ACEC 2010

From 5 April – 9 April I was in Melbourne to attend the Australian Computers in Education Conference. ACEC is held every second year under the auspices of the Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE) which comprises the relevant teacher professional associations in each of the Australian states and territories. ACCE is itself the major Australian affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The conference attracts teachers from across Australia representing the variety of systems and sectors, together with a good representation of teacher educators interested in ICT and a sprinkling of international participants. For me it represents an opportunity to network with teacher educator colleagues from around Australia, hear first hand from teachers about how they are implementing ICT in classrooms, and enjoy a variety of interesting keynote presentations from Australia and abroad. I am grateful to the faculty for the support which assisted me to attend ACEC 2010.

I was co-author on two presentations at ACEC. The first was a paper reporting on the survey of TPACK preparedness that Romina Jamieson-Proctor, Glenn Finger (Griffith) and I conducted with final year students in 2009. That paper won a ‘highly commended paper award’ which was presented after the keynote on Thursday morning. The second was based on the work of doctoral student Kitty Ho and reported some results of her study of ICT use by Home Economics teachers in Hong Kong.

The conference proper began with a reception in the trade expo area on Tuesday evening but I opted to attend the Leadership Forum which ran from lunch time on Tuesday and discussed the implications of the Australian Curriculum for ICT in schools. The forum began with input from the manager of curriculum at ACARA, Evan Arthur (DEEWR) and Don Knezek (ISTE CEO). The draft documents of the Australian curriculum include ICT among 10 general capabilities and describe a continuum with 5 dimensions and benchmarks at years 2, 6 & 10. Evan Arthur noted that the Australian government had moved to provide equipment and connectivity for ICT in schools but that curriculum and pedagogy were also required. Don Knezek spoke about the move in the USA to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and especially engineering education in k-12 education. This was a theme that Don and others had addressed at SITE in the previous week. The focus in this US effort is not so much on ICT as on high level (21C) skills that use ICT. Discussions in the forum tended to focus on whether ICT in the curriculum should be represented as a general capability, a discipline area or both. On Thursday I was also able to attend a lunch time meeting of a reference group established as part of an Australian Council of Deans of Education project to secure some of the funding available under the recently announced ICT Innovation fund associated with the Digital Education Revolution.

Wednesday (Day 1 of the ‘real’ conference activity) began with welcomes, some awards and a performance from the drum line of the Australian Youth Band. By the end of that there was no excuse for not being awake for the first of the series of keynotes.

  1. Alan November began by inviting participants to turn on their mobile phones and respond to a question about the origin of the mass in trees by texting a code to a number or selecting an option from a web page. Most of the audience selected an incorrect answer which was shown to be consistent with performance of Harvard graduates and US school children on understanding of photosynthesis. His point was the disconnection between school learning at all levels and understanding relevant to the real world. His presentation went on to challenge preconceptions about how education works and included provocative claims such as that the delay in feedback means that homework has failure designed in. The remaining keynote/plenary presentations provided a variety of perspectives on ICT in education.
  2. Michelle Selinger presented snapshots of projects from around the globe that addressed digital equity in developing countries.
  3. Sylvia Martinez presented on the “92% solution”, so called because her GenYES project has used students, who represent 92% of the people in a typical school, to facilitate teacher learning about ICT in the context of their own schools and classrooms.
  4. Adam Elliot told the story of how he produced his Oscar-winning animation, Harvie Krumpet. Other than the brief mention of digital technologies toward the end of his presentation there was no obvious connection to ICT but it was a powerful and vastly entertaining story of success through perseverance and small steps which may be a metaphor for changing education in response to ICT.
  5. The presentation by Gary Stager on Friday morning was vintage Gary, beginning with a walk down memory lane about the glory days of Logo, laptops at MLC, and Gary’s links to that. He progressed to challenging and provocative comments about ICT in education, pronouncing the debate on 1:1 over and characterising interactive whiteboards as pre-Gutenberg technology that reinforces the dominance of the front of the room, suggesting that some teachers doing brilliant things with IWBs is not sufficient reason to give every teacher an IWB and that, on that argument, we should give every teacher a chainsaw because some teachers would do brilliant things with a chainsaw.
  6. In the final keynote, Chris Betcher spoke about ‘change, creativity, curriculum, community’ from which my take away message was the question: “Could education be more like Mythbusters than Who wants to be a millionaire?

In selecting breakout sessions I tried for a balance between those presented by teacher educators and/or researchers, and those by teachers grounded in schools and classrooms.

Paul Newhouse based his presentation, which won the best paper award, on research that he has been conducting in WA on assessment of performance in subjects such as PE using video and other digital tools. There were several presentations from a group at UNE who have been working on measuring learner engagement while working with ICT and another on the interaction between teacher beliefs and their planning for lessons. Each of these prompted thinking about how the ideas might be applied to my teaching and research at USQ.

The school-based presentations that I attended shared some common themes around 21st century learning (based around authentic problems/projects, supported by a variety of ICT, collaborative knowledge generating rather than regurgitating) and an evident trend, at least among the schools represented at ACEC, toward 1:1 programs – currently using laptops but with frequent discussion of smaller mobile devices. I came away from each one wondering how long teacher education can continue as a largely ICT-free zone with a substantial proportion of ‘stand and deliver’ in face-to-face or online mode. If it is true that teachers tend to teach as they are taught then it must be time evolve our practice to better represent what appears to be the emerging practice in many schools.

Those with an interest in experiencing more of the flavour of ACEC 2010 can visit the conference web site and/or review the #acec2010 Twitter stream.