Lyall Lukey, Convenor of Education Leaders Forums (ELF) since 2007, responds to a pre-Covid article on EdTech and previews virtual live ELF20: Leading Change and Managing Transitions.

Infection Inflection Point

It is interesting to (re)read Peter Lyons’ opinion piece of 19/2/20 The Downside of the Tech Revolution in our Classrooms with the perspective since afforded by our Covid-19 lockdown experiences.

The way the world works, learns and lives has changed dramatically. The uptake of new technology, especially platforms for communication and learning, has accelerated.

But lessons learnt quickly can dissipate just as fast. Until recently we Kiwis had become complacent after 100 days of no new Covid community cases. In the words of medical professor Dr Des Gorman: “The horrible twin brother of complacency is you stop learning.”

We reverted to the old normal before new cases of community transmission made us confront the realities of what may be a new normal for years or indeed forever if the pandemic becomes endemic.

A Luddite?

In his dismal report card on the downside of the tech revolution in our classrooms the writer reiterates “I am not a Luddite. I’m a teacher of many years experience. I regard “devices” as a tool, not an obligatory method of education.”

Of course devices are tools and not methodologies. But we look sideways at tradesmen who don’t keep up with developments in the tools of their trade. Luddites were understandably defensive in the face of industrial developments which would dramatically transform their livelihoods. They had good reason to fear displacement through innovation. The technological genie could not be put back in the bottle. They faced the choice of adapting or dying.

So do we all. Those who work with children and young people surely have a special responsibility to help them build resilience and adaptability in the face of a tsunami of change. At the same time we all need to strike a balance between hi-tech and hi-touch. Some of us can remember the Eagles’ 1977 lyrical warning in Hotel California “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”

Moving with The Times

The Times Higher Education website features a Covid-age Practical Guide To Digital Teaching And Learning. The pandemic will prolong the need for remote and distanced learning in many places.

Educators have become much more au fait with choosing applications, designing online courses and enhancing engagement with learners with short, formative assessment activities that ensure that learners are fulfilling their increased co-responsibility for their own learning.

“If the objective is to develop creative problem-solvers and effective communicators, online presentations that mimic industry presentation styles should be encouraged. These fast-paced presentations include Pecha Kucha, or ‘lightning talks’ (for arts and design), elevator pitches (for technology) and other forms of peer teaching that promote active learning.”

At the tertiary level this is the antithesis of formal live 50 minute lectures. It requires open-minded teachers to try new ways of learning and add to the growing evidence base for the effectiveness of experimental approaches.

Adapting to Change

This active learning approach focuses on question posing, problem solving and knowledge sharing across disciplines rather than on navigating neatly boxed academic “subjects”. It fosters deeper understanding and incremental skills development. The spark that ignites the process often comes from an enthusiastic educator. Peter Lyons would no doubt agree that, whatever methodology and technology are employed, enthusiasm is a contagious ingredient. But so is ho humdrumness.

If educators themselves are unwilling to keep learning and trying new things, “many years experience” may simply be annual repetition on a dreary Groundhog treadmill. This is to be avoided as much as the dark satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution.

In adapting to change and trying new things, with variable success, I can draw on both my own ancient secondary classroom teaching experience as well my more modern experiences in creating digital and other learning resources and events for adults in the changing workplace and marketplace.

Goodbye Mr Chips, Hello Silicon Chips

My own 13-year classroom teaching career started 55 years ago. In the early days using colour marker pens on butcher’s paper and contriving mnemonics seemed to be a great learning leap forward, even if they were the media and not the message.

Graduating from grinding out History task sheets via the methylated spirits-infused Banda copying machine-which made users smell like Bowery drunks, to using the inky Gestetner stencil machine was also a big DIY printing advance, if not quite on par with Gutenberg or Caxton.

Pressing an old reel tape-recorder into service to capture role-plays by senior History students meant that to participate they had to first assimilate a lot of historical information.

Ordering 16mm films months ahead of their use and grappling with threading or splicing errant spools of film brought historical archives to black-and-white life; ditto some co-educational adolescents as the lights went down.

In the meantime the overhead projector took over from the epidiascope and the Kodak Carousel did a great job projecting photos, so long as you inserted the slides up the right way and didn’t tip up the carousel and destroy the slide sequence. The portable data projector was not even a dim gleam in the eyes of corporate presenters.

Then, in the twilight of my teaching career, came the reproductive breakthrough second only to The Pill: the photocopier, which could copy right but not always entirely legally.

Digital Encounters

It was a full decade, after I left the classroom in 1978 to start my own training and events business by using the undervalued skills I had learnt in the classroom crucible, that I encountered the personal computer and the graphic user interface. The digital rodent made it possible for the enumerate and the non-technical to become digitally dexterous.

When, as a first year teacher, I flatted with a Canadian Engineering postgrad. student who had special access to The Computer in a large room at UC and punch cards to prove it, I never imagined that he and I would bridge CP Snow’s “Two Cultures” by both using the same democratised, miniaturised and mobilised information technology to plan a university ski club reunion for, as it turned out, the very day in 2001 that the planes struck New York and Washington, to the accompaniment of graphic live global coverage.

When I made my first analogue training videos in the 1980s I had to employ off duty TV videographers and technicians. DIY wasn’t an option. In a pre-digital age just to change a letter in a VHS video title was a time-taking technical challenge.

Now, if we wish, we can capture a range of marvellous visual and other digital resources on a pocket-sized device. We can edit, store, retrieve, use and share with a few finger clicks. We can collaborate with colleagues to share learning design and with learners to share the pursuit of research findings and learning objects.

Engaging adult learners Pedagogy the blanket term for the study of how knowledge and skills are imparted in an educational context, is more often used in relation to children and young people. The name for adult learning methodology is, of course, Andragogy, not to be confused with Androgyny, as David Bowie fans will attest. Andragogy emphasises more the process of engaging adult learners in learning experiences.

Before leaving secondary teaching I had experienced some adult teaching and communication through six years Polytech UE History night class teaching, a year as a UC Visiting Teaching Fellow in History and three stints of teacher recruitment. Running my own business cranked up the learning trajectory.

I had to recruit my own learners and funders and develop my own “curriculum” based on their needs, with an emphasis on creating resources for people to turn ideas into action and develop skills. I also worked on fostering collaborative knowledge sharing within organisations and facilitating visioning and strategic planning sessions.

In the last 25 years I’ve also run more than 300 open events, forums and seminars for the public and private sectors under our SmartNet events banner, including 13 annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007 for present and aspiring New Zealand education leaders. BC, Education Leaders Forum 2019: Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers offered a balanced perspectives of the benefits and downsides of information and communication technologies in an educational setting.

These were all in-person events, though several included live video presentations from as far afield as the USA and Israel.

ELF20: Surfing the Tsunami – Now Virtual Live

The live events game changed rapidly with the looming lockdowns in March this year. Because of Covid-19 past disruptions and future uncertainties we made an early decision that Education Leaders Forum 2020 Leading Change & Managing Transitions would be a spaced series of 5 x weekly 90 minute interactive Zoom online sessions from 9 September to 7 October.

That decision has been vindicated by recent events but there are other reasons besides health imperatives to consider a judicious use of the Zoom platform.

The only reasons for one, two and three full day in-person talkfests-feasts followed by famines- are the physical and logistical constraints of travel, accommodation and venues.

If, rather than go to an event, the event comes to you online in a digestible series, the time and money costs are much less. The spaced menu of food for thought and action is more sound educationally than big dollops.

ELF20: Zoom Meetings Platform

The ELF20 Zoom Meetings platform democratises the whole process not just by being location and device neutral but also by allowing registrants as much or as little interaction as they chose via voice and screen sharing and especially by small group Zoom conversation breakouts.

A designated video conference room and industrial scale technology are not required. Instead a free Zoom app with a very intuitive feel is readily available for a range of devices. Present and aspiring education leaders will be enabled to share knowledge and network safely and economically from wherever they are, on their own devices, in registered individual Zoom “virtual seats” with voice and video sharing and other functions via the Zoom app.

Zoom Meetings, the free app for ELF20, is more personal and interactive than Zoom webinars. It is designed to be collaborative.

Virtual ELF20 Benefits

· Virtual Live ELF20 comes to each registrant’s device via the free Zoom Meetings app

· Registrants can safely share leadership knowledge and network in an uncertain Covid environment

· Lower registration fees plus group discounts and no travel, accommodation or reliever expenses make virtual total costs much lower than in-person

· A critical mass of senior colleagues can thus participate economically and build momentum for positive change

· A spaced, digestible series of 5X 90 minute weekly sessions avoids the feast/famine syndrome

· Small group Zoom breakout conversations after each input session help process key points and build professional relationships

· Post-session digital resources, including presentation videos, enable reinforcement and collegial sharing

Have you been inoculated against the real benefits of Zoom?

Zoom Meetings are much more than webinars and quite different from the Lockdown use of Zoom for informal virtual catchups, with no clear purpose or protocols.

Many Zoom social users haven’t experienced the Zoom meeting breakout function which puts larger groups into ”Zoom rooms” and fosters high level small-group conversations to process prior input. In fact, there can be more high quality dialogue, networking and online collegial relationship building than is afforded by in-person events.

In the words of Dr Karl-Erik Sveiby, an early SmartNet speaker on knowledge sharing and innovation: “…unlike conventional assets, knowledge grows when it is shared.”

ELF20: Remotely Interested?

If you would like to find out more about Virtual ELF20: Surfing the Tsunami – Leading Change & Managing Transitions, visit https://www.smartnet.co.nz/elf20/

Lyall Lukey, ELF 20 Convener lyall@smartnet.co.nz

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