Australian Computers in Education Conference starts next week, I find myself reflecting on the nature of conferences, and more generally on the role of computers in education. It's not a little picture I see in my mental mirror, but a virtual galaxy of interconnected notions.
This post is a bit of a ramble in the countryside of my mind.
In recent years I've been involved in organising many different kinds of events. Meetups, user group meetings, business networking functions and a couple of bigger conferences. Namely, linux.conf.au and the annual VITTA conference.
I'm a big believer that these kinds of events are important. Important opportunities for learning, for networking and for sharing knowledge.
Biella Coleman recently published a beautiful article about Hacker conferences. She writes as an anthropologist who has studied the Debian hacker community, but the article refers to behaviours enacted at other similar events. These occasions are important, but it's often hard to explain why. Biella has given us evidence to back up this intangible truth.
I think teacher tech conferences like those run by professional associations like ICTEV, VITTA, CEGSA, ECAWA, QSITE, and international events like ISTE, Becta and Ulearn share something with Hacker conferences. These teachers often work in isolation from each other, but in intense proximity with their students. Some teachers interact with each other in virtual networks of mailing lists, online forums, blogs, wikis, 3D worlds and microblogs. Which means these real world events become critical spaces for face to face interaction to build shared experience. I applaud teachers who champion the use of computing in education, and am honoured to work with them, and help organise these events for them.
In the past it's sometimes seemed as though we need to justify the use of computers in education. In ways we've never needed to justify their use in business, finance, research or other fields of human endeavour. Computing has unquestionably enhanced human productivity. I just think of trying to organise a large event without the web and a mobile phone. Imagine back to registration forms filled in by hand, and posted via snailmail to the organisers. Imagine all correspondence in writing by post, and waiting days or weeks for the reply.
So why the reluctance to embrace computing for learning? Of course every expense must be justified. But surely the results are in that computing is here to stay, and an important aspect of human development.
I believe very much we need to ignore the luddites and move beyond arguments of merely using computers as tools. We need to champion students as creators and makers of new tools and new platforms. Teaching students about computers, with computers to create new computers.
Computers? What the hell is a computer these days anyway? Some have said the universe itself is a computer.
The mobile phones in our pockets are also calculators, cameras, diaries and encyclopedias. The laptops in our bags are multimedia editing studios. The two combined empower any of us with both to broadcast media moguls. Or record scientific data in the field and beam it back to supercomputers for analysis. Even conduct sales transactions door to door whilst tracking global product shipments for broken parts.
Where's the revolution in learning?
Do we still learn the same way? What have we learnt about the way our minds work? About how we acquire, share, understand and manipulate knowledge?
Most would agree that knowledge is bout more than reciting facts. But it's also more than knowing how to access them with a few clicks. What will we need to know should we find ourselves without electricity? How to create electricity? How to plant seeds? How to create order from chaos? Oops - gone off on a tangent there... but there's something important I'm missing here. Something about the deep nature of learning, and the strange reality of What We Are Taught.
The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (tpack.org) website says
"knowledge about technology cannot be treated as context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content"
These tech teacher conferences sit right at the heart of that Venn diagram. These conferences are where teachers come together to share their pedagogical and content knowledge about using and teaching with technology, practice new skills, and build their own learning networks.
Teach - Learn - Share - Build - Make - Dream
See you at ACEC2010 next week