Learning2 Europe Conference – April 7th-9th 2016 – Milan
We went to the Learning2 Europe conference as a team of thirteen K-12 teachers and administrators to bring back an innovative and pedagogical approach to foster a schoolwide culture of collaboration. Our focus was on leveraging technology to support students’ agency, as well as deeper and authentic learning, both locally and globally.
We returned with a sustainable vision which lay at the very heart of the conference’s structure:
‘Learning is social, participant driven, and risk taking’.
Whatever the wealth of topics offered: from gamification to programmable robots and coding, makers movement, blogging, connecting, engagement vs distraction, design thinking, informed disruption, formative assessment, GAFE, empathy, to ‘the death of digital‘, content itself mattered less than the resulting face-to-face conversations about ‘what learning looks like’. The idea was to bring participants together to nurture innovative and collaborative hubs to learn, unlearn and relearn together.
What we experienced was a ‘flipped conference’ with an inbuilt transformative action plan: Engage and empower schools to connect as communities of collaborators who support each other and evolve with a shared understanding of the urgency to embrace the digital age mindfully.
Among the various session formats, the concept of the ‘unconference‘ came as a natural answer to the challenge of professional development in schools. From a participant-driven vote on issues to discuss, spontaneous sessions flourished with inspired educators open to sharing experiences and ideas. The eportfolio unconference was a remarkable illustration of the power of collaboration.
Connections were formed before the conference, as participants were invited to join a ‘cohort‘ of learners to share ‘burning questions and big ideas’. Daily cohort meetings allowed participants to touch-base and debrief shared resources organically throughout the conference. It was an authentic incentive to look forward to conversations, expand Professional Learning Networks, and design global projects together. The Learning2 #hashtag documented the conference’s momentum and connected colleagues who could not attend – a great way for hesitant newcomers to measure and embrace the power of Twitter for education.
There were no vendor stands, no hierarchy, no extended VIP keynotes, rather a passionate Learning2 team: lifelong learners, eager to share their own expertise, stories, and testimony to the value of interconnected and collaborative partnership among colleagues.
The brief and incisive Ted-like talks fostered the necessary empathy and set the tone for the ‘Innovator’s mindset‘.
The students’ participation at Learning2 confirmed MIT’s prediction twenty years ago, that the revolution will come from the students – a reality which is now undeniably upon us.
Learning is no longer a spectator sport but a participatory phenomenon. Students want to take charge of their own learning with the support of educators nurturing communities. The students’ L2 sessions demonstrated this, and their L2 Talks came as a wake-up call about ‘What’s Really Important‘ for ‘Well Rounded Students‘: Enough of labelling them as selfish screen addicts with no empathy, when their curiosity and passion is in fact often curbed by a school culture obsessed with GPA. What chance do they have of becoming well rounded cultured renaissance minds, when ‘IB subjects that teach critical thinking are deemed electives?’ Can schools consider ‘The Race To Nowhere‘ and explore the connections that will nurture meaningful and relevant skills to embrace the digital age fully equipped? Can we invite curiosity into schools and thereby help foster conditions for innovation?
‘Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, but what problems do they want to solve. This changes the conversation from who I want to work for, to what do I need to learn to be able to do that.’ – Jaime Casap
We as educators are facing an imperative to step out of isolation and connect together as learning communities. Never before has the fast pace of change been so challenging to balance and navigate. Never before has education met such disruption. However, never before have educators had such an opportunity to innovate together and make a difference to learning in the way we:
- Leverage technology and learning spaces to support sustainable change
- Unleash students’ talent and creative confidence mindful of the future of learning
- Create a school-wide digital leadership vision so that privacy matters to all
- Support students as curators and creators of content
- Address our common addiction to the ‘rabbit hole’ on The internet in real time.
- Motivate learners and keep it real
- Redesign makers’ spaces
- Change our language to reflect these shifting paradigms: ‘from torch-bearer in front of the pack leading the way, to a collective group of kindling-bearers’ in a school culture where ‘morale is a shared responsibility’.
We came back re-energized with a shared moonshot:
‘The closer we can scaffold learning communities, the closer we can get to that moon.’
Thanks to the Learning2 team, the American School of Milan, and all of the speakers and participants who came together to make this weekend such an awesome experience.