International Collaboration – NISTech 2011

After the UNIS Unconference in January, I received a comment from Ivan Beeckmans, the Technology Integration Specialist at NIST in Bangkok. He told me about the weekend PD workshops he was organizing for the teachers there and we discussed how the unconference format could be incorporated as a way to empower teachers to be learners and leaders.

One thing led to another and Ivan invited me to join the NIST staff at NISTech 2011 last weekend. Considering the similarities between NIST and UNIS – Tablet PC program, SharePoint portal, IBO World School to name a few – and the proximity – Hanoi is closer to Bangkok than it is to Ho Chi Minh City – I jumped at the chance!

The weekend was full of great conversations by a group of teachers committed to learning. Julian Edwards, the secondary school principal, made the important distinction between dialogue and discussion at the beginning of the weekend. We weren’t here to prove that we were right or to win any debates; our main purpose was to talk with each other and explore ideas.

It was interesting to be the only non-NIST teacher at the event. It gave me a different perspective on things, even with all of the commonalities. It was great to see and hear how students and teachers are using similar tools to achieve similar objectives in different ways. It was also reassuring to hear the same concerns surrounding effectiveness, time management and student learning that our teachers at UNIS voice.

I managed to get in and facilitate a few sessions on blogging with WordPress, OneNote and Creative Commons. I even managed to geek out a little with Jay Priebe, the Tech Director at NIST, over SharePoint and Veracross.

I’m hoping that NIST and UNIS can continue to build a strong cooperative partnership between our two schools. At the very least I’m hoping to be able to reciprocate the hospitality that was extended to me by Ivan, Jay, Julian and rest of the great staff at New International School of Thailand.

Our Unconferences

After attending Learning 2.010 in September, I really wanted to incorporate the the learning environments that were used at the conference at my school.

In November, for our schoolwide in-service day, I informally pushed the cohort model and got teachers creating artifacts to showcase their learning for the day.

And on January 12, two days after our winter holidays came to an end, the MSHS teachers created and facilitated their own unconferences. Here’s how we did it:

  • Before the winter holiday, I created and distributed a promo video for the unconference. Most of our teachers had no previous experience with an unconference so it was a way to introduce them to the idea and to outline the process.
  • On Monday morning, I loaded up the staffroom with “Topic/Facilitator” forms, markers and Blu-Tack. I also added the first possible session title (“Creating Better Wikis”) but left the facilitator blank.
  • Over the next two days, teachers slowly began adding session titles. Most of them were without facilitators but that didn’t bother me too much.
  • I sent out an email reminder every day encouraging teachers to create sessions and to vote for those that interested them.
  • On Wednesday afternoon, I took down all the session titles and tallied the votes. We ended up with 10 sessions 1 in total, divided into 2 groups of 5. Most of these sessions were without specified facilitators.
  • I sent an email to all MSHS teachers with topics and room allocations and left them to learning!

Some observations:

  • As a first go, the whole thing went relatively smoothly. It was nice to see the vast majority of teachers taking responsibility for their own learning.
  • I was hoping for a wider variety of possible topics. I’m used to participating in unconferences a tech conferences, so there are always plenty of ‘experts’. Planting the seeds of presenting with some teachers I know are doing great things is going to be key.
  • There needs to be more voting! This is something for me to stress in the future.
  • It was my intention to not lead a session but because of numbers I needed to. Unfortunately, my session was somewhat heavily attended when my focus was on giving others the opportunity to present and lead.
  • Even though most sessions (8 out of 10) didn’t have an identified facilitator, I think the teachers got a good sense of others who are interested in learning about the same things; a truly organic PLC.
  • This was the easiest PD session ever to organize!

Now that the groundwork has been laid, it would be great to be able to run an unconference (as one teacher said later, it doesn’t need to be about technology but just about sharing good teaching!) every 6 or 8 weeks. This would give teachers a chance to share, learn and celebrate on a regular basis. Is this something you can incorporate at your school? Any other ideas on how to improve it?

Notes:

  1. Session Topics:
    • Film/Video Clip Editing (Movie Maker?) (5)
    • OneNote Tips for Improvement (2)
    • Google Docs/Forms – Survey Learning and Help with Planning (6)
    • Setting Up Digital Portfolios (6)
    • Saving Time with Digital Marking (16)
    • Digital Storytelling with Film (11)
    • Formative Assessment and Technology/Tablets (3)
    • How to Design a Webquest (5)
    • Using Discussion Boards on the Portal (2)
    • Creating Better Wikis (6)

A(nother) Learning 2.010 Reflection

Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Shanghai at the Learning 2.010 conference. It was a fantastic experience for a variety of reasons:

1. I got to meet up with a lot of my twitter friends: @klbeasley, @intrepidteacher, @dearlibrariann, @mscofino, @kurisuteen, @courosa@dkuropatwa, @megangraff, @betchaboy, @brianlockwood to name a few. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but those connections are worth more than a thousand keynote speeches.

2. One of my colleagues, @lissgriffin, jumped on the Twitter train with both feet and now is a Twitter force-to-be-reckoned-with! Beyond that, it was so rewarding to watch her realize that, as much as she may try to tell you otherwise, she’s on top of this ‘teaching with technology’ thing. Some of the ideas she’s coming up with are mind boggling. One day soon I’ll get her to either a) start her own blog about what she’s doing in her classroom or b) guest post here.

3. My cohort was pretty amazing. Led by Kim Cofino and Darren Kuropatwa, we explored the Future of Learning. The idea was to work in small groups to explore this topic in more detail after a few introductory discussions and activities. In just over 90 minutes my group cobbled together a presentation we called ‘Bridging the Gap’. The focus was on what we felt the future of learning is and what can we do now to put us in a position to be ready for that future. It was a good experience to be thrust into the role of the students, if only for 2 days. Working under a deadline in classroom conditions to create a product that you must then present to your peers: something many teachers take for granted that students can do. It’s hard work and we need to make sure we give them the time they need to create products they can be proud of.

We also had to contribute a slide to the Great Quotes about Learning and Change Flickr group. Here’s my submission.

I’ll have more to say about what I learned in my cohort in a later post.

4. Facilitating unconference sessions was very rewarding. I volunteered to facilitate a session on Tech Integration in a 1:1 School. I didn’t suggest the topic, but I figured it is my job and I do work at a 1:1 school so I was pretty well qualified to at least lead the discussion! Keri-Lee and I also ran a Twitter for Teachers unconference session, mostly because of conversations that we had with other teachers the previous night about the “banality of Twitter.” Needless to say, we disagreed. Twitter is only as useful as you make it, that’s true. Some teachers just need a little help in seeing how to make it useful and I hope we did that. (As an aside, is there another community of professionals that is using Twitter as actively as teachers?)

I was at the Learning 2.008 conference as well. I will be pushing hard to make sure I can be involved with the next iteration too!