Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Nethui Day One: The Youth Forum

For the rest of the week I'll be at Nethui 2014, a huge conference addressing the internet and pretty much everything to do with it that isn't cat GIFs (OK, there are some of those as well). I'm here because twitter told me to and I was curious about meeting some of the authors behind the 140-character snippets that keep me from doing more productive things with my time.

The first day had a forum around young people and the internet and I wound up spending my entire time there. It's been a fascinating experience, sharing my ideas as an educator with people who come from an absolute galaxy of backgrounds and sectors. I've spent most of the day with some other teachers who are keen enough that they also gave up their holidays and money to attend, Youthline, and the IT sector (only teachers call it ICT. For shame)
The key ideas that have fallen out of the tree for me to take away and reflect on aren't anything new, but it's been fascinating and sometimes challenging to bounce them off others who've not been a classroom since they were 16.

Anonymity Vs digital presence: There's a real drive to keep things anonymous on the internet. I don't use my real surname on facebook or twitter, I mention no locations or dates. But in doing so, are we creating an artificial division between our offline and online presence? Why this need to hide our names from what for many people are an integral part of their everyday lives? In creating this division are we giving people licence to be abusive, to troll, because it divorces the online from the offline? I've often thought about "outing" myself on twitter and on here, but I'm not quite ready to make that step. It's an interesting idea.
21st Century learning and the "real world": A lot of the discussion was around improving digital literacy in schools and giving young people the skills to navigate social media, as well as "futureproofing" education. This was where I got all hand-wavy and noisy because if there's one thing I struggle with, it's the idea of teaching in a 21st century learning environment, where I'm expected to grow young people into critical thinkers who learn in an authentic and relevant context, and yet these kids will stand or fall based on their results in an exam that wouldn't sound out of place in a Dickens novel.
This got very interesting in the afternoon as the discussion of "futureproofing" young people to be prepared for jobs we can't even think of came up. Myself and other teachers in the room made a strong case that we need to move away from content-based learning towards skills/thinking based learning and giving young people the tools to learn whatever they need or want to. Then came a discussion about "core subjects" and asking if programming should be compulsory.
 This gave rise to a bit of an interesting discussion at our table as there was a strong argument put forward that programming absolutely needs to be included, with the counter-argument that we need less standardised subjects, not more. It was an interesting discussion and then this tweet from someone in the room pinged up:
 Now I appreciate that a tweet is a tweet but this bothered me. I'm not an IT professional. I know my way around a laptop, I know how to use the internet and I like to think I'm a reasonable person online. But I would never claim to know the ins and out of the IT industry, not even close. There seems to be a misconception that teachers are expected to be experts in every field that they move in, even though we as educators teach our students that it's OK to not know things if you're willing to learn. In fact, that's why I'm spending my holidays here! It made me reflect on how teachers are viewed and what we can do to change that view. It's easy as a teacher to forget that the real world/chalkface gap works both ways.

Lots to take away from today, tomorrow I am speaking at the morning hui to the entire conference about what we discussed at the youth forum. Bring it.

ADDITIONAL: Nat and I actually talked about this later, and the need for teachers to upskill in what are the needs of all industries these days, not just IT. It's a valid, if troubling point and it's made me think about just how institutionalised I have become since leaving the private sector over nine(!) years ago. It doesn't help that we as teachers find it difficult to listen to constructive criticism as we're so used to criticism of the destructive kind. It's also my fault for taking a generic comment a bit personally!

So thanks to Nat for engaging with me on this, one of the things I have loved about Nethui was the opportunity for open discussion in a way that remained respectful and positive even when viewpoints differed or misunderstandings were had.

Imagine if we could do that everywhere...

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