Future Directions

If you want to be patted on the back for being a groovy, totally plugged in 21st Century educator, don't bother going to read Dean Groom's blog. But you value some authentic alternative views and some clever metaphorical language twisting like I do, then his latest post is well worth the read.

I've been harping on the concept of personalised learning and how the version being championed by US philanthropists sounded nothing like the version I know and then Stephen Downes pointed to an article that was very enlightening.

 

So Dean's post was ringing some of the same bells and in the spirit of old skool Web 2.0, I thought I would leave him a comment but not wanting to lose those delicate personal threads of consciousness, i thought I would re-post it here. Plus, I assume it is currently in "pending approval purgatory" and he might not deem it worthy to approve!

Dean,

You always give me food for thought and much of what you describe in this post rings true for me. It doesn’t mean that I’ve been brave (or smart) enough to not get caught up in the frenzy sometimes, but when you shine the light on an object in a certain way, suddenly aspects of that object can be more easily defined – or as the saying goes, seen in a new light.

Via Twitter you pointed to a post about educelebrities that also ties in closely with aspects addressed. We have a number of these down under – some have channelled into something with broad appeal to the teaching population, and others have gone all out to deliberately cultivate their educelebrity status. The latter can be found amongst the “founders” that you reference, and from my vantage point it appears like they are mining the Australian teaching landscape for their own betterment. They write articles for ACEL, they win awards and they cross-reference each other because circular self-amplification super-boosts their online presence. Maybe I am just jealous and maybe many teachers find their insights and ideas to be inspiring and useful. I just wonder what happened to just doing a good job at your own school and letting good practice speak for itself.

The personaliSed learning reference is extremely important and one to watch unfold this year for sure. There is the definition of personaliSed learning that sits inside my head and has been part of what I tried to enable for my students for at least twenty of the thirty years I have been teaching. (I have a DECD certificate acknowledging my loyalty for that period of time). But the new EdTech enhanced version possibly defined by its American Z is a new beast that promises so much but when you look closer, it is the opposite of what most progressive educators (which I like to think that I strive to be) want for their students. PersonaliSed learning for me involves student choice, students helping define the direction of the learning and students showcasing their learning in ways that are personal. Education technology’s role in this scenario is an enabler allowing the student access to information that they want, connection to resources and people that can help them in that learning and to create their own solution / product / showcase. PersonaliZed learning wants the technology to be in control, pushing or elevating the student through pre-determined content and concepts – Khan Academy without the choice is what springs into my head. Like you point out, the Z version promises what the s version has been shown to be capable of but reduces it all down to (in your words) “various modular ‘fun’ activities under the trending veneer of gamification.”

As for your description of the blockchain transcript, it sounds eerily like the e-portfolio concept of over a decade ago. I wasted time researching some that idea back in the day and we can see how it has really taken off in schools … or not. Like questionable fashion, even edtech ideas can be recycled in new packaging and touted as new and original. Of course, none of this means that I am any better than the average educator in sorting through the gift shop paraphernalia.

Beware the Z.

Ernie Smith on blogging:


Perhaps the world has moved past the idea of merely having a webpage that’s your own, and nobody else’s. Perhaps we’re expected to do everything, instead, on social media or in someone else’s walled garden.

But what if a lot of bloggers were never really in it just for the importance of being on top of the cultural pulse? What if the goal was to share a piece of ourselves through the mechanics of shoving new thoughts into a database every day?

My last three posts have been focussed on my first foray into First Lego League and the students involved. But together with my fellow AP, Nicola, we also decided to get started with First Lego League Junior this year to broaden STEM enrichment offerings at Prospect North, and to cater for younger students. Nicola had heard about the program before so I decided to do some research. First Lego League has been operating in Australia since 2006 (worldwide since 1999) but its younger cousin is much newer (worldwide since 2007) and seems to have been available in Australia for a few years. And while there were three regional tournaments for FLL available here in South Australia, there were no official Expos planned for this state.

What is involved in First Lego League Junior? An short excerpt from the website sums it up best:

Focused on building an interest in science and engineering in children ages 6-9, FIRST® LEGO® League Junior is a hands-on program designed to capture young children's curiosity and direct it toward discovering how science and technology impact the world around them. This program features a real-world challenge, to be explored through research, critical thinking and imagination. Guided by adult coaches and the Core Values, team members work with LEGO® elements (LEGO WeDo Kit) and motorized parts to build ideas and concepts and present them for review.

Each yearly Challenge is based on a different theme and has two main parts, the LEGO® Model and the Show Me Poster.

Teams consist of two to six children and are guided by at least two adult coaches. During the season they will:

  • Conduct research about the current Challenge theme.
  • Build a LEGO® Model based on the Challenge instructions that contains both a simple machine and a motorized part.
  • Display their findings on a Show Me poster.

The culmination of the hard work for many teams is the participation in an expo event ... Volunteer Reviewers at the event interview the teams to learn about their LEGO® Model and Show Me poster. All the teams are celebrated and leave with an award.

I had bought Lego WeDo 2.0 kits for the school as one of my first investments from the STEM budget and worked across the Year 2 - 4 classrooms to give students the opportunity to use this very hands on technology. FLL Jr is tied to the use of WeDo - and so together, Nicola and I decided to offer this opportunity to four teams of students from ages 6 - 10. We started by asking the Digital Leaders who might be interested, and then asked the Year 1 teachers to nominate a student who would benefit from the experience.

I ordered four team Inspiration Model kits which are part of the year's program. This year's theme was Aqua Adventure, which ties in with the FLL's HydroDynamics theme. The kits were ordered from Macquarie University and cost $20 each. When I looked online to find out a bit more about the kit, I was very pleased to see that each kit had over 700 pieces! Lego are a bit like Apple in that they don't really do discount on their products so these kits represented phenomenal value. When I told my principal, her first reaction was to ask, "How many of these kits can we order?" Schools can always use more Lego.

This much Lego for $20!

There is also an Engineering Notebook that is given out to students in the US but it raises the costs of registration significantly. Here in Australia, participating coaches could access the Notebook via a download link which I cannot share here. The Notebook was a great scaffolded learning journey that Nicola and I used as a blueprint with the students, covering ideas like the PlayPump™ and getting kids to use Lego to engineer concepts along the way on the them of human water use.

The four teams gave themselves theme based names and we nominated Year 4 students as leaders to keep the mixed gender and year level teams on track. These leaders helped to design the team t-shirts which also helped build the excitement as we worked our way through the ten week program. We decided to hold our own local Expo with the goal of expansion in 2018 once we felt like we knew what we were doing. With a few weeks to go and while balancing the responsibilities for the Hydrodynamics teams and a school commitment to hosting a Kids Teach STEM conference for our local partnership schools, we nailed down an Expo date. The teams worked towards this by typing up what they had learned and displaying it on large ShowMe posters. The working models were constructed - even though they did not approach the scale and complexity of what we could see online. Nicola and I worried about our standards not being as high and the students' work needing more depth but in the end, the students did a commendable job considering how much time they were given and that this was a brand new process for everyone and no one really knew how it would all turn out.

The models had to demonstrate a solution to a water based problem for humans. One team looked at how to decontaminate water, one looked at recycling water for showers and other non-drinking purposes, another two showed how to filter household water out to a garden or other purposes.

So, the day after the Kids Teach STEM Conference, we gathered in the library for our initial FLL Junior Expo. The four teams were dressed in their various coloured t-shirts and stood proudly by their displays. I had some small Lego based trophies for Awards out on display - the rules state that each team must win an Award if awards are given. I had the team names on lego blocks that were to be added as the Awards were determined. More parents than expected came along for the introduction and I even made contact with a grandparent who was a retired engineer who was full of praise for the event and offered to be of service to our school with possibilities of STEM mentoring in 2018. After parents and classmates had a good look, it was time for the teams to be reviewed. Marg, our principal and Phil, our retired Scientist in Residence did the reviewing and some senior FLL students ran a Core Values activity and a Guess The Famous Lego Minifigure quiz for teams while they waited. We then held our Closing Ceremony with certificates for all participants via the traditional High Five Line, and the trophies were awarded to each team.

Check out my custom Lego trophy in the student's hand!

The whole program was quite successful and I hope to promote this out to the wider education community here in South Australia, with the goal of becoming the official host of the First Lego League Junior here at Prospect North. So, if you are from a South Australian school with a 6 to 10 year old demographic and you are reading this, it is a great opportunity. For the cost of $20 for the Inspiration kit, it is a cheap STEM enrichment option. Feel free to email me - graham.wegner499@schools.sa.edu.au

 

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Moving on from a school to a new role gives me some mental space in which to reflect on how this teaching career has panned out so far. I think I've been pretty fortunate to work in some very interesting places under some unique circumstances with many extraordinary educators. I mean, I have heard about some teachers who can't seem to take a trick, finding themselves in untenable situations in dysfunctional sites but that hasn't been my experience. Maybe it's a positive outlook but that has been made easier through a large number of factors. So, let me check back through the years.

When I was an early career teacher seeking out rural contract positions, I managed to end up at Miltaburra Area School for a year and a term. This is a school in the middle of a paddock, near a set of crossroads intersecting the Eyre Highway - the result of a compromise between four closing community schools. It was also pretty new when I worked there so that was a great experience.

When I gained my permanency and lobbed at Willsden Primary in Port Augusta, I had the unique experience of teaching one of my cousin's kids in my Year 3 classroom. And when I applied to head back to Adelaide after four years of country service, I had to list down all of the schools I was keen on transferring to. I didn't know Adelaide very well so I started by looking at where golf clubs with affordable membership were located. That really was my sole reason for listing Flagstaff Hill at No. 1 on my list and again, what were the odds of scoring the nearby school as my new destination? Also, what were the odds of being located in an open space classroom next to a teacher whose beliefs and innovative drives were so similar to mine that we would collaborate on everything for the next eight years and he would become a life long friend?

Sometimes other people's lack of engagement can be personally beneficial. Flagstaff Hill had a great computer room at that time but very few teachers were that interested in using it much, leaving me to take my class over there more frequently than what my fair share should have been. My enthusiasm was noticed by the ICT coordinator who started moving more computing equipment to my classroom's vicinity because he could see it would be used well, and cultivating my technology skills as a consequence.

On the family side, our first son was born and there were factors at play that had me seeking to looking for a role closer to home. We still had the "ten year tenure" here in SA which moved teachers onto new schools after their tenth year without much choice. I didn't like the idea of not being in control of my own educational destiny and with some encouragement from my teaching offsider and the ICT Coordinator, I started looking for Coordinator leadership roles. Well, would you believe it, a school less than five minutes drive from home were looking for an ICT Coordinator and there was no incumbent?

From this role, I also got to work with more incredible teachers and learn from one of the most knowledgeable and switched on principals I have had the privilege to work under. We got to become a Microsoft Innovative School and I got to go to Melbourne and network with other like minded educators from around Australia. Then my boss went on long service leave to Europe and I got to act up as Deputy for the term. The normal deputy (acting as principal) and I went out to a leadership hubgroup held at the brand new "superschool" at Woodville Gardens during that term, where we met in the conference room and I said hello to their ICT Assistant Principal who I knew through edtech networks. My colleague elbowed me in the ribs and said, "You know he's retiring at the end of the term? You should find out about the vacancy he will leave behind."

I did, so through that comment and chance encounter, I ended up in my next level leadership role at a school that was so new that the grass on the oval hadn't even grown through yet. A school that was a relatively blank canvas technology wise for me to nurture and grow - a responsibility I have never taken lightly and with a lot of second guessing. Again, I got to be part of an amazing leadership team and I can't describe the enormous personal growth with enough emphasis. This was my first chance to experience the process of line management where fostering and seeing professional growth of teachers under my care is as satisfying as the progress of any students I have taught over the years.

So, that's why as I take the next step to a new school in a new role from next term, I am pretty confident that my luck will hold out.

It has so far.

Brian Tracy I've found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances

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Brendan Jones has a new post up about setting up his own classroom which is a really good read. He talks about getting his first room in many years of teaching (he's a PE Specialist) and how he ditched the teacher's desk as well as trying to set up the room without any budget at all. The main point I got out of the post though was the point that in this modern trend of re-designing learning spaces for optimum learning, it is a really good idea to involve the students in those decisions, which Brendan is well on the way to doing.

My school has spent a lot of time looking at the concept of re-imagining classrooms and learning spaces with the help of some focussed professional learning with Lisa Burman a few years ago. Most teachers have had a go at embracing the concepts outlined by Lisa, and to try and deconstruct some of the sacred cows of classical classroom set-ups. When our new principal arrived from country SA at the start of 2016, she remarked that classroom set up was a concept that really stood out to her a newbie in a way that her previous schools had not. A year on now, she had a conversation with me about how different teachers had embraced the letting go of some of the traditional arrangements of a classroom and how others thought they were but were still clinging to elements that left the teacher in control.

I'll tackle one of these elements. Furniture is one area where things can be re-imagined significantly. Our school is only six years old but there is a couple shed full of traditional furniture as teachers have tangled with the idea that you don't need 30 identical chairs and 15 identical desks to have a functioning classroom. But some teachers have worked with their students to co-design their classroom together while others have given their classroom a makeover that can look very pleasing to the eye but where the students have had very little input. And it doesn't mean that regular classroom furniture can't work - antique tables and cushioned chairs don't guarantee anything except for a rustic look. One of our best teachers still uses our standard furniture but negotiates the set up with her students, designates wall spaces for learning purposes and talks through their effective use with her students. There isn't eye-candy decoration in that classroom but a real feel of inclusion and belonging, purpose for learning and pride in a collaborative space that the kids share with their teacher.

Purpose is really important. Throughout our department, there have been a large list of schools receiving STEM grants. We are not one of those schools, having been judged to have facilities already that will fulfil that function. We do have a suitable learning space called the Da Vinci Studio which was built with a Science focus. In 2011, it had tall tables and science chairs but they have all been nabbed across the school to create the re-imagined classroom spaces where there is a variety of seating choices. The room itself fell into neglect, becoming a spillover area for students working on "stuff", a place to dump junk and so on because back in 2011, STEM was not really high on the educational radar. I arrived mid way through the year and had my hands full getting laptops to work, raising my game in student achievement data and becoming a rosters guru. But as the years have progressed, the school has supported some of its innovative teachers by investing in robotics gear, makey-makeys and LittleBits for buddy class technology projects. You can see some of that here. With the ICT Committee, we formed a working party that has a plan to claim back and renew this space as our school STEM/Makerspace HQ and I've assumed the responsibility for moving this concept forward. So, to get to the point, we've cleaned the space out and chucked a lot of accumulated junk in the skip. I have cleared the room of excess furniture and thought about how the purpose behind the learning we want to happen in the classroom should dictate the furnishings.  The working party got hold of a few classroom furniture company catalogues and gushed over some of the beautiful pieces in there. Things like tech bars, soft ottomans and makerspace storage cabinets looked really cool but were really expensive. Also, did they really serve the purpose of the space? So, hopefully through the end-of-life furniture replacement process (there are a bunch of tired looking tables and regulation plastic chairs) I want to get the following. One of those large roadmap carpets for gathering and discussion, plus being ideal for programming robot routes is on my list, flip tables with whiteboard surfaces so that set ups are quickly deployed and stackable stools. That way, the classroom can be set up as needed for a variety of purposes and not be locked in.

As Brendan found out and points out:

I quickly realised that it was in the arrangement, not the type of furniture, that made all the difference to the kid’s disposition in my class.

With that in mind, he really can't go wrong. But it sounds like he still has to convince a few colleagues.

 

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Several days ago, Stephen Downes pointed out this link, adding:

"The end is near for paper-based newspapers."

I can see this on a local level. I am offered a free local Advertiser regularly when grabbing a few groceries at Foodland. This weekend, two plastic wrapped papers were left on our front lawn. I initially thought that maybe there was a home delivery mistake until the offer from News Ltd was in the mailbox was opened. Both papers went straight into the recycling bin without being read.

Interesting turn of events - we certainly need news and reporting, but accessing it in paper form, not so much.

To properly look at and talk about the future, it is important to look back at the past. If you are an educator using social media for your own professional learning, or if you are leading professional learning around any current issues, it is important to know a bit of history and to recognise that you are moving along a path that has been forged by others before you. I haven't always been so quick to recognise that myself in the past - and I see some of my own naivety and self importance from a decade ago manifesting itself in others in the present day. I will try to provide an example.

I first joined my local edtech professional association back in 2005, being encouraged by a mentor from the Technology School Of The Future named Yvonne Murtagh. It was through one of her workshops that I became really interested in the potential of Web 2.0 (as it was called back then) and I embraced the concept of blogging for professional learning. The association was CEGSA (known now as EdTechSA) and through various channels I met a high school teacher named Bill Kerr. Bill was working in the area of computer science and digital game making (amongst other things) with his students, and was an advocate of programming well before the recent push that sees coding as an important skill that students need. I am sure that he would view the latest push from experts with a wry smile and just a little frustration that so few educators (myself included) could see the value of this work eight years ago. Bill ran some great presentations at the annual conference where he would buck the trend of what was being offered, and showcase some interesting things. One year, he managed to get his hands on a OLPC laptop - and another time, he gave a talk about Alan Kay, a contemporary of Seymour Papert that seems even more relevant in today's STEM and Makerspace frenzied edusphere.

Gary Stager has also worked in this space for many years, working with the acclaimed David Loader in Melbourne back in the early nineties on a pioneering one to one laptop program. He has been and is still a leading advocate of the maker movement for learning. I have had the privilege of seeing Gary on several occasions and he always challenges my thinking because he can take what is accepted as good practice in the wider education community and turn it on its head. He also must be frustrated and relieved in equal parts that his message and work over such a long time is now gaining mainstream acceptance. But education and schools are slow moving beasts - so slow that messages and ideas that seem new are often reincarnations from the past. But the latest generations promoting edtech quite often think they are the pioneers and the innovators when in fact, with a little bit of digital literacy, they can find that they are the benefactors of less heralded but more important work and thinkers from the not so distant past.

Like I wrote earlier, I too have suffered from the delusion that I was travelling a new path that the majority of educators had to eventually get on board with. But being an early twitter user or maintaining a blog for over a decade or doing interesting things in the classroom doesn't qualify me for anything but being a learner who can still learn from others and share a few things along the way with others. Bill critiqued the read/write web I was in love with back in 2007, and at the time, I felt offended and a bit misunderstood. So I am sure that some more recent voices on Twitter and other online spaces would likely be unresponsive to my plea to "know your history" a bit more before you put yourself up on a pedestal as a progressive educator or a changemaker. But if you are pushing makerspaces and don't know who Gary Stager is, you need to look back. If you think you are being cutting edge with games and have never heard of Marc Prensky, do a bit of homework. And if you think you're cool because you're a self professed connectivist or have a PLN, but have never read Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Nancy White or Leigh Blackall, then get in touch with the recent past. I'm not bothering to link those names because Google will lead you down as many relevant rabbitholes as you can handle.

Don't be like George Bush when he said, "The past is over."

2015 has been a very busy year for me from a work perspective and although I have learned heaps, not much of that learning has ended up here of late. Part of that has been the fact that a lot of my steep learning curve has been in the people management aspect and the collaborative leadership part of my job, all of which have confidentiality issues that limit me from sharing too much too readily. There have been moments of high challenge when people's futures and relationships were quite fragile, and where I have had to work hard on diplomatic solutions that still haven't left everyone happy with the end resolution. However, there are a few things that I can reflect on.

We tried a new product called Class Creator when constructing our 2016 classes. This was definitely a worthwhile investment as after all of the teacher data was inputted, it created classes that were a good starting point for further negotiation. Whenever someone considered shifting a child to a different class, I could look them up and see who they needed to be separated from, what a move would do to their friendship options and whether they had students who were conducive to their learning success. The company themselves were quick to help out with any technical hassles. Our school certainly still tested the outer limits of what the software could do - for instance, we found you couldn't program in separations from students in different year levels. Class Creator said that would require an even more complex algorithm!! But because we knew about the limitation, we could work around. But avoiding that first initial bunfight of getting teachers to put names out onto class sheets was avoided. When someone said, "Can't we just have straight classes in this year level?", I could run it through Class Creator, create the scenario and people could see for themselves whether it would work or not, or what were the compromises that would need to be made to make it happen. So, a big tick for this product.

I ran a Sphero workshop for EdTechSA in Week 7 of all times and that was pretty successful. I'm due to do another one early in 2016, and I am seeing more teachers becoming confident in using the robots themselves. Another teacher has discovered another robotics product with potential called Ozobots, and is keen to enlist my help to explore their potential for learning in 2016. I am confident that more teachers will get on board, especially as I have already seen some of our teachers get involved in a DECD Digital Technologies project focussed on the use of Makey Makeys in buddy class projects. Mel, one of the teachers involved, has been leading out in the area of robotics as can be seen in the video below.

Along with three other colleagues, I attended training for the Microsoft Peer Coaching course, led by my line manager and acting principal, Marg Clark (who happens to be one of only two qualified trainers). Karen Butler from DECD also helped lead some of the training as Marg's "apprentice" but essentially it was about becoming familiar with 21CLD and then rehearsing the required skills and techniques to facilitate professional conversations about planned learning with peers. I am hoping that some of my Green Building teachers who I line manage will be keen to participate and have me as their coach in 2016. We have also been working with Tom Barrett from NoTosh on Design Thinking, and looking to develop that more within our school in 2016.

Speaking of 2016, we are welcoming a new principal to the school. Having a new person at the helm is always going to mean that things are about to change but we need to embrace the opportunities that will come with this, while highlighting to our new boss all of the great stuff that goes on and makes the school such a great place to work at where staff feel like they are making a real difference to the students from our increasingly complex community.

At the moment, I am enjoying the time to recharge my batteries, spend time with the family and get in a few games of golf. At the moment I am enjoying a patch of improvement in this area, and have even started a blog to capture some of my learning and experiences in this area. The audience for that particular niche could be very small indeed!! I am having fun playing a few games on my son's new PS4 and even reading my way through the PC Grant novel series by Ben Aaronovitch. We'll see how 2016 develops soon enough.

 

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So, last night I decided to get with the times and check in on one of these #hashtagED Twitter chats that few of my online colleagues have been saying are the ultimate in online PD. The one that was being promoted a bit at EduTech was #AussieED and I took note of the 8.30 pm AEST start time, and dutifully watched for 8 pm my time with my trusty iPhone at the ready. I even saw the topic was around this idea of being a teacherpreneur which I thought could be interesting as it threw my mind back to a recent Stephen Downes post in which he wrote:

Why do I dislike the idea of teaching entrepreneurship so much? Because it changes the child's perspective from the idea of serving social needs through work and learning to one of serving the needs of people with money. And when you have this perspective, you can never get at the question of why these people have all the money in the first place, and you can never perform work which changes that.

This observation really resonates with me. Being an entrepreneur means the world of business, money making, exploiting of marketplace gaps and investing in hope of a future financial payoff. There is no problem with entrepreneurs in the education space - consultants, software developers, PD providers and so forth - even if some believe that they are more crucial than what they really are. But to apply that label to classroom teachers or school based leaders, well, that is a big stretch in my mind. So to me, a "teacherpreneur" would be someone from a teaching background constructing or plugging a service or product. But clearly, I am in the minority.

I was not really prepared for the scope of the #AussieED experience. I had loaded up TweetDeck and straightaway the tweets were running off the page so fast that I couldn't even read one before it was being bumped down the page. The moderators had posed some questions - the first being "What is your understanding of a teacher entrepreneur?" And it seemed like anything went ...

Q1- teachers who are forward thinking and break new ground by searching for new innovative ways to teach

A1. A educator who spends their time in the creative and innovative design of pedagogy.

A1 A teacher who creates, invents or re-invents an idea, system or product to more adequately meet the needs of learners

A1: Someone who invests in the needs of students and makes it their business to enhance youngsters' life chances.

A1 - one who tests, tries and believes in their ideas reaching out to as many as they can..inclusive to the core

It was starting to sound like anyone or anything could be classified as a teacherpreneur - but these responses seem at odds with the first hit on Google:

entrepreneurˌ

noun: entrepreneur; plural noun: entrepreneurs
  1. a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

Then a couple of tweets came through that was on my wavelength.

The term edupreneur is just another way to commercialise education. Look at the feed on this tag already

A1. Someone looking to exploit a niche. Regards the term intellectual property loosely. Doesn't need to be a teacher.

And it was true about the feed on the tag. As my head spun from all of the one way traffic on the #AussieED tag, I was amazed that there was very little pushback or challenging of the concept. It seemed universally accepted that being an entrepreneur is totally a positive thing, and not only that, almost anyone and anything related to teaching could be see as entrepreneurial! I figured to make any sense of this at all, I needed to start at the beginning with the initial question, and it got some traction with one of the moderators. The screengrab shows the conversation as it unfolded.


As you can see, an actual entrepreneur (who is in line with the dictionary definition) got involved in this conversation but I still felt like innovation is being mistaken for being entrepreneurial. I know they are not mutually exclusive but it is possible to be innovative with being entrepreneurial.

Anyway, at that point, I thought I would bail and go work on a blog post or something but I thought a brief acknowledgement to Brendan Jones was in order:

teacherpreneur chat2And there was the word of the night - antigroupthink - which summed up perfectly my experiences on that topic in #AussieED. I'll participate again sometime in the future but not before checking out the topic thoroughly first, and working out a strategy for dealing with the torrent of tweets.

I am looking forward to EduTech. I am lucky enough to be leading a group of seven of my staff off to Brisbane in under two weeks time. Several have been wanting an opportunity like this for a couple of years now, while others are nervous about participating in such a high profile event early in their teaching career.

However, across my network connections, there is a growing trend towards bagging EduTech both as a concept and as an event. I am not saying that some of the criticisms aren't valid or that educators aren't entitled to hold views that are anti-EduTech. It's just that incessant bleating of the same complaints over and over again that give out the vibe that it is an evil, money-sucking, leeching parasite of a conference for gullible teachers that I feel is unnecessary. I get the sense that some people would rub their hands together with glee if they heard that this event that has risen to prominence in just a short number of years was about to fold or to discontinue.

I've read the complaints. Overseas speakers get buckets of cash while our poor Aussie compatriots get no monetary recompense. It's too expensive. It is too big and too impersonal. It's a big echo-chamber. Too many vendors peddling wares to unwary schools. Too much celebration of the edu-celebrity. There's elements of truth in all of these generalisations. But it's not the total story.

There has to be a reason that huge numbers of Aussie educators flock to Brisbane - and it's not because we are all gullible sheep lining up to get fleeced. There has to be a reason why the big name speakers resonate with teachers - including teachers who don't join state professional edtech organisations. Everyone has different reasons - I can only share mine.

I enjoy the different speakers, especially the ones from beyond our shores because they can sometimes present ideas in new and different ways compared with the way institutions involved in learning operate in Australia. Everyone has their asking price, and if someone like Sugata Mitra is asking a six figure fee and EduTech are prepared to factor that into their expenses to put him in front of me (and several thousand compatriots), I don't have a problem with that. As with all speakers (and anything being spoken, written or conveyed about education and learning) the onus is on the attendee to be a critical consumer. I don't have to agree with everything that Sir Ken says as I feel that my learning is most informed by the tensions or points of difference that I notice. And being plugged into Twitter at the same time enables me to see into other people's brains at the same time and see how the story is resonating or reverberating there. I see more pushback or added value via Twitter than nodding and regurgitating but it could just be that I have chosen who to follow intelligently and strategically. The money angle is interesting because all speakers have a limited window of opportunity in which their reputation can reward them financially - does anyone remember Jamie McKenzie or Marc Prensky? These people were forward thinking at the time but their potential conference learning power has certainly diminished.

EduTech is not cheap but it is no more expensive than other similar sized events in Australia. The sheer size increases the chances of me meeting up with educators I currently connect to (I hate the phrase PLN) and meeting new teachers to add to those connections is awesome as well. Yes, there are lots of vendors there but I have never engaged in a conversation with a sales rep or consultant unless what they were showcasing piqued my interest and I wanted to ascertain if there was an opportunity of value for my school.

For me, it is a future of learning festival. It is not like the local EdTechSA conference - it is a totally different beast. It is big picture, forward looking and unashamedly so. I have seen first hand how exposure to new ideas as a live event (as opposed to watching a YouTube recording) has spawned innovation and forward movement at my own school from the colleagues who attended last year. It was a chance to press pause on their day to day classroom practice, deeply converse with their colleagues, see ideas from fresh and multiple viewpoints and resolve to rethink things when they get back to their classroom. For example, Scott, a colleague who heard Ewan McIntosh speak last year about Google-able and unGoogle-able questions went back and started a rethink about how he got his kids to research. This spread to his learning team and a planned approach to rethinking the middle school opportunities and learning programs for our students. Today that group attended a Design Thinking workshop with Tom Barrett as the next logical step in that process. The EduTech spark that got Scott pondering has lead to a steady flame of progress at our school. I am confident that my 2015 group of attendees will find sparks of their own.

So, I get that some people don't like the idea of for-profit event like EduTech. I get that they feel disrespected as Aussie educators of repute when they aren't offered dollars for their time and expertise. I don't have that problem because I'm not going to get asked or even imagine that I would be in that market space. I'm just happy to have a 7 minute slot at one of the TeachMeets and share that space with a bunch of educators who I wouldn't get to meet face to face under normal circumstances. I suppose that it all boils down to your own expectations. But for me, slagging off EduTech as a constant theme is tiresome. Plus it is kind of ironic to be moaning about a corporate influenced event on a platform like Facebook.

So if you are reading this, will be at EduTech and you see me, please say "G'day." I am a bit of an introvert so breaking the ice with new people is always welcome. And if you're not going, no worries. Everyone has different priorities - and a conference is just one way to get the brain connections buzzing.