An inspiring knight in Cape Town

Sir John Daniel -Photographed from my crummy web camera

Schoolnet and the Commonwealth of Learning invited me (and a variety of highups in Education)  to a day long seminar in Cape Town around the topic of  ICT integration and teacher training. The key note speaker was the inspiring knight, Sir John Daniel. Not only did he take 25 years to complete a part-time Master’s degree in Educational Technology at Concordia University, but he’s also the president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning since 2004 after previous appointments as assistant director-general of UNESCO and vice-chancellor of the UK Open University and that’s only a summary of the last 10 years of his career.

At the seminar, Sir John chatted about the Second United Nations Millennium Development Goal – Universal Primary Education – and argued that these goals were well on their way to being achieved. As of 2008, over 570 million children were now able to complete a full course of primary schooling and only 50 million children were not primary schooled. The success of the campaign however, has created a new problem, that of Universal Secondary Education. The scale of the challenge is vast. 400 million children aged 12-17 are not in secondary school and 10 million more teachers are required by 2015 if this problem is to be addressed.

Sir John then went ahead to explore some interesting ideas to train more teachers and effectively retrain and motivate those in the profession. He suggested that countries should be recruiting people and sending them into the classroom within minimal training. Then, while they are teaching, they should receive in-service training that is in the schools and that addresses classroom realities. In order for this to happen, institutions will have to use open & distance learning and ICT.

His latest book – Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All – he explores the implications of using ICT for open and distance learning. The publicity blurb says that the book covers:

  • the creation and expansion of Mega-Schools, which combine distance learning and community support and have a proven track record of increasing access at scale
  • how to prepare the 10 million new teachers that are required to achieve Education for All by 2015 by focusing on classroom-based in-service training.
  • strategies for using technology to scale up distance education cost-effectively.
  • the creation of a 21st century educational ecosystem that integrates open schooling and teacher education with communities and their school systems.
  • successful examples of open schools and teacher education programmes operating at scale around the world.

Sir John is an amazing person. He has a global vision for education and an appreciation of how educational technology can provide secondary education to tens of millions of young people around the world. If the book is as good as his engaging presentation, then it’s certainly another must read for my bookshelf.

Passing nodes on a network

What would make a normally sane person leave their secure and predictable routine, fly to another city (or country) and voluntary sit for days in meeting after meeting? A good meal, a legitimate excuse to duck family responsibility or the possibility that you might meet a person that could revolutionise your life.  For me, probably none of the above. What takes me away from home is the opportunity to meet a bunch of similarly minded delegates, to talk, share ideas and practice. Strangers at conference are less strange because they share the same interests as you do. It’s an optical delusion though. This  atmosphere of ambient intimacy that has been created around this temporary community will probably vanish, until we meet again at another conference. It does not have to be this way though. Conference organisers, caught in the rush of the urgent, sometimes neglect to include in the programme networking opportunities.  Below are 12 points to consider when organising a conference that would enhance nodes (like me) networking capacity.

Before the conference
1. You have a hidden audience.
Remember to include people that could not physically attend the event. Think about ways in which they could participate
2. Like and Retweet
Create a Facebook and/or Twitter account for the conference and ensure that a Facebook “like” button or a Twitter “retweet” button appears on your conference web page.
3. Let’s play tag
Select a conference tag and ask that when speakers post resources that pertain to their presentation on their blog, Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Facebook that they also use this tag.
4. TweetUp
Number the tables and suggest that delegates arrange a Tweetup – put real faces to avatars – at a selected table number at a certain time
5. Network Weaving
Supply delegates with speakers Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook profiles

During the conference
6. Expand the four walls of your conference venue
Take and upload photos to a conference page, live blog the proceedings, record or stream the keynote presentation
7. Get them talking
Ensure that the key note speaker’s presentation has a tea break scheduled right after so that the delegates can discuss what was said.
8. Ride the backchannel
Delegates are passing notes electronically, probably using the conference tag as a hashtag (if they are on Twwitter). Project the backchannel onto a screen during the conference
9. Hotspots Help
Ensure that WiFi is available and that delegates can login without too many hurdles

After the conference
10. Delegates Directory
Send an email to all delegates thanking them for attending and informing them of a conference attendees directory
11. Sharing is caring
If speakers presentations were not available on the web before the conference, ensure that they are available after the conference
12. Continue the conversation
A conference Facebook account or Twitter account need to fade into oblivion immediately after the conference. Use these tools to elicit thoughts, ideas etc from speakers and delegates.

Connecting the dots

I’ll come to listen to your parade of movers and shakers, spend the night comfortably cosseted in clean linen. Thanks for the food, flight and great speakers. You’re obviously serious and I must admit, I’m flattered that you want me to come to your do. Although it makes me sound a bit ungrateful (and I’m not), let me tell you how you could be getting better bang for your conference buck.

If you want to ensure that your messages are heard by people that matter – then look for people that use a range of processes for communicating online. They’re connecting (sometimes very loosley) to like minded people interested in formulating relationships with other likeminded people with the express purpose of communicating and developing knowledge. Try engaging these individuals with online identities. They’re mavens trying to join the dots together. Your conference is an opportunity to broaden the conversation and you’ll find that if you connect, they aren’t scared of sharing their thoughts.

So once the thank-you’s have been said, the business cards exchanged, Linkedin Profiles updated, and all other network schmuckwork dissipates at the end of the conference, remember oh conference organiser, that “knowledge – and therefore the learning of knowledge – is distributive, and not located in any given place.” As Downes explains, knowledge consists of the network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community. So if you are really looking to connect your impressive programme to key people …. then organising a get together of key people in a big city and spend thousands of rands flying in delegates to a hotel stay sandwiched with a seminar filling is only the start of the process. Sorry, you thought the conference was over.