Wednesday, 9 October 2013

IB Heads World Conference - Buenos Aires 2013

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Heads World Conference was held in Buenos Aires this last weekend. With the title IB in a Virtual World and with well known keynote speakers it promised a lot.
And it delivered. Perhaps not in the way I thought it would do but certainly as an opportunity to understand the topic of technology in education in a deeper way. The main take away point is that it is not about the technology, stupid.
I shall report on the messages from three keynote speakers and what I understood of them.

The conference opened with Charles Fadel - author and founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign. His M.O. seemed to be to want to shock the heads with what was just around the corner in terms of technology, and I think that he did that to many. Using examples such as high speed manipulation by robots to bring home the point about the future of manufacturing and other repetitive process, the way digital technologies can be almost approaching on the creative (examples from art and music) and the increase in computing power to match first a human brain and then, very shortly, ALL human brains, Fadel prepared us for his talk the following day. This was regarding the work of the Center for Curriculum Redesign [CCR] (and reported in his co-authored book: 21st Century Skills, Learning for Life in our Times) which came up with a four dimensional model of the knowledge and other aspects of learning which are needed. The process of working out what is needed in the future is an exciting one, and one which we have done in our school. The CCR model maintains Traditional Knowledge (but what should we exclude?), adds Modern Knowledge (but what should we include?) and adds Metacognition, Character and Skills.

(From Charles Fadel - PPP)
For the breakout sessions we were sent to discuss what we should include and what we should exclude. This proved to be a very difficult thing to do - not because there were not those willing to explore this, but the discussion seemed to go off in different directions. Perhaps the way we were doing it was at fault. When we did this exercise at school (with the SMT and separately with the Board), we broke off into smaller groups to do this, presenting our results on poster paper after 30 minutes. That is much more productive because this level of discussion can only be achieved by working in pairs or groups of three. Shame.

The keynote speaker for the Friday morning was Aleph Molinari who was the founder of the FundaciĆ³n Proacceso, "a nonprofit organization that uses the educational benefits of technology to drive the social and economic development of people living in marginalized communities" (from the excellent IB Heads Conference App - great to see paperless programming).
Relating his information to Mexico, Molinari spoke of the digital divide and the low numbers of students who finish school, all with low technical knowledge. His foundation provides sustainably built meeting areas with computers, teaching English and other subjects, in a well defined programme, following each student with a digital card allowing excellent measurement of success and completion. He advocates a top-down implementation process, from legislation down.
This was a very interesting process since I think it is easily transferable and copyable to other Latin American countries. In a way it by-passes all the problems of state schooling in these countries and engages the interest of children (and adults) in learning. Excellent.

I expected good things from Alan November - and I was not disappointed. In his usual style "this is only my opinion" way, he left nuggets to think about. And it is not about the technology. His was the Saturday keynote.
He re-framed the problem. "The real issue is not training teachers to use it (technology) - the most difficult thing is shifting the control to the student, for learning".
This is the fundamental November point, and not grasped by all. He put the task of leaders as being to recalibrate the control of the organisation to manage learning for the students, and for students to increasingly take control and design for managing their own learning.
So, not a technology problem, a control problem.
And I get it. His example of the preparation of a powerpoint presentation by the teacher for the forthcoming lesson: that act of forming, aligning, and presenting her knowledge is what the STUDENT should be doing, NOT the teacher. We are depriving the students of constructing their own knowledge.
So, November re-frames the situation into three parts:
  1. Control shift needed.
  2. Information is ubiquitous - teachers should not be the sole providers of this and information is so available that it enables questions (assignments?) to be written to raise the levels of response to much richer learning and expressive levels.
  3. Global relationships/communications - broaden the audience for student work to the world and have learning relationships with the world. First hand.
So, November would say that the real work is redesigning assignments to be
  • more creative
  • more demanding
  • more rigorous
  • and thus, even more motivating.
As usual, he left the nuggets for us to follow up, so here is a topic list:
  • WolframAlpha - investigate this as a superb instrument to free us from the drudgery to examine the real concepts, not the mechanics.
  • Google search - get to grips with the 16 operators so that you can find the genuine articles and enrich the questions that you ask your students; do not give assignments like those you gave in the world of paper, enrich the possibilities of deeper thought and synthesis.
  • Teachers need to give more structure, guidance and capacity to our students for research, using 
    • Knowledge Engines such as WolframAlpha
    • Search Engines such as Google search
    • Social Media Engines such as Twitter.
  • Eric Mazur and clickers (and Facebook!) - just researched this and found GoSoapBox - excellent tool for feedback in class, or before the next lesson after homework. Click on the link and use the access code to answer the question "who does most of the work in your lessons?". Access code: 793-936-932
  • And finally, the Curse of Knowledge. How many times have we seen this in action. "The more we know about a subject, the less prepared we are to understand a learner's misconceptions, confusion and questions". But it is exactly that which makes us teachers, and not just spouters of our knowledge. Let us provide avenues, technological or otherwise, to get this feedback.

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