Reflections on the 17th National Congress on Rural Education



This past week I attended (and presented) at the 17th National Congress on Rural Education in Canada, held in Saskatoon, SK March 25-27. This is the second year I have attended and presented at this conference. It is an interesting one since the audience is very different than other conferences I attend. Attendees include many school trustees and superintendents in addition to school administrators, teachers and post-secondary educators. This gives the conference a different flavour than others.

I presented, with a colleague during the last slot of the day, it was surprisingly well attended, and we engaged in a great conversation with the attendees. That is all I will say about it, on to other parts of the congress.

The conference started off with an impassioned keynote by Craig Kielburger, who, when he was only 12 years old, co-founded the Free the Children foundation. He shared powerful stories and told us about the work of this foundation, including the popular Me to We Day events (one of which was held in Winnipeg last November). The major theme of Craig's keynote was that even one person can be an agent of change and can make a difference.

Alan November giving Keynote
The Monday morning keynote was Alan November, who I have heard present on three previous occasions, and I have enjoyed every one of them. His message was excellent, and he handled a few technical glitches without problem. Alan's main message was that technology itself will not make a difference in learning. As much research has shown, using technology bolted on to traditional pedagogy does not work. There must be a change in process to make a difference. Another message is one that I firmly believe, that learning is social, we need to let students talk and discuss. November used many examples to illustrate his points. One was the wonderful work of Kathy Cassidy(@kathycassidy) from Moose Jaw - someone he called one of his heroes. I must say I have often used Kathy's blog as an example for my students. Another example was my good friend, Darren Kuropatwa, (@dkuropatwa) from Winnipeg. His work with daily scribes in his (former) high school math courses was the example Alan used. The audience was asked to consider a few questions, including; who should own learning? and who should be working the hardest in the classroom? The obvious answer for both, of course, is the student, yet how often is it true? One line I liked was when he said that lesson plans should be tossed. Many would disagree with that, but I am not one of them. While I would agree planning and a direction is necessary, I would also say that a lesson plan can lead to a lack of flexibility, a rigidity that shows that the teacher owns the learning - not the students. November used the example of the flipped classroom that is the rage - while I am not a big fan - especially as set out by the Khan Academy (watching his poorly made video lectures - they are still lectures - rote, algorithmic learning), the idea can be useful if used wisely. November made other great points and had many examples to share. All in all a thought provoking and interesting keynote.

I attended two other sessions of note. Both were from School Divisions sharing their use of technology. (strangely, last year, there were very few sessions addressing technology, this year there were several). In the first, a group from Peace River S.D. in Alberta talked about how they have engaged the community in obtaining online feedback. It was great to hear that students are encouraged to bring their own devices (at the urging of parents!) and that they do not block social media sites, preferring to teach digital citizenship & literacy rather than blocking! As we see more successful and forward thinking divisions like this, maybe others will see the light (we can only hope). I find it ironic that some school divisions are proud of having a presence on Facebook and Twitter, yet block these sites in their schools. I should note that the presenters consisted of the Superintendent and several trustees. These people were genuine in their use of media to share and get input. @misuzb tweeted the following, from a different session, mind you, that summed this up: "When we block the internet, we stop internet literacy and remove critical thinking opportunities for our learners" - nicely said!

The other presentation was a group of tech leaders from Good Spirit S.D. in Eastern Saskatchewan (Yorkton area). They showed us how they have engaged technology to be virtually paperless. This ranged from a number of administrative applications to professional learning for teachers to the many innovative uses of hardware and software tools in the classroom. They illustrated with many student created examples. This use of technology also included the use of a wide range of 'web 2.0' tools. Exciting work.

Finally, in addition to spending time with a few colleagues from BU, I met some other great people as well. Included in that number were Shelley Wright (@wrightsroom) and Cori Saas (@corisaas), both from Prairie South S.D. in Saskatchewan (Moose Jaw & area). These two educators are doing amazing work and were looking after the 'geeksquad' - student journalists from several schools in that division who interviewed, taped and reported on (via their blog) the various events at the Congress.

My colleague and I left to make the long drive home and missed the last half day, but the tweets from the event (#rced17) indicated that there were more good sessions. All in all, it was an interesting conference - besides it gave the chance to enjoy some of the best pizza anywhere at the restaurant in the Radisson Hotel :-)

Sunrise in Saskatoon



Comments

  1. Interesting stuff, Mike. I'd like to chat with you further about what was said regarding the future of rural education and face-to-face instruction and/or multi-graded classrooms.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Educational Technology in Manitoba - a FREE eBook

Are Schools Obsolete?

#DigiWriMo: "Unofficial CV"