ULearn10 (6-8 October 2010) is “New Zealand’s premier education conference” according to CORE Education, the organizer. It is a huge teacher conference with approximately 1,800 participants from all over New Zealand. Some Aussies could also be spotted.
Everybody congregated in Christchurch and I guess hoped that there wouldn’t be any major aftershocks. We were lucky. Though there were plenty of minor quakes that couldn’t be felt, only 4 bigger ones (above 4.2) happened during the week. Early arrivals felt the 5.0 (10th biggest earthquake since September 4, 2010) Monday night. The other three were Tuesday night and 2 on Friday early morning. I was happy to be in a safe hotel that was fitted with earthquake plates.
But back to the conference. Together with Open Systems Specialists and TechnologyWise, Catalyst IT had the Open Source Schools stand in the exhibitor hall. We were one of the few exhibitors who did not sell smartboards / projectors that turned ordinary whiteboards into smartboards. At least that’s what it looked like in our area of the exhibitor hall.
Our aim was to let participants know about open source software and its use in school. I particularly talked about the e-portfolio software Mahara, but also Moodle and Koha when I had a chance to do so. Mark Osborne from Albany Senior High School spent some time at our stand to show conference participants how his school uses these three online systems for learning and teaching.
It was great to hear the accounts of conference participants who came to our stand and proudly told us they are already using Linux / Ubuntu at their school and also introduced or are introducing other open source software to their school community. Others did not know (much) about open source and wanted to learn more more.
We also had two breakout sessions in which Mahara featured: Mine was on October 6. Louise Bray-Burns (Hampton Hill School) and Helen Moran (Tawa Intermediate School) talked about their experiences with Mahara using the hosted service MyPortfolio on October 7. Being in their session, I got a glimpse of student portfolios as well as Helen’s teacher portfolio. Furthermore, the three of us assisted the participants when they took their first steps in MyPortfolio.
Our booth was well-visited throughout the conference. Being in direct line of view during morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea didn’t hurt because people had time to look at our banners while in the queue. 🙂
Thanks to my fellow stand colleagues, I could go to Steve Wheeler‘s keynote “Transformation and inspiration through social media: Meeting the needs of the 21st Century Learner”. I had not seen or heard him speak live since December 2007 when we first met. His presentation was very lively and I particularly liked the storytelling style that he had adopted to bring across his message. A recording of the keynotes will be posted to the ULearn web site. We also had a brief chat on the last day of the conference. It was not easy to spot him among the hundreds of participants. Eventually a tweet helped us to get together.
ULearn10 was a success in my eyes because we could interest conference participants in open source software and talk about its possibilities. We did not do that only in general terms, but sometimes discussions went very specific and we gave short demonstrations on some of the software that is already used in schools.
The organization during the conference was exceptional. A big thank you to the organizers, the set up, catering and tech teams. And also to the student assistants who made sure that presenters had everything they needed in their rooms. Thus, a special shoutout to Rory from Christ’s College who was on duty during my breakout session in ICT1.
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