Friday, 17 October 2014

Ulearn14 Connections

With Dr Wendy Kofoed (left) and Sonya van Schijik
Ulearn14, truly an inspirational event connecting educators from all over New Zealand and beyond! For me it started out with my running into +Sonya Van Schaijik+Wendy Kofoed and more teachers from their school at Auckland Airport, upon which we ran into @GregReynoldsTTS who kindly offered me a ride from the airport to the Convention Centre and running into +Mary-Anne Murphy almost as soon as I stepped through the door. And that was just the start of the connections!

Day 1
I joined Prof. Yoram Hapaz' keynote late, however, he challenged a lot of us in our thinking - I have no doubt you will find a lot of good blog posts reflecting on this out in blog land. At the end of it, on the lookout for my twitter buddy and host +Annemarie Hyde it took me at least 15min to move to the morning tea area as there were so many people to connect with, hug and shriek about! It is very interesting how many connected educators I have met in different venues again and again this year, of course my colleagues like my buddy +Catriona Pene+Angie Simmons+Tania Coutts,+Allanah King+Anne Kenneally and many more, my co-presenters +Annemarie Hyde+Kassey Downard and +Caroline Bush, fabulous educators like  +Marnel van der Spuy+Steve Katene (one of our Minecraft buddies), +Diana Wilkes+Philippa Nicoll Antipas+Bridget Casse+Juliet Revell+Myles Webb+Mark Buckland+Heather Greaves  - I could go on like this forever!

For Breakout 1 I chose "Educators in Pond - Getting the most out of Pond as a teacher". I see the Pond as a very positive development, provided by N4L but driven by teachers for teachers. It will be a very powerful platform if we make it that. Features include deep searches, adding resources to the Pond (own and other resources, now including an indication of ownership), collating resources in buckets, labeling of and commenting on resources, and connecting with other educators. As this is all behind the ESAA logon (which you might also use for eTap, asTTle and NCEA), you will have to go through your school (principal) to ensure your ESAA gets extended to Pond access, then you are fine to sign up here. My remaining questions are about the relationship with the VLN with its multitude of groups, discussions and resources, monitored by very capable moderators, also about the intellectual property right of resources added to the Pond, something every school and organisation will have to make a decision on unless the resources are CC.

During Breakout 2 I presented on "Supporting Universal Design for Learning with Google Apps for Education". The Museum Classroom was quickly filled to capacity, but unfortunately the connectivity was an issue, luckily resolved the next day for other breakouts. My presentation can be found here. I felt honoured to have so many dedicated educators come together, connect and collaborate around UDL and GAFE, despite connectivity issues.

The afternoon keynote by Adam Lefstein again was thought provoking, and I came to the realisation that for many of us Twitter has taken over the note taking from paper and Google Docs.

Day 1 finished with a fabulous Twitter Dinner, organised by the equally fabulous +Annemarie Hyde, hours of connecting face-to-face interspersed with a yummy dinner at the Pig & Whistle Pub.

Day 2
Dr Katie Novak started us off with a Keynote on UDL - she was FANTASTIC!!! Not only did she have lots of useful tips about UDL, she was demonstrating it in her keynote! From the way she set out her slides, to the activities she asked us to complete, to the way she walked through the 1000+ strong audience to connect with us - WOW! The conversations at the table and with other attendees afterwards were very interesting; while I don't claim I am the expert on UDL, I have researched it a fair bit (hence the presentation on day 1), and not everyone I talked with had the same level of understanding I had. At the same time, a few of the educators I talked to have implemented UDL so effectively into their teaching practise that they felt her keynote was not quite hitting the mark for them. It is extremely hard to cater for such a diverse audience, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and one day, when I grow up, if I can't be a tui I want to be a Katie Novak!

Breakout 3 I joined +Tara Fagan's "Future Learning: Programming, robotics and missions of code". I want a ROMO!!! Lots of fun, not all of it completely new to me, but right up my alley, I'll have to connect with Tara more!!! Resources from her session can be found here

Look at the cool article in
the Rotorua Daily Post :)
Breakout 4 we were on, trying to spread some Minecraft Magic with "Minecraft Magic - It's all about the learning!" The star of the show was Thomas, a 13y old from +Kassey Downard's classroom. +Caroline Bush+Annemarie Hyde and I joined them to discuss with teachers how Minecraft might enhance learning in their classroom. While we had good connectivity, the setup did not allow us to run a server, so participants were exploring individually and in groups Minecraft on the laptops we provided or on their tablet devices. As we said during the session, we are not the experts, it's the Thomas's of this world, and just about every school will have one. In fact, the underlying idea is that you do allow your students to take the lead, that you stand back and provide the guidance and support they require to support them to show you their learning. If you are interested in Minecraft, please feel free to visit Minecraft in NZ Classrooms on G+, Minecraft Teachers on the VLN and Minecraft Magic, a resource site.

After this session, we joined the GEG NZ Happy Hour, organised by Fiona Grant and other GCTs to connect with Google certified teachers and other Google interested educators. I have to admit, for a while I was extremely jealous that I was not chosen to go to Sydney for the GTA in September (you can check out my application video here). I barely wanted to look at anyone's blog post about it, that's how childish I had gotten. Thinking about what is going on in my life at the moment, I know it was not meant to be, I could not have done everything justice. It goes back to FOMO and trying to stay sane... (feel free to read my blog post about this here). Anyway, meeting up with them face-to-face was really good, they are all just as lovely as they have always been. So I can officially declare here I am thankful that I was not selected to go this year!

Quick dash home to pluck some parrots get dressed for Ulearn14 Dinner - it looked like a whole flock of parrots had been plucked by the time we were done (guess why)! It was a great opportunity to connect with yet more educators, and lots of fun was to be had as you can see:
A little collection of my Dinner Selfies;
Apologies to everyone for poor quality
due to lack of my skill as photographer!
For various reasons I was unable to stay for the Friday, but I have enjoyed reading other people's tweets, blog posts and comments about it.

There was a little bit of chatter on twitter if we should have overseas keynotes or rather showcase NZ talent. My humble opinion is that we don't get to see and hear enough overseas experts in New Zealand and I really appreciated the opportunity to be at their sessions in person. Being online for much of my professional learning, I still really appreciate the opportunity to connect with people face-to-face. I can see the point though to ensure we have our fabulous NZ talent represented in Keynotes, too.

Image Source
Watching the #ulearn14 twitter stream on Tweetdeck was adding a whole new dimension to this and other sessions; reading the reflections, quotes, comments other tweets made about the presentation, the connections they made with other context, the replies to left to other tweets, adding to the original thought, was simply mind blowing! Where shared Google Docs give us a digital piece of paper to collaborate on, the sheer number of people trying to access them made it impossible for me to use reliable, but instead I am reading the tweeted notes of my buddies, special mention to +Kassey Downard here, which have been storified for easier access, some of which you can find here:

Twitter has also allowed for the presenters to connect with the audience in a new way; with the tweets being viewable by everyone on the big screen via, the backstream allowed for presenters to react to audience questions, comments, confusion, straight away, something esp. Katie Novak made very good use of.
Image Source

Connecting the dots
Overall I can see that a lot of the topics I have involved myself in over the last year or so are very relevant to education in New Zealand and further afield. We are talking about personalising learning, about making learning accessible to all students, about taking down classroom walls by connecting with educators and learners beyond our classes, our schools, our communities and our country. Technology is an essential tool to this when used efficiently. At the same time, we (as the education community) are taking students' knowledge and skills gained outside the traditional classroom more seriously; teachers are no longer the only experts. A wider range of topics than previously is now entering the classrooms, even at primary level, including robotics, coding etc.
I was mulling about the keynotes I heard for a while. As I have said above, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Katie Novak's session. I have been thinking a lot about Prof. Yoram Hapaz' session, the main ideas I took with me was that a school needs to follow one 'ideology' (I would like to say vision) to be most successful, and that the dominant ideology in NZ schools was not what the attendees thought should be the dominant ideology. I like to work in my schools from the school's vision for learning, but I am planning to think more about how schools can ensure that this vision is represented in the way learning happens across the school. Sadly I don't think I paid enough attention to Adam Lefstein's keynote though he talked about professional learning which is my field! Note to self: How can I ensure I am fully present at afternoon sessions??

Summing it up
This year, my second time attending and presenting at Ulearn has been a very different experience from last year. I have truly felt connected on many different levels. Friendships that have begun online have been deepened and extended - thanks so much everyone, especially +Annemarie Hyde! I started missing people as soon as I hopped on the plane very early Friday morning! While my adventures will take my abroad next year (more on this in another post), I truly feel I am connected to the NZ education community, and while geographical distance will have an impact, the online connections will continue.
One a more personal note I have also learnt about myself that indeed I do have things to share that others feel useful (which still surprises me often!). My efforts to connect better with attendees at my UDL / GAFE session have mainly stemmed from my experience from last year (you can read about this here). This year my evaluations have been positive, and while I wish we wouldn't have had to deal with connectivity issues, we coped well.

Image Source
I would like to thank Cognition Education for giving me the opportunity to attend Ulearn14 on their behalf, the attendees for booking into my workshops, attending these and asking some fantastic questions, and the organisers and support staff for making it all happen! I will try my best to attend Ulearn15 in Auckland!


  1. What a lovely post Monika which sums up so well the busy-ness and variety that is ULearn. I loved reading about the sessions you attended and the keynotes from you perspective - I agree lots of new connections made and old ones rekindled.

  2. Thank you for so many shout outs. I think it was a fabulous conference this year, not only because of the content, but because of the relationships that so many of us have developed through Twitter. There is a feeling that the flock has come back together. The feathers at the dinner were very apt! As speakers we have gained confidence and depth in our content. Loved having you here.


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