Monday, April 23, 2012

#Beyondlaptops 3 Take-Aways

I'm sitting back in the home office at Korea International School and remembering a great two days at #beyondlaptops. Before I launch into my Take-Aways from the conference, I want to sincerely thank Yokohama International School and Kim Cofino for this amazing two days of sharing with other Ed Tech people from all over the world. 

The conference really focused on three big ideas for me:
  1. Breaking the Bell Schedule: The current use of time in traditional school will not be practical in the future. The sad fact is that the schedule really hasn't work for a while anyway, but we have been living with it. The time for living with it is now officially over! The time to begin changing the schedule is NOW. Some ideas that came up in discussion were using the existing schedules we currently have with more time for passionate inquiry. For example, KIS has a seven block rotating schedule. Why do all seven blocks have to be assigned a class? Instead, one block can be simply called Projects. Students would form groups based on interest, not grade levels, and assigned a teacher. In an ideal world, the teacher would also be passionate about the subject and work as a facilitator. Thrown into this idea was some information supplied to the conference via Scott McLeod. Professor McLeod showed us several examples of computer technology available right now that can do the "heavy lifting" of teaching -- the low-level, rote information based part of teaching. This will free up teachers to work on discussions, synthesis, analysis, and creation of new knowledge; however, this will require more self-directed time in the schedule for students to work individually. Some people were put off by the idea that computers can teach, but my opinion is that if you can be replaced by a computer -- you probably weren't teaching very well anyway. The one issue I have about the move toward more individual student work is about the textbook companies and it is an issue I've had before computers -- who gets to decide what gets in the textbook or program. Other than that, the opportunity for truly individualized instruction is powerful and will move education forward in many ways. But, it doesn't fit in our current educational schedule. We have to break the bell schedule! It is that simple. Educational Leaders would be wise to begin the process now.
  2. Social Media and Digital Citizenship: Students at YIS were finishing up Digital Citizenship week; the students who came to the conference were a wonderful addition and provided an excellent opportunity to enrich us with their opinions. (They liked the idea of more freedom to decide what they would study built into the school day, by the way.) My discussions with them reminded me once again of the power of simply asking students about their learning. It is something we don't do nearly enough of a KIS. Students should be part of the curriculum writing process; we should be talking about their learning with them; we should be engaging them about education. One thing we discussed was Social Media, they agreed that it is a distraction, but also a great tool. And get this -- blocking doesn't work! EVER! Most of the people we will read this post know that, but it was great to hear the students say it again. Finally, through one of our other discussions, I realized that content on Digital Citizenship needs to have real life examples in order to be truly effective. The students basically said that theory discussions really don't accomplish much, but real cases involving real people do help them understand the importance. Oh, and for the record, they basically thought it was the teachers that overshare on social media -- not them.
  3. Curriculum should drive the Tech: It was like a mantra throughout the conference -- curriculum should drive the tech. It should be an add on or in addition, but it should come at the beginning when units are being written. When curriculum coordinators are meeting with grade level teams or departments, Ed Tech should be there with them offering support and ideas. True integration will only happen when technology is embedded into units from the start, not as an after thought. Also, I felt that teams of three from each school should be attending conferences like #beyondlaptops -- one admin, one curriculum coordinator, one Ed Tech person. The Ed Tech people need to have support from Admin and Curriculum Coordinators, because without their support, we are too easily ignored.
I'm sure in the coming weeks I will be revisiting these ideas again and again as I process everything that was discussed and shared at #beyondlaptops. Thank you Stephen Cathers (@stephencathers), our director, for allowing Ben Summerton (@bensummerton) and I to go to YIS and contribute.