Educators' eyes opened at ULearn 2011

Awns 19390621 P046 I001 Z

Auckland Weekly News, 21 June 1939. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19390621-46-1. No known copyright.

Last week I was given the fantastic opportunity to show educators DigitalNZ and Mix and Mash at the annual ULearn conference in Rotorua.  ULearn is the largest teaching and learning conference in New Zealand with over 1800 educators in attendance.

I have presented these topics before and I am always amazed that there are some teachers who haven’t used DigitalNZ before. Amazed and excited actually, because I know that I am about to show them something hugely useful and relevant that they will take away and be able to implement with their classes immediately. 

At Services to Schools, we discuss the skills students need to follow an inquiry process, like finding information from a variety of sources and in a variety of formats. This lends authenticity and credibility to the information and when using it to make something new, different sources provide multiple perspectives and a deeper layering and understanding of a story. DigitalNZ, of course, makes this easy.

We have been very keen to encourage student entries into the Mix and Mash competition as it is such a great outlet for creative use of New Zealand digital content.  It also ties in beautifully to many aspects of the curriculum. To increase confidence in teachers this year, we created Free to Mix; An educator’s guide to reusing digital content.  The guide provides a whole heap of tips and ideas and links that will enable teachers and librarians to help students understand, find and use New Zealand digital content. We discuss copyright and Creative Commons, the best places to find material for reuse, what to do to enter the competition and a whole lot more that will keep a school’s creative remix community buzzing well beyond the six weeks of the competition.

One thing that surprised and delighted the teachers at the ULearn workshop was the achievability of some of the entries. When they saw the Mix and Mash Supreme Creative Remix winning entry, A Grand Mother, they realised that you don’t need advanced technical skills when you have a great narrative. Year 12 student Casey Carsel’s entries showed history, heritage and humour as well as a huge variety of well attributed resources. 

Our favourite Mix and Mash primary school entry was Pt England School embodies the spirit of the competition and just looks like a lot of fun. Another entry reflected work that was completed for NCEA credits, and others demonstrated learning that began in class and extended beyond their normal coursework.

In lots of different ways, the teachers at the session felt positive and empowered and challenged in a variety of ways. One of the participants, a school librarian, became motivated to create a Digital NZ custom search related to the school wide topic for Term 4 and publish it on her library blog. 

Another participant felt motivated to show her entire school staff the digital stories that were entered this year and use them to inspire digital storytelling work in all the classes in his school. 

One teacher found an image of some students in her school from about 100 years ago and decided this image would be a centrepiece in their jubilee work.

Even as I was delivering the workshop, one teacher began uploading information from my talk to her Learning Management System. Her students were easily able to find links to Creative Commons, Digital NZ and inspirational digital stories in their own learning environment before she’d even left the workshop. 

These things are easy to do for educators but hugely empowering for the students who will learn about the rich resources in New Zealand’s digital collections.  Students will use these resources to make their own heritage materials and become an active part of the global creative community.