Flat Classroom Conference – Beijing 2011



Well, what a weekend we had. Yes, another one! Following on from my adventures in Shanghai the week before with ISCMS (see previous post), I attended the Flat Classroom Conference Beijing 2011 which was hosted by my school, Beijing BISS International School. A great achievement, particularly for my friend and colleague, Julie Lindsay who is one of the founders of the ‘Flat Classroom’ movement alongside her co-founder Vicki Davis. Congratulations too, to Kim Kofino for her great presentations and ‘presence’ at the conference.

We saw many smiling faces of kids from all over the world – which surely was the measure of the success of the conference. For some of the students, this trip to Beijing was the first time they had left their home countries and all feedback from the young participants was positive. I must also take my hat off to BISS for doing a great job hosting the delegates. As my wife Penny says, ‘BISS punches above its weight!’ yet again.

The idea is simple, really. Flatten the walls surrounding the classroom (metaphorically speaking) – in other words, lose the barriers to communication and collaboration. The world really is becoming flat (maybe Galileo got it wrong!).

Check out the hash tag #flatclass2011 on Twitter to see many interesting tweets packed with useful links from the conference.

Highlights for me were sharing ideas and skills with friends from all over the world. I loved the sessions on Visual Literacy (basic film-making) run by Frank Guttler who describes himself as a ‘film/video educator’. He gave us so much technical information which will be useful in the future and his manner was easy-going and patient with video novices like me. I also enjoyed being reminded of digital tools such as QR Codes – look out for them appearing all over BISS soon! Many thanks to the dozen or so students who each presented a different useful digital tool to us on the last morning .

I was less impressed with the sessions on Instructional Design, which for me and possibly many of the young people were too burdened with edu-speak and procedure. The fundamental ideas seemed good, but I believe the intention of making ‘instruction’ easier to implement, ironically, backfired in this particular example of ‘instruction’. By breaking all the steps of planning down and giving them a name (and the inevitable acronym), I believe, people’s creativity in designing their projects in a short timeframe (a weekend conference) was hindered by confusing templates and instructions. Perhaps the groups who were brainstorming some great ideas, might have had better results if just left alone to create and encouraged more at the end of the process. Just my opinion, of course. The other thing I did not enjoy, was having our project design ‘assessed’ and given a ranking against other ‘entries’. A poorly-conceived rubric was applied to our work, which we had not been given until after the task was finished. Also, I felt that the elements being assessed were not particularly relevant in judging whether a project concept was worthwhile or likely to be implemented. We as educators should be careful to apply meaningful assessment – especially to fellow teachers! Check out my group’s idea for a collaborative project called LIPS (Local Issues People Share). Who knows, we might just do it!

Congratulations to all involved with a terrific Flat Classroom Conference – especially to Julie, Vicki, Kim and all those great students! Kudos to you all.

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Gerard Dutton

International music teacher and performer. Have worked in Australia, Vietnam, Tonga, New Zealand, China and Myanmar. Studied in Australia and USA.

4 thoughts on “Flat Classroom Conference – Beijing 2011”

  1. Thank you for the great feedback. As you know, the leadership strand was a work in progress and our “alpha version” and many of the suggestions you have were echoed by others at the conference who wanted more of what the students had in terms of a competition, etc. I guess the struggle on the leadership side is that we HAVE to be more detailed than students. Our question is “How can we integrate global collaboration into all subjects?” And to do this we have to have specific, detailed information to get approval and take it into schools. That is an obstacle and we felt face to face was a good way to do this.

    I guess it is a struggle – maybe it was too much to hope to do this in a weekend but somehow we want our working models of global collaboration to be more than just the idea we get from the students. I don’t know if this makes sense but I’m open to suggestions now that the big picture is out here on the table for you to review.

    We need to be collaborating in every subject area. But yes, the rubric for the leadership strand should have been out earlier – you have many great suggestions here for us to review.

  2. Yes, a great conference and congratulations to all the organizers and also to all of the BISS helpers and ambassadors!

    I agree with you on the assessment issue as our group had a hard time hitting an unknown target with what I really thought was a winning project… which like you ‘we might just do’! And so to that end, this truly was a winning conference! How many conferences have you been to that didn’t just talk about global collaboration, but inspired you to create one and then do it?

    That said, I like that our project was judged because I think educators often shy away from critical feedback and the feedback we got wasn’t ‘your project wasn’t good enough’, but rather, ‘hey, if you are going to do this, you need to think about these things…’ Also, it made me interested in seeing what the other projects were like and thinking about what would make them work.

    In the end… a great conference and also a great blog post by you, which offers feedback to make the next conference better!

    I’m still working on my blog post- coming soon!

  3. Gerard, thanks for your frank review. Yes, we are working through the best way to run the Leadership strand of the event. On one hand we want to promote innovation, interesting ideas and concepts that students have reviewed as potentially exciting in the classroom (which is why we asked all educator teams to pitch their ideas in front of student teams for feedback), however on the other we want more rigor and process and standardization so that the BEST developed projects can go through as exemplars for global collaboration and possibly be adopted as Flat Classroom partner projects. The fact that three emerged as the ‘winning’ teacher projects does not mean all others did not meet these standards, at least in part, but as a finale we asked the cohort leaders to decide based on the (yes, we know it was late coming out) rubric.
    So, your feedback is very valuable to help us improve this next time! I do hope you continue to work with your team post-conference and implement your ideas, that is what we want to see…..make LIPS come alive. Reach out to us to help you do this if you want. Let’s not forget all of these great ideas and leave them stuck on a wiki, let’s get them into the classroom and into the learning situation.

  4. Thank you so much Gerard! It was such a pleasure to back at BISS again – you’re lucky to be part of such a forward thinking school! I’m just about to write my own post about the conference and the one thing that stands out for me (both times that I’ve participated) is how engaging and inspiring the mixed sessions with students and teachers are. I just love the energy in the room and the connections we can facilitate, not just between teachers, but between students and teachers. This is the way all conferences should be! Looking forward to the next time we meet in the real world 🙂

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