Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The great debate - DEANZ 2010

Teaching ePortfolios: Department of Natural Sc...Image by hazelowendmc via Flickr
The debate panel was comprised of Simon Atkinson, Niki Davis, Terry Neal, Nicki Page, Peter Guiney, and Derek Wenmoth. The judges were Liz Burge, Terry Anderson, and Bill Anderson.

The debate point was that the new places, spaces and tools of learning produce better outcomes and opportunities for learners.

Derek Wenmoth opened with a positive spin, first opening with a question as to what constitutes 'new', and emphasising the desire to continually improve. Technology was used as a term which embraces spaces, places and contexts. Transmission stands at the top end, rather than mediated experiences. He quoted a range of comments throughout the ages around technology; e.g. 1703 - "teachers today cannot prepare their bark quick enough - they have to rely on their slates. What do they do when their slates break?"!

Simon 'the slayer' Atkinson was up next, and opened with the 3,000 year old story of the one eyed monk. The monks were wandering in the foothills, and if they wanted hospitality they would often have to debate. The novice monk was one-eyed, deaf and mute. They went up the hill to a monastery, and after 5 minutes the old monk left. The points from the story were that there was no technology at that time, and that it took no technology to tell the story...it seemed perhaps a little spurious!! It was also followed by a small stunt where one of the against team rang Simon on his mobile to interrupt his 5-minute against.

Terry Neal was up next speaking for the affirmative. She was up front in saying that there was little to refute in Simon's points. Terry talked about two meta-analyses from 2009 that illustrated that there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that "stronger learning" outcomes are being achieved in blended environments when compared to only face-to-face education. She then mentioned meaningful examples of new places, spaces and tools, including those that were personally known, in particular those related to real-life skills.

Nicki Page was the next speaker for the negative. Her suggestion was that we don't know where to draw the line. A lively, humorous presentation, it seemed to be designed to be derogatory toward some of the key advances in education (and some of the other panel members). It was funny, but I felt it was set out to pull down the positive aspects of ICT enhanced learning and teaching, rather than making a serious point for the negative team.

Nicki Davis up next. She started by saying that students were being ignored which is why we have had to move to new places and spaces. As we move into the 21st century we have to realise who we haven't been reaching (including teachers). In NZ learners are being brought into these new spaces and places. She showed the NZ eLearning cluster map showing which schools are collaborating. Nicki made the point that blended learning has doubled annually in the USA since the advent of the first virtual high school. Some of the kids being reached are those that refuse to go to school - and they are being encouraged to participate (e.g. in the UK 'Not School'). Who are the learners we have not reached before (for instance those with low literacy and numeracy).

Peter Guiney was next for the negative. He started by refuting the examples and evidence of the other team. He made a good point about "where's the new stuff"? asking why people had not been referring to the future, but rather pointing to the past. Power to the students was the closing, rallying cry!

One minute rebuttals followed the 5 minute points. The negative team undermined the validity of the backchannel being shown on the screens during the debate, and voiced the desire to drown out the Twitter feed. The point was made that we are forcing our view of the world on students. Derek Wenmoth went back for evidence - the Massey Web site was down, but then found some research about Voicethread and Web 2.0 research with positive outcomes, then referred to the research around Midwifery and Second Life, and finally pointed out to MoE research and the fact that it was all written by the 'negative' half of the panel.

The judges wrap-up was insightful and amusing. Pulling together key points from both teams, the first judge came down on the side of the positive, and the next on the negative. Liz Burge did the final wrap up return on investment for students, elegance, and integrity (delivering on the expectations of students). The winners were therefore the negative team!

I wonder why they didn't ask the audience?????? (talking of learner expectations!!). I suspect there will be lively debate around the outcome. For me, the negatives just tried to shoot the positive team down in flames with no real substance to their arguments, and no evidence to support their points of view - not that I'm biased in any way of course ;-)

Feedback from a couple of people from the audience I met afterwards, however, felt that the judges decision was right - because there had been no debate, so the only thing that could be judged was entertainments value...and the negatives were certainly were entertaining! In part, it was felt that the lack of debate was because the moot was a truism, and you can't debate it truism.

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