Why isn’t a conference like school?

The IBAP Conference has been excellent this year. In my previous post I asked why school isn’t more like a conference. Now for the corollary…

Here are some ways I’d like to see this conference being more like school:

  • Why did every session have rows of chairs facing the front, rather than seats grouped for collaboration and discussion?
  • Why was every session presented by an expert out the front while ‘recipients’ were largely passive?
  • How about some time to digest what we’ve taken in and actively engage with the ideas in small groups between presentations?
  • How about some opportunities to apply our learning creatively in some active hands-on sessions?
  • Why not have learners collaborating to develop products that are shared with the real world? (Thanks, Rod)
  • What about some time to ‘play’ with fellow learners, get to know them, share and learn from each other?


Here’s my post from last year’s conference and it’s interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. (Note, I can use the same cartoon again!) This year there was wireless access and Apple provided iPads on loan for use during the conference. The program was online, with announcements and session details readily accessible. What a brilliant marketing move… there’ll be 900 educators considering iPad purchase for their schools now!


Thinking about learning… still!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what learning looks like. You’ll know this, if you’ve been with me as I gathered ideas, images, quotes and thoughts.  See the final product here.  Or maybe it’s not final…

The comment by Rosa from Ecuador got me thinking further.  Was the view of learning that I presented very narrow?  I revisited my presentation and considered whether it reflected the limited view she suggested.   As a teacher myself, with a PLN of other educators, the comments and quotes naturally focus  mainly on learning in schools, but I disagree that the images and comments are only about school learning.  Still, was my view of learning skewed by the fact that I live in Australia, ‘the lucky country’ and work in a privileged school?

I’ve spent a few days reflecting and assembling the puzzle pieces of my own learning about learning…

My son and daughter-in-law are currently volunteering in India for an organisation called Navsarjan, whose mission is to eliminate discrimination based on caste, class or gender.  Part of their work involves teaching English at DSK, a ‘Dalit Empowerment Center’, which is primarily a vocational training center serving economically and socially marginalized youth.  One of the highlights of my visit to India was sitting on the floor of the ‘library’ at DSK with a few  students and teachers, looking at books and discussing school experiences.  Although they knew little English, the smiles of the students said a great deal

My  daughter volunteered last year at Arte Del Mundo in Ecuador, an organisation which works to provide arts and literacy programming for children and adults who don’t have access to these experiences in their lives due to lack of resources and infrastructure. She taught English to Spanish speaking kids  and we sometimes discussed ideas for her classes. I had to adjust my thinking and constantly remind myself of the fact that this was a teaching and learning experience very different from my own.  She had no resources at all and had to come up with ways of teaching that didn’t involve English books or videos or any kind of technology, but had to create everything from scratch.

I have a very good friend in India, who is product manager at a company that creates an online tool which can be used to enhance and express learning (no plug here, this isn’t the time or place!)  His son is part of a school system in which 9 year olds have to write exams.  There is a huge amount of pressure on kids in India to achieve high marks and get into college.  He and I have spent many hours discussing and comparing our experiences and beliefs about teaching and learning.

In the past few months, I have become involved with Soles and Somes, through which I have been interacting over Skype with a group of less advantaged 11 year olds in Hyderabad.  Between technological difficulties, cultural differences and the language barrier, this has proved to be far more challenging than I had originally anticipated.  I have learned that although it never goes as planned,  the kids are excited to interact with me even if the technology fails.  And I have learned that I can gain just as much from these interactions as the kids can!

At a recent IBO conference, I heard James Tooley talk about his research into low cost private schools in developing countries.  I learned how Seetha Murty helped change a conventional school in India to an inquiry based IB school, against the flow of the prevailing educational system and beliefs.  At the ACEC Digital Diversity Conference this week, Michelle Selinger shared many examples of teaching and learning in developing countries, such as the Hole-in-the Wall project, the Jordan Education Initiative and the Lakshya Story.

Bearing all of the above in mind, I think I can remove myself from the limited view of my ‘lucky country’ and my privileged school, as I continue to think about what learning looks like. I know it’s not about classrooms or teachers or desks or books or computers or technology.  Wherever you are in the world and whatever your circumstances, learning does not look like school.

Real learning is about…

  • wondering,  asking questions and seeking answers
  • developing skills
  • thinking about new concepts and ideas
  • making connections between new learning and what you already know
  • deepening understandings
  • constructing meaning from experiences
  • applying new knowledge in different contexts

….  I think!

Confession: I have changed that list again and again!  As long as I continue to think about the possibilities, I continue to be a learner myself.  🙂

Walk the talk…

I just returned from the IBAP conference in Singapore.  The theme was ‘Unlocking the Treasure Within, focusing on the challenges and successes of educators around the world, who strive to promote broader knowledge, deeper understanding and meaningful action.’

There was a great deal about the conference that was interesting and thought provoking. Amongst the keynote speakers, stand-outs were Wade Davis, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic with his stunning photographs of different cultures and Professor James Tooley, who talked about his research into low cost private schooling in developing countries. There were some breakout sessions that got me thinking, such as James McDonald on the challenges of educational change and Seetha Murty who described the transition from a conventional to an IB school in India, against the flow of the prevailing educational system and beliefs.

I was exposed to new ideas and I made connections.  But I have to wonder about the fact that in 2010 you can attend a conference with 800 educators and every single session involved sitting in lines facing a lecturer.  The only form of engagement with the subject matter was Q & A at the end of sessions.  There wasn’t even free wireless internet.  I couldn’t help but wonder…  if this is how educators themselves present new learning, how will education ever change?


We are the people…

I am in Singapore with 2 colleagues for the IBAP Conference.  Any gathering of so many educators with a focus on learning excites me.  Layla, Rene and I attend the same sessions and then evaluate and anlayse them, comparing what we each took away.  Or we attend different sessions and then share the highlights  and add our thoughts.  We debate, disagree, make connections with our school, consider what might work for us,  and consolidate our beliefs about learning.

Through one of yesterday’s sessions, I discovered ‘We are the people we’ve been waiting for‘.  It’s challenging and exciting to be one of  ‘the people…’ who wants to be part of changing education…