First of all, I have to express my delight at being given the opportunity to attend this conference. I’m not sure whether I’m blown away more by the calibre of the presenters or my fellow delegates. I’m certainly in some select company here.
Day 1 of the third annual DML Conference kicked off with John Seely Brown’s keynote. I’ve long admired JSB’s work from afar and so having the chance to see his warm, effective and thoughtful style of presentation was delightful. There’s no way I can summarise everything he said, so I’ll give you my highlights:
- Scalability is the big issue. Whereas the 20th century saw ‘S curves’ with moments of stability, there is no stability in sight in the 21st century.
- The half-life of a given skill is constantly shrinking. Interestingly, and (to my mind) with reference to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, JSB talked about “participating in knowledge flows as an active sport.”
- Technology is the easy part. The hard part is the social and institutional.
- The role of tacit knowledge takes on increasing importance as our world is in constant flux. JSB used Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Wales and other Silicon Valley success stories as examples of why Montessori schools are so good (they all attended them as children).
- iPhones and smartphones are ‘curiosity amplifiers’.
- There are ‘knowledge ecologies’ around media and games such as Harry Potter (see fanfiction.com) and World of Warcraft (see wowwiki.com) In WOW, players create their own custom dashboards to make sense of their gameplay. What if we did this in education?
- The Open Source movement is a participatory learning platform. It provides cognitive apprenticeships “enculturaing to a virtual community of practice.”
- We need a ‘Blended Epistemology’. We must augment Homo Sapiens (man as knower) with Homo Faber (man as maker). This links closely to JSB’s love of Montessori schools.
- Interestingly, JSB talked of our ability to now make not only ‘things’ but *contexts*. For example, changing the music of a film alters not only its meaning but what you actually ‘see’.
- Blogging is as much about creating context as it is about creating content as a blogger is a node amongst other nods.
- Another part of a new ‘Blended Epistemology’ is Homo Ludens (a highly nuanced concept of play). We need to re-grind our conceptual lenses.
- If you’re not comfortable tinkering, you’re going to be in a state of constant fear. Tinkering can be a gut ‘feeling’ for systems.
- We need ‘networked imagination’, something that emerges from collective action predicated upon networks of practice and communities of interest.
- JSB finished by talking about the one-room schoolhouse being an effective learning environment because teachers were mentors and guides, encouraging older kids to teach younger kids.
Wow. So many ideas and concepts in such a short space of time!
Democratizing Learning Innovation
After that session I stayed in the main hall for ‘Democritizing Learning Innovation’ chaired by Mark Surman, CEO of Mozilla. With him on the panel were Gever Tulley (Tinkering School), Jess Klein (Mozilla/Hive Learning), TechNinja and Super-Awesome Sylvia.
Mark had purposely sought out a child to be part of the panel as, he believes, innovation in the future is “more likely to come from a 15 year-old than a 50 year-old.” Sylvia is 10. She has her own YouTube show called the Sylvia Show (http://sylviashow.com) in which she shows people how to be a maker and to experiment/tinker with stuff.
Gever Tulley set up the Tinkering School (http://tinkeringschool.com) a few years ago. It’s a place where young people come to learn by doing. He gave a fantastic example of braiding rope out of recycled plastic bags. Children learned how to make a ‘super-rope’ which then turned into a walkway between trees.
What really interested me was Gever’s reflections on the competences we already expect of children *before* they begin the learning journey. At the Tinkering School they don’t expect that competency but realise that it’s emergent. In this he referenced John Dewey and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. His school focuses on projects that create a context where children choose the next step based upon their interests.
Jess Klein joined Mozilla last y ear after working with The Hive. She showed how she’d learned from young people and altered the learning environment to facilitate peer learning. A great example of this is through Hackasaurus (http://hackasaurus.org), now a Mozilla product, and one that has evolved – and continues to evolve.
Jess gave the example of some stinging criticism she got from a teenager called Joe from Brighton who vented his frustration at Hackasaurus. After letting this sink in for a few days, the Hackasaurus team took onboard his suggestions, and now Joe is helping them develop the product!
In the Q&A session afterwards I was most impressed with Gever Tulley who fielded some questions about the Tinkering School extremely well. He talked about the need to turn assessment on its head and give students the ownership of assessing their own – and their peers’ work. He mentioned tinkering being “more of a philosophy than a process,” about it being “the gap between when you think something’s done and it actually working.” That really resonated with me.
Mark Surman closed the session by saying how we need to “bang stuff together” in order to build things. We need to bring communities together.
After lunch, I really wanted to attend the session entitled ‘Are Badges the Answer? Perspectives on Motivation for Lifelong Learning’. Unfortunately, by the time I got there (ten minutes before the session started) the small room given over for the session was absolutely full and was spilling out into the corridor.
Given that Cathy Davidson, Erin Knight and Matt Thompson (who all have a big role to play in Open Badges) were also stuck in the corridor an impromptu breakout session started. By the end of this there were around 200 people there and it became known as #OccupyBadges on the Twitter stream.
This session was a useful clarificatory session for people who wanted to ask questions about badges, as well as there being some pushback from those still unsure. It seems that some people want to map out how things will pan out to the Nth degree, unfortunately, which just isn’t possible!
Overall the #OccupyBadges session was extremely useful, very positive and expertly chaired by Cathy and by Erin.
I’m co-kickstarter of Purpos/ed (http://purposed.org.uk), a Co-operative Community Interest Company attempting to get as many people as possible to debate the question: ‘What is the purpose of education?’. I thought that putting myself forward for an Ignite talk at #DML2012 would help get the message out to a wider audience.
I give a fair number of presentations, so if you asked me to speak for an hour on Purpos/ed, I’d be fine. However, the format of the Ignite talk (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) caused me some concern. If you get just one line wrong, it throws off the rest of your presentation. Thankfully, I didn’t fluff it and my talk was well-received.
My fellow Ignite-rs were spectacular, talking about everything from assessment programmes to zombies! Fantastic.
DML Badges funded projects and Mozilla Science Fair
After the Ignite talks and a short break, the projects that had secured funding as part of the DML Badges competition (http://dmlbadges.net) were announced. I was one of the judges for this, so it was great to see so many happy faces.
The Mozilla Science Fair in the lobby seemed to go down well, although I spent most of the time talking to Howard Rheingold and some of the projects from England.
Dinner: Connected Learning
Finally, to round off an extremely busy first day at #DML2012 I was invited for dinner with those involved in DML’s new Connected Learning initiative (http://connectedlearning.tv). It was great to meet people like Audrey Watters and Bud Hunt in person after following them for so long, and to get the chance to meet Mimi Ito again.
Roll on Day 2!