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!

Twitter and the research journey

This morning I decided to crowdsource a response to the following question: “How can Twitter help with research/collaboration?”.

Here’s what you said (using Storyful)

Many thanks to all who contributed!

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Daniel*1977

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)

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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