My #Educon 2.4 recap

It’s hard to describe what makes Educon a different conference experience. It’s not quite a regular conference, and not an unconference either. Attendees are almost exclusively connected educators, so you’re almost better off adding them to your Twitter stream than asking their name. Sessions were called “Conversations”. Some of them were very articulated and developed, other were loosely defined and driven by the participants.

Although, as an educational technologist at a research higher education institution, I am far from the K12 reality, I found that both worlds share the same concerns and challenges. Most of the discussions I had were around the following themes: shifting classroom practices, professional development, school leadership, opening up the learning experience to the world, and technology adoption.

Many thanks to people who accepted to play my game and discuss their personal learning network, the videos have been made available on Youtube on this playlist.

In any case, I’ll try to make this post something I can refer to later, and hopefully something others can relate to as well.

Friday night panel – How Do You Sustain Innovation?

Other people have done a good job at summarizing the Friday night panel at the Franklin Institute, so I won’t dig in much details. Scan through the Educon-related posts curated by Shelley Krause (@butwait) for more details.

The one really useful reference I got out of the panel is the idea that innovation doesn’t just happen, it’s usually a latent problem that everyone sees but that no one has found the solution for yet. An article by Clive Thompson about the Long nose theory was referenced to describe this situation.

Constructionism from Top to Bottom (Gary Stager)

In this presentation, Gary Stager presented the idea of constructionism as a game-changer in education. Constructionism builds on constructivism, except that instead on simply being an internal mental process, it requires a physical output to demonstrate the learning.

To demonstrate the power of the concept, he presented a short segment on an HBO documentary titled Masterclass showing master urbanist/architech Frank Gehry asking college freshmen to design a 1.5 million-people city. Students were left on their own with paper, markers, wooden block, and worked on a first draft. They spent tremendous efforts making this beautiful city that was eco-friendly, easy to navigate, etc., only to have Mr. Gehry come back in and say “This city could hold about 80K, not 1.5M” and storm out, leaving the students on their own, only to scrambled to make their city bigger, more dense.

This segment really represented well what learning is about. Learning is about experiencing it yourself, not being spoon-fed. Sometime, the best teaching strategy is to get out of the way. He referenced work by Alfie Kohn to emphasize the role of playing in learning.

He then tackled the idea of technology as building blocks for learning, talking about the maker movement and Super-Awesome Sylvia, a middle school kid demonstrating how to build things. This whole experience revealed a deeper reality of the 21st century. We will either teach our students to be programmed (follow the rules) or program (make their own rules). Hacking also means that you can’t get it right without getting it wrong, and learning from the experience.

#chats and #camps: Examining the Impact of Social Media-Fueled PD on Classroom Practice and Student Learning (Jonathan D. Becker, Meredith Stewart, Bud Hunt)

This session was geared toward establishing the kind of evidence needed to explain the value of personal learning networks and DIY professional development to outsiders (a.k.a. parents, administrators, etc.). An amazing shared Google doc was created to collect ideas from the audience.

It emphasized the value of action research, over purely academic or vendor-based reports, to assess the value of teaching practices and educational technologies.

Learning in Public (Alec Couros and Dean Shareski)

In this session, Dean and Alec exposed instances of regular people exposing their learning challenges in public in order to get feedback and master a skill. One of the examples used was this 10 year old boy trying to understand the process of creating fire with a bowdrill set.

Dean invited a student of his through Skype to explain her process of learning the American Sign Language (ASL) online, another was about Shannon, a high school vice-principal from Ottawa, Canada, sharing her flute learning process on a blog. “I thought it was a good idea to demonstrate to students that we are learners too,” she said.

How do we engineer punctuated equilibrium? (Darren Kuropatwa and Andy McKiel)

This was my favorite session. Darren and Andy did a masterful job of explaining their district-wide teacher development strategy, that they cleverly called “punctuated equilibrium”. The whole principle is that you don’t have to teach everyone at the same time. You simply need to get some teachers to get incrementally better, and the pressure they will put up will raise the bar and raise the standards for everyone, as illustrated by the following pics:

This equilibrium is also a matter of finding the right people to coach. You don’t want tech leaders, but you don’t want resistant folks either. You want the ones in between, those who could get on board with a little help or encouragement. You also don’t want to push potential learners too hard, they’ll push back. But don’t push enough and they’ll just stall. It’s all about balance, and being there when the need grows.

Darren and Andy manage a site called the Digital Learning Project, which is the home base of this initiative (click the Educon logo on the left for the session materials).

Last remarks

Learning happens on the edge of your comfort zone. You have to step out of your shell and expose your vulnerable self if you’re ever going to get help from total strangers, online. Well, since Educon, they are not as strange anymore 😉

Many thanks to the awesome Chris Lehmann and the Science Leadership Academy students, teachers, and volunteers, for making this event a great one, once again.