I thoroughly enjoyed the first day of the ETA Conference of 2010 – I think the Technology Park as a venue has improved markedly since the last time we were there. it was also heartening to see some younger teachers there – the profession needs to have younger teachers to learn what makes the subject of English tick. In other words, help them see beyond their own school context and beyond Naplan, Myschool and HSC results.
It was also great to see a keynote address provided by a new text world provocateur in Sherman Young. It was pretty clear that he has a clear(ish) vision of what we as English teachers will face in the next few years and decades. For many in the room, I was wondering what they made of the ideas of the impact of technology on the act of reading and responding. There were probably many who were comforted with the notion that students may start reading novels again, now that they are available on the Kindle or iPad. That is not, however, the point of Sherman’s vision.
The main thing I liked about Sherman’s talk was that he has a liking and link to the past – in that he likes books – but he presented ideas on how the ‘book’ will be re-invented, fragmented and sustained. All at once. It was, though, a positive vision and came with glimpses into how teachers could get their head and teaching styles around the teaching of English in this world.
Telling also were the answers to questions posed by Eva Gold and Mark Howie. Sherman is spot on in relation to the National Curriculum in English being about going beyond the medium and going to the core values of what you are intending to do with the subject. This is what a number of people do not quite get with technology – it’s simply a tool for the delivery and creation of ideas and information. It’s a great way to deliver it and create it, for sure, but it shouldn’t be the focus. As I said to people, it shouldn’t be remarkable to see people with ipads at the conference – everyone should have them. They are a great organising tool, a way to reduce clutter of paper, books, bulky laptops and other stuff we carry everywhere. Mark Howie’s question about students placing themselves more into the story, making it more personalised, is also a crucial question for all of us as teachers. The Web 3.0 phenomenon of personalising people’s experiences provides possibilities of a barrier-free responder/composer interchange. That would get teachers excited. Some of us who experience students who want to receive, not create ideas, would love to see a change in this. I don’t know, though, that technology will make more teenagers from the western suburbs want to interact with Wuthering Heights on any level.
The workshops were interesting, in that technology still seems a bit of a mystery to most English teachers. This is due in part to the dizzying array of sites and apps around, but I also think it’s due to the distinctly un- user friendly nature of Windows machines and the way they connect to wireless networks. It could also be that most English teachers still love their books and paper. Looking around during the opening plenary proved that most English teachers still like the old technology. No matter the age.
The younger teachers, though, are a bit of a concern. I talked to one who thought that tweeting during the conference was the act of a ‘nerd’. She, along with a number of professionals, need to see Twitter as a way to build professional learning networks, as well as a way to share information and learning with others at a conference in other workshops or to people at home or at work who could not make the conference. It would be good to see more people in their 20s tweeting next year, so the number of active tweeters can go into double figures.