Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Asian and European educators meet in Dundalk, Ireland

Back from the 10th AEC-NET (Asia-Europe Classroom Net) conference, my mind is buzzing with ideas. After many years of coordinating AEC-NET projects, and preparing project presentations for the conference, this time round I took the backseat, to be able to observe and reflect. The Singapore admin team, together with the Irish conference hosts, had put together a hectic 5 days of lectures, workshops, presentations, and project group meetings, under the title 'Apps in Asian and European Classrooms! Unleashing Educational Creativity'.

Schools in most participating countries have definitely moved on. There is serious talk about taking action, and not just marvelling at philosophical ideas somewhere in a distant 'cloud', as used to be the case a few years ago. Many schools are technologically quite well equipped - some have even moved into the 1:1 laptop or iPad era, like my own. The hardware is there but now the question is how best to utilize it to enhance learning, and engage our 21st-century students.

The conference scene has changed a lot, too - screens of different sizes abound amongst the audience

One afternoon we had a dynamic 5-workshop 'speed data' session, with app after app presented at a breath-taking tempo. Tagxedo word clouds, Animoto videos, Geogebra, Audacity, Google apps, Vimeo, Kinect Scratch, blogging services, Etherpad... An endless list of applications and gimmickry was blast onto us, like a firework show. I wonder what the more techonogically novice teachers thought, as even I, with at least some previous exposure and knowledge, found it challenging to follow! I started to think that while it is certainly useful for a teacher to have a digital "toolbox" of various apps, for example, to visualize complicated concepts, in the end, using hundreds and hundreds of these apps all the time is not the key issue. True, this session kept us teachers awake and running, in the after-lunch sleepy hours, and would probably work to do the same for students, but something more solid is needed to shift educational practices.

One of the most interesting presenters for me, was Ms Chan Lai Peng, Deputy Director from the MOE in Singapore. Having organised some student exchanges, and virtual projects with schools in Singapore, I have realized how much our two small nations have in common, despite the striking geographical and cultural differences. Both nations, with small populations, have competed for the top positions in the OECD PISA assessments, for example. Ms Chan explained to us how they have come to the 3rd Master Plan concerning ICT in education. Vigorous programmes have been put into place to deepen the pedagogy of ICT use, and for each school to reach a base line standard in ICT integration. A lot of attention is paid to cyber wellness programmes, with student ambassadors to tutor their peers in every school. What's more, every school has a full-time technical assistant on site - something that we Finnish teachers can only dream of! Ms Chan finished her lively talk in this observation: "Technology is but a tool but it can be a powerful one when put in the hands of skillful teachers." It is our challenge now, as teachers, to keep updating and developing our skills to keep up with the fast pace of change.

No comments: