I have just returned home from #EdCampWest at the University of Victoria and feel the need to write a few things down before they fade away.
An Ed Camp is an interesting and somewhat elusive experience. The unstructured nature of the day gives participants opportunities to have conversations they are interested in, but this same lack of structure can mean the conversations can be somewhat circular or bounce around all over the place. This isn’t a bad thing but it does mean you can leave an Ed Camp not really sure what you have learned. Of course some conversations can lead to awesome products like this google doc on Educoaching with the SAMR model, or resource sharing like this list of digital literacy resources. But in general I think if you are going to an Ed Camp with the intent of leaving with something concrete you might be in the wrong place. The magic of Ed Camp (I think) is really in the people who attend and the conversations that happen. People who are all passionate enough about education to give up a day of their weekend to be in the same place as other passionate people, with the hope that some magic will happen. And conversations that might bounce around a bit, but which help each person move their own thinking forward in a way that matters to them. So, with that in mind, here is how each conversation today helped me move my thinking forward a little.
For me the value of this conversation was the voice of Open Schools BC educators (I should mention that lots of interesting things were said, but I am trying to parse out the bits that I can use to further my own thinking). This is a group of educators that function in a totally online environment and it was fascinating to hear their reflections on how to do this without just digitizing a content delivery approach to education. It seems that they model they have found to be most effective is to treat the online course like an interactive textbook, and use it in a blended model of instruction. I can see how this model would work and am thinking that having access to courses developed by Open Schools BC is a good reason to think about my school having a Moodle presence of some sort.
In this session I discovered that I am very uncomfortable with the idea of giving ownership of learning over to students without some way to hold them accountable. I am still wrestling with this as it makes me sound like a stuffy old educator that wants to micro manage my classroom, which I hope is not true. I am, however, not convinced that just giving them space to pursue their passions is enough. Possibly it is the book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You‘ that influences me. I find that I believe strongly that our job as educators is to figure out how to break down the complex skills involved in inquiry and project based learning and teach these skills to our students. I don’t think they will learn these as they go along. I also believe that once we have broken down these skills and are able to describe them in rubrics that our students should be assessed against these rubrics on a regular basis so they have concrete feedback to use to improve. I felt a bit in the conversation today that assessment was getting a bad rap (I probably started us down that road), which was not my intent. Instead I think that we are assessing the wrong thing and that the wrong people are doing the assessment. It should be the students doing the assessment and it should be the formative process that we assess (mostly) not always the summative product. I was however completely in agreement that percents and letter grades are a completely hopeless way to give students feedback on their learning.
(postscript: The learning never stops. Just listened to David Truss’s reflection on the SFU EdCampWest and at the end he said something I think is very important and relevant. Bright students don’t need scaffolding and in fact it can hold them back, he shares a great quote ‘good is the enemy of great’. However for the other students scaffolding and feedback is how they are going to be successful. I think that when I wrote the paragraph above I was guilty of only thinking about the students that stuggle and not distinguishing enough between different students and their needs.)
It was really interesting today to be in sessions that were both k-12 and higher ed. It was interesting to hear the higher ed perspective on a) what literacies were considered important and b) how little students knew coming out of k-12. This reinforced for me the problem of us trying to TEACH digital literacy skills to our students. We can teach these skills but in my experience our students won’t really internalise these skills. This won’t happen until students are using social media tools in many of their classrooms and their school work has a digital footprint, then school might matter enough for them to pay attention to the lessons they are learning.
I also came out of today’s sessions with the realisation that while it is important for individual teachers to do what they can to prepare their students with digital literacies this is not enough. If we are serious about these new skills being important we all need to lobby for larger scale change so that a student can go to school and have the same skills modelled and reinforced in all their classes.
That’s it. A day well spent and lots to think about.