Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Friday, March 07, 2008

SITE2008 Annual Conference - Las Vegas, Nevada

Well, I finally made it to Las Vegas - and I don't think I'll be coming back soon. This really is the global gambling mecca - the scale and scope of the casino/hotel/resort complexes were much more extensive than I had imagined. I took the obligatory walk and picture tour down the "Strip" (Las Vegas Boulevard) and it was exhausting as this street goes on forever . . . . . .

The SITE2008 conference was also a bit overwhelming - lots and lots of very brief concurrent sessions. The focus was definitely on information dissemination and transmission rather than on dialogue and understanding. I must admit though - I did gain a number of key insights from the conference. In some ways - it was my re-entry to the world of K to 12 education and for about the past 10 years I have been focused on conferences dealing with faculty development and technology issues in higher education. I've put together a set of notes from the conference but here are some of my highlights with key resources.

The opening keynote was by Barbara Means from a non-profit Centre for Teaching and Learning. She began her presentation about the need for schools to prepare children for jobs and to be able to compete in the global workplace - which I'm not too big on but she did introduce me to a couple of resources that I was not familiar with such as Fred Newmann's work on authentic instruction and the Microsoft Innovative Schools Program. I really like how the MS initiative was helping teachers to develop, share and utilized rubric assessment templates - rather than focusing on standard achievement tests to assess children.

After my own presentation on Supporting Deep Approaches to Learning through the use of Wikis and Weblogs I attended an interesting series of brief papers on ePortfolios. These sessions reminded me that student portfolios can be used for a variety of purposes - exit requirement for B.Ed. programs (focused on competencies and product) versus process portfolios - that begin at the beginning of a program. The one resource that I got from these sessions is a listing of Neil Strudler's ePortfolio studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The highlight conference session for me was by Helen Barrett about Online Personal Learning Environments – Structuring Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong and Life-Wide Learning. Helen is definitely the "guru" of ePortfolios for teacher education. A couple of key resources that she shared included the Beyond the Electronic Portfolio: A Lifetime Personal Web Space (LPSWS) – Educause Quarterly, 2004 article by Cohn & Hibbitts (2004) and Tolley's (2008) notion that portfolios should be portable, personal, generic, dynamic in nature (Web 2.0 applications), MIS free, light, lifelong, accessible and credible. And, a new term that I had not heard before an ePortfolio Mash-Up – small pieces, loosely joined.

On the second day of the conference I attended Petrea and Jennifer's session about Investigating Deep and Surface Learning in Online Collaboration, which outlined a great learning experience between pre-service education students at the University of Calgary and in Australia. I also attended Nancy Law's (from the University of Hong Kong) session on Teacher learning beyond knowledge: an ecological model for fostering pedagogical innovations with ICT. She reported a number of interesting findings from international K to 12 studies. I thought her learning communities model was very complex and that I really think that Randy, Walter and Terry's community of inquiry framework could be applied to K to 12 contexts. I finished the day by attending Martine Pellerin's session about the eDOL (electronic documentation) process at the U of C. Apparently there have been problems with the stability of the Drupal server and the fragmentation of the student reflections. I really do think that is the way to go for a reflective practicum/volunteer placement journal. What really impressed me about Martine's session (one of her student teachers was working with my son's grade six class) was how the journaling process impacts the placement/cooperating teacher (gets them thinking about being more reflective with regards to their own practice).

I was only able to stay for 3 days of the conference and I attended a couple of great sessions on my last day before departing for the airport. The first session was on

Pre-service Teacher Perceptions of ICT Learning Outcomes. What liked about this session was the research methodology. Instead of relying on surveys the researcher got students to draw a picture of their ideal classroom and the role of technology in that room. I liked this idea and I think it would be even more powerful if a written component was added to this task or assignment. The next session was on digital storytelling. The presenters use the MS Photostory tool that Rod Corbett had showed me and they shared two amazing resources for digital storytelling. The first one was the Centre for Digital Storytelling and the second one was their Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling with some examples of great assessment rubrics for this activity. Reminder to self to get the Target diagram from Jennifer Locke for digital storytelling.

The final conference session was entitled TPCK and Technology Integration: An Open Forum about the Handbook. This session emphasized to me two things. One, I'm still an outsider when it comes to K to 12 teacher education and I need to learn the language. Apparently TPCK stands for technology, pedagogy, content, knowledge (not sure I like this term - as it appears to focus on content rather than process from my perspective). Two, some of the folks that I read about when I was a K to 12 teacher are still involved in the field. For example, this session was led by Judi Harris who I remember from her work with the project on activity structures.