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Ulearn14: Learning & connections

Last week I had the privilege of attending NZ’s most awesome education conference – Ulearn. This conference always has great speakers from around New Zealand and the world, and attracts a large number of teachers—this year was no exception.


This was the third Ulearn conference I had attended, but the second time that I’ve really made the most of being there by connecting with other teachers and educators, most of whom I’ve “met” virtually through Twitter. This for me is a big deal because, as I’ve said in previous posts, I’m not great face-to-face. I’m quite happy to talk online but sometimes find it hard in person. However, I think because I’ve already connected with many of these people through Twitter, I felt like I already knew them and could already relate!

I was also able to attend my second Twitter Dinner. This is an evening where fellow tweeters get together to share a meal and meet face-to-face. It’s great to hear all the, “Oh, you’re <insert twitter handle here>!” Thanks Annemarie for organising this great event!

Capturing learning

I started the conference strong, taking notes, tweeting, capturing my learning. It was long before my notes got shorter and shorter and then eventually non-existent as I headed back to 140 character note-taking and continued connection with others through Twitter. I’ve never been a big note taker so this is where I love twitter as I can benefit from the collective note taking/key points of other conference attendees through the back-channel. It’s also an opportunity to be able to grab any key links or other resources that might get shared by the attendees so you’re not limited to what the presenter can share themselves.


While I could probably write a lot about all of the keynotes and breakouts I went to, I’m only going to briefly mention two of them. These are the two that really stood out for me.

Katie Novak

The first is the keynote by Katie Novak. Katie shared about UDL—Universal Design for Learning. [You can find her presentation and other links on her website]

UDL is [from Wikipedia]:

Recognizing that the way individuals learn can be unique, the UDL framework, first defined by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the 1990s, calls for creating curriculum from the outset that provides:

  • Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

Probably the biggest questions that was coming up on Twitter around UDL is, “How is this different from differentiation?” and “Aren’t we already doing this?”. I quickly found an answer to the first question in this blog post. In regards to the second question, I imagine that some might be doing it, but I would argue that many aren’t, even if they know about it. What i think often happens at conferences like Ulearn is that we get the people that do know or want to know more and are willing to put the effort into their teaching practice etc, but those that aren’t already doing it and need to know about it are the ones that don’t come. But of course that’s another issue!

While I really like UDL and plan to find out a lot more about it, and she shared a lot of excellent stuff to get people thinking, what stood out for me from this presentation was actually her style of presentation. Yes, she was keynoting so there was a bit of talking from the front of the room. She did have over 1700 people she was talking to! But… she also got people talking amongst themselves. She engaged them! Katie also answer questions from the twitter feed. But probably the biggest thing for me was that she got down off the stage and talked to people during the discussion times. That’s what really stood out for me. It wasn’t simply a lecture but an opportunity to engage and engage with the people in the room.

Michaela Pinkerton

The second stand-out presentation for me was a breakout by Michaela Pinkerton called “Kai for kaiako”.

Michaela really focused on teachers and in particular their professional learning. She shared some excellent thoughts. Instead of me summarising what she talked about I’m going to embed a few of the key tweets.

Nearly at the end…

So all-in-all Ulearn was once again fantastic! There were a lot of takeaway messages from great presenters. Connections were made and networks have grown. AND friendships were also developed!

The best part in my mind is that the learning hasn’t stopped. We’re 4 days since the end of the conference and the #ulearn14 hashtag is still going on twitter as teachers are reflecting on their learning through blogging, sharing with their colleagues, asking further questions and continuing to build connections.

And since Ulearn fell into Connected Educator Month, we’ve still got 17 more days of #cenz14 goodness to go! Keep connecting, learning and growing!

Finally… I just have to share this last tweet. Annemarie took a few of us on a little bit of a tiki tour on Saturday morning. I arrived back at the airport with about 1 minute to go until I was supposed to board my flight! Luckily I had already checked in!

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