CESI 2012 – Teachnology

The Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) hosted their annual conference in Portlaoise this weekend. It was the biggest one yet with far more attendees than I’ve ever seen before. For those of you who haven’t attended a CESI conference, it comes in two parts – the CESI Meet on the Friday evening and the conference on the Saturday.
The CESI Meet, based on the Teachmeet concept is a fantastic night of informal short talks and socialising. Set in a meeting room of the Hertiage Hotel, around twenty people offered to give short presentations about something relating to ICT in education that they are passionate about.  Firstly up was Brendan Buckley (@perkypawn on Twitter) who gave us a run down of Chessossity, a web-based tool that teaches non-chess players how to play chess.  It’s a great tool that is well worth looking at.
Another interesting presentation included ClicNews, an online news magazine created by 3rd level students (with the help of 2nd level students) for primary school pupils. We have been talking about ways to link all three levels together and this is a great way of doing so. Primary school pupils are often asked to watch the national news as part of homework or in class for discussion and often there are news stories that may be inappropriate. ClicNews filters all the good stuff out and offers children to comment on it.
Catherine Cronin gave a wonderful presentation on creating images with inspirational quotes using PowerPoint, Flickr and Creative Commons Licencing. An example of one of her slides is shown here on the right. She has asked teachers to add to this collection and you’ll see these scattered throughout the rest of this post. If you want to add your own inspirational quotes, the Flickr group can be found here.
Other presentations included presentations on Junior Infants using Twitter, some interesting iPad apps, Irish Teacher Blogs and a very interesting concept EdHack day introduced by Humphrey Jones from the Frog Blog and More Stress Less Success. The idea of EdHack is to bring a load of educators and programmers into a venue. The educators talk about problems in education around ICT, etc. and the programmers and any other game changers out there try to solve these problems by creating content to help.
After the final presentation from David Kearney, it was time for networking and socialising. It was good to meet up with the usual movers and shakers in the Irish edtech world but great to see so many new faces too. Rozz and I left at around midnight and the night seemed to be continue well on to the small hours.
The next day was conference day. Interestingly before most of us got there, we already knew that there was to be some changes to the timetable thanks to the power of Twitter. The keynote speaker, Steve Wheeler, had been stuck in fog the night before and couldn’t fly to Ireland until the morning. When it was officially announced at the beginning of the conference, nobody seemed shocked!
The conference began with a fantastic speech from Gerard McHugh, who has taken over from Jerome Morrisey as the interim head of the NCTE. While McHugh admitted that he hadn’t interviewed for the position and knew that he wouldn’t have a hope of getting it if he applied for it, one wonders what would happen if he remains in the position. McHugh, as he again admitted, is not a technology expert, but he understands leadership. If the NCTE is to survive or exist over the next few months, I would be happy to see the organisation in his charge.
The original capstone speaker, Stephen Howell swapped places with the delayed Steve Wheeler and gave an energetic and entertaining talk about programming using Scratch and Kinect. He argued that often at third level he’s getting the wrong types of students in his programming classes. He’s looking for creative types and encouraged teachers to embrace programming through visual, Lego-style langages such as Scratch and enhance them through tools like the Kinect.
Through the keynotes we had a stenographer keeping apace. I was very amused when Stephen decided to read a line of assembly code from his early programming days to “annoy the stenographer.” However, his attempts failed as she outputted the code perfectly!
After the keynotes, it was time for the workshops. There was the usual variety of workshops, with the usual excellent array of topics, which were all excellently subscribed. From the tweets (using the hashtag #cesi12) it was apparent that participants enjoyed the sessions. It was heartening to hear that some of the beginner’s workshops (blogging, Twitter, etc.) were full, showing that there is great appetite for using simple technology in education.
I went to Patrick Felicia’s talk abut Games-based learning, which was excellent. Patrick fed us the results of a survey about Games-based learning that he conducted a few months ago with Irish educators. Results indicated that there is an appetite for Games-based learning but the results showed that it isn’t being used in Irish classroooms. He wants to know why. A lively discussion followed with time, resources and society being blamed – all relevant.  An overwhelming theme appeared to come to the surface – the second level system is not geared towards ICT or Games-based learning. I pointed out that we were all sitting in a typical secondary school classroom. The room was laid out in rows. There were posters of maps on the wall. There was one computer beside the teacher’s desk. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I suggested that maybe the rest of the technology had been cleared out of the room for the weekend. Without disrespecting second level too much, while their school buildings, corridors, etc are looking more  beautiful since I was in secondary school, there is very little, if any change, to the classrooms themselves.
It was great to see that there was a dedicated hall for exhibitors and coffee. It was a great touch. It gave participants somewhere to go in between talks and was brilliant for networking opportunities. On the fringes of the event was Seán Delaney from Inside Education who interviewed many of the speakers throughout the day so listen out for his show in the coming weeks.
The event closed with Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University. Wheeler is a well established visionary in how technology is not only influencing the world of education, but how we think. His speech told us his story. He told us all about the technology that he experienced growing up from slide projectors to BetaMax tapes to Atari computers and then towards what he is using today.  However, it wasn’t really about the technology – it’s about the thinking.  He outlined how technology is giving us tools to think more deeply than ever before.
This is something I love to explore and I’m sure the audience left with lots of questions, which they will hopefully pass on to their students. Wheeler spoke about how children today are digital citizens. Our job is to make well-rounded digital citizens who can think and create.
Unfortunately I had to leave the conference before the AGM this year. However, I believe we have some new faces on the CESI committee this year and I look forward to seeing how they will shape the society for the upcoming year. As always, huge gratitude is due to all the organisers of the highlight of Irish educational conferences. It is run by teachers for teachers at all levels. None of them are affiliated with interest groups but all have the vision to ensure that today’s tools are being used well in our education system.  They are not afraid to question things and this is an important criteria in its success, in my opinion.  The astounding increase in attendance shows that they are doing things right.  Participants, mostly teachers, go in their own time at their own expense, with absolutely no acknowledgement from the Department of Education. Often they go without any acknowledgement from their own schools.
It is apt that CESI have officially renamed themselves from a “Computer Education Society” to “Computers in Education Society.” CESI has rightly added the word “in” to show that we do not start with technology- the technology is part of the bigger picture, that is education.  Technology Education is useless using old educational methodologies.  Gerard McHugh summed this up brilliantly in an oft quoted adage: “We must banish the poor 19th century learning approaches and embrace the opportunities our world offers today.” Technology has the opportunities to significantly change and enhance the way we learn. We need to use new approaches to do this. CESI embodies this. I look forward to the next installment in 2013!

0 thoughts on “CESI 2012 – Teachnology”

  1. Thanks for this, great post, really captures the spirit of the whole two days. I missed the badges tho – tragic ;-( And those shadows look too authentic for it to be just a clever bit of photoshop!

    • Thanks Evelyn. Great to meet you in person. Mags was handing our those badges verbatim yesterday at some point – thought they look good as the image for this one!

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