Welcome back for this, the final article in my review of FutureSchools 2016. If you missed the previous article, you can find it here. I had looked at the agenda for the afternoon session and was not particularly excited by what I saw and did consider leaving early, but made the decision to stay and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the final session and how engaging both Marissa Peters and Jim Sill were.
Marissa Peters is an ICT Specialist from St John’s Primary School in East Frankston, Victoria. Marissa’s presentation title of The Dreams You Dream! The Use of Virtual Reality in the Classroom did not grab my interest as virtual reality (VR) is not something that is on my radar for use in the classroom. Marissa opened by commenting that the world of reality is limited, whereas our imaginations are boundless and that VR takes our five senses and extends them further.
Marissa spoke about Google Cardboard, which I had previously heard of, but never actually known what it was or how it worked. It seems like it has some potential for use in the classroom, but requires smartphones, which, when schools are pushing towards tables, is mildly annoying. That said, I am not sure that it would be comfortably usable with a tablet.
Marissa also spoke about how they let the students play in order to become comfortable with the concept of VR, with titles including Minecraft, Titans of Space, Photosphere, Alice and Google Expeditions. Marissa identified that as part of their entry into the VR space, her and her students became consumers rather than creators, which is difficult to change at this point in time. There are some tools out there to allow students to become creators of content, such as Unity 3D.
It was acknowledged that VR takes significant time to embed in place, and to train students and staff in obtaining the most benefit from the experiences, rather than it simply being an interesting gimmick. I can certainly see a place for Google Expeditions in the classroom, however, once again, when we are asking our students to bring tablets into class, it is difficult to turn around and ask that they also bring phones in, particularly in a primary school context.
Marissa closed with a quote attributed to Thomas Edison and posited that as Educators, it should be a motto for us to guide as and remind us to push through failures.
Jim Sill (@MisterSill), Director of Global Development with EdTech Team and his title of The Wild and Reckless World of Creativity was rather ambiguous, and he opened by showing us a clip from Madonna’s 1984 music video for her single Material Girl, telling us that we now all lived in a Twitter world, with the Twitter culture permeating most facets and most societies in the world.Personally, I am a fan of Twitter as a professional development tool and as a tool for learning, and Jim described getting the best use from Twitter as taking a cup, dipping it in a river and having a drink from the cup. “You don’t try and capture the whole river” Jim reminded us, and the admonishment to not worry about keeping up with all of Twitter, which some try to do, or feel that they should be doing, is a useful one, particularly for those new to Twitter.
Jim continued by talking about selfies, selcas (the Korean term for selfie), the toilet selfie (“It does not matter how well dressed you are, you are still taking a photo in the room where you poop!”) and categorised these as a form of self-branding and self-identification which form part of the user’s online footprint. As a side note, I have recently heard digital footprints being referred to instead as digital tattoos, which I think is an interesting and important distinction. The below video by Juan Enriquez speaks to this concept and is well worth watching.
Jim spoke about how YouTube is essentially a hook farm full of ways for teachers to capture students’ interest in a topic, how Instagram has changed our relationships with food, with tourism and with each other and how GoPro makes everything look awesome. Jim commented that many teachers do not try new ideas, new technologies, new pedagogies due to a fear of failure, whether as a result of having been figuratively burnt in the past, or a lack of support from colleagues, they are paralysed by fear, and that fear is the big killer of new ideas and products.
Jim asked us to consider what kind of world we live in and the types of tools that we use to activate and access our students, reminding us that our world, outside the bubble of education and the classroom, does not have a safety net. He invoked Prensky’s notion of the digital native and digital immigrant, not the first time Prensky had been referenced during the conference, and how it is an old concept (the paper linked above was published in 2001) yet it is still used today. Jim told us how because of when he was born, he was a bicycle native. He was born in a time when bicycles were commonplace and everyone had one, yet, they were once considered to be “…diabolical devices of the demon of darkness…full of guile and deceit.”
Jim reminded us that we all started with training wheels on our bicycles, and that the move towards two-wheeled freedom was a gradual one, guided by our elders. In the same way, we should be training our children and our students in how to truly use technology. Jim quoted Mike Welsch as having said that incoming students in his college courses were showing only a superficial familiarity with digital tools. The term digital native should not be used in anything but the general time-frame sense, but that the term digital naives is an accurate descriptor for many students in their ability to meaningfully use digital tools.
We were shown a portion of a 360 video that Jim had taken while travelling by rickshaw in Mumbai, and he spoke about how the use of videos such as this provided options for viewer choice narratives as the viewer chose what to watch, and while this could be a powerful tool, we need to keep asking the question is this relevant or useful to our teaching and learning?
Jim echoed the point that had been made a number of times earlier int he conference that all teachers need to start somewhere on the SAMR model, and that the innovators and early adopters can create a bridge from substitution and augmentation across to modification and redefinition to assist those teachers who are slower to take up technology and assist the way they integrate technology in their teaching.
“Your first few ideas usually suck” we were told, and that the zoom-in metacognitive strategy can help us move beyond the first ideas. Jim said that we should launch early and iterate regularly, with an interesting quote attributed to Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn:
I look back at the very first flipped learning videos I created and I cringe. They are horrible. Dry, slow, stilted, and most definitely uninteresting. Yet they were a starting point, and they have helped me to create better videos. Teachers need to maintain the beginner’s mindset, Jim continued, and that for some reason, education is always expected to be polished, which is unrealistic as it is not. As teachers, we regularly make mistakes, get our words mixed up, do not quite finish our explanations, forget to hand out enough materials for science and any number of other commonplace errors that are easy to make when you are managing a room of thirty very different students. He encouraged us to embrace our mistakes, which is advice that Joel Speranza gave us in relation to flipped learning video creation and, quoting Goethe, that doubt grows with knowledge.
Jim closed with a few thoughts. As teachers, we live in a world of creative minds and we need to be careful with those minds, lest we stamp out the creativity, whilst encouraging our students to remain young and not become a statistic that we hear about in the news. Embrace creativity and put a saddle on it and have a go; be open with stories of success and of failure to guide our students so they can learn from our mistakes and our good choices and that providing opportunities for our students to share their ideas globally can create powerful connections and turn students into teachers.
Jim’s presentation was energetic and engaging, an excellent speaker to close out the conference with on a Friday afternoon and I am glad that I stayed for both his and Marissa’s sessions. The conference overall was definitely worthwhile attending in my opinion. I had some valuable conversations with a number of people, was able to finally meet some educators that I had been interacting with via Twitter for a while and strengthen connections with others. I am unsure whether I will attend FutureSchools next year, purely from the perspective of it moving to Melbourne and EduTech moving to Sydney.
I hope that you have found some benefit from reading through these review articles, I know that writing them has been a useful process for consolidating my own learnings. As always, thank you for reading.
If you have missed any articles in this review series, please click here to see the full list.