I write this blog post 34 000 feet in the air en route to Cape Town having left a very cold Joburg where I attended the Intel ICT in the Classroom Conference. SchoolNet South Africa were the organisers of the event and it was my first encounter with this organisation.
This blog post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the conference but is rather a reflection of the experiences of the last three days. Here are my immediate thoughts :
1. Seeing 500 teachers come together from across the country, reflective of the diversity in our nation, united in their passion for changing the education paradigm so present in many classrooms was wonderful and gave me hope (despite my reflections in point 3 below!).
2. The organisers of the conference did not generate much excitement about the event prior to the first day. There was very little social media action around the conference – this was surprising and perhaps even disappointing.
3. I am amazed at the lack of self-discipline among many South African teachers. People arrived late to almost every plenary and workshop – at times almost an hour late. Many left workshops early because the workshop ran a little late and lunch or tea was waiting – including during a workshop in which international presenters were video-conferencing from the USA! The desire of people to help themselves to copious amounts of tea snacks without care about who was still to come was disappointing. Is it any wonder then that while at the conference I heard about a series of workshops scheduled for teachers in an under-privileged area of Cape Town that had to be cancelled as the teachers were unwilling to attend after 15h00 but were more than happy to leave their teaching to attend during the time pupils were at school? I find this distressing given the disastrous results of the Annual National Assessments – when will teachers take their responsibility seriously? Can we really then expect these same teachers to implement seriously all that they learnt while at the conference? For the sake of our children, I hope so!
4. Obviously I did not attend all the workshops but the ones I did attend were certainly worthwhile. I did not attend any presented by the overseas guest presenters and was delighted to see the incredible knowledge and creativity on display from local teachers. We really do have world-class people right here in South Africa.
5. Proper signage from Day 1 would have been appreciated. Signs indicating from the car park where to register and clear signage of where the various workshop venues were, were sadly lacking. This fact was tweeted by several delegates within the first hour of the conference. I would have hoped that the organisers were monitoring the backchannel and that they would have reacted by simply printing and laminating clear signage by the morning of Day 2. Unfortunately this did not happen. The map in the conference booklet was not very clear and led to further confusion.
6. I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary sessions. Excellent input from Jane Hart, Naomi Harm and John Davitt certainly helped delegates consider their role as educators in the 21st century. I was challenged by these individuals and learnt a great deal from what they shared. It was fantastic that SchoolNet SA could bring in three world-class experts to share with the delegates. I did wonder whether we might see a South African presentation in the plenaries at the next conference.
7. It was wonderful to be able to assist Maggie Verster with the backchannel during the conference. More local teachers joined Twitter at the conference and were able to join the conversation during the event. The wifi provided by Peter Henning of St John’s College was excellent despite taking strain at various points during the conference. The tweet summaries may be found here : Day 1; Day 2; Day 3
8. Day 1 concluded with the awarding of the Microsoft Innovative Teacher Awards. All 22 finalists were presented to the delegates with a description of what they had done in their schools. What struck me the most was that many of the finalists’ projects were really simple in concept and had been implemented with excellence. It was clear that there will be many teachers in schools all over South Africa who could qualify as prize-winners if they entered this competition. Congratulations to all the winners – you are the change-agents South African education needs in classrooms! One observation, also noted by someone who tweeted into the conference, was that the prize winners were not representative of the South African demographic. When I asked about this I was told that the quality of entries from previously-disadvantaged teachers and schools was not of a good enough quality and that not many from these schools had entered. If this is true, the work of organisations such as SchoolNetSA and EdTechConf has only just begun!
9. I was privileged to meet some truly wonderful people at the conference. The networking aspect of events such as this are what make them such powerful agents of change. The challenge is to engage with new contacts after the event. I was able to follow new folks on Twitter and I had several folks follow me. We need to engage with each other in constructive ways now that the connection has been made. I left the conference unclear as to how SchoolNetSA would facilitate ongoing discussion between those who were at the conference. We encouraged delegates on Twitter to continue using the conference hashtag (#schoolnetsa11) as a means of growing their online learning experience but I am not sure how many will do so.
10. The conference dinner was superb. Delegates appreciated the brief address by Parthan Chetty of Intel, sponsor of the dinner. The Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre provided a fantastic meal and venue while the vocals belted out by three talented singers set the scene for a night of dancing, singing and opportunity simply to have a good time!
All in all, the conference was a positive experience and exposed me to some incredible teachers from around South Africa doing wonderful things with ICT in their classrooms. I also left feeling motivated to continue the path of developing our ICT strategy at school. The conference was certainly not the best I have been to and there were aspects which I would want to see changed. However, it was time and money well spent and I am glad I attended. I certainly hope to attend next year’s event and continue my journey into learning more about ICT in the classroom – perhaps I’ll even submit a proposal for a workshop!
I look forward to building on the knowledge gained this past week and to being part of this evolving community of education game-changers in South Africa. My thanks to the organisers of the conference for enabling this conversation and learning to take place.