Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century: The Sequel

Lots of sequels come out in the summer time (I think… Just go with it), and the OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century conference was no exception. I was lucky to attend the conference last February as a panelist discussing my take on the use of social media in the classroom. Then I was doubly lucky to be able to hang out with Will Richardson (who’s played a huge role in influencing my philosophy about technology in the classroom) during the Minds on Media sessions the following day.

For the #OTF21C sequel (check that hashtag on twitter to see an archive of the tweets from the past three days), I got to repeat my panelist role but also became a Minds on Media facilitator (which meant less time picking Will’s brain but more time hanging with cool teachers eager to learn about blogging).

The panel discussion was essentially very similar to the one back in February. I noticed the same tension between those people (students, teachers, consultants) who are working with social media and those people (union representatives) tasked with protecting teachers from the potential dark side of social media. And I noticed Will biting his tongue at times (Excellent restraint, Will!). I just hope that down the road there will be teachers and students and administrators who shake their heads with amusement as they look back on the “old days” when we were all filled with angst about technology. There was one question toward the end of the panel from a teacher who was very concerned that students might be spending too much time in front of screens to the detriment of their physical and socio-emotional well-being. I’ve started to get a little tired and frustrated by questions like this, but I have to exercise a little more patience. I think I replied with something like, “Maybe, but people said the same thing about books, when books became more readily accessible. Same argument; different medium.” It is the same argument, but I have to remember that this is still a new and threatening area for some people so they may not see it as being the same.

After the panel Brian and I braved the record-breaking temperatures outside the hotel to visit Melanie McBride and Jason Nolan at the EDGE lab which is part of Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. Wow is this place ever mind blowing! Read more about it here. After a tour, we headed upstairs where all the different teams worked. It’s an eclectic group. There were teams working on everything from mobile health apps (VitalHub) to game development (HugeMonster Inc.). And then there were research teams including EDGE lab where my friend Melanie works. The EDGE lab itself was a pretty eclectic group made up of people who brought unique and often opposing perspectives. Noah and Jason demonstrated some soft circuit prototypes they had developed to help adorable little girl communicate in and interact with her peers in spite of her limited speech and motor skills. We had some great conversations (I can’t even begin to attempt to sum them up here) about school and learning (and how the two are quite often mutually exclusive!). It’s incredibly liberating to talk to people who are interested in education but are not constrained by the traditional education system. There are so many ideas we don’t even discuss in education because we know we “can’t do that” in our current system. We walked back to the hotel like zombies, although in fairness I think was 38 degrees in downtown Toronto with a breeze that felt like a gust from a convection oven.

Then there was some much-needed socializing, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Friday was devoted to Minds on Media. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Minds on Media process (brilliantly organized by Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry), unlike traditional PD where one might sign up for a session, sit in a chair and listen to the presenter’s agenda, teachers are free to move from station to station and the agenda is that of the participants. I had a bunch of links and resources prepared but essentially my first question when people arrived was, “So, what do you want to talk about?” It was exhausting, but very rewarding and I loved it when a teacher ran over to me, beaming, saying “I just wrote my first blog post! And I embedded a video!”

I love these conferences because they provide me with a chance to learn as much as (or usually more) than I present, but I also love them because they are, as Melanie would say, affinity spaces. These are spaces where I get to learn how I want with the people who I want to learn with. Thanks to all my friends, old and new, for the great experience.

Doug Peterson, a friend and prolific blogger has posted a number of reflections on his own blog which you can read here.

9 thoughts on “Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century: The Sequel

  1. Nice summary of the event, Danika. I couldn’t believe how time just flew. I missed the social aspect on the Thursday night – I did check FourSquare but nobody checked in – but thoroughly enjoyed Billy Elliot. I really liked your responses on the panel and I don’t think that you need to apologize for your feelings. With an ever spinning world, every moment that we waste puts us even further behind.

    As for the threats of books, I heard another spin on that context recently. The original books were religious and only the high priests even had the skills to read them. It was a way to keep the masses in check. How far we’ve come with a technology and society that gives everyone a voice.

    It was great to see you and Brian again, albeit for just a short period of time.

  2. Danika,
    Great reflections. I’m sorry I was unable to attend (family vacation overlapped with the conference). Especially sorry I was unable to meet you in person (and Alanna, and Andy, and Doug again)… if you’d like you can take part of my presentation that talks about all the misconceptions (mine was focused on video games but they can apply to technology as well) – the Consolarium in Scotland has shown that technology / video games helps *improve* physical well-being (and my aching legs after last night’s “Just Dance 2″ session with my daughter echoes the sentiment). You can find it on mzmollyTLsharespace.pbworks.com if you want it.

  3. Woot! Thanks for the plug for EDGE and for the great commentary. It’s always so fascinating to hear what others experience in our space and of our ideas. But what really grabbed me about your post and this past week was how our space got weirdly/wonderfully merged with the conference. I think this is a great realization and example of the increasing liminality between seemingly isolated spaces and contexts of learning/education. I feel like I hacked into your conference and your conference seeped into our discourse :) agreed about the conversations Danika. Next challenge for teachers is finding ways to be able to have the conversations we desperately need to have but often feel muzzled thanks to our boards and colleges fear mongering. I has ideas! Hoping we can explore this question a bit at Unplugd and maybe come up with some strategies.

  4. Thanks, Danika, both for sharing your expertise, and for the candor of your commentary. I do think your brush is a little broad for the purpose, however…the concerns expressed during the panel discussion were valid, and merit a respectful response rather than one that borders on being patronizing.
    As an OSSTF rep, an accomplished teacher of a wide variety of courses, and an enthusiastic participant of #otf21c, I would like to urge my colleagues to adopt an open, welcoming, and invitational approach to those who are not leading the wave. We are like our students: an exciting and heterogeneous mix of learning styles, aptitudes, and talents. Each brings something of value to the mix and to our own professional growth.
    An expression of concern deserves a reasoned discussion, not an accusation of fear-mongering.
    I hope that the discussions mentioned by Melanie are filled with innovation and ideas for progress rather than derision and disdain for those who are struggling to find their own balance and comfort zones.
    Best of luck @ unplugd.

  5. Dear Nanobozho – since you couldn’t dignify your comment with a real name (as a professional commenter would do – and as our boards and unions encourage us to do). There is no doubt, from Danika’s measured and professional summary of the event, that there were many different views present. All she has done is to articulate the very real compromise many teachers experience and that is hardly patronizing. Though your comment is ironic “merit a respectful response rather than one that borders on being patronizing” really was.

    The climate of fear that exists for teachers is coercive, corrosive and deskilling and it fills me with deep shame for our profession.

    Comments like yours – and the spirit behind them – are just ONE of the many reasons so many great new teachers leave the profession. that and terrible working conditions that the unions don’t seem to do much to address.

    This is the internet. It is a space of relative freedom where people can share ideas and hopefully build a better world. Welcome to the future.

  6. “I hope that the discussions mentioned by Melanie are filled with innovation and ideas for progress rather than derision and disdain for those who are struggling to find their own balance and comfort zones.”

    It’s unfortunate that you come to this discussion with such defensiveness and aggression. Or that your first impulse is to speculate on the character or content of the people and conversations I and others seek to engage.

    I have no doubt that you have endured a fair amount of “derision” and “disdain” as a union rep and I’m sorry that you would choose to project that back at those who are working hard to create a better future for our students in a positive and innovative context of education.

    I have no doubt that the disdain you speak of is a real part of our experience, but it’s a far cry from the kinds of conversations I’ve been having among the educators mentioned above and wish to encourage. In fact, when I did enjoy a social conversation recently with teachers we ended up talking about videogames and all sorts of other FUN things we were exploring. Talk about working overtime to make things better.

    For the record, when I invite teachers to engage in a more candid conversation about moving beyond fear it’s actually a move away from the sort of culture of complaint you describe. A move to towards a greater freedom to express ourselves and our ideas without fear rather than reinforcing facile, unproblematized binaries.

  7. Thank-you,” Sandy” , for proving my point. If I were a younger, less experienced teacher, I would now be too intimidated to engage in the discussion. I used the name that I am known by at #otf21c. For doing so, I am “unprofessional”.
    I am currently using technology where I can, and pushing the limits of my comfort zone. I am truly sorry if you misread the “spirit” behind my comments; they were intended to be a request for the development of an inclusive climate that celebrates and discusses dissent. I am also sorry that you feel yourself to be in a corrosive and coercive climate. I guess I am one of the lucky ones who has strong collegial relationships with others willing to facilitate change co-operatively.
    In that spirit, I offer you a challenge: run for a position with your Federation ( Political Action Committee?), and become the change you would like to see. I, for, one, would welcome someone who feels so passionately about important issues to join the crusade for change and growth within the Federation.
    Sorry to take the conversation so far from your excellent summary of a terrific conference, Danika. I’m looking forward to implementing what I have learned from you, Will, and the others. Hopefully, once I manage to get my own blog up and running, we can continue the discussion!

  8. Wow! All the interesting discussions happen when I leave the room ;) There’s the power of blogging.

    I have absolutely no problem with someone commenting and expressing a differing view point, especially since lately I’ve been complaining that Twitter (and other types of social media with which teachers engage) seems to be a real echo chamber at times. So yes, I encourage dissent!

    The only thing I’m unclear about is what exactly Nanobozho thought was patronizing about my response and whether N means my response during the panel or in this blog post. If it was my response during the panel discussion, I hope nerves and being “on the spot” can be excused for appearing patronizing. If it’s my response in this blog, then perhaps it’s my fault for not taking the time to express myself clearly enough in my eagerness to summarize my reflections on this conference.

    Either way, being patronizing is certainly not my intent.

    That being said, I do get frustrated, just as I imagine union representatives who have to keep repeating the same messages to their members get frustrated. I completely sympathize with them. The point I was trying to make (although in retrospect it may not read that way) is that I am aware of my own frustration and that I need to remember to be patient with people who are new to these ideas and justifiably concerned and cautious.

    It’s sometimes easier said than done though and it’s reassuring to see people like Will struggle with the same frustration. He always comes off as humble and gracious, and I could learn a thing or two from him about that.

    As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting. Can’t wait to follow your blog Nanobozoh! I’m glad you had a good experience at the conference.

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