This post was initially posted on The Learning Network blog on Friday the 8th of March.
We were delighted to be part of #VTC2013 at Saigon South International School last weekend. Having poured so much energy into our start-up project over the past 18 months it felt like a big step to attend a conference and exchange ideas with, what turned out to be, a group of open and committed educators. The ‘unconference’ approach of the event also appealed to us and we even indulged in a bout of ‘speed-geeking’ (see video) at the bottom of this post. Now that the dust has settled on the weekend, here are some of the thoughts, reflections and ideas that we took from the conference.
How can we ‘Break Down Barriers with Open Source Software’?
In an engaging session on Open Source software Urko Masse from Saigon South International school one of the questions that was raised was:
Why do people develop open source software? What is in it for them?
Urko replied (I paraphrase) – “For different reasons. Sometimes just because they can and want to share – sometimes to help to look for consultancy work and sometimes for deeper reasons to linked to a sense of community with shared values” My thoughts turned to the equivalent open source movements in education, to MOOCs, to the implications for schools and learning organisations of an open approach, to open badges and to the shift towards practical evidence based assessment.
What emerges when you dig deeper into the nature of free or open approaches to sharing intellectual property on the internet is there is no easy short-cut to what is the right path. Our own organisation’s goal is to bring ‘transformative learning opportunities to as wide an audience as possible’ therefore the the open sharing of our resources and research are a part of that process. We also, like all organisations, need to sustain ourselves, ‘money being better than poverty, if only for financial reasons’ as Woody Allen pointed out. What the open source movements are proving is that with imagination and a sense of values, new ways of achieving this are possible and there are plenty of people willing to support you if your model is fair.
Urko had kicked off the conference with a great session and this list of resources he shared is as useful a page of stuff as we’ve seen on the internet for a long time.
‘Technology should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary and invisible’
Clint Hamada’s session on Digital Citizenship raised some of the most salient questions that the increasing pervasiveness of technology in our lives has many of us asking:
What is the right balance of technology use for us and our children?
Is face-to face communication really better or indeed different from virtual communication?
What is digital citizenship?
Clint’s disclaimer up front was that he is an advocate for an as ‘open as possible approach’ when it comes to the web and approaching these topics, a stance that very much echoes our own. It was interesting to observe within this session at the conference generally that while most schools still tend to tread cautiously on the internet, the trend does seem to be towards more openness.
However notions and approaches to digital literacy and citizenship remain in flux. Perhaps the distinction between real and virtual worlds is meaningless, the internet just being a facet of our real world and its communities, but as digital optimists working within the fields of education we hope for more. The borderless opportunities that the flows of the web allow are too plentiful to settle for a simple replication of what we already had.
As happens at these types of events my understanding of where we are at with learning and the internet was moved on by a chat I had with technology manager Scott Johnson (I think) who referred to the the four levels of the technology integration, the SAMR model: Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition. Can we say that we are in a period where the internet is starting to redefinw learning? For us at The Learning Project Asia, the case is increasingly compelling.
The games we play
When workshops about learning are well designed their own structure and composition reflects the content and concepts being raised and Rober Appino’s session on ‘Game-Based Learning, Minecraft and the World’ did just this. Through the use of backchannels, the playing of flash-games and plenty of discussion we experienced and debated the role of games in learning – this made for a really enjoyable post-lunch session.
Games and the use of them in education is, as Robert pointed out, nothing new but again with the rise of the internet the possibilities and applications of games in learning goes well beyond the more obvious notions of gamefication often highlighted. Robert cited the research of James Paul Gee in his slides whose work captures this well.
“Digital games are, at their heart, problem solving spaces that use continual learning and provide pathways to mastery through entertainment and pleasure.”
If we considered the main experience of attending a conventional school as an interactive educational game, how would it fare in comparison with collaborative, open, sandpit style, online games like Minecraft? What we would find is that in environments like Minecraft the emphasis on collaboration, strategy, engagement, creativity, problem solving and feedback are what keeps the players coming back – as much as the excitement of flying spaceships and fighting monsters.
We kicked off with two speedgeeking sessions where groups carousel round people presenting a topic within 7 minutes. I was one of the presenters, I was going to talk about using blogs as open digital learning portfolios – but I had come to the conference to share our project and this felt like the right forum to do so. An old friend from Hanoi Brian Lalor (@brianlalor) filmed my efforts. Apologies for the hyperactivity but there was a lot to explain in seven short minutes.
The rest of day two was spent in two enjoyable unconference sessions on using blogs as eportfolios and the flipped classroom. For those interested in the former, I recommend exploring the approach of Yokohama International School with their Learning Hub. Built using easily accessible wordpress technology their student blogs are completely open and serve both as learning spaces and as digital portfolios.
So kudos to Clint Hamada, Robert Appino, Theresa Flaspohler, David Perkin and Edward Gilbreath for a great weekend of learning. If, as was mentioned in the final session, there is VTC2014 The Learning Project Asia team would be delighted to support the event in any way that we can.