Technology Outlook for International Schools in Asia

So How Is the American School of Bombay Doing?

Last week the New Media Consortium (NMC) published a new Horizon Report: the 2014 NMC Technology Outlook for International Schools in Asia.  This report was the result of collaborative research between a number of international schools in the region, with the aim of informing school leaders about significant developments in technologies that support teaching, learning and creative inquiry in primary and secondary education.  The American School of Bombay did not participate in this initiative and thus, the report is an important touchstone for us to see in what areas we compare to other international schools in the region.

The Cloud and Mobile Devices

This latest report considered sixty different technologies that will be important to international schools in Asia over the coming five years.  Cloud computing and mobile apps have already reached mainstream use in many schools, and international schools in Asia are seen as leading the way with creating their own cloud networks to increase access to content from mobile devices. ASB began heading to the cloud several years ago – in fact, this was a critical step to take as we transitioned into our platform agnostic BYOD laptop program two years ago. We are also now exploring a BYOD secondary device where students use mobile devices.

Learning Analytics

Parents who attended the recent State of the School meeting will know that ASB has started to use learning analytics to track student progress in order to identify where individual students need extra help and where they are excelling.  In many schools in Asia, learning analytics are around 2-3 years away from widespread adoption, though some individual schools are currently using this technology in the pilot phase.

Makerspaces

Makerspaces are technologies being adopted in the near term in Asian international schools though in other regions of the world this has been slower to make an impact on education, with it being more on the 2-3 horizon for adoption.  Games and gamification are also listed as technologies that all schools will adopt, though the international schools in Asia appear to be incorporating this into school curricula several years ahead of other world regions.

Online Learning

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are identified as gaining traction, though not becoming mainstream for around 2-3 years.  However, hybrid models such as the Flipped Classroom are proving successful in Asian international schools.  In this model instructional videos are placed online for students to access from home, so that class time can be devoted to more hands-on and immersive activities.   Free and open courses that can be accessed from anywhere are very appealing to parents and students. Currently over seventy students are taking over fifty different online courses as electives as ASB. This is our third year of offering a bouquet of online elective courses ranging in Culinary Arts to computer programming.

Students as Creators

Another trend that has been identified by international schools in Asia is the shift from students as consumers to students as creators.  Rather than learners demonstrating their knowledge of a subject by taking tests and writing papers, they are increasingly being encouraged to create video reflections and bring their creative ideas to life by making new products.  As a result, school leaders in Asia are starting to rethink their physical spaces and how the school day is structured to promote more critical thinking and creativity. Two years ASB completely redesigned its physical spaces so to maximize student learning in the 21st century.

Personalized Learning

The NMC report stresses that it’s important to address the issue of work/life balance as technology rapidly evolves and becomes more accessible.  The report highlights the need for both teachers and students to understand how to maximize productivity online and with their various devices, while not relying on these tools too much.  However these technologies, when applied effectively, can be powerful portals to personalized learning.  A student’s collection of mobile apps reflects their interests and learning preferences.  Giving students more autonomy over how they learn and what tools they use, is a growing trend at international schools in Asia.

Overall, according to the trends identified in this recent report, ASB is clearly ahead of the curve. In addition to what the report covered, we are a BYOD school who is exploring new innovations from Research and Development initiatives. The existence itself of an R&D department along with teacher and parent task forces currently makes us relatively unique, although with the growing attention it has drawn, we can predict that other schools in the region will soon be following this example.

With grateful acknowledgement to Maggie Hos-McGrane for co-authoring this article.

Horizon Report K-12 2013 and American School of Bombay

Photo by Alan Levine Creative Commons licenses

Photo by Alan Levine
Creative Commons

The annual Horizon Report, while not a “prediction tool”, but more a barometer of where educational technology trends lie in business, education and government, is eagerly anticipated each year. The Report for K12 was released very recently and its alignment to the American School of Bombay is worthy of note. While the Report sees a trend of adoption of under a year or less, ASB has already moved forward on all four of the trends chosen by the analysts of the Report.

True to my “easterly” disposition, I will present a big picture view of ASB’s alignment with the Horizon Report.

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

BYOD: The technology team carefully investigated and prepared for a move to a BYOD program for at least a year before introducing the program to the school. Because of the state of readiness, teachers were invited in to the program even earlier than originally anticipated. The program was introduced at a small scale for the first year and will scale up to include all teachers and students from grades 4 to 12 in August.

Cloud Computing: ASB began making a move to the cloud about 5 years ago in anticipation of the popularity and necessity of basing services and storage on the Internet rather than on local servers. Because of this, we are way ahead of the trend and have already fully adopted and embraced cloud computing in our practices. It is an accepted part of our culture and its integration can be seen most obviously in our daily use of Google apps.

Mobile Learning: This past year, the Research and Development team at ASB initiated a prototype of mobile devices in the classroom at all three levels. A larger prototype is being introduced in August with many more teachers and assistants being supported through funding for devices and apps and with professional development to support them. The area of PD will certainly be a challenge as this is still new territory in terms of existing research and pedagogy. At this time, a team of three educators is developing an online course which will be offered through ASB’s Online Academy which could be one avenue of support for teachers using mobile technologies in the classroom to support learning.

Online Learning: ASB introduced its Online Academy about two years ago. Initially, it was meant to support parents and teachers in their understanding of the technologies and digital citizenship and ethics, but was quickly opened up to those outside the school due to demand. The original vision did not include ASB’s students, but over time, it became apparent that existing online courses did not always satisfy ASB’s students’ needs, so several courses for ASB students are currently under development. Additionally, high school students were offered a variety of online courses as electives for the first time this year and will expand with more beginning in August.

I would like to offer a few observations about ASB’s success in anticipating these trends:

–> ASB is small enough as a school entity to remain agile for the implementation of change.

–> The creation of a Research and Development team of volunteer ASB educators, and more recently, parents, has served to provide a space for experimentation and growth. Prototypes are encouraged and then analyzed for success. Because the team is made up of teachers and parents, buy-in is is built-in for new approaches and initiatives.

–> ASB leaders recognize the importance of careful study and preparation before making a “big move”, such as the move to cloud computing and the BYOD program.

Let’s take a look at some of the other trends that are highlighted in the Report that are already being investigated or supported at ASB.

Learning Analytics: ASB has invested heavily in this area by offering significant training to staff recently about data analysis and by participating in several types of third party testing and examinations.

Open Content: The ASB Online Academy offered its first open course in January, a course about online and cybersecurity, and is exploring the facilitation of more open courses or even scaling them to a ‘MOOC”, massive, open, online course, which may be the first to be offered by an independent school.

Personalized Learning: ASB has been way ahead of the two to three year schedule suggested by the Horizon Report. The construction projects of both campuses last year were inspired with the desire to create learning environments that would foster personalized learning. Additional staff have been hired to increase the teacher-student ratio. A large bouquet of online courses have been offered to high school students so that they could have more choice in their learning opportunities. A move to changing the school calendar has opened the door to the possibility of several “inter-sessions” being offered through the school year which provides even more learning opportunities for multi-age, inter-disciplinary courses for students at all divisions.

3D Printing: The school has purchased several 3D printers and is supporting the training of a group of staff members to participate in Maker and Design Thinking Workshops.

Challenges:

Driving change forward in so many directions at once is difficult in any environment and can take a toll on staff. Turnover of staff from this year to next is quite high; this could be a drawback or it could be an opportunity – professional development and training must be handled shrewdly so that the school leadership achieves buy-in and investment by new and returning staff. Successes must be celebrated and an environment of exploration and inquiry must be fostered. Tolerance of “failure” in such an environment of dynamic change and experimentation is important. Leadership will need to inspire vision, hope and value for the staff.

These are exciting times to be an educator! I look forward to negotiating the future of learning along with my colleagues at ASB.

What are Global Collaborative Projects?

Since the advent of “telecommunication” some decades ago, educators have been finding ways to connect virtually with other classrooms around the world. Such projects, like this one with Janet Barnstable, can be traced back to the early 90’s when the first iteration of communication networks allowed partnerships between schools on different continents. Today thousands of collaborative projects between connected classrooms exist to support learning from as early as pre-Kindergarten to college level. These projects range from brief contact via such tools as skype to exchange information and greetings, to full-scale months-long projects using many sophisticated tools that may involve competition, data-collection and knowledge creation. Many organizations create databases or online search spaces to make it easy for teachers to find a “match” for their curricula and grade levels.

If you are interested in exploring the potential value of a global collaborative project to your students, ASB Online Academy is offering the course “Global Collaborative Projects” beginning in mid-October. Come along to discover the many benefits of participating in a global collaborative exchange.

The course culminates with participation in the third annual Global Education Conference, a virtual live 4 day 24/7 global event which brings together thousands of educators and students from around the world who are interested in global education.

Check out this screen shot of projects being advertised from the GEC Collaborative Projects Page:

Screenshot of Global Education Conference Network

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing successful projects by innovative educators from around the world. Be inspired!

(This entry is cross-posted with ASB Tech Connection Points)

Reflections from Mozambique

I will carry with me many special memories and lessons learned of the two years I lived and worked in Mozambique. The experiences have profoundly affected the way I view government, democracy, education, privilege, taxation, corruption and standard of living. Along the way I have met unsung heroes who strive for change in their communities, be it rural, urban, privileged or extremely poor. Along the way, many of my students impressed me with their understanding of global citizenship and empathy for different cultures.

The past five years have flown by quickly since I initially began building relationships with Africans in an educational context. I am still groping to understand and make sense of the place of educational technology in developing nations. But I am coming away with a firm conviction that we educators must find a way to challenge our students to be doing more with technology than merely keeping up with the latest gadgets, games and gimmicks. We must be facilitating opportunities for our students to use technology for meaningful purposes that will serve to address so many of the global issues our world faces. I also believe students must have opportunities to see firsthand those initiatives who are striving to make change in their environment or society and to also, more importantly, roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

No matter where in the world we are, those of us who work in an educational technology context are often in contexts where our students live in a bubble protected from exposure to extreme poverty, filthy environments, human trafficking (including child slavery and prostitution) and high risk of exposure to health issues.

We have an opportunity, through service learning, as one example, to pop the bubble.

“Schools That Work”

(Posted earlier this month in the NAIS Teachers of the Future blogs)

This year I experienced a sort of existential crisis of my faith in educational systems. It may have been a result of some kind of re-entry culture shock after spending two summers in Africa working with teachers and visiting many rural schools. But I don’t think I am alone in this experience. If you follow the blogs and listen to the conversations at education conferences, you can’t help but notice a certain sense of urgency and even despair regarding the state of education in North America (some might even say the Western world).

This crisis in faith took on a personal note as I watched my youngest  child flounder aimlessly in school, unengaged, disengaged and tuned out – and yes, he was attending a top-rated independent school. This year we moved him to a public school, where he is a little happier, but even he is very much aware that the quality of his education is lacking.

Ironically, at the same time as technology has become all but ubiquitous in homes and classrooms due to the pervasive use of mobile gadgets, phones and computers, many of us educational technologists are openly acknowledging that mere access to technology is not a guarantee to increased learning outcomes.

I began my own informal quest for “schools that work”. As I have traveled a fair amount recently for conferences, I have often sought out peers in my network and asked if I could visit their school. Of course, I read some excellent books recommended by other educators (see below for list of Dangerous Books to Read). Because I have hosted a webcast for the last three or more years, I have also had many thoughtful conversations with educators from around the world.
Of course there is no such thing as the perfect school which can accommodate every student. However, there are some common denominators that “successful” schools seem to share. Here are my observations:
  • Positive school culture where student leadership and initiative are overtly and implicitly valued
  • Reality-based learning is valued and included as part of the core curriculum and is integrated with community service
  • Professional learning communities are established where colleagues share wisdom, knowledge and mutual respect
  • Innovation and new ideas are embraced; failure is “permitted” in non-threatening atmosphere
  • Teachers have sense of autonomy over their courses in order to permit creativity and innovation
  • Teachers collaborate on inter-disciplinary projects
  • Parent involvement is valued
  • Sense of global citizenship and responsibility is fostered
  • Place of technology is seen as a tool to undergird practices stated above
It is my belief that the key to the creation, development and maintenance of any of these common denominators is school leadership with a strong vision.

So what do you think? What have I missed?

In late June I will be working with a team of international teachers (volunteers with Education Beyond Borders) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. We will be facilitating ICT (Information, Communication Technologies) workshops for thirty-five top level administrators in the province whose mandate is to implement an ICT programme in their province – the largest by population size in the country – and the poorest. Most of the schools lack a fully functional computer lab. Some of the schools lack even electricity. The government leaders recognize the necessity of ICT training to prepare students for the 21st century in a rapidly recovering nation. Yet, the chief problem identified by the head of this programme (with whom we are working) is lack of support by the principals of the schools. We have a daunting task ahead of us.
After our time in the Eastern Cape, we move to Cape Town for three weeks to work with our NGO partner to facilitate workshops for teachers in the townships. Our partnering NGO has recognized the importance of school leadership in the process of ICT integration and offers a three-day “Bootcamp” for principals which is followed up over time with visits and support. We are trying to share this model with the initiative in the Eastern Cape.

Last August, I had the incredible opportunity to work in a very rural district in Western Kenya where our team helped to facilitate ICT workshops for the local teachers. Before the workshops began, we visited many schools and on one day we hired a boat to visit schools on the remote islands in Lake Victoria. Although the District Education Office arranged our boat trip, we did not contact the schools before our visit so that we could catch them in action. Our first stop was Kibuogi Island – so remote you will not find it on Google Earth. We landed on the shore and walked up the hill to the primary school. In spite of the fact that it was barely 10 AM, the principal was so drunk he could barely walk. His staff of teachers (five or so thoroughly disgusted men and women), sat with him in his “office” for our conversation. It was pretty clear that morale was low. The teachers clearly felt forgotten and very discouraged in their jobs. We finally managed to persuade one of the teachers to join us the following week for the workshops. Erick joined us and would later prove to be one of the most enthusiastic teachers of the more than fifty teachers who participated. Using his cell phone he occasionally texts me from his remote island to let me know how he is doing. In December he shared that our workshops inspired him to return to university for further studies. The drunken principal has been replaced this year.

Visiting the Primary School on Kibuogi Island

Visiting the Primary School on Kibuogi Island

We gave Erick a Flip camera. The children on the island (which has no electricity) have never seen even a car or bicycle before. With the Flip, Erick can take footage when he visits the mainland and show his students such things. We also encouraged him to use the camera to document his students’ experiences so that we can appreciate this tiny forgotten island.

The drunken principal of a school on a remote island will remain with me as a powerful analogy of the necessity for school leadership with vision in order to empower students and teachers to greater possibilities and learning opportunities.

As I have sorted out this existential crisis, which is gradually moving from cynicism to optimism, the issue of leadership has become critical. How do we, who may not be in leadership positions, become change agents to promote “schools that work”? How can we encourage vision for change in our school leaders? How do we support our leaders who do promote change but who may be unpopular (change is not easily embraced by all, after all). How do we know when it is time to move on?

In some ways, this blog post is my swan song to the NAIS. Reading Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element is a dangerous thing. After four weeks in South Africa in June and July, I will move to Maputo, Mozambique to follow my passion and join the staff at the American International School of Mozambique. After only one year of public high school, my son is very much looking forward to completing his high school education in the IB programme of that school with students from 50+ nationalities. I am thrilled that I will be able to continue my volunteer work with community service and education in Africa.

Other Dangerous Books and Essays to Read (which have greatly influenced my thinking, practice and this blog post):

Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn & Curtis Johnson
The World is Open by Curtis Bonk
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
What Matters Now (compilation of short essays with proceeds going to “Room to Read”)
Drive by Daniel Pink

And, of course, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen (Stones Into Schools is on my list to be read)

Reflecting on 2009

Reflecting on 2009

Kenyan teachers at TWBC Workshops in Mbita Kenya (credit: Sharon Peters)

Kenyan teachers at TWBC Workshops in Mbita Kenya (credit: Sharon Peters)

On many occasions in 2009 I described myself as an ordinary teacher who has had extraordinary opportunities. I am very thankful for those extraordinary opportunities and for the many, many inspiring teachers and visionaries I met over the course of the year.

Top Ten Special Moments

Take2 videos - footage shot in Sudan

Take2 videos - footage shot in Sudan

1. Working with Karin Muller of Take2 videos:

Karin Muller, who created Take2 videos non-profit organization, has definitely been one of the most inspiring people to personally touch my life and my teaching practice. Karin skyped into my classroom to provide assistance to my students to first understand the documentary process and then create their own short documentaries based on the footage of Darfur refugee camps that she provided. Her stories and those of whom she chronicled are unforgettable. We have shared many rich conversations; I would love to meet her face to face someday. More about my students’ work with Take2 and the sites where you can learn more can be found here and here.


2. Selecting team for Teachers Without Borders Canada

From start to finish, the TWBC (now EBB) team that I led while in Africa was top shelf. The team was comprised of Jody Meacher (QC), John Schinker (Ohio), Zac Chase (IL/PA), Lois McGill-Horn (Manitoba), Ian Vailingitham (ON) and Noble Kelly (BC). Belonging to a team that collaborated so well at a distance and even better on the ground in Africa was a rare opportunity. My teammates were professional, hilarious and big-hearted – a fantastic combination. I returned from Africa with a hunger and a drive to work full-time with such a team. I am still looking….

3. Students working with XOs and Doctors Without Borders

I have had a particular fascination with the XO laptop and have not only brought a few with me to Africa, but had a few more donated to me over the course of the past year which my students were able to appreciate. My students were asked to develop educational content using the programs on the XO and then we were able to ship several of them over to Nepal and Kenya. Unfortunately, they never reached their destination in Nepal due to customs restrictions (possibly corruption), so I learned the hard way to work with trusted NGOs who are working on the ground. Nevertheless, the student learning from experience of developing content for a real audience was very valuable. Another authentic learning opportunity came about when my students working on the Darfur video project were able to skype out to an administrator of a Doctors Without Borders Camp in Sudan (who was in Canada at the time). They later used some of the audio from the interview and incorporate it into their documentary.

4. Kiva

It seemed like one day I was showing the Kiva video – A Fistful of Dollars – to my grade seven advisory class and the next they had taken charge of a plan to approach the Students Council to donate money to Kiva. They worked for several weeks on a multimedia slideshow presentation to persuade the Student Council to provide a loan and follow it through their high school career (four more years). I was very proud of their initiative, dedication and enthusiasm of their undertaking. They truly owned the idea, the process and the vision.

5. NECC – winning award

It was an iffy project and one of my students thought it would never take off and go anywhere, but the Darfur Video Project ended with a big bang in spite of many false starts. The pairing of a terrific idea (Karin Muller’s amazing video footage of a Sudan refugee camp and with her unwavering support) and engaged and hard-working students was the recipe for success for this initiative. I knew that overall the project had significant educational merit, but I was stunned and delighted when it was awarded first place for the Online Learning Award by ISTE. The recognition entirely belongs to Karin and to my students.


6. Partnering with two NGOs in South Africa

We have terrific NGO partners in Africa and these partnerships make all the difference in cross-cultural initiatives. A good deal of communication and coordination is required. For several months ahead of time, we were in regular communication with our partners, Edunova and Khanya. Communicating online with anyone in Africa is always challenging, but their dedication helped us to contextualize our preparation for our visit with teachers in South Africa. I thank John Thole (Edunova) and Kobus van Wyk (Khanya) especially for their roles in this initiative. I learned a lot through our interactions; they were excellent cultural interpreters who understood the challenges of their educational system and the teachers themselves. I look forward to another season of working with these fine people and hope our partnership will be even stronger this year.

7. Twitter moment

Sharon explaining XO to Dan Otedo

Sharon explaining XO to Dan Otedo

Probably my favourite twitter story for 2009 was when I took a chance on my twitter network and asked if there was anyone out there who would be willing to donate an XO laptop to a teacher in Kenya. The story begins when I asked Dan Otedo, a leader of our partnering NGO in Kenya (African Centre for Women, ICT), if I could bring him a souvenir from Washington DC, knowing that Kenyans, in general, are big fans of Obama. I was expecting him to ask for a baseball cap or tshirt. To my surprise, he responded, “I would like an XO laptop”. Now one generally cannot just pick up an XO in any of the Washington DC souvenir shops, so I was in a bit of a quandary. So I put the request out on twitter. To my great delight, a follower of a follower responded! She shipped the XO to one of our team members and so Dan was able to get his hands on one of these amazing machines. The generosity of others never fails to touch me. And the power of twitter is not to be underestimated!

8. Visiting the islands of Lake Victoria, Kenya

Visiting any part of Africa is special – having the opportunity to visit remote communities – those on hard-to-reach islands, is particularly special. Our team was able to spend a day visiting 3 islands in Lake Victoria. On two of those islands, we visited at least one primary school. Just as most other schools we visited on the mainland, these schools were very poor and lacked electricity and resources. However, the children on these islands also were affected by the remoteness; they had probably never seen electrical powered devices or automobiles until they have opportunity to leave the island. The conditions on the islands are very bad. On one of the islands – the one furthest from the mainland, I felt as though I was in the wild west or in some surreal Star Wars movie (remember that bar scene in the first movie?). It was the closest I felt to being in danger of my time in Kenya.

The final island we visited, Mfangano Island, was remarkably special and stood out from the other two. There we met Chas Salmen, a graduate student completing his thesis in medical anthropology (now a medical student in the US), who had studied the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the fishing communities due to prostitution. He, and many Kenyan nationals, were fund-raising to build a community centre that would house an amphitheatre, testing clinics, an Internet centre, and a radio station. The official opening of the building was in December 2009. The computers for the centre were held up in customs, but soon this remote island of 19,000 would have a fully functional community centre. The vision for this project was staggering and one of the most inspirational I have encountered. To my great delight, our organization has been invited back to Mfangano to provide ICT training for its teachers using the resources now available in this incredible initiative. Truly, this was one of the high points of not just my visit to Kenya, but to my entire year!

Chas Salmen on Mfangano Island

Chas Salmen on Mfangano Island

9. Meeting Mama Sara

It was a completely serendipitous and unexpected meeting. We had been told that the Obama homestead was within a half hour of our travels between Mbita and Gilgil, our next destination. I asked our American team members if they were interested in making a small detour so we could visit the homestead. Receiving a positive response, I asked our Kenyan drivers to make the detour – they were thrillled! I promptly fell asleep in the “way back” of the mutatu to be awakened a short time later… on a Kenyan farm. I was a bit confused. We stepped out of the van, showed our passports to the Kenyan soldiers and went out to look around the basic Kenyan farmyard – no one else seemed to be around. We found two gravestones – one each for Obama’s father and grandfather. While we were taking photos of this, a woman stepped out of the house and informed us, “She is taking breakfast and will see you soon.” Okay, who was “she”?? “She” was Obama’s grandmother – actually, the stepmother of Obama’s father. In a little while, she did join us. A guest book was passed around which we signed. She answered of our questions through a translator and we had our photo taken. About 7 weeks prior to my visit to Mama Sara’s farm, I was in Washington D.C. The difference between those two locations was vast. And yet, there was that one connection….

Mama Sarah - Obama's Grandmother

Mama Sarah - Obama


10. Special conferences

Last year, I had the privilege of attending a few conferences. The three that stand out were Educon, NECC and CCK09 Online. My daughter attended Educon with me again in January and was warmly welcomed by the staff and students at Student Leadership Academy. I recall many good conversations that shaped my thinking for the future. It was also my opportunity to talk to Zac Chase about Africa; he later was selected as one of our team members. Attending NECC had not been in my original plans. The timing was too close to my departure to Africa. But when our Darfur Video Project won first place, I decided to attend to accept the award. The three and half days were a blur of meetings, presentations and running around to find resources to bring to Africa. I left from Washington to New York to catch my flight to South Africa. Though my experiences in Africa eclipsed the conference, it was an unforgettable intense 3 days of very fine conversations and reunions with special friends. It was indeed an unexpected blessing to attend NECC. And finally, the opportunity to share the podium with John Thole (Edunova) for the CCK09 online conference was very special because it gave an opportunity for an African to use an online platform to a global audience about technology advancements in that continent.

John Thole admiring the Cape Town sunset (credit: Sharon Peters)

John Thole admiring the Cape Town sunset (credit: Sharon Peters)

Final Thoughts

Here are some final thoughts summarizing some key ideas and insights from my year:

Having the opportunity to return to Africa brought about better understanding of differences in culture and how culture influences the adoption of technologies. Africa is ahead of us (in North America) in using mobile technologies in resourceful and innovative ways. This is borne out of necessity and accessibility. We could learn much from them.

Working on a team of like-minded, passionate, dedicated, and deep-thinking educators is an invaluable experience that has changed my perspective on education. A team like this can accomplish a great deal and I deeply wish I can have that experience again in the future.

Taking risks as an educator or as a student is under-valued in our current system. Some of the remarkable experiences of my year were not due to expertise or especially superior intelligence on my part (I wish!), but to the risks I was willing to take to pursue projects and relationships.

Reality-based learning projects offer excellent opportunities for students to learn 21st c skills as they become empathetic global citizens. I have become a strong advocate of these kinds of projects.

We have entered the second decade of this millenium. I am more excited than ever. We live in exciting times to be an educator and I have high hopes and optimism for 2010. I wish the same for you.

So What is the Big Idea? BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay

I do a lot of conferences. Add to that the 6-7 weeks of time I have spent in July and August in Africa in ’08 and ’09 providing workshop facilitation with Teachers Without Borders Canada to teachers in Kenya and South Africa and you can believe that I have seen a serious amount of PD models of meetings.

Usually, I know a bevy of the teachers who will attend the conferences or workshops and have a fairly good idea of what the venue will be like. So when it was suggested to me that I attend the inaugural BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay, I had to take a serious look at the line-up of speakers and check out my “network” to see if anyone knew anything about it. And the responses were scant. However, the venue was very close to some family members and the description was sufficiently enticing that I decided to take a chance and signed up for the conference.

When I arrived at the conference, I only knew one person who was also attending. It was pointed out to me at the first dinner that it seemed to be a conference where the majority of the people knew only 1 or 2 other people and that made it an unusual sort of event.

On the one hand, so far the conference has pushed me out of my comfort zone – which was surprising to me, because I really hadn’t realized that I had had a comfort zone. After asking so many *other* educators to step outside their comfort zones while in Africa and at other workshops I have led, it is a good idea occasionally to place myself in that position of trying something new and taking a risk in a new social situation.

Of all the conferences I have attended in North America, I have to say that I find this conference to be the closest to the model we are using in Africa – participatory and constructivist. We have been divided into smaller groups of “action collabs” that have been given the task of creating a new model of education at either the classroom, school or systemic level. My action collab is msde up of a wide range of persons spanning from high school students to policy makers to NGO leaders to educators – young and old. We have already had many lively debates about how we are going to go about addressing the question of what we are designing.

About half of the conference time has been devoted to either keynotes or listening to rapidfire presentations by notable innovators in education such as Dennis Bartels of Exploratorium, Marco Torres, Dr. Erin O’Connell, Gever Tulley, Founder of the Tinkering School, and Tony Jackson, VP for Education of the Asia Society. Fifteen minutes per rapidfire presenter just didn’t seem like enough for these very worthy educators.

You can follow the twitter list I created for the conference for more “in the moment” reactions to the conference.

A GREAT book that I read in preparation for this conference was The Global Achievement Gap. Everywhere I turn I hear other educators echoing many of the thoughtful ideas expressed by Tony Wagner in his book. I should have read this book ages ago – it has been incredibly galvanizing to me.

I look forward to learning and stretching even more in the next few days!

PLNs as a cool tool – from ReThink IT conference

It’s been a week of conferences and I am finally getting around to posting some of the outcomes.

Early last week, I had the opportunity to use prezi again for a 3 hour workshop about how and why to use multimedia tools for education:



Then late in the week, I was challenged to a cool tool duel against two other IT facilitators in Montreal. Below I relate my approach as I shared it in the CAIS community ning:

I also wanted to share the outcomes to the Cool Tool Duel that took place between JP Trudeau (Selwyn House), Vince Jansen (LCC) and me, Sharon Peters (Hebrew Academy).

As a way in demonstrating the power of an educator’s Personal Learning Network, I asked six global educators to hop aboard a FlashMeeting during the duel and share *their* cool tools. I had heard Alan November (the keynote) state many times the importance of including global collaboration as a way of promoting the skills our students will need in their learning careers. It seemed appropriate to demonstrate this to our audience of educators.

To that end, I invited John Thole (director of Edunova in Cape Town, South Africa), Derek Wenmoth (director of CORE-Ed, Christchurch NZ), Chris Betcher (independent school educator, blogger, author, podcaster, Sydney, Australia), Lucy Gray (U of Chicago, moderator of Global Collaborative Ning), Dr. Cheri Toledo (Illinois State University, author, researcher, webcaster), and Brad Ovenell-Carter (independent school educator, asst head, Island Pacific School) into our cool tool duel. With the time zone differences, this took no small effort, but I was very very pleased when all of them accepted the invitation unhesitatingly and enthusiastically.

A special outcome of the FlashMeeting (now recorded) was that these six educators had an opportunity to meet each other and grow their own networks. In fact, they were so excited about meeting, they started a Google Wave where their conversation continued!

Here are the tools that were shared between all of us during the “duel”:

John – Ning

Chris – Screentoaster, Layar, Wikitude

Derek – eXe, QRCodes for Droid

Lucy – Screenr.com, PlanetFoss, Planetfesto

Brad – Tweetie2 Tweetie 2 Review: The Best iPhone Twitter App, Period – Tweetie 2 …
, Kaltura – Open Source Video Platform

Cheri – The Differentiator

Sharon (I had a few lined up as backup plan):

FlashMeeting

Twitter Lists

Forty-Two Interesting Ways to Use Pocket Cameras (care of Tom Barrett)

Complete Guide to Google Wave

VUE: Visual Understanding Environment (I think Brad showed me this)

Google Fusion Tables

Personas

The other folk (Vince and JP):

OpenOffice

FramebyFrame

Moodle

Mathnet.net

Animoto

graphic organisers

Pixlr

Xmind

Visuword

The Prezi I used for the Duel: