Day 1 began the day before, on Saturday with a trip from Sydney to Lorne via Melbourne. It was a fairly normal trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of Jetstar horror story by the time I sat down at Gloria Jeans at Tullamarine airport. I thought I’d kill some time reading a spy novel until the bus arrived but that was quickly and pleasantly trampled on by the crew from Northern Beaches Christian School (Terrey Hills, Sydney NSW). We had a great conversation, with @steve_collis @ldeibe and others from their creative and passionate group of educators.

That was definitely the best way to spend the usually brain numbing experience of sitting in an airport. So for me, the conference began on the day before as I got to spend time with new colleagues and old, establishing new links, sharing ideas and generally become more mindful of what fellow practitioners are up to.

Day One Proper began with a Keynote from Prof George Siemens @gsiemens who I have been following on and off for a few years, in fact since I participated in the Master of Learning Science and Technology course at the University of Sydney back in 2007-8. He focused on Learning Analytics and threw us into the research and current use of big data to try to help students gain more from the learning experience. He quotes Seymour Papert and other leading educational thinkers of the past and present, all questioning the current structures of education that we work within, still, despite being in the second decade of the 21st century. I decided I really must read Papert’s MindStorm and others mentioned by Siemens (not to mention his own work more thoroughly).

The Twitter stream, #elhst13 was going a tad nuts as people tried in vain to keep up with the amazing potential and pitfalls of what learning analytics is doing in the higher education sector and of course the private sector. Ever used Amazon and had something suggested to you which you then bought (or considered buying)? Then you’ve participated in a form of learning analytics.

I think one key takeaway for me was that learning analytics is not a set of tools designed to replace human interactions or to somehow displace teachers from the learning process. Learning analytics is meant to enhance our ability to reflect critically on what we do. The examples that Siemens gave (regarding higher education in particular) reflected a genuine desire to improve learning outcomes for students and make tertiary education the most it can be, which appealed to me. The analysis of data leads us to ask questions, which might lead us to improve processes, programmes and relationships. That’s pretty cool.

After lunch I facilitated a two-hour workshop with a bunch of about 20 participants, who were quite active for a Sunday afternoon. We looked at the key stages of research and discussed the ways we could help students use various techie (and non techie) tools and strategies in order to make research vigorous and deep, rather than copy/paste. Though 2 hours seems a long time, it ended up not being enough, as we went through the benefits of tools such as Diigo, Twitter and the like (with me trying to burrow deeper into things they were interested in rather than just ranting along my planned path).

If you’d like to see the presentation, please go to http://bit.ly/ELHEsterman

After a cuppa and a bikkie, I moved to the Critical Conversation led by Bruce Dixon and George Siemens with about a dozen others. The focus was on MOOCs, but much of the early conversation focused on big data and learning analytics. When we did get on to MOOCs, my brain was buzzing with the potential for a) senior students and the challenge to structures like the HSC in NSW and b) for professional development of teachers.

Siemens quoted much research (and gave me more books to read) and continually brought into focus the real impact of such things as MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, to what higher education can deliver to people all around the world.

There really is too much to contain in a single post, but I’m definitely going to look into the impact of MOOCs on professional learning of teachers and how that might affect the current professional development landscape in Australia. After all, if courses are delivered by the likes of Stanford and are vigorous and engaging and somehow certified, why would we restrict ourselves to those who peddle the usual forms of PD? (He says, sitting at a 3 day conference)

Another highlight of the day was Sylvia Martinez’s @smartinez presentation on the Maker Movement and how cheap, almost free, and highly democratised technologies are being harnesses globally to improve the learning experience of kids – often outside school hours, or despite schools rather than because of them. This sets a massive challenge in front of decision makers and educational leaders: how to bridge the gap between mandated curricula and what experiences kids actually want to do.

What appeals to me from experiences or movements like Maker is that it’s driven by human curiosity, passion and creativity. It’s not popular because someone told them to go or because it’s on the test. People gather – in their hundreds of thousands in some cases – to join together to make something. Isn’t that what we dream schools of being? Places where children run to as fast as they can because they can’t wait for another day being with those people and sharing those experiences provided there? It’s making me feed ashamed as my comfort with the status quo.

To summarise, the first day of the ELH conference – as all good conferences should do – has been to make me question almost everything I do and suggest ways to improve it. We don’t always have to change, but we need to question and reflect in order to be the best that we can be, not just the best that are.

 

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