Reflections on Learning Without Frontiers 2011 part 1

Learning without Frontiers (LWF) is an organisation headed up by Graham Brown-Martin
it is also the name of his conference (LWF11) which he describes as a “Lean Forward Event”.  During previous years LWF has run separate events for game-based learning (GBL) and hand-held learning (HHL) and e-safety.  The 2010 HHL event was postponed from October to January 2011 in a move to combine all three strands of LWF’s areas of expertise to be held as a single event (LWF) in London during the same week as BETT.  The reason for this change was to maximise the audience visiting London for the week.

The conference spanned three days with the first day (Sunday) being open for free to anyone.  Over the next few blog posts on our experience at LFW11 we intend to share some of our views, web links, other people’s views from their tweets and blogs to help you build up a picture of the event, and to enable you to harvest some of the most interesting bits from three days of conference.

The conference was opened by Karen Cator who is the Director of Educational Technology at the US Department of Education.  Her view of the importance of technology to learning was refreshingly contrary to the messages trickling from the UK government currently.  Her vision for the US Education system is that Learning is the focus in the US to drive their economic recovery.

The US have a National Education Program, licensed for re-use entitled “Learning powered by Technology”.

Karen commented that the tablet computer market has exploded in the past 12 months (5 million of which are ipads) and that there is a strong movement from print-based information and resources to an electronic environment for information consumption.  She has a vision where the US will make the most of this digital learning environment.  In fact you may have seen in the press that the US are planning to move over to digital textbooks by August 2012, and they are actively aiming for this.

Karen was well aware that this digital move will demand good broadband, which will enable innovative products to proliferate.

The new burgeoning app market brings a whole new way of interacting with content for learning.  Karen’s vision is that digital textbooks will incorporate social media and interaction, people learning together, collaboratively online.

Karen also asked “How does teacher build a reputation as a good teacher, or learner as good learner?”  She stated that the wealth of data washing across the globe all of this time should be harnessed for learning?

She shared with delegates the fact that in her opinion the US fails 50% of students.  She says the government is well aware that this needs turning around and that 93 million US citizens are “undereducated”.

The US can see that the only way out of the current economic situation is to educate their way out.

The US are looking at harnessing technology to help them achieve this.  The have numerous initiatives including the School of One in NYC.  This was identified as one of the top 50 innovations by Time magazine in 2010.

The School of One focusses lessons and assignments based on the assessment the DAY before.  The data is harnessed using the technology to deliver truly personalised learning every day.  Students are not educated according to their age but all learning is based on interventions and group work which has changed the model of thinking about learning.

Karen’s vision states that learning technology needs to be as engaging as video games and as educational as a teacher coupled with assessment that improves feedback loops.

She sees teachers that are connected to their personal learning network (PLN) of experts and peers making use of the tools that are available when and where needed.

The US is well aware that infrastructure is VITAL to develop that 24/7 learning loop.  The School of One won’t accept “massive failure”. Everyone is fully engaged in what’s right at their level.  They are moving from measuring progress using seat time to measuring achievement to develop an ongoing visual map.

To support this development, the US plan some major initiatives:
Building transparency – by developing a national broadband map showing coverage
Learning Registry – designed to create technology – allows people to find recourses and people via the use of meta data
Communities of practice – to develop a robust CPD environment
Digital Promise – National centre, 5013c for research on technology

Karen stated that in the US education is bipartisan but it is currently incredibly unproductive.  The hope in the US is that by focusing on innovation the US economy will be driven by innovation producing a generation of students that can innovate.

So in summary the US focus is on “powering-up” Learners, which also INCLUDES the teacher – EVERYONE is a learner…

Teachers are lifelong professionals.  They should develop a teaching profile.  The US hopes for a cultural shift supporting the profession.  To raise progression Teachers need everything at their fingertips.  The US vision is to set up success via a digital learning environment now.

For more reflections on Karen Cator’s session please visit Ewan McIntosh’s blog HERE or take a look on twitter for #lwf11

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