Friday, March 05, 2010

iCTLT 2010, Day 1

iCTLT 2010

The iCTLT is back in town, presenting us with another opportunity to rub shoulders with prominent education te[a]ch-ies from around the world. I got overexcited the last time the circus came to town, and I did try some of the stunts at home. So I knew enough to look at things more realistically this time around.

My key question this time -- and I heard the speakers address bits and pieces of it -- was how do we stop teaching kids to write the perfect answer, but rather teach them to ask a better class of questions instead? And given that keynote speaker, David Warlick, reminded us time and again that we don't know what future we're preparing our kids for, it's clear they won't survive on our pat textbook answers any longer. They have to start asking useful questions and employ processes that help them find those answers on their own.

I may once have been blinded by technology, but if there's one thing that's coming clear from this year's conference, it's that the shiny toys and tools won't work on their own. Access is not a problem for us -- the tools are readily available at our fingertips. My biggest problem and disappointment so far has been in attempting to orchestrate a social learning environment among kids who view each other as competitors rather then collaborators. If I understand the psychology of my kids correctly, they'll distract and disrupt class so that no one can gain an advantage over anyone else, then frustrate themselves by trying to catch up with the lesson at home, away from prying eyes.

Good that Warlick pointed out that the most successful organizations are collaborative rather then competitive in nature. There's a story there I could use to bring the kids back online.

Elliot Soloway and Michael Furdyk were seriously gung ho about the collaborative learning potential of technology. Soloway was hot on mobile, anytime, anywhere, teacher-designed, student-centered learning platforms; though I imagine such programmes have to be... creatively funded. It would be best if such learning programmes could be accessed by every kid using the mobile phones they already own but because there's a multitude of software platforms, apps markets, service providers and indeed differing capabilities of mobile phones themselves, schools will have to shell out for a standard-issue device per child. That's a very expensive proposition for a school, so until every kid can afford an iPhone or a comparable competitor, I don't see that happening en masse just quite yet.

Furdyk is all about inspiring young people to get together through collaborative social networks to actually work on social entrepreneurship projects because they will have to put real learning into direct application towards real problems in order to achieve tangible results in real humanitarian causes. Makes sense. If the kids are worrying about bigger problems affecting people other than themselves, their exams will seem minor in comparison.

Currently, we're facing a vicious cycle. Kids worry about exams and they don't see the problems of others. They study to pass their exams, but they can't put their learning to real-life use. But because they can't apply what they're studying, they can't understand or appreciate what they're studying. They get bored, disconnected, frustrated and ultimately worry they can't pass their exams. Ad infinitum. It isn't that the kids are dumb or stupid, it's that they have to live outside of themselves in order to make the difference.

Providing the balance to today's session, Jason Trump reminded us that throwing technology at our problems isn't going to solve them for us. The potential for personalized learning is all there for us to harness, but a school must "have a clear vision for how, why and when to move" towards implementing tech as policy or it will either become a white elephant or, worse, counterproductive -- causing more problems than it solves.

I see the gaps in my approach in using technology, but I think I didn't see them before because I tend to work alone. If I start collaborating with others, I may yet figure this thing out. Question is, who will work with your friendly neighbourhood misanthrope? Yes, I have issues.

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