"Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important."
- Attributed to Bill Gates
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTech 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
EduTech 2017 is nearly upon us! I am feeling rather unprepared and am only just looking at the timetables and agendas to work out my movements now (with a sleeping nine month old daughter on my chest). I am very much looking forward to EduTech, however, as I have not attended in the past due to it being held in Brisbane. I have of course heard that it is a huge event, with a large number of vendors (I encourage vendors to read this as they prepare for EduTech), educators from all sectors and many big names on and off stage. This article will examine the nine Masterclass timetable as I work out which of those I will attend. Days one and two of the EduTech agenda will be looked at in the next two articles.
Masterclass A: Teaching Kids to Code
This masterclass is being facilitated by Bruce Fuda, Nicky Ringland, and Associate Professor James Curran, all of whom are from the Australian Computing Academy at the University of Sydney. This masterclass appears to be focused on coding within the context of the new Digital Technologies syllabus. The agenda indicates that delegates will walk away with knowledge of resources, tools, pedagogical practices and ideas enabling them to implement the syllabus in their classroom when they return to school.
It feels like the Digital Technologies syllabus is about ten years too late in arriving, that we needed it to be in place before the explosion of coding, STE(A)M, robotics, makerspace etc. to give them a solid grounding in curriculum. Additionally, I feel that there has been a dearth in pedagogical development opportunities for teachers to allow them to grapple with this fast-changing area. The EduTech website indicates that this particular masterclass is nearly sold out, so if you are planning on attending, I suggest you register quickly.
Masterclass B: Setting Up A Maker Space
This particular masterclass has been sold out already, and I have spoken to a number of educators in the last few weeks who have indicated they are attending this particular masterclass. Amber Chase and Lisa O'Callaghan are both from Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, NSW. I was there recently (though did not get the chance to meet either of them) and chatting with teachers during a workshop I was running, there are some exciting things happening.
This masterclass is aimed at providing delegates with some practical ideas to set up a makerspace in their school including low-tech and high-tech, relating it back to the curriculum and a chance to plan the implementation of a makerspace. IF you've not registered for this masterclass already, then you are too late and will need to watch the #EduTechAU back channel and storifies which will pop up.
Masterclass C: Student Acquisition - where does your market reside?
Facilitated by Roger La Salle of La Salle Matrix Thinking, this masterclass is focused on understanding the market that your institution is targeted towards and how to maximise your marketing return. This sounds rather cold, however, reading through the agenda for the masterclass, however, there seems to be a real focus on understanding your institutions why. Why should families engage with you and developing strategies to really get a handle on that.
Masterclass D: Digitally Young and Well
Professor Jane Burns of the University of Sydney is facilitating this masterclass with a focus on youth health and well-being, including mental health. This masterclass will provide an update on the current status quo and a range of resources and strategies for promoting better health and well-being across all sectors of education, including how to develop a person-centred approach to creting, designing and developing support in online and offline contexts.
Masterclass E: Cyber Security / Information Security
Dr. Elena Sitnikova and Cecil Goldstein, both of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security. The core aim for this particular masterclass is to provide delegates with an awareness of the vulnerabilities and threats that face K-12 institutions and strategies for mitigating the impacts thereof, walking away from the masterclass with guidelines for formulating a strategic plan within their specific context.
Masterclass F: Mind Mapping in the Classroom
Bill Jarrard of Mindwerx International is facilitating this masterclass which aims to provide delegates with an understanding of Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping and its application in the classroom. I have not heard of Mind Mapping as a formalised process in this context, so I am curious to hear from those who attend this masterclass as to their thoughts.
Masterclass G - BYOD
Martin Levins, President of the Australian Council for Computers in Education is facilitating this masterclass providing delegates with an analysis of network and device management based on the latest research. Best practice across all relevant areas will be discussed and delegates will leave with an action plan to identify considerations for their specific contexts, building a road map with broad milestones for a successful BYOD implementation.
Masterclass H - Managing School / Campus WiFi
Mark Morgan of SpectroTech will be running this masterclass, focusing on all areas of planning for, setting up, maintaining and securing a WiFi network. Delegates will gain a thorough understanding of WiFi technology, guidance in planning the setup of a network, wireless LAN security intrusion techniques and how to mitigate those strategies and industry best practice.
Masterclass I - Create with Makeblock
Abdul Chohan is running this practical masterclass that provides delegates with an opportunity to get hands on with Makeblock. This is one of the many ways to get involved with coding in school and Abdul will be be helping delegates wrap their heads around how to use them as well as how to leverage them as a genuine part of their pedagogy, linked to the curriculum.
Where will I be?
Each of the sessions is intriguing for various reasons, however, I feel that the youth well-being masterclass with Professor Burns (Masterclass D - Digitally Young and Well) is of particular importance given some of the disturbing statistics that have been coming out in recent years, with these statistics seemingly getting worse. I will be live-tweeting that masterclass and will provide a storify of the event as well. This is an area which, as a teacher, I feel woefully ill-equipped to deal with and make a meaningful difference to students suffering from mental health problems.
"The current education system is like batter hen farming. We're too focused on the output."
- Peter Ellis
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 was under a media pass provided by the organisers.
I entered the auditorium within which the Future Leaders stream was taking place to hear about the last five to ten minutes of Shane Spence's talk about video self-modelling. It sounded very intriguing. From the small snippet that I heard, the use of recorded videos modelling behaviour expectations for things like packing up, putting something away was having a significant amount of success in reducing negative behaviour and lost learning time, particularly for students who are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The key point for me in the small segment that I heard was that showing a two minute video six times to a student struggling with some sort of behaviour yielded a far greater return than twelve minutes of any regular intervention.
It was also useful in those schools that had adopted the Positive Behaviour for Learning program as rather than simply showing or reading students a statement about what is expected, they can be shown a video, which can be much more explicit as students can see exactly what is expected in the particular scenario. A specific example he gave was a student struggling to put his tote tray away. The student was shown a video modelling how the tote tray should be put away and after watching it a several times, the student was able to put it away without any issues. I wish that I had caught all of Shane's presentation.
Peter was announced as the final speaker for the afternoon, which indicated that the final speaker per the agenda was not presenting for an unknown reason. Peter was speaking about disrupting the model of education by moving beyond student voice towards student empowerment and he began by telling the audience that "we are one of the most innovative schools in the world...self-labelled of course." Peter indicated that there is always a case for change but that engaging the community in the change process is critical. The current model of school has worked well for the last one hundred years because the career model over the last one hundred years needed the model. However, the career model for students no longer matches the school model which has created the current dissonance between school and careers that our students and industries are currently experiencing.
Peter told the audience that due to declining enrolment numbers and a poor reputation in the local community that his school had been to close. Twice. A new Principal and a new team (Peter did not actually specify which part of the staff he meant by this, but I imagine a combination of formal and informal leadership staff) created a new opportunity for change. Now, an unspecified period of time later, the school has restored its reputation, is growing with a current population of just over 1100 students and is maintaining good results in the Victorian Certificate of Excellence (VCE - the final set of exams in the Victorian K-12 education system). Additionally, there are now students running businesses alongside their studies, and doing well in both.
One of the key changes in the school that has lead to the turn around has been the desire to make school relevant again. This is one of the reasons for the change in decision making processes within the school. Now, the default setting for requests is yes. Unless there is a significant time, monetary cost or potential for a negative impact on others, the answer to requests is, and should be, yes. This is something that I find rather challenging to contemplate. My experience with schools' decision making is heavily typified with bureaucracy; the need for hoops to be jumped through, certain forms filled out in certain ways with particular types of additional information supplied. I can on the one hand see why this needs to be done, in an age where you need to cover your backside from a legal standpoint, however, how many great ideas never even see the light of day because whomever has had the idea knows that the hoop-jumping required to see the idea to fruition is too hard and to confusing to deal with?
The above tweet captured some of the beliefs about educations that Peter not only views as outdated, but that he questions as to why they are still considered normal in any way. The first dot point I can agree with. Teaching is about relationships and I have never understood why not smiling until some arbitrary point in the school year is remotely helpful to your practice. Personally, I do not have a poker face. I was that kid who would smile at inappropriate times out of nervousness, even when being told off for doing something wrong, and would therefore end up in more trouble because I apparently thought it was funny. Actually, I am still that kid, even as an adult. As an early career teacher, I have been given that piece of advice on numerous occasions. I cannot do it, it is not my personality to not smile.
I have to confess to not quite understanding the issue with the fifth dot point. I do not see that comment as an ownership statement, but as a relational statement. In 2016, I was offered a twelve-month contract to teach a Year Five and Six class for three days per week job-share arrangement. In term four, that became full-time as my job-share partner went on maternity leave. I already had a strong relationship with my class but that switch to full-time developed it further. It was the first class that I had taught for a full year, having been employed casually, or in an RFF / non-contact arrangement previously. At the end of the year we had a reflection conversation as a cohort, all of us, myself included, sitting in a circle on the floor.
I told them then that they would always be my students. Not because I owned them, but because they were the first class I had taught for a whole year, that we had developed a relationship with each other. I believe it was mutual, when I gathered them together (the now Year Six students anyway) and told them that I would be finishing up at the school that week they were gutted and there were tears. On my final day at school they all came to my room as soon as the bell went and wanted to say good bye, give me one last high five, a card they had made and some of them wanted hugs. Those were my students. Not because I own them, but because we have a relationship built on mutual trust and respect.
I disagree somewhat with some of the other dot points, however, that is the one I passionately disagreed with. Peter posted a list of current rules at his school; the student is in control, yes is the default, a strengths rather than deficit model, a one person policy (respect, first names, access to areas and facilities). Many of these I found myself nodding to, in particular the first name policy. I still do not quite understand why it is seen as respectful for the students to have to refer to Mr Teacher or Mrs Teacher, when we can refer to them Jane and John and I have written about this in the past.
Additionally, all students have access to to a kitchen. What message does it give, began Peter, when you have to wait until Year Twelve to be treated like a human? I do not have a problem with this. I remember wanting to take leftover dinner for lunch the next day at school but was unable to do so as there was nowhere to heat it up. Actually, even in Year Twelve I did not have access to a microwave or hot water. I do know schools who have a Year Twelve room with kitchen facilities, but my alma mater did not.
We were shown some more rules at the school:
Peter pointed out that students will keep learning past their schooling and we as teachers are just a small part of their education. The school therefore has students manage their own individual learning plans. Peter did not go into it, however, I hope that there is some education provided to students around how to develop and manage a learning plan on an ongoing basis. As a further extension to this, they have removed year levels which means that no-one necessarily knows what year another student is in, resulting in there being no stigma over needing or taking longer than the normal six years to complete your secondary education.
He then spoke about something that I am not familiar with, that they used a vertical system to eradicate bullying. I am not familiar with the vertical system and have not been able to find anything on Google, so if anyone could shed light on that, I would appreciate hearing from you.
The above is quite a drastic change for most teachers. One person responded to the photo by saying that if they turned up to an interview and there was a student on the panel that they would turn around and leave as they did not see what a student could have to offer or contribute to the panel and therefore having them there would be tokenistic. I can certainly understand that point of view, however, personally, I am not sure how I feel about it. It does make sense that students have an input into staffing in the school as the students are the ones who deal with the staff on a day to day basis, however, do they have to undergo the same training that staff and community members do in order to be on staff selection panels? Peter did not elucidate on that or in what capacity students are asked to be on the panels, how they choose which staff, or what role they are expected to play.
Peter began to wind down his presentation by talking about the businesses that students are running alongside their studies. He showed a list of some of the businesses they have seen come and go, but I did not manage to get a photo of it. Many of them seemed fairly straightforward, newspapers, journals, radio, coffee stands, however, they did have a snake breeding business in operation at one point, which was apparently quite profitable. Peter also said that where possible, they employ students into various roles such as Grounds keepers, administration, cleaners because they would rather employ a student internally than someone they do not know. He did add that they are demanding as employers and that they have fired students.
I can see the logic in this, giving students real-world experience, however, I cannot wrap my head around how it would work. Is there not a conflict of interest in being paid to do work in a school where you are currently enrolled and being taught? Or is that just my own imagination? I wonder what processes they would have had to go through to gain approval from the Victorian Department of Education for those arrangements.
Peter closed with two points. Firstly, that although they believe the education model is broken, it is not just them doing things similarly to this, there are other schools in the area doing things with their own students and with refugee students that are providing them with not just an education but an indication of what adult life is like. He also commented that we need to get out of students' way and remove barriers to learning, to "...stop saying "you have to do x before you can do y" in order to develop."
His presentation was a fantastically engaging and challenging way to finish FutureSchools 2017 and I am glad that I did come to the session. Jenny Luca, the chairperson for the Future Leaders stream closed the conference by thanking the speakers for their ideas, the delegates for sticking around for the final session and by confirming that FutureSchools will be in Melbourne again in 2018.
Thank you for reading, and if you have missed any of the articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them here.
"Twitter is my primary network for learning"
-Jenny Luca, Chair, FutureSchools Conference, 23 March 2017
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
If you have missed any of the articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them here. The excitement for FutureSchools fairly exuded from Twitter this morning as people began arriving with numerous photos popping up on Twitter.
I was very curious as to how the change in venue would change the vibe of the expo hall and the event in general. and the plenary was a nice change. It brought everyone together, and no doubt made filling time slots easier with less to worry about! There was also a definite TED Talk vibe going on with the stage setup
Jenny Luca, Chairperson for the FutureLeaders conference welcomed everyone and encouraged the delegates to think differently about education while we were there. She also commented that Twitter has been, for her, the greatest network for professional development. When I retweeted and asked who agreed with the comment, there were a great number of positive responses which was not at all surprising. I have had a few conversations recently with people who have dabbled with Twitter on and off, but a large number of people whom I have spoken with over the yesterday and today are active Twitter users, but I digress.
Milton Chen was the first keynote speaker and his topic was educating the whole child, with a focus on the arts, nature, and place-based learning in education. He began with a topical jab at Donald Trump ("Thank you, Australia, for letting me into your country), but then spoke about the accident of history that formed George Lucas' entry into the film making industry, that it was only a car accident that led him into film making. In Lucas' childhood, a teacher would not have been able to do too much to nurture and utilise a child's interest in film making to help their learning. Now, however, it is relatively easy to do and we need to personalise the learning to the interest of the learner.
I feel like this relates to the discussion in Prakash Nair's masterclass yesterday where he was talking about the concept of four theories of learning, specifically, the Distributed Collective theory wherein groups of learners converge around common interests with different levels of expertise, on an as needed basis and an individual will often be across multiple networks at the same time participating in different ways and levels across each of those groups. Milton's words here are perhaps not quite in the same vein, however, there are certainly shades of similarity.
At this point Milton brought up a topic that intuitively makes sense, yet, has much support in various teaching circles, yet which, as far as I am aware, does not have any empirical evidence supporting it. It intuitively makes sense and like many things which intuitively make sense, teachers run with it because much of teaching, if you ask in casual conversation, is based on gut feeling, on professional judgement honed over years of teaching and trying and failing in various contexts.
Science does not appear to support Multiple Intelligence as a theory of learning.
The concept of educating the whole child, of nurturing their social, emotional, academic, physical (fundamental movement skills, physical health etc), creativity vis-a-vis the arts is one I can agree with. What I do not agree with is modelling that based upon the notion that students have an identifiable preference which has a direct causal relation with their learning outcomes.
We heard, next, about research (un-cited) which shows that students who undertake a structured curriculum focused on social and emotional development see a statistically significant improvement in their overall testing results. I find it interesting that everything comes back to their impact on testing results, however, I feel that that is flogging the metaphorical dead horse.
Milton posits that students can learn more than we think they can. In what regard, and what the key is to unlocking this we were not really given an answer, however, it feels like pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are being extracted from various speakers at various conferences and that eventually, hopefully, maybe, we will get to a point where those who make the macro-level decisions about education will realise that the system needs to change.
It was next noted that the school year in the US is quite short comparative to Australia. As a result of this, there is a plethora of after school programs and clubs, not to mention the summer camps. This emphasises two things in my mind. First of all, the relationship between student's desire to work hard when they see the benefit which Prakash spoke about yesterday and secondly, the fact that this would appear to indicate that schools are not meeting the desires of students learning interests. It was also pointed by Martin Levins that we need to be careful not to over-curricularise students, I would add, especially in areas they do enjoy learning
We next heard about the six edges of innovation and the learning ecosystem, moving from here into place-based learning. Milton commented that in urban areas of US cities, students can easily graduate from secondary school without ever planting something. That in cities along the coast, students who live only an hour or two from the beach can graduate without ever seeing the ocean. The Edible Schoolyard project seeks to rectify that by creating programs where students not only are engaged in planting, growing and harvesting, but then in cooking the produce.
Makerspace came up as part of Milton's presentation, particularly the way that it addresses the need for practical skills, even in this age of automation and doom and gloom news about the prospects of blue-collar jobs in the future that is prevalent in the media. He commented that you would not have found any Makerspaces in schools five years ago, but that you would ave twenty years ago. I missed any discussion of the why behind this in a short conversation with the person sitting next to me, however, I would posit that the cotton wool movement might have something to do with it, though I could be wrong.
Milton showed us a video of a student who was heavily into makerspace, soldering circuits, 3D printing pieces and building using his hands as well as teaching peers how to solder because "once I teach them, they can teach some of their friends." I wonder how often a student has some sort of heavy interest in something that we as teachers either miss completely, do not understand, or are not able to facilitate learning through that interest, or are not able to due to administrative direction and the elephant in the room: mandated testing. The makerspace / STEAM / HacherSpace movements are, in my perhaps very wrong opinion, still constrained by perceived current purpose and focus of school, which to many stakeholders, including a reasonable proportion of student, is to get a good HSC result for uni.
It was observed by @MrsAngell that "[p]arents are our biggest barrier they say its great as extracurricular but...not for class the purpose of class is get my kid to uni." This led to the Bioblitz citizen-science movement, and its relationship to allowing students to experience their local environment in natural ways that are fun, contextual, exciting and scarily, not necessarily related to learning outcomes.
Milton closed by challenging us to define what makes a great school, in a short but measurable definition. Paul Houston's definition is apparently do the student run in at the same rate they run out. Are they eager to come to school, or are they hanging out out for the bell at the end of the day? It is an interesting question to ponder and twitter flooded with a variety of ideas. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
As always, thank you for reading. I hope to get some more articles out over the next few days while people are still following #FutureSchools on twitter.
“I have words, not sure how wise they are”
After our visit to Glenunga International High School (GIHS) (which you can read about here and here) was completed, we returned to Brighton Secondary School (BSS) for lunch, after which we engaged in a debrief session. We were given the dates for upcoming events, including FlipCon New Zealand in June and FlipCon Sydney in October. Following that, Jon Bergmann and Ken Bauer took to the stage with microphones each to start the school tour debrief by sharing some of their own observations and reflections about their tour of BSS. There were some microphones spread around the room for delegates to share their observations and reflections on their of either GIHS or BSS.
Jon spoke about how he saw students who owned their learning, but not learning to pass a test, although that is part of the process, but to own their learning for learning’s sake.Ken spoke about how he could see that teachers are sharing resources, ideas, and skills, which I personally think is a great thing. I absolutely believe in the dissemination of ideas, resources, and knowledge in order to contribute and help the teaching profession grow.
The value and potential power of flipped feedback was a recurring theme across a number of the delegates who shared their thoughts and ideas.Danny Avalos (@danny_avalos66) spoke about the fact that the concrete skills and knowledge we teach are all available on YouTube which means we need to redefine what our purpose as teachers is. Danny indicated that he felt that it was what we do in our classrooms to engage and take our students deeper that makes the difference to them.
Delegates were also reminded of the Flipped Learning Certification course which is now being offered over at FLGlobal.org and for which delegates were offered a discount code. I have taken advantage of that and signed up to complete the course and will be doing so during the summer break. We were also challenged to create some action items to take away and actually put what we had learned into practise, which for me, was about engaging with my colleagues for next year around implementing flipped learning strategies. I would also, after getting excited about research from hearing Peter Whiting’s presentation, like to engage with some action research on flipped learning and its impacts on literacy development in infants students, but I need to sit down and have a conversation about that with my supervisor and job-share partner for next year about their interest and thoughts on engaging with that.
Ken Bauer (@ken_bauer) delivered his keynote next, and to give him due credit and to be able to write about it properly, I will review his presentation in the next article. I do not think I will be able to get it out tomorrow (Friday), as this evening is our school musical, a celebration of the school’s sixtieth anniversary. Each Stage was asssigned two decades and asked to prepare a maximum ten-minute performance for the decade and everyone has been working incredibly hard. I am very proud of my students and am excited to see them on stage this evening.
As always, thank you for reading and please leave any comments or feedback you may have. If you have missed any of the other articles in this series you can find them here.
“They do not know how to talk to educators”
-An Education Nation delegate’s observation regarding vendors.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
I would like to begin this article by sharing a personal story, and I would like you to try to place yourself in my shoes throughout. I arrived at an education conference last year wide-eyed and more than a little naive about what was going to see and hear from the vendors. It was my very first conference and the first time I had been exposed to an educational vendor expo. I spoke with all of the vendors who had something that intrigued me or made me curious, and they all went something like this:
“How are you?”
“Well, thanks, you?”
“Yeah, good. Have you heard of our product before? It can do x, y and z.”
“Ok, can it do p or q?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
There were also a number of vendors, actually, the majority, who made no effort to engage me, or other delegates. Their body language was closed off, their facial expressions were bored and disinterested and they appeared more interested in chatting with their colleagues on their own stand and those around them. Many of them had signage that told a delegate everything they needed to know about the product and discouraged talking to them. If you did approach those vendors, they answered the questions with product knowledge drawn from within their box of knowledge about that product.
Though I was asked questions by vendors such as what year group do you teach, what subject do you teach, and have you tried competitor A’s product? Because ours is far superior, they were superficial questions which were asked from a superficial interest, driven by wanting to sell me the product or get my details for later promotional e-mails* as opposed to wanting to understand what I am trying to do in my classroom with my students at the moment and what challenges I have that they can work with me to solve. The vendors were also, it appeared, unwilling to leave the safety and comfort of their stand to get amongst the delegates and get to know and understand them and their needs.
The vendors had no understanding of how to get to know me as an educator and my needs, challenges and goals. They knew how to rattle off their sales pitch, and could do so with aplomb. This is, I believe, a distinct difference in approach and attitude.
I suspect that many of you are, whether figuratively or literally, nodding your head in agreement at this point, as your experience with vendors at expos has been somewhat similar. I had a conversation with someone recently who pointed out that it is partially our fault, as educators, for going in and often just asking “what can it do? as opposed to going in and asking “I teach x to y students and am trying to do z but have come up against problems a, b and c. Do you have a solution?”
When I initially came across Education Nation during a twitter chat earlier in the year, one of the aspects which caught my eye was the way in which the organisers had positioned the traditional vendor exhibition floor, which they were dubbing The Playground. It sounded like it would be different.
In case you are unable to read the text on that image from the Education Nation website, this is what is says:
Let’s face facts – people who attend education events are normally there for the learning opportunities they offer… NOT to speak to ‘vendors’ in the expo.
I was excited by the prospects of this. My imagining of The Playground would be that the Vendors would not only know their products but would have an understanding of education and specific challenges in at least some of the areas that are faced on a daily basis. More importantly, though, I had imagined that the vendors would be intermingling with the delegates, engaging in discussions about education and specific contexts within which the delegates are teaching and the specific challenges we were facing.
This was not the case.
Acer came to the Education Nation party, and had, inarguably, the largest stand there and were the official coffee provider with a barista at one end of their stand (who made consistently great hot chocolates, but from what I heard, terrible coffee).
Although I am going to explicitly use Acer as an example in this story, it applies equally to all of the vendors, not just at Education Nation, but at any educational conference. I stood in line for my hot chocolate on several occasions and not once was I engaged in conversation by an Acer representative; no sales pitch, no good morning, how are you? I did approach the Acer stand at one point with the express purpose of scoping out what they had on offer and approached a computer that had a driving computer game on display. However, what captured my interest was actually the monitor, which was a wide-screen curved monitor.
An Acer representative approached me, just as I was starting to look at the monitor and told me that the game was playable and to just use particular keys on the keyboard to drive the car. He then turned and moved away. There was no discussion, no sales pitch, no what has you interested in this computer? No what computer are you using at school or at home at the moment? Nothing. Sadly, that is not the worst part of the story.
One of the presenters at Education Nation was Nick Patsianas (@nickpatsianas), a current Year Twelve student who is also, and I use this term as a compliment, a huge computer nerd (I would only label myself as a minor computer nerd). He was engaged in a conversation with one of the Acer representatives about some of the laptops they had on display and was explaining to the representative about how a particular component of the laptop works and why that was good for him as a student. He also explained to the representative that another feature that was purported to be in benefit, was actually a flaw, and why that was the case.
A delegate had more knowledge of the product the vendor was promoting, and its real world uses and flaws, than the vendor himself did.
PC Locs had a stand there as well, and the representatives looked bored, disinterested and disengaged and made no effort to engage those walking past their stand, in any way unless someone actually stopped to look at a product that they had. The Brainary stand had a robot that could walk, dance and talk, and it gained some attraction, but I do not know how much genuine interest there was, and how much was due to the gimmick of the robot. Latitude Travel also showed little interest in engaging people in conversation, they certainly made no attempt to draw me in. ABI were there showing off their Snowflake system. They had a flat screen touch panel, upright, showing a simple screen, and a banner with all the info you needed to know about it.
The representative, as did many of the company representatives there, looked bored and did not show off the fact that the flatscreen touch panel could go from full vertical to horizontal and was height adjustable, and then when he did show that off, could not explain why that would be of use to a teacher for collaborative learning and publishing of work for a wider audience.
The vendors did not know how to engage educators appropriately.
Vendors, there is something you need to understand about educators. You complained we were not talking to you at Education Nation but there is a reason for that. We can find out everything we want to know about your product online. You cannot find out anything about our teaching context and the challenges we face in our specific room without engaging in conversation with us. Talk to us, not at us. Ask us what we want to be able to do and what our challenges are, rather than rattle off the specifications of the product. Leave your stands and have lunch or coffee with us. Ask us who we have just listened to speak and what we took away from that talk. Or, be even more genuine, and sit in on the talks, show an interest in education rather than just selling us products and tools and services.
Educators, there is something we need to realise about vendors. If we continue to simply ask what a product does, the vendors will continue to sell to us and talk at us. We need to go in and tell them what we want to do, whether it is a concrete function or an abstract dream. We need to share our real, genuine, everyday systemic, policy, process and people-power challenges with them to give them insight into what we face and allow them to go back to their companies and brainstorm ways of surmounting those challenges.
Until we change how we engage with the vendors, the vendors will continue to not know how to engage with us.
UPDATE: I was contacted by the CEO of a company at this event via e-mail afterwards who requested to chat regarding her company's representatives and their conduct, wanting specifics. Although I rang and left a voicemail and followed up with an e-mail I did not hear back from that person.
*There is an exception to this. Rowan and Yohan from MyEdApp engaged me in conversation very differently and did make an effort to understand my context.