21st Century Learning – Reflections on #ITLMC

Over the past few days, IWBNet held their first ever ITL Masterclass conference up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. The conference was a different format to the usual conference event – delegates participated in a cohort session that involved 6 hours of deep investigation of a topic, as well as a series of pre-prepared and unconference sessions hosted by a range of participants. I had the privilege of facilitating one of the cohorts through an investigation of 21st Century Teaching and Learning – a broad concept that encompasses pedagogy and practice suited to the modern world. I also presented some pre-prepared sessions on Challenge-Based Learning: An integrated approach to the Australian Curriculum.

The Cohort Sessions

I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the event. I agonised for weeks over how I was going to ensure the best outcomes for the participants in my group, and a week out, decided I’d go in with a stack of resources and ideas up my sleeve, but ultimately prepare very little in terms of presentation to the cohort. I introduced the topic and gave them an opportunity to reflect on the concept in the hope they’d be able to identify something they needed to address in their school to move things in the right direction. With such a broad topic it was a challenge, but in the end I think everyone managed to identify a need and a way of addressing it when they get back. The conversations that took place between the delegates (including myself) were extremely powerful – there are so many schools in different systems and sectors grappling similar issues, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) the biggest obstacle most of them face is changing the culture amongst staff, not students.

Through discussion within the cohort and with other conference delegates over the two days, the participants came up with a range of solutions that they’ll be taking back to their schools in the hope they can begin the process of changing their school culture:

  • A set of expectations/standards that teachers within the school can work towards as a means of guiding them along a clearly defined path for professional learning (based on the work being done around teacher standards by AITSL and the ISTE);
  • Professional Learning showcases that involve staff at the school publishing case studies or presenting to their colleagues, demonstrating the evidence of improved student learning due to their innovative and student-directed approaches. To make these particularly effective, staff that are not savvy with the technology and are seen as “typical” practitioners at the school should be leading the event – this makes it seem more achievable to those who are less confident with the ideas being presented;
  • Pilots should be established to demonstrate the effectiveness of an idea. This came up in discussion around implementation of a 1:1 initiative in place of a laptop trolley solution (which is not achieving the outcomes expected from access to the technology);
  • Regular dialogue and professional conversation amongst colleagues, and the repurposing of meetings to contain less administration and information to be more active forums for professional sharing and learning;
  • Flip teaching [1, 2] as a means of overcoming the technology barriers that may exist in the classroom due to external or imposed school/departmental policy;
  • Keeping in mind the need to overcome barriers that prevent students from learning (such as low literacy or behaviour issues) so that the 21st Century pedagogy is more effective – it may mean simplifying activities so that they are more attainable for students until their skills develop further;
  • Increasing the “genuineness” of student learning by publishing their work to an international/community audience, rather than it being shown only to the teacher or their class; and
  • Making sure that the technology is used by the students and is less teacher-driven. This includes not only the selection of which technology is appropriate, but the type of activities involved. Technology includes robotics, cameras and personal devices – not just school-owned computers!

All in all, a successful series of sessions that will equip the participants with some tools and information to help shift the thinking in their schools. Resources that explore the topic a little further have been made available on the conference wiki and at my website.

My session on CBL

As an Apple Distinguished Educator, I’m one of a group of educators around the country that has been recognised by Apple as someone who is doing great things with technology and their products in the classroom. My experience in the program introduced me to Challenge-Based Learning – a framework that gives students the opportunity to direct their own learning around a Big Idea, with the teacher acting as a facilitator. With all of the investment going into the Australian Curriculum by the federal government, I’ve always had a fear that the development of documentation built around specific disciplines may create a situation where learning becomes pigeon-holed rather than multidisciplinary, and CBL is one mechanism that could be used to prevent that from occurring. At the conference another ADE, Dr. Jason Zagami, gave a presentation on brain-mapping that highlighted the importance of developing links between concepts that extend beyond single-disciplines and/or contexts, which served to reinforce my belief that schools must make sure they build integrated study into their curriculum.

My presentation gave delegates an opportunity to see how CBL works through two case-studies and examples, mapping the learning and content in the Australian Curriculum from multiple disciplines into a single challenge. I’ve published a copy of my presentation on both the conference wiki and on my website, and feedback and discussion with participants suggested that many understand and see the benefits of this kind of approach to learning. I’d encourage everyone to have a look for themselves, and consider how the model could work in their own context to break down the culture that exists in some schools around learning being restricted to specific learning areas.

Other Goings-on

The organisation of the conference was great, with plenty of opportunities to talk to other educators about their experiences in their schools and contexts. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch and dinner all provided delegates with a chance to talk to people they wouldn’t normally engage with in their regular day. Many educators who already connect with social networking tools like Twitter also had a chance to meet each other in the flesh, finally putting a face to the avatar they’ve known for a while.

If I get the opportunity to participate in something like this again, I’ll definitely get involved. I might refine topics a little more to narrow the focus a bit beforehand (which will also allow me to identify a really good set of resources that explore the practice as well as the theory/ideas), but other than that, I’d say it was pretty successful. A big shout-out to the team at @IWBNet for their work in making the conference happen! And, if you weren’t able to attend but would like to know more about what went on, either visit the conference wiki or search #itlmc in the twitter stream.

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