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Learning in the biggest classroom

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As I am not a good plane traveler, it was great to arrive in Dallas just 30 minutes after I left Sydney,  Australia. Although time zones are different, education and learning in the two countries are not. I came to ISTE13 to follow my thought- and networking-leaders , to study the latest trends in learning, and to broaden my expertise in personal passions — global education, rural education and immersing technology into the classroom, and most importantly, to further develop a supportive network.

The sheer size of ISTE — which may make it the world’s largest classroom — means that there are many options for learning that could and should be emulated in the ideal classroom. ISTE attendees can:

  • Customize their learning to suit learning styles — lecture, hands-on, networking, interaction, conversational, small groups, peer-to-peer, virtual, and more.
  • Choose the best space for individual learning — classrooms, bloggers café, social-butterfly lounge, large ballrooms for keynotes, quiet spaces for personal reflection or conversations by the river.
  • Follow personal passions.
  • Learn through play in the many playgrounds, learning stations, sessions, and more.
  • Practice bring-your-own-device mobile learning. Devices were everywhere and there was no policy  to leave the device in your locker or at the school office. Compare all this to a real classroom.
  • Flip the learning by researching resources shared on Twitter, blogs and other networking sites.

While attending the session,Your School Library: Mobile, Flipped, and Curated,” the 200-300 participants were asked to raise their hands if their school had a 1:1 program. Less than 12 people raised their hands. This stunned me, as I come from a country and state where many classes now have 1:1 programs. Our school has a 1:1 program for students, ages 5 to 12. Younger students have access to class sets of iPads or netbooks.

The  Australian government has provided funding for students in grades 9 to 12 to have their own laptops. Every teacher in government schools in Victoria can lease a laptop and most do. A careful and deliberate long-term plan has seen technology increasingly embraced in our Victorian schools.The Victorian Education Department provides an edublogs campus — global2 — to support teacher, student and class blogging.

Teachers also can register for moderator rights to use the department’s virtual classroom and meeting software license for Blackboard Collaborate and MS Lync. Student and staff laptops and school desktops can have an edustar image placed on them which provides a great variety of tools and software, under a department license.

Polycom — high-definition videoconferencing equipment was introduced into rural schools to provide full learning opportunities in specialist subjects, for classroom connections/interaction and to bring in virtual experts. Tools such as Twitter and YouTube can be used in most cases.

The fear factor when using online technology appears to be more prominent in American schools than those of Australia. Data collection and testing is driving the direction of learning in the U.S., and Australia is fast following suit. However, in both countries there are innovators and pioneers using technology to connect, collaborate and create beyond their classroom walls and push the pedagogy of learning to new different directions. There appears to be more creative and regular use of web conferencing in U.S. rural areas.

Technology, such as Google Glasses, apps and hardware devices,  are often tried initially in the U.S., and other countries watch with interest the evaluation and use of these before they are placed in our hands. Many initiatives from the U.S. are being followed by Australia — virtual web conferences, Learning 2.0, Powerful Learning Practice, Twitter chats and Connected Educator Month.

Much discussion centers on the challenges and barriers to effective learning, but the individual teacher still has charge of their students and classroom, and technology can be used creatively even within constraints. It was inspiring to listen to Adam Bellow’s closing keynote encouraging us, as educationalists, to change the world!

Disclaimer: Please note that these are personal observations limited to my exposure within the classroom and beyond.

Anne Mirtschin is an award-winning teacher from Australia whose most recent major award was the 2012 ICTEV and ACCE Australian Computer Educator of the Year 2012. She is passionate about rural and global education, immersing technology in the classroom, eLearning and loves collaborating, teaching and learning online. She teaches ICT from prep through to year 12 at Hawkesdale P12 College, a small rural prep to year 12 school in country Western Victoria, Australia. Anne is host of Tech Talk Tuesdays,  a weekly online webinar, a web conference coach for Digital Learning, Australasian coordinator for the Global Education Conference and an active member of the Flat Classroom Projects. Find her on Twitter @murcha.