Education: Do U Learn?

Martin Levins
2 January, 2011
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Now that we’ve seen in the new year, it’s time to reflect on 2010 – in particular how ICT in education fared.

It was the year of iPhone 4, the iPad, NAPLAN comparisons and the Australian Curriculum, with its reduced compulsory ICT.

It was the same year that Julia Gillard moved away from Education (still maintaining the insanity of National Testing), and Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education in the US, proclaimed that everything she had supported regarding National Testing was wrong in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Everything clearer now?

It was also my first year as a participant and presenter at uLearn in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the October break – where the contribution to learning made by national testing was widely deprecated.

I was looking forward to this event, but after that city’s earthquake, thought it may be postponed. Two days after the town was shaken, I received an email informing me that ‘Christchurch Rocks’ and that everything was going ahead announcing that (ahem) ‘some venues had shifted’.

More than 1800 delegates from around New Zealand and overseas took part, and there were 400 speakers including several from Australia, Canada and the UK, and a smaller number from Pacific Isles and Asia.

The hosting body, CORE Education ( is a not-for-profit educational research and development organisation. Its development director, Nick Billowes, says “CORE’s conferences provide a wonderful opportunity to expose, model and explore how teachers are making progress in learning programs, as well as building long-term communities of practice in which we can share, plan and celebrate best practice”.

I was able to attend uLearn courtesy of a scholarship that is open to educators from a recognised Australian learning institution. Staff from both CORE and the Victorian Department of Education adjudicate this award, covering conference registration and $500 for travel and accommodation. Check out the uLearn website ( early in 2011 for details on next year’s event.

Like any conference, the value is in the networking, but this one makes it easy with a brilliantly smooth organisation – and you get to play with Kiwis (the people, not the birds).

Once you get over the All Blacks vs Wallabies discussions and the atrocious attempts to emulate one another’s accent, you enjoy the same self-mocking sense of humour. As an aside, you also see the wonderful effect of the Treaty of Waitangi, whereby any NZ presenter cheerfully relates Maori greetings, fluently. We can learn a lot from this.

Two keynotes stood out: Lane Clark, Canadian, but working in Australia, clicked well with the audience because you could see that she was speaking from her primary classroom experience. Her guide to scaffolded learning was not new, but still useful.

Stephen Heppell closed the show. He is currently a professor at Bournemouth University and chair in New Media Environments (among a heap of other things – see

I know these words will embarrass him, but I’m going to do it anyway: it’s hard to speak about Stephen without resorting to words like wisdom, insight, admiration and humility.

He held delegates gently in the palm of his hand, speaking as if in a fireside chat about the need to celebrate education, then challenged them to speak out about damaging practices such as national testing. Everyone responded with long and loud applause.

See my blog for more.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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