Friday, 27 April 2012

#pelc12 : All about connections

Spider Web

Last week I spent 3 days at the Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference. Since I came back, I find myself reflecting on the experience. At the time, it was a whirlwind of enthusiasm, inspiration and tweets. Now that I'm back at the day job, back in reality, I'd like to write down some reflections and share them.

For me, PELeCON 2012 was all about making connections.

Travel Connections
For a start, there was the travelling. Last year, @catherinecronin and I travelled direct from Dublin to Plymouth, at a civilised time of the day. This year, unfortunately, travelling to Plymouth from Galway was a little more complicated. We had to fly to Bristol at the unfortunate hour of 6:40am from Dublin. This meant a stopover in one of the Dublin Airport Hotels, after a bus journey from Galway to Dublin. We met up with @crumphelen at Dublin airport, ready for the early morning flight. Once we arrived in Bristol, we got a bus to Bristol Mead train station, then a two hour journey by train to Plymouth and finally a taxi to the hotel. All about connections, see?

What was a short journey last year, turned into an expedition this year. But, it was all worth it. As Steve Wheeler put it...

People Connections
Then there were the people connections. It was a pleasure to meet up with twitter friends, some of whom I'd met before, and some who I was meeting for the first time. For myself, because I'm a bit shy, knowing people on twitter is a fantastic ice-breaker when you meet them in real life.

I was particularly pleased to be reunited with @crumphelen, @hopkinsdavid, @mattlingard, @drbexl and (of course) @boyledsweetie. Though we've only ever met a couple of times, they feel like old friends.

I was also pleased to meet many twitter pals for the first time, especially @suebecks, @romieh and @dcotton11 (who wasn't really at the conference at all).

Paper Connections
Another area where I was making connections was while listening to the fantastic talks, keynotes and parallel sessions. Because I was scheduled to speak in the final parallel sessions, I found myself making connections between the various themes and my own presentation. I identified where a speaker's message supported my own message, and also where there appeared to be conflict. I was determined to integrate all these into my own presentation, which meant that my head was buzzing and I got very little sleep on the second night.

@simfin keynote

For example, while I thoroughly enjoyed @simfin's call to action, I was very disturbed by his definition of a technophobe as a teacher who has given up. Simon's context is very different to my own, but this statement bothered me, particularly as I was classifying some of our academic staff as technophobes as part of my presentation. Well, the technophobes who take the #cel263 Learning Technologies module haven't given up; far from it, they have bravely opted to give technology a go, with a little support from us, and are thriving as a result.

Many staff report that lack of time is a barrier to integrating technology in their teaching. In his talk on Improving Digital Capability, @dajbelshaw suggested that time is not the issue; it's a matter of priorities. I agree! But I don't think it is the role of learning technologists to dictate priorities to academic staff. They are already getting the message, loud and clear, that they have to prioritise research. By the way, Doug Belshaw is keynoting at next month's EdTech conference in NUI Maynooth. It should be a great event.

Other connections on the issue of learning technologists supporting academic staff
  • On the first day, Jason Truscott talked about the role of learning technologists to empower academics.
  • Back to Doug Belshaw; he spoke about forward thinking institutions using (technology) projects to link to the strategic view, making the digital literacies movement sustainable. He also said that the best way to get somebody (an academic) started is to solve their problems. This is something we do every day!
  • In her talk on Digital Identity, Privacy and Authenticity, Catherine Cronin said that not all lecturers feel they have the authority to make changes in their teaching. I think this links back to Jason's point; by empowering academics we can increase their confidence to allow them grasp that authority.
  • Pat Parslow (@patparslow), in his session on Letters to Santa, spoke about communication barriers when technologists talk about technology. While he stressed that we shouldn't try to break down the silos that exist (particularly in academia), he said we need to find ways to link those silos. He also did a rather good rap!
  • Bex Lewis (@drbexl) gave an impressive talk that incorporated Skype, prezi and video. She made some good points about embedding innovations across programmes.

Online Connections
Finally, there were the online connections in the firehose that was the twitter stream. I cannot imagine what this conference might be like for somebody who is not on twitter. It was constant, in the run up to the conference, during the event, and it's still going. I have a few thoughts and reflections on this as well, but I'll leave them for the next blog post. Coming soon.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, a great read and has helped me to see the connections too:)

I also have worked with many teachers who are reticent about edtech and yet have made great progress and often achieve great things. I would suggest that such teachers are perhaps 'tech wary' and are willing to be guided and supported. The 'technophobe' I referenced are those who wear this as a some kind of perverse badge of honour and an excuse to opt out of any opportunity to embrace edtech. It is these people who may also seek to undermine the work of others and see edtech as of little value.

My presentation was intended to be provocative and I guess I could have also stressed how much I relish the challenge of working with all teachers - and if I didn't enjoy it, I'd have stopped years ago and rekindled my love of pottery;)

Sharon said...

Thanks for the comment Simon.

Yes, I know the type you are talking about. They usually shout the loudest, and claim they are being forced to use technologies, such as the VLE. They don't tend to end up taking our module. Also, I'm not sure they are afraid of technology, per se, but rather afraid of being shown up by technology.

I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation, by the way. It was provocative, and I took a number of messages from it. In particular, I'm still thinking of your question - how did we get to the stage where politicians are making decisions about teaching and learning? It's happening in Ireland too.

Iain said...

Actually, Sharon, in Ireland its worse in that it's journalists that are shaping (or attempting to) policy in education. witness the weekly snide remarks in most of the papers! we're all lazy, overpaid and uncompetitive apparently.