The ECIS biennial Technology Conference has come and gone and left in its wake a rich discourse on the place of technology in the modern classroom and in modern society. We had engaging and challenging keynote speakers, provocative and practical breakout sessions and panel discussions that were often heated but always respectful. The media were there in number and our visiting guests included representatives from the business community as well as the international education sector. Our local MP also stopped by on Friday to meet the keynote presenters and exchange views (see below).
Above: Dom Raab MP (centre) with Richard (l) and event chairman Steven Cliff (r)
It was notable how many times keynote speakers took issue with the title of the conference. Two pointed out that they didn’t feel they needed to learn to love anyone. One observed that the term iGeneration (Larry Rosen‘s term originally) would probably be rejected by this generation as they are the first generation who will name themselves rather than accept a label foisted onto them by their elders. Curiously, enough Rosen’s article itself takes issue with the terms “Y Generation” and “Millennials”, calling them “an insult to our first true cybergeneration”. Words matter, it seems, and keynote speaker Marc Prensky‘s own terms digital native and digital immigrant were themselves challenged at the conference.
Above: Teaching Digital Natives author Marc Prensky (speaking on his birthday – the Ides of March) gives the conference’s opening keynote.
The breakout sessions mixed the practical (programming with Scratch 2.0, flipping your classroom, working with Nearpod) with the grander designs of setting up research projects and framing pragmatic schemes within theoretical frameworks. My two fellow presenters and I were gratified to see such a large attendance at our own presentation “iPad Therefore I Learn?”, and as usual these days, we received live Twitter commentary as we were proceeding. I do hope those of my readers here who were in attendance last Friday got something useful out of the session. I’ll upload a version of the Keynote to Slideshare soon – and put a version here too. Unfortunately, the longbow I passed around during the hands on section was later broken by Jeff Utecht (that guy simply doesn’t know his own strength!) I let him stew for a while thinking he’d done irreparable damage to a priceless mediaeval relic before telling him I bought it online in 2000 🙂
Jeff Utecht began proceedings on Day Two with a rousing call to celebrate old tech – particularly the Atari 2600: the best gaming system EVER! That’s not even controversial 🙂 W00t W00t!
A nice contrast to Jeff Utecht’s nostalgic trip back to the eighties was given by Julie Lindsay, who presented the concept of the flat classroom. In the flat classroom the walls are removed (or flattened) and the learners are taught and encouraged to see themselves as global community members. There are some exciting technologies enabling this approach these days, and Julie shared some of her experiences, noting that the asynchronous activities (i.e. those that do not depend on all the collaborators being active at the same time) are just as valid as the synchronous activities. This observation encourages teachers to look for potential sources of telecollaboration far beyond the time zones of the originating classroom.
Calilean Hargrave, who closed the conference on Saturday afternoon, was notable for his energy, his colourful shirts and the fact that he was the only keynote speaker to make use of Prezi. I remember giving my own first Prezi in my first week of becoming principal at the International School of Paris back in 2009. It felt new then, but I was genuinely surprised to see at a technology conference of all places how new it still appears to be to audiences four years on. Excellent though Prezi is, however, no presenting tool can make up for poor content, and Cailean’s enthralling vision of the present and near future was far more than simply an entertaining slideshow. He drew from technologies showcased in IBM‘s 2011 book Making the World Work Better (published to mark that company’s centennial year), as well as many new technologies invented since then. It was thrilling and also a little unnerving. Education faces the challenge of how to ensure we take optimal advantage of new technologies, but the traditional model we have espoused for so long of a bricks and mortar building in which students matriculate across a curriculum composed of core subjects and electives is completely up for grabs.
The dynamic Cailean Hargrave: his funny, informative and energetic closing keynote rounded off a successful conference brilliantly.
As he built up to his announcement that he would be offering a prize of a placement and on-site project support using items picked from IBM’s catalogue of products, Cailean reminded us that the number of patents held by IBM is greater than the next eighteen highest patent holders combined! His company started, 102 years ago, with a cheese and bacon slicer. “I like to think we’ve come a long way since then”, he quipped.
Without a doubt the most contentious keynote speaker was Chandran Nair, and speaking as the man who booked Chandran I would have been disappointed if this hadn’t been the case. Chandran’s last appearance at an ECIS event back in 2010 had seen him positioned as the techno-sceptic opposite technophile John Couch (Apple’s Vice president, Education) and the more neutral Sugata Mitra. On that occasion Chandran revisited one of his favourite themes, considering the relative priority Indian society gives technological advancement at the expense of basic needs like sanitation.
Global Institute for Tomorrow CEO, Chandran Nair, closing the first day of the conference with a challenging (and for some, uncomfortable) address.
This time, Chandran launched a counterpoint to the vision Marc Prensky had outlined earlier that morning which assumed technology would continue to shape our lives and redefine learning and becoming for the iGeneration. Chandran began by telling his audience to turn off their devices. Most of us had been taking notes on iPads, Chromebooks, laptops and phones all conference – and tweeting commentaries to the conference hashtag as the keynotes went on too, but Chandran was adamant that wasn’t going to happen during his talk. “It’s called respect”, he said. “I don’t do Facebook. I’m too cool for that. I do Face People”. He went on to say “I don’t do that other thing either. What’s it called? Twatter?”
If at this point he had some of his audience wondering whether he might like to rethink the title of his organisation (the Global Institute for Tomorrow), he quickly explained that his was an Asian perspective and he wanted to offer his audience something different from “worshipping at the church of Google”.
Chandran’s argument was that there is something severely wrong with a society where the number of mobile phones is significantly higher than the number of toilets (India). Strongly pro-China, he asked (rhetorically) “If you were poor, what would you rather be, Indian or Chinese?” And he challenged his audience to consider whether the sacrifice of individual freedoms for the greater good of the many wasn’t after all a legitimate point of view. His implication was that this was the Chinese way. As someone who is partly Chinese himself, speaks Chinese and who lived there for many years in the eighties and nineties, I could easily contextualise Chandran’s arguments – albeit I disagree with his conclusions.
Above: A consistent feature of the conference was the inclusion of students as M/C’s, presenters and panellists. After all, it would be odd to have a conference dedicated to the needs of the iGeneration that omitted its members from the line-up!
It was Jeff Utecht who got the best laugh out of the keynotes – and it was at Chandran’s expense although it was not until the following morning when Chandran himself was on an aeroplane flying back to Hongkong (he was barely in the country twenty-four hours). “I finally figured out what this guy’s problem with technology is”, Jeff told us at his own keynote speech on Saturday. “He’s got one device… and it’s a Blackberry!”