I've been home for a few days now, and the ideas and insights generated from EduCon 2.3 are starting to jell in my mind. Reflection is an important component of the education process, so here are some random thoughts I'd like to share.
Aside from one presentation that was perilously close to "sit and git," the scheduled sessions were interactive and inspiring. These events are meant to be conversations, and their leaders acted more as facilitators than as experts. Although there is sometimes the hero-worship factor, "Wow, I'm sitting here listening to that Twitter star ________," once things get rolling, there is an ongoing dialogue that energizes everyone in the room. Strangers band together for quick collaborative projects and share their products eagerly. There's a brainstorming mentality: everyone learns from others' experiences and anecdotes.
Among the sessions I attended, I particularly enjoyed
- Design Thinking: 21st Century Skills for the Real World - Christian Long, David Bill, Ethan Bodnar. Participants were split into groups and guided through the process of solving a real world problem for an attendee-volunteer. The five steps - Discovery Define Brainstorm Prototype Test - can be applied to any problem; the design does not need to be for a physical space but can include learning environments as well. Christian gave us one important guideline, "You can only be wrong if you’re not listening to the client/her story."
- The Future of Student Inquiry/Research: Environmental Scanning and Scenario Building - Joyce Valenza, Gwyneth Jones, Shannon Miller. Although the three session leaders are school librarians, the conversation was inclusive of all educators. Participants collected and shared research tools, then defended their decision as to whether a statement like "Wikipedia is a good student resource" should be categorized as "Rocks" "Sucks" or "Not sure." The ensuing mini-debates challenged people to intelligently defend their choices. As with many of the session activities, this type of critical thinking exercise could easily be adapted for classroom use. I know we had fun with it!
- What's Wrong With This Picture? - Darren Kuropatwa, Dean Shareski. An introductory SlideShare was the inspiration for the activity that followed, as participants were invited to "play and learn and talk." Table mates collaborated on a photo challenge ("Create video or image that depicts something unreal, preferably with no post production") now archived in a Flickr slideshow.
- The Power of the Product: Creative, Meaningful & Daring Ways to Demonstrate Information Mastery - Gwyneth Jones, Diane Cordell. Again, two librarians facilitated a conversation for educators in general. This was my debut as a presenter at EduCon, and it was quite an exhilarating experience (thanks in large part to my partner and inspiration, the Daring Librarian). Our goal was to create our own product, a slideshow featuring less-traditional ways for students to explain and illustrate their learning. I enjoyed chatting with participants, including a group of young teachers from New York and Meenoo Rami, the founder and moderator of #engchat on Twitter. The SLA student streaming our session told me about a QR project in her English and Social Studies classes (researching Philadelphia buildings, then generating a QR code to link individual buildings with the students' information); I let her use my iPhone to scan the code on my business card so she could see and feel the scanning app in action. Gwyneth is still tidying up the slides that were created, but the finished product will be available here Additional resources can be accessed via the TL Virtual Cafe Power of the Product page.
A number of session leaders talked about "stories." Schools need to focus more on storytelling: helping students to understand stories from the past, stories from the global community and, more importantly, giving them the tools to articulate, capture, and share their own stories.
Back in the "real" world
In one sense, EduCon can be almost depressing. As Liz Davis noted in her reflective posting, My EduCon Struggle,
"While I did have a great time seeing people I only see once a year, meeting people face to face for the first time, and bringing a colleague from my school, I'm not sure what I learned. That is very difficult for me to write. I know I learn constantly and I certainly took back some good ideas. But many of the sessions, all of them well done, felt like things we have been talking about forever.
I'm tired. I'm tired of complaining about what schools aren't doing. I'm tired of lamenting what kids aren't learning. I'm tired of struggling to figure out effective professional development. I'm exhausted by the term 21st century skills."
Before my retirement, I also struggled with this. For a few days in January, it seems like you move in a bubble of excitement and optimism. Then you return to your home district, where innovation is an afterthought and no support is given to those who long for permission to tinker and create something new and meaningful for their students.
My professional response then was to chip away at the establishment, connect wherever, and however, I could with individuals, keep petitioning my administrators for more freedom, more tools, more more more. It was frustrating and largely ineffective.
Now, I believe that real reform will not come from within the system but from without. EduCon offers the opportunity to connect with innovators. This year, I've either had direct conversation about, or indirect connection to, several projects that may be game changers. I'm going to use my greatest gift, the gift of time, to contribute what I can to some of these collaborative enterprises.
EduCon is not a destination; it's the starting point of a journey.
"EduCon 2.3" by dmcordell