It was an exciting past week as I just returned from the Digital Education Show Africa Conference, 18th – 19th October. I had looked forward greatly to it and I was not disappointed. There were quite a number of great sessions, discussions and speakers and so I have decided to trap down (while still fresh) my thoughts, learning and reflections on the conference.
There were two major streams – Digital Education and Training & development; of course, I was in the digital education stream and it was great. A few of my reflections are below.
Technology Everywhere – The Ultimate Solution?
Tech is not the answer to everything in Education!
Almost at the very beginning, was a keynote speech from Sharanjeet Shan, a 71-year-old CEO of the Maths Centre Incorporating Sciences, SA. It was a speech full of challenges & questions & thoughts and I think it helped redirect the discussions of the conference from that point. “What’s the point of EdTech in schools?” (which happened to be the title of her talk) when it will only create a further divide between the haves and have-nots? How will introducing EdTech help the common child & alleviate his/her suffering and poverty?
Her biggest argument (I suspect) and my take away is that as good as tech is and as critical as it may be in our schools (and I believe it is), it is not the ultimate solution to all our problems in Education, especially in Africa. Tech integration must be thought through, it must be done well, otherwise, Africa will suffer more from its failure in our schools.
The Exhibition stands – their biggest danger!
Maybe this added to the ‘anger’ with which Sharanjeet spoke because it did for me. It was supposed to be a Digital Education Conference and about 70-80% of the exhibitors were tech companies, trying to sell their various tools & solutions. I actually got tired of going from stand to stand because there was nothing inspiring in several of them, all the same talk – “this is the ultimate solution/tool you need to use in your class, you need to try it out“. And this for me, is our biggest problem in Africa!
Haven’t we heard of the failures? Have we not seen all the attempted use of bare tech and how it has failed even in places we thought it should automatically work? Shouldn’t it be clear that just dumping tech in the class, just acquiring 10 smart boards for your school, buying 50 tablets and paying a yearly subscription for that tech solution is not the solution to the problem? We have had the wrong people advice us on our work as teachers!
It’s like the story my mentor shared in his book on activating the classroom.
“I have a friend, Angelo, who is an amazing chef, and runs a highly rated restaurant. A couple of weeks ago he had a problem with some of the power outlets in his kitchen, and so he called in an electrician. In no time Dennis the electrician was in the kitchen busy fixing the problem. However, as Dennis was working he noticed that Angelo was preparing his special crème brûlée dessert.
“Hey, Angelo,” Dennis said. “There is a much better way you can do that, “he said pointing at the crème brûlée. “The trick to making a really great crème brûlée is making sure you beat the egg whites until they are really stiff, and then add the sugar. Also,” he added, “I suggest using smaller ramekins.” After a moment Angelo responded, “Dennis, there’s a much better way you can fix that power socket. The trick to fixing it quickly is making sure you beat the plug until it is really stiff, and then add the wires. Also,” he continued, “I suggest using smaller screws.”
So do you get the point here? We have wrong guides; tech companies who know little or nothing about education and how it’s done are the ones driving our education and recommending what to use in the classroom. How did we accept this? This is supposed to be Education Technology, the key is to ensure Education remains central and tech is only an addition. Very soon, the present tech devices, solutions & tools will leave the scene for newer, more creative ones. So if our focus is on the tech, we would be stranded soon, really soon, and forever be at their mercy!
Pedagogy is very key
Here is the missing piece in the equation…
Great Teacher + Great Technology + Great Pedagogy = Great Education.
This was a recurring theme throughout the conference as teachers are beginning to see that even though we have great teachers who know their content well, and there are great technologies available for our use, without an appropriate digital pedagogy, we would still not have a great education system.
This was heightened by Craig Blewett, a senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal SA, and one of the keynote speakers who spoke on the Activated Classroom digital pedagogy. Craig’s main point was that regardless of what tech, device, platform or solution you use, it must never be without a pedagogy, the way we teach. Unless we begin to understand how we teach and how to teach effectively using these available technologies, we would continue to have at best, hit & run results. He spoke about the pedagogy of curation, conversation, correction, creation & chaos that can guide teachers while applying tech in the classroom.
Activated Classroom Teaching model
The ACT model is a unique approach to teaching, that focuses on pedagogy before technology developed by my friend and mentor, Dr Craig Blewett. It’s the result of both practical experiences of trying things out to activate his class and several years of research. It’s one developed by a teacher for teachers (across all education levels) to help you understand how you teach and guide you on how best to apply these principles in your classroom.
You can enrol in the online course for a continuous experience of these pedagogies or get his new book – Activated Classroom Teaching, a pedagogy for the digital age – an ongoing resource and very practical guide to the use and application of technology in the classroom. Start from here – take a short free Education Technology Assessment (ETA) test to assess yourself on your present use of technology in the class; an appropriate diagnosis is a good place to begin!
Other Session Highlights
Continuous Teacher Training & Professional Development
This has also become an apparent need, especially in our African setting. While we must return to our teacher schools that are producing our teachers and begin to train them on how best to teach effectively with tech, we must deliberately begin to train our present teachers in the classroom. We definitely know this.
However, what might be mistaken is to think we need more tech training. In the past, most educational professional development sessions have seen tech companies coming to train teachers how to use the latest apps, and how to use their iPads. However, training teachers how to use technology is not the goal. It is not even just training teachers how to teach with tech (and increase efficiency) but training teachers how to teach effectively with technology is what we must aim at. One approach I believe is good is having real teachers share their stories of how they have practically integrated technology in their own classrooms and to show us the results.
Using Games & Gamification in the classroom
Keshma Patel who is a teacher at Micklefield in SA, gave a keynote speech on how she has practically used games and Gamification techniques in her classroom. The topic of games & gamification has come up recently in EdTech discussions and conferences and I think we would understand (or I would) the best ways to apply this, as time goes on. Keshma spoke about how the school system is already set up in a way to easily apply Gamification principles and her own personal experience of increasing student engagement using games in the class. She spoke of a project where her students used Minecraft to learn great academic, soft & tech skills! The following tweets are good takeaways from that keynote speech.
Exploring mobile technology for teaching & learning
This was the subject of discussion in one of the roundtable discussions I sat in during the conference. Mobile learning which happens to be one of my own EdTech focus and has been the subject of my research, is something that we cannot push aside in our bid to integrate technology appropriately in the classroom. As much as we speak about students who are in rural areas and are coming from financially low backgrounds, my research showed that 94% of students (in a university environment) owned a smart mobile device. This was confirmed by several members at the discussion table. So if our students have these devices, then we can engage them and use it to achieve learning.
Of course, teachers themselves need to be taught how to do this properly, then they can model this for the students to see. Tech is great, it has come to stay and it will disrupt the education course. It is, however, important that we continuously try out and learn how best to teach effectively with whatever tech is available and the mobile device in every hand is a good place to begin.
Spicing it Up!
The very young Entrepreneur
One spice in the conference was the 16-year-old keynote speaker, Jordan Casey. He shared his story about how he began and how he reached where he is now. Though young, his session was very inspiring and challenging at the same time.
The tweet below was one of his quotes…
This was my own takeaway from his session…
Tools & Solutions for use in Education
So I’m a little techy too, and I love to play around with different technology tools & solutions as well. Amongst all the plenty of tech tools, devices & solutions that I saw and interacted with – from those showcased by Via Afrika (tabtor maths), Parrot (interactive smart boards), Maker bot (3D printing), Pearson, Samsung (school in a box), Google and lots more, I will speak on two that stood out for me.
G suite & Google cardboard:
Well, I’m a strong user of Google Apps for my personal & professional use and to increase my productivity. I believe in its great use in education as well.
As much as I have heard of the Google cardboard, I was actually seeing and using one myself (for the first time) in this conference. It’s a virtual reality device (or tool?) that has a great potential in education. Even though my android phone (as smart as I thought it was) was declared “Not compatible” (and you needed to see the disappointment on my face), I was however still given one of those cardboards. I have since grabbed a friend’s iPhone and tested it – the potentials are great and I imagine it will improve over time and be properly suited for use in education. I have seen the great engagement with it with the little ones around me (and even adults too)! They fought for it and played around with it on their own. They discovered other things I never thought them and they loved it. It was like the end of their world when they were summoned by their parents to drop it and go and do their homework!
ClassMarker: it’s an online assessment tool I was hearing about for the first time. Of course, several of these tools are out there but this was a great one. Apart from the fact that it was developed for use in education, and so was suited appropriately for it, it is highly customizable. The presenter gave us a test on the platform and I not only saw my score & feedback immediately but also downloaded a certificate from the session. The only downside to this is that it is a freemium package with basic features free and advanced features hidden behind some cost. I have however since compared it to Google forms (in my mind) which is fast evolving into a great online assessment tool with plenty options to play with… and the best part is that it is completely free. So I have decided that I will conduct a pseudo test with both and play around with them both and see what is the major difference both from the teacher & student perspective!
In all, the conference was great, I definitely learnt a lot from it. I also made a few connections both on twitter and also physically. Do check the conference hashtag – #digedafrica for more insights from other conference delegates. Next year the name changes to EduTECH and I look forward to it again, hopefully, I can make it. So if you were not at the conference, these are my own reflective thoughts.
What was your major takeaway from the conference?