So last week, I was in Niagara Falls for the Bring IT Together conference, put on by the Education Computing Organisation of Ontario (ECOO) and the Ontario Association of School Business Officials (OASBO). I had originally gone to the conference thinking it would be for edtechs and instructors who teach courses on digital media, but a perusal of the many sessions offered showed that there were sessions for all sorts of teachers. After having a couple of days to sit and stir, my thoughts on the conference are ready to be shared. Here you go!
Wednesday opened with a brief keynote on the intersection of technology and art, then moved on to the main event. Both Clay and I attended the all-day workshop “Minds on Media“, though we went to different stations once there.
- I started with Jose Martinez‘ session “Get Filming with your phone, iPad or Camera!” The courses he teaches seem very similar to my Communication Media classes, so it was good to hear the projects that he puts in front of his students. One big takeaway from his session was how early he puts a camera into the hands of his students. I think I’ll be working more towards students using cameras earlier in the course.
- Next I stopped in briefly at the 3D printing booth. I’ve been following the progress of consumer-class 3D printers for a while online and through Kickstarter, but this was my first in-person experience with the machines. It was kind of interesting watching the machine head deposit the plastic on the sculpture, but it doesn’t really hold much classroom potential for the courses I teach, so I moved on.
- My next stop was “Getting Googly (Using Google Apps for Education Effectively) with Marcia Piquette. This was a hands-on demonstration of some of the new tools Google has deployed to help teachers in the classroom. My school district subscribes to the suite, so this was a good swan dive into the world of Google Apps, with which I’d only previously dabbled. Funny side note – this was the session that introduced me to the acronym GAfE (Google Apps for Education). Many of the sessions in the conference used this acronym in their titles or descriptions, and I’d assumed it didn’t apply to me, because my school division uses GoApps to refer to them. Needless to say, I reorganized my schedule once I realized these sessions would be useful. Second side note – while Marcia was describing Google’s new Classroom offering, I messaged Sheri Gunville, our division’s Integrated Learning Consultant to find out if I had access to it. Within 10 minutes, I was up and running as one of our division’s test teachers! Remember, I was two provinces away at the time… Such great support!
- I finished the day off at 105theHive‘s station. This is an internet radio station dedicated to showcasing student work. Andrew Forgrave got me up and running with a broadcasting point on my netbook and I was able to test out broadcasting live on the air. I foresee great uses of this for second-language learners as a tool to promote authentic audience.
Richard Byrne‘s keynote opened the first official day of the conference. He is the developer of the website Free Tech 4 Teachers, so unsurprisingly, his keynote was largely about how thoughtful use of technology can enhance classroom practice. A few of the resources he highlighted were:
- Kahoot – game-based quiz app for classrooms
- Search ReSearch – Created by a Google employee to help develop better search skills
- Project Noah – using smartphones to map nature
After the keynote, Clay and I went to different sessions:
Going Formative With Google Apps for Education
Andrew Bieronksi showed off some very cool ways of integrating feedback to students with Google apps, from Kaizena for leaving voice comments on Google Docs, to using Super Quiz to add self-correcting quizzes on Google Forms. He also talked about leveraging the power of Google+ circles to create interest-based groups within or across classrooms (across his district, all English teachers picked a novel, then students chose which group to join based on the novel they wanted to study), using Hangouts to connect students with authentic audiences and Google Calendar to schedule out-of-classtime appointment slots. All in all, some great hints on the directions that teachers could take Google Apps to enhance their classroom practice.
Android Tablets & Google Play EDU
I will fully admit I went into this session looking for justification to support purchasing some Android tablets or Chromebooks to use at school. However, what I learned from Bill MacKenzie, Jen Apgar, and Tom Woods blew me away. The method for provisioning tablets is amazing:
Wow, education provisioning for Google tablets via NFC is incredible. Fast, simple and secure, then students ready to go! #bit14
— Ian Hecht (@ianhecht) November 6, 2014
Really, you just set up one tablet, then touch it to all the other tablets back to back for a moment so the new tablets pick up the credentials for wireless/accounts/etc, then they proceed to set themselves up with either five slots for different students, or for one student (for a 1:1 program). It’s pretty amazing – after a couple of minutes on the admin tablet, just mere seconds with each of the student tablets…
Apps can be distributed to as many or as few students as you want, and then when those students are done with the app, it can be recalled and re-distributed to a different student (so they are bought per-account, rather than per-device as with iPads). Also, app/books/movies/whatever purchases can be assigned to a LPO, which is great for school division finance teams.
Digital Photography 101
Peter Beens led an interesting session on how to make digital photos better. Starting simple (rule of thirds) and moving to the more complex (exposure triangle), he gave me a number of tips to take better photos. He also talked about importing photos, some simple processing tweaks, and how to backup photo collections.
« Appy Hour » : un cinq à sept techno
In the next session I attended, Gillian Madeley shared a number of apps useful to French language instructors, including Popplet, Puppet Pals, Haiku Deck, and Photo Pen. She tied app use into the SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) for technology integration to show how thoughtful app use (as well as “app smashing”) can lead to some truly innovative tasks that were previously inconceivable for students.
Capturing Student Learning in the Secondary Classroom
Next, Kendra Spira led a session on how to make student learning visible. She teaches “Applied” students, who wouldn’t necessarily be considered the best test-bed for technology integration, but experienced both success and failure in her attempts. She detailed an attempt to use Sonic Pics to have students document a process using still pics and voice-over. In one instance, it didn’t go as well as planned, but when she described to students the reasons for trying the tech, they were game to try again. She also talked about Google Classroom’s facility with sending assignments and having them returned electronically (paperless classroom?), about using Read & Write for Google for scribed tests. I got to test out the Nexus 7 tablet’s speech-to-text engine in both English and French, and I think there’s a lot of potential there.
Mash It Up
Both Clay and I got to see Stepan Pruchnicky‘s engaging session on mash-ups created by students. In one instance, he removed the audio from a dialogue-free video to see if students could replicate or modify the emotional response to the video through changing the accompanying soundtrack.
Adventures in Digital Badge Building: More than Flipping Your Classroom
Anne Doelman‘s session on recognizing student learning that happens outside the classroom is one that has stuck with me long after the end of the session. Digital badges work a little like Girl Guides or 4H – complete a certain task to given specifications and receive a badge from an acknowledged expert in the field. As Anne explained it, students are to become the researchers and tech experts. This holds a lot of appeal to me, because as a media teacher, sometimes the students come in to class with skills or experiences that don’t fit neatly into one of the categories I’m allowed to assess (curriculum outcomes). Badges offer a way to recognize that prior or outside learning.
The evening gave shutterbugs an opportunity to play around a little with the settings on their camera to capture some of the sights of Niagara. Here are a couple of the shots I’m most happy with. Click to enlarge.
Friday’s opening keynote, Ron Canuel, focused on the idea that if people walk away from a keynote saying “that was nice”, but not willing to change anything, that’s a failure. He had some good advice; some seemed more aimed at school divisions than classroom teachers, but there were some good tidbits for teachers, too:
- If a teacher is afraid of being replaced by a laptop, maybe he should be
- Technology implementation cannot simply be strapping a rocket on to the back of a horse and carriage. There are fundamental changes that need to happen if technological changes are going to go well.
- The best types of classrooms are the ones where you can’t find the front. – Pierre Poulin
- By the time students hit the senior grades, they should be doing most of the work/exploration – Grade 12 classrooms should look like kindergarten rooms
Youth on YouTube
One of the few student-led sessions, this double length session featured two student YouTube entrepreneurs, BubblyKatya (15 yrs old) and ExplodingTNT (17). Katya is a lifestyle vlogger with 1265 channel subscribers, who started shooting makeup tutorials at 11 years old. She talked about what she has learned about producing videos for YouTube: “YouTube made me a writer, editor, vidoegrapher, actress, marketer, and business person”, and on the importance of community for providing feedback and inspiration.
ExplodingTNT (he has a real name, but prefers to be anonymous online) has 1,486,715 subscribers to his weekly Minecraft-driven skits (with over 290 million views). He spends 40+ hrs a week on his channel, but doesn’t consider it a full-time job. He still goes to school, though he is taking a work experience class that allows him some time to work on the videos in what would ordinarily be class time. He says he earns a healthy enough income from YouTube advertising that he could live off it, but realizes that YouTube may not be around forever, and that Minecraft certainly won’t be, so he’s continually looking for new ways to create content online.
Both Katya and Exploding TNT say that their teachers have no idea that they have these successful YouTube channels, which brought my thoughts back around to the digital badging. Surely there’s a way of recognizing these success stories without shoehorning them into some pre-existing class that may or may not apply to their experiences.
Reflections on Danah Boyd’s “It’s Complicated”
The final breakout session I attended was a panel discussion on a book by Harvard researcher Danah Boyd on teen use of social media. Not having previously read the book, I was none-the-less intrigued by the idea that the narrative in public regarding teens’ engagement with social media is missing certain dimensions. A couple of interesting points that came up:
- Students are using online spaces because they don’t have the same access to public spaces as previous generations.
- The concept of social ignoring: in the past, if we overheard something juicy in a coffee shop, we’d pretend we didn’t hear it. Nowadays, in online spaces, we assume all communication is intended to be public, so we tend to rebroadcast even conversations that were never intended to be fully public.
- Does the asynchronous nature of online communication matter for context? Does when you read a text affect the way you read it?
- Kids should be free to make mistakes in shared online spaces rather than forcing school-paradigm hierarchical relationships onto creepy treehouses.
Needless to say, I’ll be adding the book to my to-read pile.
George Couros closed off the conference with a keynote titled “Leading Innovative Change.” Here are some thoughts he shared:
- If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
- Schools should be places where students feel it’s okay to use the devices with which they are most familiar.
- Technology will not replace a teacher, but technology in the hands of a good teacher can be transformational.
- If students are only using their laptops to take notes, you’ve given them a $1000 pencil
- How would you like to sit and learn in your own classroom for five hours?
- Ask questions that move forward. “How are we going to find the time/money for this?” does not move forward.
- Turn the week before Christmas and the last week of school (traditionally very tough to teach) into “Innovation Weeks” where students follow passion projects.
- It is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it.
- The usage case for technology doesn’t have to be to bring expertise into the building – think about broadcasting your building’s expertise out.
- Teachers need to model the skills we are asking of students
All in all, I really liked the conference. I went in thinking it was going to be most applicable to my technology classes, but I ended up taking more away for my other classes than for my CommMed courses. Any teacher could have attended and come away with new tools and mindset to thoughtfully integrate technology into the classroom.
As an added bonus, on the flight back, I got to watch the Riders beat the Eskimos. Yay!