Tag Archives: Learning2

A new chat is born

geralt (Pixabay) - license CC0 (Public Domain)
geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0 (Public Domain)

On Tuesday night, a new event was created. Two ICS teachers – Amy Hughes & John Meinz – started up an online chat on Twitter to connect with other teachers around the world, but particularly in this region.

They were inspired to do this by Jamie Raskin, who came to Addis to present at Learning 2.014 about Genius Hour and self-directed learning. Jamie delivered an inspiring Learning2 Talk about self-directed learning (or “heutagogy”), and also led 3-hour extended sessions on using Genius Hour in education.

Genius Hour – also called “20% time” – is a concept that has been most widely popularized by Google. Google gives its employees permission to spend 20% of their time on any project that interests them. They aren’t told what to do & they aren’t evaluated on that time spent …they are certainly not penalized for taking that time away from projects and work they’ve been assigned. Instead, they have the freedom to explore, to tinker, to experiment. Many of Google’s greatest and most successful projects have come out of work done during this time. It seems that when you give employees freedom to experiment and work on something they are really interested in, they can come up with some amazing things!

Teachers have started trying out this idea. If we give students time to explore new ideas, to try out things, and to work on something they are really interested in, what amazing things can they come up with? This is a powerful idea – not only for giving students more individualized education, but also for inquiry-driven instruction. Students who are given more freedom in choosing what to inquire about will dive deeper into it  and learn far more than if they were assigned a topic.

After learning more about Genius Hour and heutagogy from Jamie at Learning 2.014, some teachers started trying out this idea in their classrooms:

But it’s not enough to just try these kinds of things. It’s important to learn from people who’ve done this before: get their ideas, find out the tricks to avoid problems, etc. It’s also good to be able to ask these people the questions that you have about the process. Fortunately, with the internet, expert advice and information is just a few clicks away. And Twitter has become a terrific learning space for teachers to get information and talk with others about the process. So, Amy and John set up the first-ever #geniushour chat set in our timezone:

The excitement built, and at the appointed hour teachers from schools in Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, and Sudan joined ICS teachers for a free-form discussion. Questions were asked, resources were shared, and jokes were made! The pace was fast and furious, with tweets flying fast and responses coming quickly.

If you want to read the entire discussion, the whole archive of the chat is saved here.

At the end, everyone was very happy to have spent an hour of their evening discussing the idea of giving students time to explore their own interests.

And the discussion continued, with experts from elsewhere around the world spreading the news and offering advice!

Congratulations to Amy & John for starting an exciting and powerful discussion. Look for more participation and more good ideas at the next Africa (and Europe and Middle East!) chat the first Tuesday of every month!

#GeniusHour chats:

  • Africa/Europe/Middle East zone – 1st Tuesday of every month – 8:00 pm Eastern African Time (UTC+3)
  • North America – 1st Thursday of every month – 6:00 pm Pacific Time Zone (UTC -8) (time zone converter)

 

Yoking up

by Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA
by Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA

I’ve been teased recently about how frequently I’m wearing my new Learning 2.014 safari vest. I’ve been wearing it nearly daily and people laugh at me and ask if I sleep in it. (Ha ha ha.)

There’s a few reasons why I’m wearing it. Firstly, it’s because it’s comfortable: it keeps me warm in Addis’ chilly weather, but it’s not as bulky or confining as a jacket or sweater. Secondly, it’s useful: it has deep pockets that hold my glasses case, phone, duct tape, tablet, stapler, loose change, scissors, hard drive… you get the idea.

But more importantly, it serves as a reminder to me of some of the ideals that I strive to live and work by. Let me explain.

In his book, Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “yoking up” for your work. He says that when you get dressed to go to work, you should envision yourself as being yoked up to the people you work with and work for – visualize yourself getting strapped in to a harness that you pull with others to accomplish a shared task. It’s a mindset that the work you do is not for your own sake, but as a service to others.

I yoke up with a few different items:

My necktie

Which one shall I wear today?
Which one shall I wear today?

I’ve worn neckties nearly every day of school almost since the first day I started teaching. Initially, it was an effort by a young teacher to separate himself visually from the high school students who were nearly as old (and some bigger!). But as I progressed, it became a kind of signature style, with a significance that few really perceive but which I do think about periodically.

By wearing  a necktie to work, I adopt the social convention of professional work. To me, teaching is a highly professional work, one that should be done with great effort and purpose. I see myself and my colleagues as serious workers in a vitally important field, and I wish that western society (OK, mostly American society) placed greater value on our/their efforts. Teachers are incredibly important people and the work they do is incredibly important. Nearly all teachers take extraordinary effort to help young people learn, grow and succeed.

I wear a necktie to signify the professionalism of my occupation. When I put it on, I do it as a visual cue that teachers’ work matters. I see myself as “yoking up” to the profession of education.

(OK. I wear silly cartoon ties. I do work with children!)

My ID badge

Badges? We don't need no steenkin' badges!
Badges? We don’t need no steenkin’ badges!

Our school has required us to wear an ID badge for years. It’s a security requirement and an expectation for all employees. I have been known to critique the process: high school students look like adults but aren’t required to wear them, parents aren’t required to display them all the time, enforcement is idiosyncratic, I and my colleagues are known to all our students, etc. Yet, I put on the badge.

For me, it’s a yoking up to my school. When I put it on, I think about the commitment I make to my school’s mission and ideals. I know that our school’s success depends on all of its employees working together in common purpose and in support of our philosophy, our vision, our mission, our school goals. I’ve intentionally joined our school, as have others, and by wearing the badge I signify that decision, my commitment, and our commonality.

My vest

Learning IS a safari!
Learning IS a safari!

The safari vests were commissioned for our recently held conference, Learning 2.014. ICS hosted the first Learning2 conference in Africa, joining a seven-year tradition of Learning2 conferences held in Asia. This conference is different than others.

If you read about the history and the founding principles of the Learning2 conference, you get an idea of how it is different. Its intention is to socialize the participants, getting them to interact throughout. It aims to get people to connect with each other, and with others. It asks participants to “be a connector” – not just to connect, but to enable connections. Learning2 conferences aim to put the participants first: replacing flashy big-name keynote presenters with actual teachers, and encouraging participants to take the lead in unconferences and workshops. Finally, the conference aims to be different: renewing itself every year, adapting after each conference is held …and while each conference is held, making modifications as the conference unfolds.

When I put on the safari vest, I remember these ideals and yoke up to the community of educators – both in the Learning2 conference circle and like-minded educators outside of it – who are committed to growing and changing and making a difference. I remember how excited our teachers and our visitors were to be together, learning and sharing on our campus. I think about the importance of sharing, of being social, of connecting and facilitating connections. It helps me to make daily efforts to be different, to help other educators, to be part of a dynamic world of education.

And I think about the conference’s theme: Learning Safari. I want my work to be a journey of adventure, exploring new areas and seeing and trying new things. I want that for me. I want that for my colleagues. I want that for my students. Wearing my safari vest puts me in that mindset.

That’s why I wear the vest.

All yoked up!
All yoked up!

Reflective Teachers at ICS

Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA
photo by Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA

ICS teachers take the ICS Learner Profile seriously and recognize that it applies to everybody – teachers and staff members – and not just students! This was very recently evident in the response from the Learning 2.014 conference. Teachers from ICS who attended the conference had an intense and exciting learning experience alongside hundreds of other teachers from around the world. Meanwhile, ICS teachers who weren’t attending the conference had a day of PD provided by visiting experts from China, USA and Tanzania.

After that intense learning experience, we felt it was important to reflect on that. Some teachers wrote brief learning reflections in a survey we sent out to all of them. Others wrote longer blog posts reflecting on their experiences. Some wrote notes on Twitter, while others used email, Facebook or other venues to discuss, analyze, and otherwise reflect on their learning experiences.

This week during our scheduled teacher planning and development time, we scheduled an hour for teachers to come together in groups to reflect on their experiences. This was organized in a flexible, ad-hoc schedule which was used in Learning 2.014 as an “unconference.” The idea of an unconference session during a learning conference is to have a time that isn’t devoted to rehearsed presentations, but to allow participants to gather and discuss any item of interest to them. This allows for ideas that arise during a conference to be aired and discussed.

In the ICS “unconference” session this week, teachers got to choose a grouping that was related to one of the big topics addressed in the conference and PD sessions. They also had the opportunity to set up their own, related, topic – and several did! Some groups were big, some were small – all were mixed groups including people who’d attended the conference sessions and teachers who’d attended the ICS PD sessions on Friday. Notes were taken, plans were made and great discussions ensued.

by Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA
by Learning2 (Flickr) CC-NC-SA

We asked teachers to give feedback on the reflection sessions. As would be natural in any such varied experience, there was a wide range of reactions. Some preferred more formal training sessions, others found the discussions stimulating. We’re analyzing the data and collating the notes from each session so that we can address concerns, implement changes, etc.

Meanwhile, here are some of the reactions from ICS teachers on their reflection session:

“It was useful getting to discuss how we might implement ideas at ICS given our school environment, schedule, structure, etc.”
“I thought it was helpful… We have lots more to discuss and plan, but it was a start.”
“I thought this was a really fun way to share.”
“I personally benefited a lot from our discussion and the information I got from the people that attended the Digital Citizenship session was very useful. We also had a chance to brainstorm some ideas and plan extended advisor time activities for middle school.”

Learning – not in a classroom

photo by Learning2 CC-BY-NC-SA
photo by Learning2CC-BY-NC-SA

I had some delusions before the conference started that I might actually attend some of the learning sessions. I was looking forward to sitting in on workshops and extended sessions, getting hands-on with robots and trying out Genius Hour, trying out augmented reality games…

Boy, was I dumb. Since I was organizing Learning 2.014 – the first in Africa – I wound up spending all my time running around building schedules, printing room signs, adjusting the website, organizing prizes, unlocking & locking doors, checking up on visitors, helping vendors… and when I did have some down time I wanted nothing more than to sit down for a few minutes and just breathe. (Thanks, Maggie!)

So I didn’t attend any sessions …but I found the process of running Learning 2.014 an incredibly powerful and valuable learning experience. Even now, days after the event finished, I’m still learning and reflecting (as well as organizing and doing!).

Here are a few of my takeaways about the learning experience in organizing a conference (or other such event):

Connections

I definitely learned about the power of connections. I met people in the flesh who I’d been following on Twitter or connected by email… those virtual connections made the meetings more valuable & more memorable, and no doubt the physical meetings will add to later virtual connections. It was also brought home to me how fostering those connections can add value to one’s personal and professional life. I’d never met Trevor, or even connected with him, until he showed up at the conference. Yet he’s built things for the conference that I intended to do and added value in many other ways. I fully intend to keep that connection going!

Details

The Devil may be in the details, but so is salvation. I got frustrated by the niggling little details – how many minutes of transition time? which key opens that blasted door? – but by paying attention to the details, a fuller understanding of and appreciation for teachers’ work emerges. That locked door means delay of preparation, which can throw off the lesson. Insufficient transition time leads to confusion and frustration. Paying attention to the details, anticipating issues and preventing problems leads to a smoother experience for all and therefore a better learning experience.

Time

Possibly the most important lesson I learned was the power of time. Having enough of it for important activities. Having transition time. Allowing time for important tasks.

And taking some time out. Maggie Powers taught us about the power of mindfulness. I took her information to heart and took a few minutes every now and then to just breathe and self-monitor. That really helped to de-stress and to re-focus myself.

As teachers, we often worry about or complain about our own lack of time. Do we consider this from our students’ perspectives? Classes, assignments, studying, sports, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Do we give them time to be mindful, to just breathe and self-monitor?

Risk

Finally, organizing Learning 2.014 brought home to me the importance of taking risks. (Calculated ones, mind you! Not foolhardy ones.) Just running the conference was a big risk. Would we get enough participants for it to be worthwhile? Could our school’s infrastructure (and our country’s ISP) handle it? Would the learning experience be worthwhile? It was all a risky proposition.

In the end, things went smoothly and the conference was a huge success. The risk was definitely worth it. It was a bold and daring move by ICS, and it paid off for our school and the continent.

But smaller risks also paid off. Margaret Powers was an “unknown” in international schools… and she made a very valuable contribution. I signed up Nick Kwan (working in Poland) to our organizing committee, and he proved to be an incredibly hard worker and contributed much to the conference. Taking a risk with people is often a great thing to do. Most people will, if you show that you trust and believe in them, rise to a challenge and make sure your risk-taking pays off.

…so in the end, I learned much from the conference. Now I just have to go back and review the Learning2 Talks and the resources from the L2Leaders’ sessions so I know what actual participants learned!

Best. Conference. Ever.

The first Learning 2.0 conference in Africa, Learning 2.014 Africa, has just finished. It was an absolutely amazing experience – for all participants as well as for those of us hosting it.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are a few comments by participants:

As the conference chair, I’m particularly proud of how well everything went …but I really am not one to toot my own horn. It was most definitely a team effort!

Kudos to all the committee members, student ambassadors, Learning2 Advisors, Learning2 Leaders, workshop & poster session presenters, tech team… and all the support staff who made it happen!

And many of the Learning 2.014 participants have written, tweeted, blogged, about what a great experience it was and how they missed the networking, learning and camaraderie when they left.

…and as a sign of success, it’s impressive how many people quickly put things into practice in their classrooms and professional work:

If you missed the conference, you missed something great. If you want to get a bit of a taste of it, check out the Learning2 Talks …some amazing sessions!

Learning from the students

Note: this is a cross-post from my school blog, intended for parents & students.

JpegWhen you attend an educational conference, you expect to learn new things from your colleagues. They give talks, they present workshops, you network with them. They tell you about projects they’re working on, they show you tools that they use, they share information about their own schools.

What you usually do not expect is to learn from students. At the recent Learning 2.014 conference we just held on campus, however, we did!

At Learning 2.014, hundreds of teachers from around the world (Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia, America) came to ICS for a conference about learning and educating using modern methods and tools. (“Learning 2.0” means new ways of learning – version 2.0! This generally means with technology, but not necessarily.) Presenters included invited experts, ICS faculty, and conference participants. All of them are currently (or very recently) teaching in schools – generally international schools.

To help with logistics and provide extra tech support, we enlisted the help of a number of students in the Middle and High Schools. Keith Liebetreu and Ken Gunther were the main teachers in charge, and they set up some training sessions for both Tech Support and Student Ambassadors in advance of the conference. They showed the students how to help with wifi connectivity, projecting computer screens, etc. Ambassadors were told about protocols and how to help people. Some students were shown pictures of past conference and discussed ways to get interesting and appealing photographs.

“Special shout-out to all the student ambassadors, they were great!!”  – a conference participant

IMG_20140920_113355Throughout the conference, our Student Ambassadors, Photographers and Tech Support were enthusiastic and eager. They not only agreed to take on any jobs they were asked to do, they also offered to do additional jobs. At one point, I was working with another conference organizer (Nick, from Poland) on a task. Two Middle School girls, Faru and Jadesola, had finished with the jobs they had been given and asked us if they could do anything to help us. I thanked them, but said we were doing fine and didn’t need any help. The girls asked if we would like any coffee. Both Nick and I laughed and said yes, and the girls went and got us macchiatos!

It was delightful seeing students eager to help, eager to take on jobs. While students at ICS often show independence and initiative, it’s particularly impressive and rewarding when they do this with visitors on campus!

“Highlights: the ICS students were incredibly helpful, kind, patient, knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming” – a conference participant

More than just being helpful, often our students were actually able to teach us adults some things. Here are two experiences I had that made me think and learn from our students:

studentssupportingnandf

During the conference, several “unconference” sessions were held in which any participant could put forward a topic of interest to them and, if there were enough people who shared that interest, a place was set aside for discussion, sharing, planning. I proposed that we hold a show of solidarity with Neil Bantleman and Ferdi Tjiong, two teachers from Jakarta International School who have been falsely imprisoned without charge for more than two months in Indonesia. Many people agreed and as I was setting up the space for a group photo, two students came up and asked what it was all about. I started to tell them, and Kate said, “Oh, yes. Free Neil and Ferdi.” I was surprised she knew about them. Aysha then said, “Can we join in?”

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own circle that we forget about and ignore others outside of it. I was so focused on international school teachers that I didn’t even consider students. Kate and Aysha (and the many other students who joined us for the photograph) taught me that I should never assume that people outside my immediate circle are either unaware or unconcerned. (Thank you for the lesson, all of you!)

bamlak

I met Bamlak and asked him how things were going. (You can see his reaction above!) He told me he was learning a lot from Jeff Utecht, one of our presenters (“Learning 2 Leaders”) from the US. Jeff later told me about his interaction with Bamlak during his session.

Jeff was teaching teachers about building their (and their schools’) PLN (Professional Learning Network) through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. By building connections, we expand our knowledge and the sources of our knowledge – we also expand our ability to gather information, answer our questions and solve our problems. During part of the session, Bamlak asked Jeff if he would give him (Bamlak) a shout-out to Jeff’s over 17,000 followers on Twitter. Jeff, being kind to this young student, agreed to do so. Bamlak then offered to give Jeff a shout-out on Instagram. Jeff figured this was nice but wasn’t terribly impressed by the offer …until Bamlak showed him that he had over 26,000 followers on Instagram! (Jeff doesn’t have quite that many.)

It’s worth considering that everyone around us has strengths and excels in various ways. We may not think so, but each person we meet has areas in which they can surpass our own achievements …no matter how young (or old!).

(Thanks, Bamlak, for following me on Instagram!)

Lockdown! Beware the Baboonzilla!!

Jpeg

At first I thought it was a mistake. The lockdown signal played once, and that was it. I walked out and looked around. Students were crossing the quad, coming from lunch. I heard teachers talking to their students. Then I heard it again.

“Is that you?” the teacher next door asked? It was my voice, on the PA announcing a lockdown. (Why I was chosen to be the Voice of lockdowns, I dunno!) Quick, I ran across the quad telling the kids to quick get indoors. They looked surprised, and ambled off to class. “Move!” I shouted. I and various other teachers & the Middle School principal hustled them off indoors. We got the area cleared and I headed indoors.

I helped Wes, who was working in the computer lab, lock all the doors and draw the blinds. We retreated into the server closet, which was the safest spot. Sadly, we couldn’t hear the PA system there (something wasn’t working right) and, after the initial panic, I began to wonder about the lockdown. Was it just an unannounced drill?

We went out into the office, avoiding the windows, and started checking mail and announcements to see if there was any indications of what was going on. Then the announcement came through:

Attention, please. This is a real lockdown. A large baboon has been spotted on campus. Please remain indoors and keep doors and windows locked.

Alrightythen. So that’s what it was. Wes and I exchanged a few incredulous looks, and then I opened the door to go outside to see if I could spot the brute. (Yes, boss, I know: I was violating lockdown. I promise not to do that again ..unless it’s another baboon lockdown.) There were guards sweeping the area and looking to the Library. I then heard another teacher calling out from above, “It’s over there!” I went to investigate, hoping to take a picture. I couldn’t keep up with the guards (I’d just sprained my ankle), and the absurdity of the situation got to me when I spoke to Keith by phone (he was in my sight), and he said, “The hashtag is #ICSbaboon. Check out the tweets.”

Rewind a few days… We had just held the first Learning 2.0 conference in Africa, with hundreds of teachers from scores of schools around the world. Visitors from four continents. And we warned them that we might have a lockdown if a baboon entered campus.

It became a running joke in the conference: the baboon was on the bus. He was eating the ADSL line into the school. Everyone had a good laugh about it.

But now here we were: locked down by a baboon. I initially didn’t want to advertise it – it just  seemed too silly. But once our students were tweeting out photos of themselves locked into their classrooms, I couldn’t resist.

I fired up the GIMP, downloaded a public domain photo of a baboon from Pixabay, and quickly plopped the primate on top of a walkway. I sent it out on Twitter. Hilarity ensued. Some people didn’t get that it was a fake photo. (!!) Some posted it on Facebook. At least one person is putting it on her blog. I sent it off to Instagram.

The baboon was chased off, and life returned to normal at ICS. Until the next time…

Takeaway:

I tend to think the whole situation a bit ridiculous: locking down the school because of a baboon? Isn’t that a real over-reaction?

But it strikes me that this is a clever ploy by our Head of School. (Bravo, Jim!) Now whenever we have a lockdown drill or (God forbid) a real lockdown, our students won’t be scared. They won’t freak out about the dangers that might be out there in the world. They’ll just think there’s a baboon out there.

And if they picture Baboonzilla towering over the Library and smile, then I’ll consider myself a real success!

free as a bird

How freely should you share your work?

free as a birdI’ve been thinking about creativity and licensing this weekend. It all comes from making a video.

The Project

I made a short promo for the upcoming Learning 2.014 conference to show in a faculty meeting about all the great presenters we had lined up. It was fun and lively and I figured that I should publish it publicly. And that’s when the issue of copyright reared its ugly head.

I had to dump the music I’d used – it was perfect, but commercial. (I gave credit in the video – fine in a closed meeting, but no good for publicly sharing.) I surfed over to Jamendo and in ten minutes found a great replacement. (Check out Rafiqi’s music – it’s terrific!) With a Creative Commons license, I had permission to use and share. Rafiqi had licensed their song with a share alike (CC-BY-SA) license. So I’d have to publish my video with that license. No problem …I thought.

Conflict

I realised that the photos from last year’s conference that started the video were mostly licensed with a non-commercial sharealike (CC-BY-NC-SA) license. That was in conflict with CC-BY-SA.

For a moment I thought I’d just live with that. The photographers wouldn’t mind. I wasn’t making a commercial video & I was using the photos in a way they’d approve. But it really wasn’t the right thing to do. The licenses were chosen for a reason by the creators of the work. It really isn’t up to me to guess their intentions. I could write to the photographers and ask for a release …but that’s what CC licenses are meant to avoid.

So I headed to Flickr to find other photos. Sorry, Jeff and Kim: Your photos are nice, but your licenses are too restrictive. Fortunately, Brian and Thomas (and I) use a simple CC-BY license. So I could use their photos with a simple attribution, and no conflict with the CC-BY-SA license of the music. Problem solved. I added the new photos, tidied up the video and published on YouTube. Voila!

Why choose a particular license?

What were the reasons for the choices these artists made for licensing their work? The musicians chose a license that allowed me to sell my video as long as I also published it with a CC-BY-SA license. The photographers didn’t want me to sell my video. They also wanted me to share in the same way. Why the different choices? What’s the right way to choose?

Now, I don’t want to guess at the other photographers’ thinking so I’ll go through my own. I am a teacher. I take photographs. Some of them are good, most are just ordinary. I’m never going to sell my work. If someone else likes one of my photos and wants to sell something using it, good for them. They’re more entrepreneurial than I am. If I get credit, then that’s enough for me.

This is especially true when I’m doing something like taking photos at a conference. I am never ever going to sell or commercially publish one of those photos. And the chances that someone else will is very small.

So I use the CC-BY license. Go ahead and use my work, just give me credit.

And it seems to me that this is the right path for most of us. As teachers, we constantly borrow and share. (And some of us are lazy and don’t think too much about copyright or attribution – I’ve written about that before.) We should make sure that others can borrow and can share our own work.

That’s the idea behind “Free Cultural Works” – things that are put out in the open and available to all. As teachers, we want to promote this – to make sure that there are photos and writings and music and such in the digital commons that all of us – teachers and students and all – can access, use, remix, etc. We want this for ourselves. We want this for our students. We have to help in building it by creating and contributing.

I don’t propose that this be a hard rule. That would be unreasonable especially for teachers who are also professional or pro-am creators. Poets like Bob or photographers like Dave are definitely entitled to protect their creations as much as they like. However, all of us – including the pro creators – can and should choose our licenses with care. If we can publish more freely, then we should. If I’m particularly proud of a photo, then I’m entitled to license it more restrictively. But the more I can make things available for others, the more I’m contributing and helping others create.

To paraphrase Einstein:

Everything should be published as freely as possible, but no freer.

Less is more

credit: PublicDomainImages/Pixabay – license CC0

The Learning 2.0 conference eschews keynote speeches and instead presents what they call “Learning2 Talks.” These are brief (5 minute) speeches given by the workshop leaders with the purpose of inspiring participants and spurring them to take action in their own schools. The  Learning 2 Talks from the Learning 2.013 conference in Singapore were wide-ranging on subjects from photography to robots, from being relevant as a teacher to making and making changes. All of them were thought-provoking. Many of them made me want to take action in my life & in my school.

I’ve given such talks myself and I know that giving a brief talk requires more preparation than a long speech. You have to pare things down and be more to the point. Brevity takes time – as Blaise Pascal wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

A short talk also makes your point more memorable. A longer speech tends to cause the attention to wander and for information to wash over the listener and not necessarily be remembered or internalized.

I’ve noticed this also with various online courses I’ve taken. Typically, these courses include some videos of the instructor lecturing or explaining some aspect of the subject. Sometimes these videos seem interminable – the instructor goes on and on as if it was an hour-long face-to-face class. Others are brief and to the point. In general, the brief videos are easier to attend to and remember the information. Certainly, they’re easier to review and find salient points!

The success of the brief Learning2 Talks format – or Ignite, or Pecha Kucha, or whatever – is demonstrated by my own personal experience. In my career I’ve attended many conferences and sat through numerous keynotes. While some have been memorable, none have spurred me to immediate action as the Learning2 Talks did.

A conference with a difference

Okay, now I get it.

I signed up to attend Learning 2.013 in Singapore early in the year. Two colleagues had attended the conference last year in Beijing and spoke well of it. The line-up of speakers and topics was definitely appealing and the chance to enjoy Singapore (seafood!!) was a plus.

So the conference started and everything went well. The format was a little different – no keynotes, longer workshop sessions, etc. I met former colleagues and made new connections. I collaborated (Ethiopia – Vietnam) with Urko Masse and we presented a highly enjoyable & successful workshop. The learning sessions were engaging and stimulation – I learned a lot. It was definitely a valuable experience for me.

Still, I was a little bemused by the hype. All the hyperbole about how radical the conference is and why it’s so different and blah blah blah. (Sorry, guys. Any hype immediately gets me going. Nothing personal!) I thought: it’s a great conference & worthwhile, but still.

And then the conference ended. I talked with Andre about what we’d do afterwards. We started making big plans. We got back to school. We started doing things. I had a great first class back and put into practice some of what I’d experienced. We both got busy immediately after arriving back. I’ve started putting into action some plans which should mean a lot of work for me but a lot of fun and valuable learning for our students.

And this:

  • I got an email encouraging me in a project I mentioned to Jeff in Singapore.
  • I got a comment on my blog from Ben in India which sparked a collaborative tweetalog
  • I got ideas and encouragement from Brian in Hong Kong
  • I got encouragement and support from Kirsten in Japan
  • and many more

I’ve been to a lot of teacher conferences in my many years in education. I’ve sat through dozens of keynotes, participated in hundreds of workshops (gave quite a few myself), traded business cards with scores of people.

But I’ve never been so energized after a conference. I’ve never felt so connected and in sync with other participants. This is the first time I can recall when I came back from a conference and immediately dove in and started big, exciting, new projects. For sure, I’ve never come back and got advice & encouragement and sharing from others in other schools.

I get it. It’s fantastic. Looking forward to Learning 2.014!