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.

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

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

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

Be bold. Embolden others.

I was inspired by Josie Fraser’s (@josiefraser) #purposed post when preparing a presentation for last Saturday’s ICT in Education Conference (#ictedu) in Tipperary.

In Ireland, as elsewhere, we live in uncertain times. There is uncertainty about the economy, the environment, education, technology — indeed, the future. Our world is increasingly diverse and changing rapidly. As educators we must not only accept this, but equip our students for this reality. Whatever subjects we teach, at whatever level, this is of paramount importance. It is not just a cliché that we are educating students for jobs which don’t exist yet, for a future that we cannot predict. We have an obligation to educate students to expect change, to be willing to be changed, and to effect change. We also must model this resilience and willingness to change.

The ability to do this, in a sustained way, lies in the power of connection. Our increasingly diverse connections (or networks or PLNs) are the key. It is through these connections that we are emboldened. Connecting with and learning from others emboldens us. When we learn what others have tried, have learned, have failed and succeeded at, we are emboldened to try out our own ideas — perhaps ideas inspired by others, perhaps our own conceptions. But the courage to take risks can be found through our connections with others.

Over the past two years, I have interacted with a growing number of educators and others on Twitter. As my network of connections has grown, so has my creativity, my productivity, and my willingness to take risks and try new ways of teaching and learning. I am a far better educator thanks to my connections with others — my connection with you.

Through my connections I am emboldened to try new ideas, new tools, new techniques. I learn from these experiences and from my colleagues and students, and then I share that learning… not just in conversations, but amplifying it via Twitter, blogging, etc. Once we acknowledge that our connections inspire us to act and to take risks, the next step is to recognise that we, too, must share our experiences. The cycle continues.

This concept is illustrated beautifully in the 1.5 minute film Obvious to you. Amazing to others. by Derek Sivers (@sivers).

Connection amongst educators is happening. But we also must share this powerful opportunity with our students. To equip our students for the future, learning to connect and share well is as essential as learning to read and write well. We teach our students about the vital link between connection and learning by providing opportunities for social networking and mobile learning inside (and outside) the classroom. This is essential.

Finally, I think that the same tools and technologies can be used to improve connections between parents and teachers. Many schools are already active on Facebook, and some on Twitter. The Parents Association at my local school, Gort Community School, is active on Twitter (@Parents_GortCS) and has facilitated some positive engagement between parents and teachers. But greater opportunities exist — if we are bold enough to take them!

I was delighted to have the opportunity to share these ideas with a group of engaging educators, from all sectors of education, at #ictedu on Saturday. Great discussions followed about thinking in the “white spaces”, PLNs, using Twitter in schools, blogging and more. Thanks to all of the participants for your thoughts and your energy. I look forward to continuing the discussions — here in the blog, on Twitter, and beyond. My presentation is here:

And now it’s time for me to be bold and use what I learned about Storyful from @dermotcasey to share more of the brilliance of #ictedu!

“Sharing with each other; this is the precious work we have to do.“– John Davitt (from previous post on PeLC11)

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:

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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