Add conferences to the list of things technology has made over.
The Better Together California Teachers Summit took place at 33 sites Friday, including California State University, Stanislaus. Besides an event phone app, the sites shared video feeds from keynote speakers. Folks at home could follow along through social media and a live stream from the Turlock campus, broadcasting the videos, speakers who called in and online chats.
Each site decided, on the spot, which topics its breakout sessions would cover based on online prioritizing. The app posted the topics chosen and room numbers. Participants in similar workshops across the state all instantly posted their notes, seen by everyone.
The high-tech conference broke new ground for the campus, said Oddmund Myhre, dean of the College of Education, Kinesiology and Social Work. Letting attendees pick their topics of interest “gives everyone a voice,” he said.
“Often, we guess there is a need. This is generated by the teachers,” Myhre said.
He also liked the idea of sharing notes from meetings.
“Often when you have a meeting, whatever comes up disappears after it’s over. This way, we have a record,” he said.
The virtual voting process, developed by EdCamp, let attendees choose from among 120 topics, said Craig Yen, who managed the choosing for Turlock’s conference. The top 10 topics picked in Turlock were presented only minutes later by Stanislaus State instructors who had their key talking points ready to go, then the next 10 rotated in for the second session.
15,000 Number of teachers participating statewide in the 33-site event
About 350 teachers – some in training, others just starting out, but mostly veterans – came to the Turlock event from as far as Elk Grove and Sonora. It was the only site between Stockton and Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. An unknown number tuned in to the live stream from home.
“We didn’t announce it until I went live,” said Robert Pronovost, who coordinated the broadcast and Twitter feed (#CATeachersSummit) from the Turlock campus. The focus was on having teachers come in person, he explained.
By the end of the day, the hashtag collected a mix of enthusiastic teachers and political naysayers focused on an event co-sponsor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Educators at the event said they had not known what to expect but got something useful along the way.
“The exchange of ideas” was what Alice Leonard, a teacher at Curtis Creek Elementary in Sonora, found most useful. “I think you’d be surprised how similar the problems are,” she said.
“Learning new methods – you can’t read all those books,” said Megan Fraser, a teacher in training in Portland, Ore., who was visiting family. Fraser, who plans to be an elementary schoolteacher, said meetings between high school and early grade teachers are rare. “How often do you even talk to (an early kindergarten) teacher?” she asked people at her lunch table.
“The opportunity to meet new people,” said Aimee Campiotti, with the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools office. “Sometimes it’s good to talk to people outside of what you’re doing – to hear how it’s going for them,” she said.
It’s a day about connecting.
Jenna Wachtel, with summit co-organizer
Collaboration – by teachers, for teachers – was the Better Together conference premise, said local organizer Tara Ribeiro, with the university’s College of Education.
“This is focusing on teaching in the field,” she said.
At a session led by Stanislaus State lecturer Callie Kitchen, teachers familiar with Google applications explained how they used them while other teachers sounded dubious.
“It makes it so much easier. You don’t have to carry all those papers,” said one. Some did videos of their lectures or linked to websites where students could get homework help. Others talked about easy assigning, collection and storage of homework and projects. With another link, all the returned essays can be checked for plagiarism, Kitchen said.
“I’m not very tech savvy,” admitted one teacher, who said she tried out some basic applications with her fourth-graders. “They got better at it than me,” she said, asking if anyone knew of an easy way to print out a set of returned assignments.
“Why would you want to print them out?” asked another teacher.
The exchange of ideas, that back and forth, is so important.
Juliana Feriani, Tuolumne County Board of Education
At a session on managing very diverse classes, the talk leader asked for questions and never said another word. Teachers around the classroom took it from there, starting off tackling the issue of far-behind students who do not qualify for special education.
“I accommodated out the wazoo, but it wasn’t enough,” said one teacher, adding she spent all her lunches, after-school time and more trying to bring a child up to grade level.
Teachers from Modesto City Schools, Elk Grove, Stockton, Tuolumne and Mariposa had suggestions, from working with district specialists, to borrowing materials from lower-grade teachers, to teachers trading off lunchtime sessions giving extra help to all kids.
A complaint about celebrating Christian holidays schoolwide, or setting tests on major holidays observed by other religions, brought nods and comments. The issue affects staff members as well as students of other faiths, noted one teacher.
The breakout sessions varied widely, Myhre said. “The strength of it was the knowledge of the facilitators,” he said, “but it really depended on who was in the room.”
The level of collaboration impressed Tuolumne County trustee Juliana Feriani, who also sits on the California Board of Education.
“It really shows how we can support our teachers,” Feriani said.