One month ago, I found myself on edge as the chair of the annual CESI conference. It was the Friday of the TeachMeet, and I was tired. I had been working on the conference since September, and undertaking it is a real commitment – akin to taking on an extra part-time job. I was excited about the conference, but I was worn out, and when anyone asked how I was, I kept replying, ‘I just wish it was March already’. Little did I know…
I was really proud of the programme. I had convinced the executive to enlist Bryan Mathers to create some Visual Thinkery for CESI, and he also agreed to be our capstone speaker. Cornelia Connolly, a colleague from NUI Galway and CESI executive member, had agreed to keynote. I was content that our guest speakers would be critical, thoughtful, and creative as we assessed the conference theme, ‘Our Evolving Learning Landscape’. Sure, I’m a bit heavy-handed with the alliteration, but given that Leaving Cert Computer Science is set to be examined for the first time in 2020, and computing is now ubiquitous across the Irish curriculum, I thought it was fitting.
The rich conference programme provided attendees with six streams to choose from on the day, along with great talks and panel sessions. In particular, Bryan’s capstone stood out as he drew live while the audience participated. He had produced these two images for our conference, one posing questions, and one providing answers.
I loved the imagery. I had enlisted Bryan to work with us not only because I’m a fan, but because I thought he could capture the rich nature of CESI’s work. CESI is a voluntary, grassroots organisation that prides itself on community, support, and fun. I wanted Bryan to illustrate the work, people, and joy that CESI serves to create.
He ended his capstone talk with a blank version of that image on his iPad, and he asked the audience what they thought was part of the evolving learning landscape. This is what emerged.
As the organiser, I barely had time to reflect on the conference before all schools and colleges in Ireland closed. I had taken a little time to rest, reconnect with friends, and get organised again, but it all seemed to happen so quickly. What stuck out as I did try to get my head around things, was the ‘What’s coming?’ at the centre of the image. On the day of the conference, I’m sure the context around this statement drew more from policy, innovations, research, or even trends. Now it just seems ominous.
We’re all adapting to the new normal. Moving to learn online, as we all know, it not easy and it is not a quick fix for more pressing issues such as health and access. So many educators are putting in time and effort into helping others, and critically pointing out issues around ed tech ethics and access. Indeed, part of what was to come is the wave of innate generosity of so many educators willing to help and support each other through a very new landscape.
During the conference, I chaired a panel discussion inspired by another of Bryan’s images, Open Asynchronous Professional Development.
This image had arisen from a discussion on CESI’s active mailing list, where a few thousand educators across Ireland communicate and collaborate asynchronously to offer advice, support, and encouragement. I was delighted to secure Rebecca O’Neill (Wikimedia Ireland), Catherine Cronin (National Forum), Mags Amond (PhD Researcher and CESI ambassador), and Pat Seaver (CESI Executive) for the session.
Again, I hadn’t had much time to reflect on the session before our schools and colleges closed. By the time I revisited it, I could only wonder how the conversation might have differed two weeks later? In such a short time, open asynchronous professional development was what so many educators were seeking. The CESI list, for anyone that follows it, is a hotbed of activity right now and has proven itself as a top-notch resource.
On Twitter, the hashtag #edShareIE has started to gain momentum, and from that our panelist, Mags Amond, reached out to Bryan Mathers to create this stunning remix of the original image. I’ll let her explain her thinking about this, but I was heartened to see some positivity emerging from our work in these dark times.
The sun continues to shine, the flowers are growing, and educators are helping each other. A month ago, not many in attendance would have thought we would be adding a ‘global pandemic’ or ‘fully online teaching’ to that list of what was to come, but here we are, and there are so many other areas to focus on as educators, many of which came up at the conference. We have opportunities, risks to take, and ethics to uphold. We have our local and global communities. Most importantly, we still have hope, love, and connections, even from afar.