC

“Sharing with each other; this is the precious work we have to do.” John Davitt

I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the Plymouth eLearning Conference which took place last week. I summarised my initial reaction in a comment on Simon Finch‘s blog post on the conference:

So beautifully captured, Simon. The Plymouth eLearning Conference was an amazing combination of things: open, informal and full of laughs, as well as intense, reflective and thought-provoking. I just about wrote and drew my way back to Galway… ideas, plans, mind maps. Ready to roll! It was, indeed, a privilege to spend time with so many people hopeful and blazing with energy about the future of learning.

Steve Wheeler hosted an event which featured stimulating speakers and workshops, yet allowed time and comfortable spaces for conversations and connections to happen. I pay great credit to Steve and the talented team behind this event; the conference organisation was flawless. Somehow Plymouth even flaunted perfect summer weather (in April!).

Stephen Heppell set the tone in his keynote, describing himself as “more optimistic than ever” and calling this generation of newly-qualified teachers “the best I’ve ever seen”. He gave numerous, (literally) mouth-watering examples of student-designed learning spaces and student-led learning , e.g. creative seating, all walls as whiteboards, even classroom ovens for baking bread. Heppell inspired and challenged us, saying that this generation will astonish us with their learning — but only if we astonish them with the best possible learning environments.

John Davitt, playing with the concept of the keynote address, gave a talk which inspired, provoked and delighted. He reminded us that when learning is new and difficult, each of us walks a different path. Activity is key — so as educators we must seek to turn activity “from an afterthought to an artform”. I think this is a great challenge for higher education, particularly, where it’s easy to allow tradition and procedures to constrain us. Using the 4 axes of the sensory matrix: see, hear, touch and feel, John warned us to beware the Bermuda triangle of teaching. He demonstrated his RAG app, a Random Activity Generator for generating new ideas for learning activities — do check it out. Davitt concluded: “let’s celebrate our own learning curve”.

The future of learning is open and connected. Twitter continues to be a powerful tool, connecting learners across boundaries of sector, geography, culture. John Davitt gave the best definition of Twitter I’ve yet heard, describing it as a tool for “anarchic learning and peer support”. The Twitter backchannel during the conference (#pelc11) was a non-stop reflection and discussion of what was happening in the lecture theatres and beyond, with people sharing ideas, resources, questions and criticisms. Thanks to Twitter, this communication was real-time, open, raw. Educators tuned into the conference from far beyond Plymouth, contributing and interacting. When Stephen Heppell described great education as being “collaborative, collegiate, unstructured and global”, he was describing what we were doing at PeLC. How could we not offer this opportunity for great education to our students?

In numerous sessions, the call for mobile, open, connected learning was made. Conference contributors — including the wildly enthusiastic trainee teachers who presented at the TeachMeet (#tmpelc11), encouraged by the irrepressible @chickensaltash — shared their experiences of using Twitter, Facebook and blogging with their students. Let the students choose their own tools. These forms of public and connected writing can help students to develop academic literacy skills which go beyond basic writing skills to include reflection, online networking and giving and receiving feedback. School leadership must be brave and embrace openness. We are moving in the direction of more mobile, sharable devices and less single-focal-point classrooms.

As Stephen Heppell said, we live in a world of transparency; we just haven’t embraced this in teaching yet. More change will happen in education in the next 10 years than in the past 100. But very few at the Plymouth eLearning Conference doubted Heppell when he concluded his keynote: “the next decade will be the best in your professional lives”.

Postscript: Sharon Flynn and I were the only delegates to attend from Ireland, both of us travelling from NUI Galway. I hope that there will be more delegates from Ireland next year, for a learning experience that is more than the word “conference” can capture. Direct flights from Dublin to Plymouth — it’s an easy journey which I look forward to making again. (Postscript: Alas, no more direct Dublin-Plymouth flights, still looking forward to #pelc12 though!)

Related post: #pelc11 workshops

** More blog posts from the Plymouth eLearning Conference:

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