Going to a CEGSA conference is always a weird experience for me. It’s run by my local professional association on which I spent two years as a committee member (where I don’t think that I contributed a great deal) so I know most of the people behind the scenes who work damn hard to put together a conference of quality. It isn’t easy in South Australia, which is somewhat isolated from the more populated eastern seaboard, to afford to attract big name educators who will attract interest from the wider education community. There is a nice, grassrooots feeling about CEGSA’s annual conference as it depends mostly on local educators putting their hands up to share what they are doing. But I think I am a naturally skeptical and hard-to-enthuse type of person and I want to be challenged in my thinking on the level that I can get at any time from networked learning. I found myself feeling a common connection with Biance Hewes’ post about ISTE where she describes herself as having “moodiness and cynicism” and becoming a “grinch”. I completely get that. (Even if she might not appreciate my out of context comparison. Seriously though, she is one of the best Aussie edubloggers going around.)
So, I always look forward to this conference with a bit of excitement. It is cool to catch up with ex-colleagues and network with educators in similar roles – but I do want presenters to give me something new for my brain to chew on.
So Day One’s keynote speakers were George Couros and Tony Bryant. George is the younger brother of Alec Couros, a higher education blogger who I have reading for a few years. George is newer on the scene, a Canadian divisional principal, and I must admit I only recently subscribed to his blog to start reading his work. No problem, he only really heard of me today for the first time. But he has become highly influential in a relatively short period of time and his savviness in social media is evident. So, his keynote was enjoyable and focussed on the need for educators to become more informed around social media and continue to learn about the connected world that our students live in. Nothing that I haven’t heard before or written or presented about myself in the past – but he has a much bigger platform to spread his ideas from. I then went to his workshop on Digital Footprints which went through how to take control of and use tools to connect on the web. A point of interest was one educator there (from an elite private school here in Adelaide no less) who wanted to pick a bone with George about the “evidence” behind a video he showed during the presentation where an American college student takes institutional education to task over its lack of relevance. George responded well, saying that it was imperative that we addressed disengagement by ensuring that our disadvantaged students gained access to the skills and tools that could engage and make their learning relevant. I’ve heard criticisms similar to this before – all from educators involved in schools where they have been successful in a traditional academic sense with their students and the whole “change or be irrelevant” message is one they don’t see, or from private schools where they can show the disengaged students the door and make them the state school’s problem. I think that George was spot on in this regard.
He also spoke about and discussed the Facebook issue for students where past indiscretions could came back to haunt them. I’m still not so sure that things will pan out that way. I see quite a lot of kids in that space who create multiple personal accounts and identities all with a mix of fact and fiction, easily jettisoned if the need arises – and certainly almost impossible for a potential employer to definitively use as an accurate past digital history. Time will tell – and Facebook is no certainty to be around when the current group of upper primary kids start looking for jobs. So, George was an engaging personality and reinforced a lot of what I already know. But it is definitely an Australian thing to need an overseas expert to tell us what we should be doing.
Tony Bryant was the second keynote and he is the principal of Silverton Primary School in Melbourne, Victoria. I have had the privilege of hearing him speak on his own turf, during a Microsoft Innovative Schools visit early last year, and much of what he said today was similar in nature. His talk is very informative for me in my role as leader in working out what is important in defining the way forward at my school. He suggested a lot of commonsense innovation, and I went to his next presentation on Personalised Learning where he battled a fading voice to describe what it looks like at Silverton. He also pointed out that meaningful change isn’t a fast process, and that it requires patience and being a “committed sardine”!
So, my plan was to concentrate on the “big names” to get value from my day. I am still stewing on what I heard and saw – and tomorrow I have my own presentation to give. I’ve dusted off the presentation that never got to be after the Judy O’Connell headlining event for CEGSA and SLASA was canned, put it back together and we will see if anyone wants to hear about “Digital Literacy” in the last session of the conference. After my declining cohort experience at the ITL Masterclass, I am not confident that anyone will be interested in a small timer’s big picture perspective. After all, it probably isn’t anything that Will Richardson hasn’t already said in his blog and recorded presentations all over the web. But I am a local and I am free. Maybe I’ll push the slideshow up to the web and record the talk for others to check out.