NECC 2006: Reflections on Reflections


Since I’ve been back from San Diego, I’ve been trying to get caught up with what others have written about the conference (trying being the operative word here). There is literally a flood of information out there in blogs, wikis, and on discussion boards, to name just a few outlets. Here is my take on things:

As I’ve said before, my primary reason for going to NECC is to talk to and network with people I am in contact with virtually (and sometimes personally) throughout the year, especially in the area of mobile computing. This year, I had some nice conversations with both Graham Brown-Martin, who runs the Handheld Learning forum from London, as well as Cathie Norris, one of the leaders in the field of handheld computing. In addition, I ran into the usual suspects such as Tony Vincent, Mike Curtis, Elliot Soloway, Rolly Maiquez, Marge Arnold and Debbie Lyles, and the list goes on. NECC is one of the few places where you get people of this caliber together in large numbers.

Graham and I had some interesting conversation about how we need to get decisionmakers at the highest level of education (e.g. politicians, top administrators etc.) as well others at all levels of education to see that if we keep doing things the way we’ve always been, the educational systems as we know them today will not and cannot survive, in large part due to new technologies and the ways in which kids are using them outside of and despite of what they do and learn in school. That we’ll need to ruffle more than a few feathers in the process should speak for itself. An interesting observation we made as we were walking around the tradeshow floor is that many of the booths were hawking their wares using a traditional classroom setup, with chairs facing the presenter, who was often up on a small podium, talking down (literally) to the attendees. Graham promptly started snapping pictures with his Treo and has since posted them on his site. I am still amazed at how little venders of educational technology understand about the full potential of their own hardware and software for education, displaying them in traditional classroom settings for which they are not particularly suited, a feeling that is echoed in Will Richardson’s NECC reflections. It’s a feeling I’ve had at NECC for at least the last two or three years, with more of the same being shown every year and not much new and truly innovative technology.

Speaking of conversations, many bloggers brought up the subject of conversations they did and did not hear at NECC. A few excerpts:

From Will Richardson:

But the conversations and presentations about Web 2.0 were there in a way that I haven’t seen at NECC. They were NOT about pedagogy and about, as Jeff [Utecht] says, “about the changing nature of our students, our classrooms, and our society.” (That would have been amazing and should be the goal for Atlanta next year.) But they were about the conversations that have to come before pedagogy. Here’s what these tools are. Here’s what they can do. Here are the first practices that are sticking. It’s about building the vocabulary and the context, which, for some, takes time.

From Jeff Utecht:

I’ll agree that the tools that can and hopefully will affect change are at a pivotal point here with blogs, podcasting, rss, and others being mentioned in almost every session. But the tools are only half of the formula. The tools are here, we have them, but without a change in how we view education these tools will not affect education the way I believe it needs to be.

Jeff goes on to talk about the need for an appropriate educational theory that fits the Web 2.0 technologies if we are to use them to change education. He proposes George Siemens’ Connectivism theory (2004), which, in a nutshell, proposes that knowledge exists outside of ourselves in a network of information sources. As a result, learning and being educated should entail:

  • knowing where these resources are and how to connect them (i.e. getting a handle on collective intelligence);
  • nurturing and maintaining these connections, with the continuous goal to know more (i.e. lifelong learning);
  • the ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts;
  • being and remaining current;
  • decision-making as a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. What is true or right today may not be so tomorrow.

Obviously, web-based social sharing tools play an important role in this process, or as Siemens says:

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

However, as David Warlick has said, technology is not the key or panacea, and as much as I work with technology, teachers, and kids in the AT&T classroom at Kent State and surrounding schools, I wholeheartedly agree. While his focus seems to be on experiences kids have with technology (which we as adults know far too little about), I think another conversation we need to have more is teachers’ experiences with technology. As a former classroom teacher, I can only imagine how overwhelming the arsenal of technology must look to current teachers. To be able to use even some of the newer and more web-based tools effectively, teachers need to understand the technology and its potential for teaching and learning, learn what it can and cannot do, find out what it is that kids are already doing with it (both the good and bad), and make the technology work within the plethora of restrictions that schools put on them (what can and cannot be used, what is blocked, AUPs, technical limitations such as bandwidth, administrative and technical support, classroom space, limited time, high stakes testing, etc. etc. etc.).

While all of these reflections and observations are very insightful (for one I want to learn more about connectivism now), I think they do fall short of the bigger picture and larger conversation to some extent. They are all pieces of the puzzle though. In my opinion, the conversations should begin to focus more on the triad student-technology-teacher, and the complex of relationships between the three. As we have found in our research at RCET, relationships change when technology is added to the mix of teaching and learning. Examples of these changes can be found in these RCETJ articles:

Katz, K., & Kratcoski, A. (2005). Teacher-student interactions in a ubiquitous computing environment: Learning within dyads and triads of interaction.

Kratcoski, A., & Katz, K. (2006). Interactions in a ubiquitous computing environment: The implications of discourse for children’s conceptualizations and representations.

Kratcoski, A., Swan, K., & Campbell, D. (2006). Teaching and learning in a ubiquitous computing environment.

Therefore, maybe the “new stories” to be told shouldn’t necessarily be as much about experiences, but relationships……

Technorati tags: NECC, NECC 2006, teaching, learning, technology, Web2.0


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