Edubloggercon – NECC Unconference Day

Edubloggercon is the pre-conference, unconference held the day before the official NECC event. The day started off with a few hundred people voting live on about 20 different topics that had been proposed by ‘the network’. It worked really simply via a web2.0 site (of course), the most voted topics were split up into about 12 sessions during the day.

Most people attended one session and were watching the ustream of another and the back channel of a third, and no one really wanted to miss anything.

It was great to talk to so many people that before we just names on Twitter, but kind of wierd as they all know so much about what each other is doing.

The format for an un conference is simply that everyone is both presenter, facilitator and participant, and even though there’s an agreed format, people still go off and un-organise that too, holding impromptu sessions such as jail breaking iPhones.

NECC Edubloggers was a Mac Fest, this meeting had some of the people I’ve been following for so long on Twitter, reading and watching on YouTube. They were messing about with Mogulus – the webTV station and modding iPhones. Even the ‘A’ list Will Richardson got over excited at his newly jail-broken iPhone – great to know that is not just me that has ‘wow’ moments.

In a session called “Social Networking in the Classroom” the talk was mostly about what people thought about using Ning as a social network for kids. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was being said about getting kids to ‘create a social network in the classroom’. Kids have social networks already, and this is school, not the rest of their life. It is not the same, it is artificial to suggest it is ‘their’ social network. It does more like a micro-social network, having the same facets, but to me that is not the power of Ning in the classroom. This was a point of view shared by Scott Merrick (wow I just had a bitch to Scott Merrick!).

A couple of neat things happened, that simply don’t happen at a ‘conference’. I got up to the panel and talked about how Shareen at school is now using a Ning as a ‘study group’. In The Wild, is a senior study group, looking at visual representation in Advanced English. The power in this is not the blog (which all too often is a substitute for a writing book), nor the range of cool add-on tools that it has.

In a previous session, they talked about why many teachers don’t move from read to read/write technology and multi-modality. What is the benefit of moving, if in the view of the teacher, what they are currently doing works?. This problem is a classic advertising dilemma. How do we get them to buy this product, when they are happy with the other one, and have post of reference to motivate them to change from what they know, to what they might like to know’. How do we sell more dog food? Create more dogs.

I suggested that In The Wild’s benefit to the teacher is that they can see the peer groups form, observe the critical friends process of learning that is talking place. The teacher can ‘walk among’ the student’s thought processes, maybe drop in the odd comment etc., You can’t do this in any other structure. Even though students had to blog – their blog post word count was maybe 50 words. Their comment word count was twice that. They are reading, writing and critically analysing each other. So we might see 300 blog posts, but well see 3000 comments – the visual representation of thought.

Students who often feel, or do not demonstrate ‘voice’ in class, use the internet, to add voice … but the Ning does that, without being ‘creepy schoolhouse’ or making a task smell of, as Clay puts it, smell of ‘schooliness’.

Right now there’s another Ning happening. Lucy Gresser is facilitating a Study Group looking at ‘green issues’. The PBL entry document is a podcast, the research involves students looking at past video comments from the Green Party blog, reviewing Bob Brown’s video clips on You Tube, finding commonalities with these and things in their own local area. The end ‘product’ is an informed written comment back to the Green Blog, in which they reference earlier posts, connect these to the wider Bob Brown stated issues and their local area concerns.

The benefits over and above some ‘report’ presentation is that the students are looking forward and interpreting information as it happens, so can’t ‘Google’ the correct answer – the only way to do well in the project is to take an active role. Students cannot ‘knock out’ the presentation at the end of the project … which gives Lucy the ability to monitor a constant flow of ideas and critical literacies.

So far at NECC, I’ve heard a lot about Web2.0 tools, but only a handful of people – who ISTE refer to as ‘super star’ teachers getting beyond basic ICT/Web2.0 concepts. This makes Lucy a SUPERSTAR TEACHER. The tools are being used well outside their original intention – and the mashup is entirely focused on ‘just in time’ learning. I can’t wait to see it develop and compare it to the non-PBL ‘In the wild’ study group