Inspire Innovate is a massive technology in education conference run by Western Sydney Region of Department of Education and Communities. It’s an impressive-looking conference – big venue, lots of attendees and some big-name keynotes. It reminded me of ISTE, only a whole lot smaller. I think there was the same crowd too – the interested but wary teachers, the over-enthusiastic regional and state consultants, the edutech geeks who have seen it all before and the teachers who just wanted a couple of days off school at the end of term (and of course, a swag bag or two).
This year the keynotes were Ian Jukes, Gary Stager and Ewan McIntosh. I was disappointed by Jukes’ keynote – he spent 4/6 of his time explaining how the world was changing because of technology, then moved on to how this was impacting the business world (1/6) and finally made it to education in the last 1/6 of his talk. There really were too many buzz words in this keynote and ultimately I feel that teachers have ‘seen it’ and ‘heard it’ all before. I mean, how many times can we see pictures of old computers juxtaposed with children playing on iPads? I was bored and I know other were too. Guess I was the only stupid one to tweet about it. On a positive note, I heard his workshop was great and his website is worth a visit. Google it.
Stager’s keynote on the following day wasn’t terrible, he just spent too much time on the ‘what’ of educational change … what doesn’t work, what we’re doing wrong, what he has done with schools and students to try and make things better. I just feel like so many teachers are looking up to people like Stager for the ‘how’ of educational reform. I was pleased that he focused on project-learning as being central to this reform, but ultimately showing vids of a couple of exceptional kids playing with robotics (one assisted by her very clever father and the other assisted by Stager himself), I just felt wouldn’t have translated to ‘ah ha’ moments for tired teachers. I could be wrong … I am just a surly, frustrated educator clearly looking for a target. Or maybe I am just irreverent to edu gods? I must confess, I like Stager’s sometimes grumpy and aggressive demeanor … his loud voice gets grating after 30 minutes (and we sat through an hour and a half) but he does have passion and I admire that. I just wish he had focused more on what educators can realistically do TODAY to reshape their craft.
Oh, and Ewan? I didn’t get to see his keynote, I left earlier because I felt sick, sick, sick. It was nice to briefly catch up with him before I left and watching the tweet-stream it seems his talk was liked by many.
On the Wednesday I had booked to attend three sessions. After voting with my feet and leaving the first session on Evernote and Instapaper (the presenter was ‘helping’ us register for these tools one step at a time – great for some teachers, but not me. Is it too hard to put a ‘beginner, intermediate, advanced’ icon on session outlines?) I found myself in Pip Cleaves’ presentation on Web 2.0 tools. As I confessed to Pip yesterday, I don’t use too many ‘tools’ that are web-based – maybe 5 at the most – but I loved this session because she made it fun. It was a sharing session within an edmodo group and I rediscovered a couple of gems (polivore, xtranormal, voki) to share with my Year 10 who are currently immersed in our massively multiplayer classroom. Thanks Pip!
The next day was all about me and Jess – lolz. We’d carpooled in both days (OK – so Jess drove me in) and had been sharing our nerves about presenting at the conf. Jess presented on collaboration in a cute session titles ‘Stop! Collaborate and Listen!’ – I love a good pun! I was presenting on … drum roll … PBL and edmodo! Why? Cos that’s all I’ve got – haha. On Wednesday night I was feeling very ordinary, much to my frustration as I had to organise my workshop … leaving it to the last minute as always. So by Thursday morning I was a grumpy, tired, nauseous mess. Jess the lovely thing really looked after me.
Collaboration is such a buzz word, so many edu-peeps use it as their platform for ‘edu reform’. But Jess made collaboration real by getting her attendees to work together – she also made her presentation relevant to the people listening. I loved that she shared the stories of her students with us, helping us to see that one or two cleverly selected tools (like linoit, google docs, diigo and edmodo) can not only enhance engagement in class, but ultimately help students ‘own’ their knowledge and be better prepared for the test – at the end of the day, this is a biggy for all Year 11/12 students and their teachers in NSW.
My session was a little unpolished … I was feeling so unwell by the time 11.30am rocked around, I couldn’t tell if the shaking hands was from the fever or the nerves. I wager it was both. I am so pleased that my presenting style has changed dramatically in the last 18 months. There was no way I was in the state to ‘talk at’ the 58 attendees for an hour an a half. So what did I do? I gave a 12 minute overview of Project Based Learning (the three minute BIE PBL vid from YouTube and my 7 minute pecha kucha on PBL) then asked them to jump into an edmodo group (I didn’t bother showing them how to register – work it our yourselves kiddies, as easy as creating a facebook account) and gave them a ‘project’ to complete in 45 minutes. I gave them access to all of the PBL resources they could ever desire in a ‘read-only’ edmodo group, you can request to join the group here if you wanna snitch some resources – but if you use my stuff you gotta attribute, it’s the 21st century after all. Before my session each attendees was given a scrap of paper with a text-pen written number on it (high-tech, huh?) and this allocated them into a project team. I gave them this as their driving question: How can we use PBL to empower our students to ‘own’ their learning? The rest of the project outline is on the slides below.
It was hilarious watching the teachers be thrown completely out of their comfort zone – OK, except for Team 11 which was full of edu-ubers (Jess, Megan, Alice, Darren, Malyn and Moley) who completed the project early and had time to play. Most of the other teachers were put off by the pressure of doing something in a workshop – something that required collaboration with strangers and a final presentation of learning. BUT to be honest, the teachers created some amazing projects within the 45 minutes and I know they did learn a lot because I got them to give impromptu 30 second reflection at the half-way mark, lol. Oh, and the fact that all 58 of them stayed behind an extra 10 minutes to watch the 2 minute presentations of their peers encouraged me greatly – these teachers are wonderful people with big hearts who I know will bring back new ideas for their students and their schools.Thanks so much to everyone who attended – you made the workshop happen and allowed me to crawl under the table for a kip.
After two days at Inspire Innovate, I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not the place for me next year. I will, however, be encouraging a few of my colleagues to attend next year. I reckon they’ll love it.