Two Days in Brisbane – Edutech 2014

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I attended the 2014 Edutech Conference in Brisbane again this year.

In the past I have really enjoyed this conference. The calibre of the speakers is always excellent. This year was no exception. The lineup included Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra, Ewan McIntosh, Ian Jukes and many others.

The overarching message was about enabling learners.
#The constant theme, which was continuously articulated by the various keynote speakers, centred around the idea that education needs to change from the old industrial model, with a focus on content, to a model which develops creative thinkers.
#That individual’s needs need to be accommodated more actively in the learning process.
#That the teacher needs to get out of the way and facilitate and enable rather than hinder the learner with old instruction models. Ideas like Flipped Learning, Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, SAMR are potential enablers.
#With the advent of achievable 1:1 implementations schools need to be harnessing the opportunities which the technology brings.

Sugata Mitra’s insights into learning and how digital capacity can enable learning even in remote, backward regions of India was compelling. He stated that research has proven that threat is an impediment to learning and that testing can be threatening. Instead he argued for a Curriculum of questions, peer assessment and certification without examination. He spoke about creating Self organised learning environments (SOLE) arguing that the idea of regimented learning wasn’t the goal, but that collaboration, engagement and admiration were key.

I am always impressed with the ideas presented by Ewan McIntosh. He spoke about agile leadership and the need for schools to be responsive to change. He argued that it is OK to fail. He described FAIL as First Attempt In Learning. He talked about contradictions, tensions and surprises and that agile leadership is about taking these and using them.

Ian Dukes spoke about education in the age of disruptive innovation. He presented a passionate case which focused on the changing nature of the world and the need for schools and education systems to change. He argued that students of today need to be prepared for a very different tomorrow. Jobs will be increasingly global and will be much more about thinking and creativity. He cited the decline in industrial and service jobs and the growth of jobs such as app creation, jobs which will require collaboration and creative thought.

Sir Ken Robinson was very engaging in person. He is a compelling speaker any time and it was great to hear him speak twice during the conference. He argued that just as farming is moving to organic so too should education. He recognised the challenges that schools face from politicians, but was adamant that politicians are just passing through and that the responsibility for change lay with the educators. He told one of his great stories about the farming family who after generations of eking out a poor living on a farm learn that great wealth, in the form of nickel, lay just below the surface. Obviously the intent here is to point out that often schools fail to realise the full potential of their students.

I enjoyed the various presentations that I attended. A couple of the leadership team from Margaret River Primary School told a compelling story. Their presentation started with a parody which set the mood for their entertaining presentation. The learning environment that they have created, at Margaret River, was really engaging and exciting. Their simple incorporation of Caves, Waterholes, Campfires and Mountain Tops as a natural part of the learning environment was impressive. Some great ideas from these inspired educators.

Another speaker Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta also had some great messages. He insisted that schools must innovate to improve outcomes for the individual learner and that we need Curriculum for the individual. It shouldn’t be one size fits all. He argued that Innovation is not experimentation and that we must base decisions on the best we know. He argued that schools should aim to create a positive environment for teachers and build teacher capacity. He sees teachers as entrepreneurs and the drivers of innovation. Learning spaces need to be collaborative, agile, personalised and have ubiquitous access to technology.

It was interesting to see where other schools are in their respective journeys and my impression was that most schools have either geared towards 1:1 or are moving in that direction. This being said a model which isn’t entirely 1:1 may be desirable as it enable greater collaboration (as Sugata Mitra’s work attests to).

It was I thought quite interesting to see where the clusters of interest were in the exhibition hall. I think that that gives some insight into where educators are and where they are headed. Certainly cloud based applications were extremely popular. Office 365, Google Apps, Stile, School Box and MyEd seemed to attract interest. This I think ties with our own needs. Being able to seamlessly move all sorts of data to and from various devices and platforms is a crucial enabler. My school will trial Stile (an Australian cloud solution) next term.
There was interest in innovations such as 3D printing, robotics and alternative furniture and in generalists such as Datacom (Here, I must say, it was refreshing to attend the Datacom Workshop because the presenter was talking insightfully about educational solutions rather than product).
It was interesting that this year wireless solutions, which were popular in previous years, were less of a focus this year. Perhaps many schools have invested in wireless upgrades already.

It was also great to see TeachMeets taking place in the exhibition area at the conference. The TeachMeets certainly added to the atmosphere and added great value to the event.

On a light note, I was catching a Taxi to the airport after the conference and I offered to share my taxi with a fellow traveller. It turned out that she was a delegate at the conference and that she had won the “Grand Prize” – which was a car. Hoping a little of that luck rubs off.

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