Beijing Learning Summit – A reflection

Ideas for tomorrow, tools for today

The Beijing Learning Summit 2010 certainly delivered what was offered: ‘authentic, just-in-time PD that is both effective and affordable.’ We had over thirty presenters from eight different schools – the vast majority were classroom teachers who came to share ideas on how to enhance the teaching and learning in the classroom, and beyond, through the effective use of technology. We were joined by a diverse range of educators: over 170 participants from over 20 local and international educational institutions from Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Shanghai and Bangkok, Thailand.

Jim Pojman's 2 minutes in the Technology Smackdown

The rich conversations started on the pre-conference day tour of the technology facilities at three International schools: WAB (Jeff Holte), ISB (Rob Cormack and Russell Layton) and BISS (Julie Lindsay) with our out-of-town presenters: Brian Lockwood, Ann and Billy Martin from Nanjing International School, Jonathan Chambers from Shanghai American School and John Burrell from Bangkok Patana School.

Our theme this year was ‘Ideas for tomorrow, tools for today‘ which was explored by our two

Ian Stewart closing the summit

keynote speakers, both of which are parents of WAB students: John Ball from Microsoft and WAB board member, Ian Stewart. John presented a number of exciting future technologies such as the way we will communicate and interact and with technology through developments in avatar technology. His suggested that the student’s ability to succeed and excel will directly correspond to the skills and knowledge acquired whilst they are obtaining their education. Ian’s provocative ‘TEDtalk-type’ close challenged the relevance and purpose of today’s curriculum: to what extent are we preparing our students for tomorrow’s world?

The lunchtime student panel was insightful. For me, a HS integrator, this Q&A session was an anecdotal measure of the extent to which technology is an integral part of their learning. The panel comprised a handful of articulate and engaging grade 11 and 12 students; students who will graduate from WAB with a ticket to the next step in their journey. Some students believed that technology limited their capacity to retain knowledge and preferred to use more traditional ‘pen and paper’ tools for

The student panel

note-taking and writing essays. It became clear to me that until the tools for assessment catch up with technological advances, (for example, the majority of these students will hand-write their exit examinations), we have a challenge on our hands trying to finding the right balance in the use of technology. I cannot help but wonder if we are effectively employing or applying the tools we currently have in order to enhance the learning of these students?  And in the longer term, does and should the curriculum address the opportunities that are presented by the technological developments as described by John and Ian? Is it the curriculum itself or the delivery of the curriculum that may hinder our students’ digital development and hence limit their future prospects? Is the tension increasing between curriculum and technological advances? Can I detect an emerging digital divide? And if so, what as an educators are we doing to bridge this gap?

Sesson on understanding of the technologies which help us "connect"

This summit certainly helped narrow this gap for me and I hope for many of the participants. Although it will take time to synthesize and make sense of the big ideas in order to effect change for the long term, I took away a huge number of diverse, practical and ‘just-in-time’ tools and ideas that I can use now in my teaching. One idea learned in the morning solved my problem of simultaneous voice recording; how to get a clear narration with 20 students in a small room all trying to do record their ‘sound bytes’ on individual laptops?  Who would have thought that a paper cup with a tiny hole in it’s base placed over microphone would make such a difference?

So thank you to the 170 busy front-line educators who came together on a busy weekend to learn and share and continue the conversations. Although exhausted – I am looking forward to Beijing Learning Summit 2011. Who wants to join me?

The first Beijing Learning Summit (2009) was a grass-roots initiative led by five Apple Distinguished

Session: City in the Sea

Educators (ADE): Rob Cormack (ISB), Jeff Plaman and Thomas Galvez (formally ISB), Sheldon Bradshaw (WAB) and myself. This year, the core team (Rob, Sheldon and Madeleine) were were joined by Julie Lindsay (BISS) and Jeff Holte, Beth Gourley, Tom Adamick and Muhammed Azeem (all from WAB) along with major contributions from the ADE network in Beijing. This summit could not have happened without the support of the school representatives, the student geek force and discussion panel, the WAB student Fan Club (who provided hot cookies straight from the oven throughout the day), along with the sponsors to keep the costs down, Bitepita (for lunch) and Fish (beverages) the large number of behind-the-scenes staff, and the overall support of WAB.

Four Conferences and a Project

This academic year I have been actively shifting towards online collaborations and communications. Being based here in China adds an interesting perspective due to a number of Web 2.0 services not always being available. However challenging this may be at times, for me, it is extremely important to prepare for  “tomorrow’s ideas” using “today’s tools” and to be part of a global community; how else can I help prepare students for tomorrow’s world? With the Shanghai Learning 2.010 done and  dusted, I now look towards four conferences (two f2f and two online) that I am involved with.

The 2010 K-12 Online Conference is now underway. It is a conference for educators interested in innovative ways that Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. Julie Lindsay and I will be presenting presenting our experiences six weeks into our InsideITGS project: “Cyber-Students Share their Connected Learning”. The presentation video is scheduled for October 21st. Our teaser promotional video is here.

InsideITGS a collaboration that started between our two schools in China, Western Academy of Beijing and Beijing (BISS) International School. The aim of Inside ITGS is to join IB Diploma Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS) students together in a flattened virtual learning environment thereby providing enhanced opportunities for cultural awareness and global collaboration as well as explore and evaluate IT tools and systems in an authentic and social context.

After the success of our first Beijing Learning Summit last year, we are busy organising the Beijing Learning Summit 2010, a technology conference hosted at WAB for teachers by teachers on Saturday November 13th. This year’s theme was inspired by one of our presenters ‘Ideas for tomorrow, tools for today’. The idea is to give teachers practical ideas to use in their classrooms straightaway whilst also thinking about the classrooms of the future. To keep up the conversations flowing,  we are having ‘lunch-on-the-run’ where participants will pick up their packed lunch and join ‘unconferenced’ conversations.

The week after, from November 15 -20 is the online Global Education Conference. Held in multiple time zones and multiple languages over the five days, the conference is a collaborative and world-wide community effort to significantly increase opportunities for globally-connecting education activities and initiatives. My role as one of the mentor chairs has been to collaborate with our team of five to develop a mentoring program, the aims of which are to provide conference participants the best possible experience by helping participants choose and get into Elluminate sessions in addition to assisting participants who are interested in taking part in collaborative global education projects or beginning a project. More details about this program is here.

Finally, I will be joining the Flat Classroom Conference in an official capacity as an ADE and co-leader of a cohort. The Flat Classroom Conference will be held at Beijing (BISS) International School from February 25-27, 2011.

Points to ponder:

  • What does it mean to participate effectively in an online conference?
  • What will your classroom look like in 10 years time?
  • In what ways are you preparing your students to be online learners?
  • What does it mean to be part of a global community? What are the challenges?