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Ulearn08 – reflections October 12, 2008

Posted by davidit in Uncategorized.
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Post war teaching evangelists...

Post war teaching evangelists...zzzz

A growing disquiet has been welling in me throughout this year’s Ulearn08 conference and now that I am home, this disquiet has turned into more of a roar! The euphoria of the event has subsided and a couple of good nights sleep later I now gaze at the reality of re-boarding the Supertanker and the game of chess that is managing the politics of change, no longer is it sufficient to use the Nike ad slogan of “Just do it.”

One of the words that kept coming up throughout the discussions that I had with other delegates was ‘disconnect.’ We were using disconnect in relation to creating relevant and authentic learning experiences for students, but increasingly I began to recognise that there is also a level of disconnect with teachers and this is the cause of my disquiet.

My main concern with events like Ulearn08 is that they are a tabernacle, a temple, a crucible of self affirmation. Each keynote is preaching to the converted and each breakout, provides more initiatives, tools, tips and techniques for the eager devotees; they in turn internalise the ICT/C21pedagogy gospel and in dewey eyed and rosy cheeked  fervour, add what they have heard to their own large and growing armoury of web2.0 tools and to their individual e-learning pedagogy. All that is missing is the occasional euphoric ‘Hallelujah!’ and ‘Amen’ from the floor to complete the picture. To continue the metaphor, the eager disciples were released from the Ulearn08 temple on Friday to return to their schools to evangelise the needs of the C21 learner. My question is, how effective is this model?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson in their opening Keynote speech ended their presentation by arguing that we have a moral obligation to rapidly change our teaching styles and learning environments to meet the needs of the C21 learner.  Bruce McIntyre argued from a business perspective as did Steven Carden that out of the box thinking, creativity, and an entrepreneurial approach are the hallmarks of modern business success.  Mark Treadwell has long argued that the new education paradigm is here and the old industrial model of education is redundant, but still it persists.  In one of her spotlight sessions Sheryl got us to think about  how education has changed over the last 100 years and what is needed to be changed in order for students of today to be successful.  She recounted the words of Seymour Papert who reportedly asked who would fare better today if we went back 100 years in time, grabbed a C19 surgeon and teacher and transposed them into the C21 environment of their respective professions.  Who would fare better patient or student?  Surgery with  an ether mist and non sterile scalpels anyone?  We all know that the teacher would be fine and that the students would notice odd clothes and little else different.  What a damning indictment of educational innovation over the last 100 years that vision is.

And yet we could see it, the future that is, we have all internalised and agree  (those that attend Ulearn type conferences that is) with the blend of arguments for change and rapid change now. We could all see the brave new world of engaging, relevant and authentic student learning.  So where is it?  The final keynote got perhaps the loudest applause from the floor, the great work that is happening at Manaia Kindergarten is a joy to behold, but the saddest moment was perhaps the story of the student who had transferred from Kindergarten to Year 0 and presented his new teacher with a business card with his blog address on it, with the statement “This is my blog address, you will be needing that.”  I have no idea of the ICT enthusiasm of that child’s New Entrant teacher, but I got the distinct impression from the presenter that the notion of blogs and all things web2.0 were not on the agenda of that student’s new teacher.

And this is the point.  We can not rely on student pressure for change, how truly empowered was that Kindergarten student? The educational revolution we aspire to will not happen through student agitation or revolt.  Students are already disconnecting during school hours, they do not see it as relevant to them or their world, especially and increasingly at secondary level.  So why hold conferences like Ulearn?  Do not get me wrong, I loved going and will want to continue to attend and present, but I now know that unless the message changes or the audience changes, then change will be slow and we as a nation do not have time on our side.  Every day we continue to think about change, discuss it or debate it; it is a day wasted for our students be they at Kindergarten or in Year 13.  The problem is that united at a Ulearn type event we can see the future and know that it is right, but back in our schools we are lone or minority beacons for change.  How do you argue against an experienced teacher who argues that they have had consistently good results for years that they  produce literate, numerate students using worksheets? How do you persuade a management team who measure their success against student test results from the self same teachers, to change?  It is just that they do not see or  do  not want to see, that the old paradigm is just that, old and outmoded.  It is these teachers and management teams that are disconnected from the needs of the students in their charge…

My epiphany from the conference is that none of us who attended this year should attend next year and that the conference name should be changed.  I will be recommending that next year it should be  representatives from the BOT, senior management and teachers who do not recognise the need for change, who should attend and what is more the conference name should be changed from Ulearn09 to Theyneedtoknowandunderstand09.

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1. Sue Massey - October 12, 2008

I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
Very interesting posts and well written.
I will put your site on my blogroll.

2. Richard - October 12, 2008

Thank you for this post David. I feel very much the same. For those who are doing these things talked about at conferences how can we now get this to move beyond the tools and talk and actually become a revolution in education. The process is surely a long journey but I feel that we need some kind of iconoclast to get the ball rolling.

3. audaciousgloop - October 12, 2008

HI David,

Great post and great observations. I’ve recently finished reading “Disrupting Class”, a book that applies disruptive innovation theory to the (American) Public School system.

It highlights some of the issues you mention here, and says change happens at the margins. In the commercial world, disruptive innovations and new models arise where there is no existing solution. For example, a student wants to learn Arabic – it’s not a class that the school is likely to introduce, but is probably available in some sort of online, peer-to-peer setting. These changes slowly seep in from the margins to the centre, as people begin to become aware of the benefits, not just to obscure classes.

The book ends with some pretty succinct advice for teachers, principals, boards, parents, entrepreneurs and philanthopists. A good read.

4. AllanahK - October 12, 2008

That would be fine as long as I get to go as well to show them the way. LOL

5. Jane Nicholls - October 13, 2008

This was my 5th ULearn and I can see what you are saying about preaching to the converted. However, I was lucky to be attending with 10 brand new lead teachers from my cluster. I must admit to feeling jaded at my last conference and wondering how change was going to be made if we were still saying the same things, were we in an echo chamber? However the experience of attending with bright eyed, new to the message, teachers was great. I could see their enthusiasm and the doors being opened to them. I knew this would be taken back to their schools to start the ball rolling in more classrooms.

ULearn still has much to offer and I think the mix of those sharing their passion and enthusiasm with others is valuable. You are right about the power of listening to the stories from Manaia Kindergarten! Those are the stories we need to and want to hear, the fuel that keeps us running, whether it be a tug boat or a supertanker 🙂

6. davidit - October 13, 2008

Jane, I firstly want to dispel the assumption that I am jaded, quite the contrary, I am more passionate than ever. The wider point that I was trying to make is that meaningful change is not going to come from the shop floor or from student agitation. What is needed is a route and branch re-assessment of the systems and structures that make schools what they currently are, in order that change can be facilitated. This necessarily is a top down model of change and the predominant group at the conference were Lead teachers, facilitators and classroom teachers. I believe that it is the senior management of schools who need to hear this message loud and clear and those teachers who would never in a million years wish to attend a conference such as Ulearn.

7. davidit - October 13, 2008


I guess by inviting speakers such as Sheryl and Will, the organisers are inviting iconoclasts, however the kind of iconoclast that I guess we need to see now are principals from schools who have thrown away the manual and started from scratch to create authentic, school wide, C21 centric learning environments in their schools. Management teams who can share the pitfalls, the successes of what managing the change has meant for their systems and staff. I thought that Bendigo School in Victoria had done that, but they seem to have fallen off the radar recently. We need Mark Treadwell to be given a school to manage and set it up in the new education paradigm and see what happpens!

8. Derek's Blog » ULearn - final day - October 13, 2008

[…] Gibb, Iain Cook-Bonney, David, Fiona Grant, Allanah King, Sarah Jones, Toni Twiss, Simon […]

9. sfrack - October 19, 2008

As always, your work is inspiring. Did I detect a hint of discouragement? You know, you are soooo much ahead of the game it will take others time to digest all you are anxious to share. But don’t give up! The teachers at Meadowbank are lucky to have you!

10. davidit - October 19, 2008

Sandi, thanks as always for the affirmation! No you do not detect any discouragement, I am raring to go to take things to the next level and beyond. I guess what I was trying to say is that there were 1800 of us at this great event and largely we have all heard the arguments many times over and accept and agree with them, yet change within the system is painfully slow. Every day that we don’t make that quantum change in our pedagogy is a day less competitive NZ becomes on the global market. My point therefore was that rather than preaching to the converted, we need to be making more conversions! Therefore the make up of the audience needs to be changed….

11. sfrack - October 20, 2008

That’s the spirit! Yes, it is hard to get the right people in the audience. Maybe the conference should have some attractive bait. For example:
“Those over 50 years old attending today’s event receive retirement benefits.” That would attract the right audience! haha
Until then, keep working your magic!

12. Bookmarks (weekly) - November 3, 2008

[…] Ulearn08 – reflections « Turning the Supertanker […]

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