This is the first in what I hope will be a few posts resulting from the Microsoft Summer Camp (#mscamp) event this week. Dan Roberts and Graeme Eyre have fired off posts about the event. What I present here are some reflections aimed at comparing the two events and coming to some general reflections about #mscamp. Similar to those about the Google Teacher Academy last month. Before I start, I’d like to make clear a few points, caveats if you like. In the words of @innovativeteach , it’s because I’m Welsh 😉 :
- I’m not naive enough to think that Microsoft, Apple and Google’s education branches won’t be pushing their products. I don’t have a problem if they do as long a learning is at the forefront and they avoid brainwashing rays. I know that they are not suddenly going to start working together, although it would be cool if they did in terms of learning.
- These reflections are from the point of view of a middle leader in a large secondary school. I’m not in the position to make whole school decisions about technology and Local Authority policy on web accessibility. This means that these thoughts are heavily influenced by the question: ‘what can we do here?’ Therefore, I don’t attempt to say what should be happening everywhere.
- The prevailing attitude that our professional lives come to a halt in the holidays annoys me.
- I’m not evangelical about anything but learning. I try to shy away from saying that products are amazing and in fact people that do take an evangelical attitude toward certain products also annoy me.
- Personally, I’m more likely to be impressed if I’m shown something by a teacher, or even better a pupil. This doesn’t mean that non-teachers have nothing to contribute, far from it.
- I was only at Google Teacher Academy for the first day.
- I try, but may not always succeed, to be driven by one question: ‘How can this improve learning.’
Now that’s out of the way……
The two days spent at Microsoft’s Reading Headquarters were challenging, creative, social, fun, productive and inspiring. I have been involved with the Partners in Learning Network since October 2009 and want to do so much more with the network. This is mainly down to the supportive but relaxed attitudes of Kristen and Stuart who are the driving force behind the network. You are allowed to feel like a normal person, and indeed, perfectionism is discouraged. I find this approach refreshing and more approachable for colleagues.
Some of the ideas generated are visible in the photograph above. And here comes the main difference between #gtauk and #mscamp. At Microsoft we were there to work, create and explore the tools available. At Google I felt we were there to absorb information and then go out and spread the word.
Both events were inspirational. Both events provided a wealth of simple, effective and cool ways in which to transform learning
I found that I got more out of the Microsoft experience as we were part of the culture of the organisation for two days. We were able to wander the building, use breakout and 60 minute rooms, sofa’s, grab a drink at will. The result was lots of conversations along the lines of ‘why are you doing it that way?’ or ‘Have you seen this?’ Being able to have unstructured time that was hand’s on allowed us to really explore the products. We even met with one of the programming team – arranging a face-to-face meeting through Twitter.
I want to work in a school with the layout of the offices. I’d love to replace walls with the glass panels above that learners can write on.
In terms of output and reaching out both #gtauk and #mscamp take refreshing approaches. Both expect a follow up, although I have to admit that the Partners in Learning attitude was more realistic of working classroom practitioners (most attendees were classroom teachers). #gtauk has a peer reviewed action plan and #mscamp expects a number of innovids to be created for others.
I like the innovid approach, and the event ended with us peer reviewing a number of those created on the day. These are short, 3 minute screencasts that showcase how a too can be used within an educational context. All of the resources created will be showcased on the Innovative Teachers YouTube channel.
Another major difference between #gtauk and #mscamp was the way in which attendees are rewarded. Now, considering that those at both events are attended by highly motivated, inspirational and proactive educators, the main reward is seeing the impact of what is learnt on those that we teach and work with. What I do like about #mscamp is that I didn’t leave with a certificate or a title, but a network of like minded individuals and lots of ideas. A similar network resulted from #gtauk, but, personallym I don’t like the title of Google Certified Teacher and what it implies to some. I’m not an expert in all things Google, nor Microsoft. I am an expert in Learning, and learning through geography in particular.
In summary, at my school I can begin think of Google and Microsoft tools in terms of coffee ( This needs more thought, but I like comparing things to stuff, see my post comparing technology to outdoor equipment):
Google tools are like instant coffee. Easy to access, low cost (after all you still need the IT infrastructure) but you need to know about the drawbacks.
Microsoft tools are like freshly ground coffee. They take more effort, and are sometimes difficult to access, but the results are a little more tasty.
Both together are like a double espresso, freshly ground while sat on the summit of a mountain. The best thing for doing the job and providing insiration.
Anyway, as this post is in danger of becoming long and rambling, I’ll summarise!
- This a a crucial point: #gtauk and #mscamp are equal in my mind as professional development events. The ideas for both were stunning, and the timing allows some ‘ponderage’ over the summer before applying these tools in the classroom.
- The conversations between participants at both were the same – focussed on learning.
- A blend of the rights tools that work in my context is the only way to transform learning – I see it as a moral obligation to ensure that young people are able to use many platforms, not just one.
The challenge now is to reach out beyond the converted. I know that many of those that read this blog and attend events like BETT, TeachMeets, GTA and #mscamp are the converted. Real transformation of education needs to happen, and if we stop here it’s not going to be good enough. What can I do?
- Continue to work with PGCE students and NQTs. I’m amazed at the relative low eLearning literacy of this group of people. This needs to change.
- Continue to build relationships with those that I work with, slowly convincing them that there is another way. Life isn’t going to change after just one event.
- Continue to focus on learning. That’s old tools (how could I get rid of colouring in? ;), outside tools, non-tech tools, ugly tools.
- Continue to keep my feet on the ground, not take myself too seriously and maintain the mantra ‘How does this improve learning?’
- The main barrier is not technology. It’s the inability or reluctance to take pedagogical risks. The hesitancy to allow pupils to take control of their own learning when it’s appropriate. We need a wide spread change in school ethos.
- Continue to expand pupil’ digital literacy. By this I mean exploring the perspectives of multinational companies like Google and Microsoft. Asking why certain information is presented at the expense of others, the moral and ethical questions needed and the effect of branding. This is linked to the geographical concept of ‘clone towns’ an homogenous world is very dull. I don’t want to know everything, and part of the fun is searching through dusty volumes.
However, a barrier is also presented by the attitude of some that technology is the future. The only way. It isn’t. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give paper copies of resources. Sometimes a face-to-face conversation is far more effective than an email.
So a suggestion is a move away, be educators, of thinking in terms of #mscamp or #gtauk as separate events. I intend to keep my blended approach to using technology as deep down I know that it’s not the tool, tech, textbook, boot or muffin but the skill of how they are applied.