Topp Day in Tipp

The ICT in Education Conference was held in the Tipperary Institute today.  It’s in its fifth year and it was the first time that I was able to make it due to their decision to move it to the weekend.  To sum it up in one word – inspiring; but one word couldn’t do it justice so I’ve decided to post all about my day in Tipp here hoping that it might inspire people to go to next year’s conference.
I left my house in the midst of a rainstorm at 7:30am and arrived to a sunny Thurles campus by 9:15am.  In between, I experienced every type of weather Ireland has to offer: drizzle, heavy showers, light showers, cloud, torrential rain and mizzle, mainly.  Armed with my timetable I printed off the previous evening I had picked three workshops to visit.
After getting my name tag, there was a bit of time for some networking before we were ushered into a fantastic lecture hall with two massive screens.  After the initial housekeeping stuff and welcomes, it was time for the first keynote speaker – Daithí Ó Murchú.
img_0024For whatever reason, anytime I give a talk or workshop at a conference, it always clashes with Daithí’s so I’d never ever heard him speak before.  People had told me that he is incredibly forward-thinking and he challenges the system so I was really looking forward to it…and he didn’t disappoint.  Daithí spoke to us from in front of a strange blue curtain in the west of Limerick just before he led a group of children to their Communion celebrations.  He also introduced us to his Avatar on OpenSim, a sort of 2nd Life type environment, which is being used for education.  Daithí outlined his 12-point vision, which he believes is the only way we will get out of the mess we’re in here in Ireland.  I loved it!  From challenging perceived truths to unlearning and relearning, it was hard not to feel both awe and frustration; awe for the revolutionary thinking and frustration at the education system we have made for ourselves.  I absolutely agree with him that we are just preparing children to “vomit” out stuff at the end of 14 years in school, which the majority will never use.  For me, one of my favourite messages was about the way we assess learning and how it must be wrong.  How can a child become a creative and innovative adult in the current system?
I had a meeting with my friends at Promethean so I missed the second keynote speaker.  It was about Internet safety and the feedback was very good.  I have a bit of an issue with Promethean’s new ActivInspire software, (which will be reviewed soon), so just needed to talk to them about it.
After coffee, it was time for the workshops.  The first workshop I went to was Storytelling Alice, which is an offshoot of the Alice project, which apparently teaches third level students how to program.  The storytelling Alice project is aimed at 12-13 year old girls, but I didn’t know this before I went in (men never read instructions).  However, I’m glad I went.  The excellent presenter talked us through the project and demonstrated how to make a simple animation story using the program.  As she was showing us, it dawned on me that even if one only used two commands (or methods in this language) – Move and Say, one could still come up with a great story.  I’m confident that my 8-9 year olds would be well able to fashion a storyboard and Alice project.  I also think that the boys in my class would love it too.  There are plenty of characters to work with inluding college jocks, James Bond spies and evil doctors who all have special moves.  One had a great talent of removing heads with a judo kick.
The second workshop that I went to was by a guy called Michael Cox, who works in the Tipp Institute.  He gave a talk at the CESI conference outlining 7 steps to a successful ICT plan.  From the off, it was obvious that Michael is a motivator.  He later revealed that he has trained in life-coaching and he quoted Steven Covey so I wasn’t surprised that he had all the tools to make everyone in the room want to stay longer than his allotted time.  Being honest, the workshop felt like being with a lifecoach who was giving me steps to creating an ICT plan for my school…which was exactly what I need.  I have a fair idea of what sort of ICT my school is using.  However, Michael broke it down into byte-sized sections and outlined a super model for any school.  There was no need for a 20-hour NCTE course outlining some roadmap. In 40 minutes, I was able to leave the room ready to take on a proper ICT plan and implement it.
Lunch followed.  It was the only weak point of the day due to the bits of uncooked rice lurking in every mouthful of the mildest curry I ever tasted. (So I’m a food critic now too!)
Anyway, workshop three was Scratch.  Apparently it’s International Scratch Day.  I’ve downloaded Scratch on my home PC but never used it.  I was a bit scared of it and needed my hand held to get me started.  The presenter did just that and once I’d moved my cat sprite 10 pixels to the right and then to the left, I went exploring on my own and created a blasphemous cartoon.  I regret to say that I wasn’t really listening to the workshop by midway through as I was playing with all the different features and checking whether my kiddies in school could use the program.  Although it’s aimed at a younger age group from Storytelling Alice, I found the latter a lot easier to do.  However, Scratch is easy-peasy and I think that children would really like it too.
img_0027Finally, it was time for the last keynote.  Conor Galvin, the former chair of CESI and seemingly endless other accolades (I only know him in one guise) gave a brilliant talk.  There were numerous laugh-out loud moments including the Trinity College piss-take that UCD folk probably have to do by law to the brilliant comparison of Batt O’Keeffe to a King Penguin.  His talk was divided into three bits – elephants, penguins and teachers.  Elephants referred to the elephants in the room, i.e. the things that drive the Internet – essentially that the education world is only hijacking a small proportion of why the Internet exists – becuase pornography, spam and gambling generate the most money.  The Penguins were “People who are Expert at Not Giving Us respect and Ignoring the Need to fund Schools ICT”.  Conor went through the people who we shouldn’t turn to for support – including the government and colleges.  It was the teachers, that he believes, are the only ones who are somehow, despite all the obstacles, that are keeping technology on the agenda.
Conor then showcased a number of web sites that he felt are examples of teacher-led innovation, including eTwinning, Teachnet and Fís.  Then out of the blue, his next slide was showing a screenshot of Anseo.net.  This was the first time I’ve been to a lecture, workshop or course where Anseo.net has been mentioned.   I was very touched by this and am very proud that after three and a half years,  this web site has been given public recognition and I thank Conor for this.
As the conference wrapped up, I went down to the stage to thank Conor for mentioning Anseo.net and was stopped by one of the organisers of the conference.  She asked me would I be willing to be interviewed for a video the Institute was filiming about my work on Anseo.net and about ICT in general in my school.  I agreed and did just that.  I’m going to try and get a copy of the video and pop it up on this web site if they let me.
This conference was brilliant.  Every talk, every workshop and every cup of coffee I drank were perfect.  Like the CESI conference, I came home full of ideas, inspiration and a renewed enthusiasm for all thing ICT and education.  I feel it was a good move to have the conference on a Saturday as it allowed people, who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise, to go to it.  I’m already looking forward to 2010.

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