It’s hard to believe another Learning 2.0 conference has come and gone. Yet again, the organizers created an innovative and engaging learning environment. It’s fantastic to watch how this conference has evolved from year to year, and just continues to get better and better. Personally, I thought this year was the best yet. Here’s why:
Cohorts of Learners
This is the second year in a row that Learning 2.0 has followed a cohort model for part of the conference. I love the idea of spending a set chunk of time with a set group of participants. To me, this adds another layer of learning, connections, and conversations to an already very learner-focused event.
Last year the conference was organized so that we had just cohort time and unconference time, which was a little tricky. I felt, as a cohort leader, that I was responsible for teaching all the things that participants could have possibly learned in a presentation session, and I think the participants felt a bit like they didn’t really know what to do with the unconference time. This year, the amount of time in cohorts was reduced, and additional presentation time was added, for a fabulous trifecta of cohorts, presentations and unconference time. It’s so important to keep that presentation time – not only does it encourage other participants to present, but it showcases the amazing things that are going on in schools all around Asia. I think this year was a perfect balance of all three formats.
The cohort concept is also fantastic because it provides a lens through which the participants can view the conference. This gives a focus to what participants are learning and allows dedicated time to discuss and reflect on everything they’ve seen. This year I was asked to lead a cohort called Authentic Assessment and Digital Media. Thankfully, I (once again) had a superstar partner, David Larson (last year I had the privilege of working with Darren Kurropatwa), because it was a challenging topic to facilitate. For starters, I read the title and thought: “Fun! Project Based Learning and Multimedia! We can share ways that we’re transforming our classroom to bring in the design process and authentic student-led projects!” But, on the first evening, when I asked participants what they were looking for, they said things like:
- Strategies for formative assessment
- Revising rubrics
- How to ensure that technology skills are being mapped and assessed
- How to assess technology standards
- How to map technology standards
Of course, all of these things are very important, but it wasn’t quite the vision I had for the cohort – especially given the fact that there were 50 people from at least 40 different schools, all at different places and with different standards and expectations. So, we did our best to share our ideas, allow others to share theirs, and to provide time to work together to answer some of the questions the brought with them to the conference. I think (hope) they walked away with something useful, and I certainly learned a lot.
A few highlights for me were:
- We need time to re-frame what we’re talking about. Why are we doing the things we’re doing? Finding a few really great articles and allowing time for participants to read, and then jigsaw back to a new group where everyone read a different article is a very effective way to do this.
- It was clear that participants really wanted (and needed) time to share what they are doing in their schools, challenges they face, and solutions or opportunities they could take advantage of (we did a SpeedGeeking session and a department-focused session to facilitate this)
- Formative assessment is a big challenge for teachers – we need some quick and easy strategies that teachers can implement, especially in a 1:1 environment (lots of good ideas about this for another post)
- The MYP Design Cycle (or any kind of design process) really does fit for any subject, but it takes time and teachers need help understanding that a technology-rich project that’s done thoroughly usually means more time, rather than less (we need to stop saying “make a movie about this for homework”).
- Almost every participant in the cohort was either in a 1:1 school, or their school was moving in that direction. Most had heard of the ISTE NETS standards and were applying them in some form at their school. Everyone had a positive story to share about the use of technology in their school – although they were all at very different levels.
- People still like to watch presentations. Some of the feedback from our session was that David and I didn’t do any formal presenting. I thought that was a good thing, but clearly I need to find a way to strike a balance between teaching directly (while modeling good presentation skills), and facilitating discussion.
- I need to remember to always, always, always highlight student work. I tend to get caught up in the abstract and big ideas, but teachers really appreciate concrete examples. In retrospect, I could have easily brought out student samples of work, rubrics I’ve used, and unit planners I’ve created and we could have deconstructed them (it’s not like I didn’t have them with me!). Then participants could have done the same with student work from their schools. It is so obvious, yet somehow I missed it. (Now I want to run the same topic again and do it better!)
- How to walk the fine line between focusing on tools and why we use the tools. Teachers seem to like being “wowed” with so many tools they couldn’t possibly absorb them all, but often are reluctant to talk about the bigger concepts of a changing classroom environment, or a media-rich world, or critical skills for the future, because those topics aren’t “practical”. I do believe teachers need to know what tools are out there, but I think knowing what they want to do with the technology and why they want to do it is so much more important. To me, just demoing a bunch of tools feels like eating too much candy, fun and sweet and exciting at the start, but after a while you get a stomach ache. Where’s the nutrition?
I love that feeling when you get to meet people you’ve been learning with for years online, in person. It’s amazing that you can kind of “skip to the good stuff” right away because you already know each other from so many different forms of communication. This conference has to be my absolute favorite for those kinds of connections. Walking into our cohort leaders planning session and seeing Wes Fryer, Rod Lucier, Darren Kurropatwa, George Couros, Alec Couros, Jess McCulloch, Kevin Honeycutt, Anne Mirstchin, Jeff Utecht, Julie Lindsay, Ann Krembs, Jabiz Raisdana, Jarrod Robinson, Toni Erni, Gail Lovely, Charlotte Diller, Sheldon Bradshaw, Michael Boll, and the amazing conference organizing team, is quite the buzz.
What’s even better is that when we did our mini-keynotes, all of our ideas built upon one another – and there was no collaborative planning for these presentations, no discussion of what we would do before we got on stage. We’re all thinking about the same things, and when we get together, we can get right down to talking about “doing bigger stuff” (as Jess likes to say). And on top of all that, getting the chance to see the wonderful people that are such an integral part of my personal learning network all together in the same place just can’t be beat! These connections are what it’s all about.
It is amazing to come back year after year to this conference and see how teachers and schools are moving forward. Seeing former participants come back as unconference leaders, former unconference leaders come back as presenters, and former presenters come back as cohort leaders is fantastic! This conference has become a community of learners that connects and reconnects in many ways, and we’re all continually pushing ourselves and our schools forward. I love working in Asia because of this feeling of momentum we have, it’s contagious and it spreads from school to school as our teachers move around and share their learning.
I like to tease my good friend Jabiz about being my first protégé (sorry BZ), but all I did was give him a ball (in this case the ball was WordPress instead of Dreamweaver) and he ran with it. Same goes for Dana Watts (formerly at ISB), and Rebekah Madrid and Zoe Page (here at YIS). We had a few conversations here and there, and before I knew it, they were running with that ball so fast, doing new things in inspiring ways. It’s such a pleasure to come to a conference like this and see all of them together, knowing that there are groups of people all over the venue with the same kinds of stories and connections. We’re all moving forward together.
I’m especially proud to have brought a team of teachers from YIS to the conference this year too. Having a group of us at the conference, spending time thinking about these big ideas together, and then being able to share them back at school, is just one of the many ways the momentum continues to spread. Thanks for coming Zoe, Rebekah , Elif, Brian and Trevor! Looking forward to bringing this energy and enthusiasm back to YIS throughout the year.
Thanks Learning 2.011 team for inviting me back another year. It’s truly an honor to be part of the community that you have created. I’m already looking forward to Learning 2.012!