February 14, 2018

A note on keynotes

Do big conferences still have keynote speakers because it is what has always been done?

We talk about the prime real estate in our classrooms – how the start of any period of learning sets the tone for the rest of the day, at times, the rest of the year. So why don’t we apply this to our professional learning as well?

I have been to a number of conferences and most of them have one thing in common – the keynote speaker. After a few minutes into a keynote presentation I usually look around at everyone in the room and think: What an opportunity we have here! …If only we could all connect with each other right away. Recently, I was at a conference with hundreds of teachers, consultants, and administrators from primary, secondary, and adult education centres across the province of Quebec. The keynote was interesting for about 20 minutes and then… people started fidgeting. The woman across from me was playing candy crush. The person next to me was reading the upcoming workshop descriptions. You get the picture.

Conference organizers spend a lot of money getting big-name keynote speakers. WHAT IF we reframed the keynote?

A keynote is supposed to energize participants and get them primed for the learning to come. WHAT IF we focused our energy on finding great workshop facilitators and asked one or a handful to energize participants for 20 minutes? We know that the shorter, and more concise the message, the more potential there is to light a fire and to keep us wanting more.

There is nothing worse then getting all excited about going to a conference, hearing all of that buzz in the lobby of the conference centre as people see colleagues they haven’t seen in a long time or meet others for the first time…only to have that energy quashed by sitting on plastic chairs and listening for 45 or 60 or 90 minutes. Think about it – so many initiatives in education are moving away from lecture based teaching and learning… so why are we modeling this kind of learning in education conferences?

WHAT IF we limited our keynote presentations to 20 minutes? And if keynote presenters were forced to use technology in ways that make sense for learning by using powerful images with simple bits of text to support what they were saying?

Think of the potential for igniting our excitement for learning and for harnessing that valuable real estate at the beginning of a learning cycle. If a group of people are gathering in one place to learn together, is the best way to launch the learning through…lecture?

Posted in: EdTech, Modeling, News
February 6, 2018

Some questions about digital portfolios

This post starts of with a personal experience and ends with a series of questions for adult educators.

Last week, while I was at a conference focused on our new programs in Quebec adult education, I received this via a portfolio app called SeeSaw that my son’s teachers use to share news from the classroom.

image of dictee with red pen corrections and stickers

I usually love to see pictures of him working on different projects or singing songs but this image affected me differently. After a few days, I sent a message to his teacher to let her know this (I shared this article with her before publishing it).

I was thinking, Way to go, Jack! at the same time as I thought about all of the work I have been doing with teachers and consultants over the past number of years to move away from the celebration of weekly quizzes, at the same time as I thought about the role of educational technology and how this app brought this image to me along with all of what I just described.

I love the idea of digital portfolios. I have my own all over the place, most recently here:

image of portfolio webpage, click to access

Jack even has one that I started for him and that he added to through most of Kindergarten.

As a technology consultant, I love the premise of using technology to share learning with others. One of my central beliefs about the use of technology has to do with its power to share our stories. I love seeing pictures of Jack during the day, they lift my heart. But when this picture came in, it didn’t have the same effect.

One of SeeSaw’s selling points is that “Seesaw gives families an immediate and personalized window into their child’s school day.” (from their website).

Do we need this? Is this what a portfolio is?

If I wanted an immediate and personalized glimpse into my child’s school day… shouldn’t I be homeschooling?

Part of it is that I just don’t celebrate weekly tests and quizzes. Especially when I received this image completely out of context, in the middle of the day, while I was at a conference in another city. And I guess that is it. A system like SeeSaw doesn’t really give us a personalized window into the school day. It gives us tastes, as determined by the teacher.

A big part of it is my own fault for not changing the settings on the app. I now have it set to notify me only once a day for any updates. (Not sure what time of day that is, guess I will find out!)

I know that some of you have used apps like SeeSaw with adult students – either in adult ed or higher education. What do you feel about it? What do your students feel about it? Do you find that it gives you more work? Are you using it in ways that encourage students to self-assess? To assess their peers? To assess their teachers? What is amazing about it? What are its downfalls, if any? Have you ever received feedback like what I just wrote?

And what is our responsibility as educators when we use apps to share things with our students and their families?

I don’t claim to know all of the answers. This is a new line of questioning for me. Help me out.

January 17, 2017

The interactive whiteboard… how do you use it?

Interactive white boards have been a hot topic in Quebec ever since the government promised one in every classroom back in 2011. The promise was long critiqued for not being well thought out and the fallout today is that many classrooms in Quebec DO have an interactive white board at the front of the room but… well… how are they being used?

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January 13, 2017

Success indicators + technology

Sandra, Johanne, and Kaçandre’s workshop is continuing to inspire the work I do. I began by creating this video that focuses on how Hattie’s #1 indicator – Teacher estimates of achievement – is embodied in our classrooms in Quebec. It addresses how technology can be used to amplify it as well.

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May 26, 2016

Learning at a Distance (or up close!): thoughts inspired by #REFAD2016

I am in Ottawa at the annual conference on distance education offered by REFAD. One of the opening comments was that distance education is just one of the tools we have to reach our learners and to help frame their learning. I like that the conference started off in this vein. It flows well with my own beliefs in tools – that they are just tools in service of our real work: student learning.

The task then is how best to design learning situations that take place at a distance (or up close!) to reach the needs of our learners in ways that make sense.

The answer seems to lie in relationship and intention.

These are the same themes Avi and I explored with online tutors in adult education a few weeks ago.

CORAL (Complementary Online Resources for Adult Learners) is an online tutoring service offered to adult learners from LEARN Quebec. CORAL’s Barbara and Cheryl asked us to accompany their tutors in some professional development on tutoring at a distance.

At REFAD, presenters from CEGEP á Distance (CAD) told us their story of online tutoring. They talked about the centrality of feedback for success and for fighting dropout rates and absenteeism in distance learning.

What I found especially interesting is that their tutors are all CEGEP teachers, which is a similar situation as our CORAL tutors who are all teachers within Quebec’s English sector Adult Ed system. What the CAD is doing, is providing their tutors with explicit professional development in how to provide effective, intentional feedback as the backbone of their practice.

Roselyne Boyer from Université de Laval spoke about the biggest task in online learning being to manage the human element within all of the technology and in face of the distance. That is, in fact, her vision, as shown in this image from her presentation.

IMG_0059

It is really from this point that Avi and I framed our Professional Development with the tutors at CORAL. Our main message was that no matter where we are teaching, the student-teacher relationship frames the work.

Rather than focusing on the technology behind online learning, if we focus on student learning we can then find the tools that make the most sense for everyone within that context.

To return to what I wrote earlier – while the teacher student relationship frames the work, there is also that other human factor that is often missing from the context of the work: the social context.

P., a high school student from Ontario took both online and face to face courses at his school and he shared his experiences with us at REFAD2016. While he did well in his online courses, he preferred his face to face courses because of his friends in the room. I have a feeling that a perfect online course (if that can possibly exist…) will exist somewhere in between the online and the face to face.

So. Flexibility, differentiation, and a recognition of the human element (it is sacred) need to be key factors of learning at a distance. Not very different from learning in presence, is it?

**Featured image: Don’t waste your time or money on ROT! Wellcome Library, London, on Flickr. Shared via CC. BY. ND. NC