By Mary Patterson
In June, I had the privilege of attending the International Computer Supported Collaborative Learning 2015 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.
For four days, I was immersed in the latest research surrounding CSCL and surrounded by experts from 31 countries and 6 continents.
According to the preface to the proceedings, “The CSCL conference has an explicit focus on how and why computer support can enhance learning processes and outcomes. The CSCL field brings together researchers from cognitive science, educational research, psychology, computer science, artificial intelligence, information sciences, anthropology, sociology, neurosciences, and other fields to study learning in a wide variety of formal and informal contexts.”
As the sole, practicing K-12 educator of the group, it was quite interesting to be granted a look behind the curtain and hear the candid comments of researchers as they talked about educators in general.
While most researchers seemed genuinely appreciative of the teachers they collaborated with, there were a few who didn’t quite get the intricacies that teaching entails. One researcher expressed their frustration with a teacher who just didn’t see the importance of a treatment and non-treatment group. The teacher insisted that all students needed the treatment! Of course! Teachers have a duty and responsibility to provide the best education for their students. It would be extremely difficult for any teacher to see a positive effect and then deny it to other students. Perhaps the researcher could avoid this difficult situation by agreeing to flip groups at some point so that all students have an opportunity to experience the treatment. Teachers are held accountable today, more than ever, for the success of their students and researchers need to understand that.
In contrast to typical teacher conferences, where teachers attend in order gain new ideas and strategies that work in the classroom, this academic conference was an opportunity for researchers to share their success and failures, get ideas about further research and network with future collaborators. I was surprised at how easily methods and results were questioned, debated and evaluated. Researchers readily admitted when they didn’t have an answer and suggested further research questions to others. I would love to see more of this at a teacher’s conference. The international and interdisciplinary aspect of the conference also contributed to the collaborative atmosphere. Many teacher conferences are subject and even grade-level specific. Often, there are limited funds to support teacher attendance at conferences and therefore many teachers attend only local and regional conferences. I’d love to see what new ideas would come out of an interdisciplinary education conference! It was also interesting to note that the CSCL conference touted a new, interactive format. Instead of a typical paper presentation, participants listened to a quick synopsis of a paper, then sat in small groups to have discussions with the presenters while a moderator kept time and then had the groups rotate. Teacher conferences tend to be either “sit + get” or hands-on workshops where products are created. It would be interesting to see this interactive format at a teacher conference. I think there could be potential for some very rich conversations.
One area of the conference that I think could use the expertise of an educator is the Poster Session. Seriously! If any of my students put that much stuff on a poster that couldn’t be read from more than a foot away, we’d be having a serious discussion about design elements and graphic displays. While the posters were informative, I personally think that researchers could adopt the practice of, “Less is more!” Poster sessions at a teacher’s conference are usually on actual poster-boards, (not glossy, foam-core mounted displays) and there’s usually a take-away for the teacher; a bookmark or a handout that gives the teacher information they can use later.
Academic conferences are a great way to give people a quick look at what is hot in the field. Current research poses additional questions and this leads to new collaborations and discussions. Teacher conferences are a great way for teachers to share what works in their classrooms. Teachers leave a conference with new strategies and ideas that they can easily implement immediately. I would personally love to see more researchers attend a teacher’s conference and pitch their latest research proposal to teachers, shark tank style, in order to get valuable feedback about how best to implement their plan. Let’s work together to find the best solutions to our education challenges and questions.
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