Great educators, great community, great future - CESI12

 That CESI Feeling

Last weekend I attended briefly at #CESI12 - the Computer Education Society of Ireland Annual Conference and the curtain-raiser teachmeet event, #CESIMeet.  The teachmeet involved educators taking the floor for very short, focussed presentations to share their direct experience with some aspect of technology and learning.  Running alongside that was a raffle, much merriment and a general air of camaraderie - lead by an amiable and very able Bean an Tí, Mags Amond.  That sense of fun is the immediate impression you get of CESI.  Another striking note is that CESI has been going for many, many years.  A quick look at the about page tells you that CESI was initially constituted in 1973.  So, teachers have been gathering like this for decades, in their own time, to share, show and encourage each other and you can feel that depth of commitment and connection throughout the event.  


Photo montage by Mags Amond - 


What brought me to CESI
For me, the initial novelty of the event was putting faces to the many Irish educational Twitterati who were in attendance.  As a part-time educator on fully online and blendedprogrammes, one of the things I miss out on is meeting colleagues regularly face-to-face.  So, Twitter plays that role really well for me.  I get to share interesting links, ideas and opinions on education with some wonderful teachers and learners.  Twitter also helps me as a parent of three primary school children who has recently become involved in our local Board of Management and a fledgling Parents' Council. I get insights into education policy in Ireland, access to an invaluable community of practice and connections that would never be open to me otherwise.  In other words, this technology is opening up new worlds of learning for me.


Putting faces to Twitter names
So, it was great fun to finally meet the likes of @Pamelaaobrien, @Gravesle the aforementioned @MagsAmond, the inimatable @Saorog, @JohnMayo, @lismiss, @donenda, @sccenglish, 7mjb, @anseoamuinteoir, @seomraranga, @simonmlewis, @annemmcm, @NL_84 _ConorGalvin and many others - including friend and mentor, @CatherineCronin who encouraged me to come along in the first place.   


Click to view an interactive visualisation of CESI12 tweets



The mix of Educators

These educators represent every stream of our educational system and they are enabling young people right across the country to leverage the opportunities presented by new ways of learning with technology.  That esoteric mix of educators - from those working with Junior Infants right up to those advising PHd candidates makes CESI a unique experience.



Making real-world connections
I was particularly pleased to meet Damien Quinn aka @seomraranga - firstly because his school is relatively close to ours and he shares some wonderful insights in his blog. But last year he did something which really grabbed my attention: he brought some of his young primary school pupils to #CESI11 (I tuned in on Twitter last year).  Damien also uses the blog and Twitter to give his young charges direct and safe exposure to the wider online world.  He makes the space for them to participate and to learn in new ways.  To me that's very powerful.  
Our education systems cannot ignore the opportunities afforded by new media and they have a duty to guide our young people as they develop their formative digital identity.  At CESI, Damien kindly extended an invitation to our school to visit his and to share knowledge and ideas.  So, I'm really excited about how that might influence our school's use of technology in the future. 



A flavour of CESI contributions
To get a flavour of #CESI presenations - here's a list of blog reviews compiled by Damien Quinn:

From the many CESI presentations, there was an emphasis not just on technology per se - but on helping young students to find their element and spark their imaginations.  There was also a recognition that technology is playing an ever-increasing role in helping young people form and shape their identity and teachers are not shying away from supporting and guiding them through that.

Talking Women in Tech
Before CESI kicked off, I also had the opportunity to meet some tech women to talk about how we can help make the tech sector a more welcoming place for young women - and indeed how we can encourage more women to stay in technical careers.  Research shows [PDF] a poor participation rate for women and a tendency for those who do start in tech to bail out mid-career.  
In the following days, this discussion also prompted me to look at how technology is enabling women in my day job. There was a definite shifting in my perspective and I hope to examine this in more detail.  The cross-fertilisation of ideas and perspectives at CESI seems to prompt this kind of shift.  I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes!


Talking Women in Tech with Pamela O'Brien, Catherine Cronin, Stephen Howell & Leigh Graves Wolf - Photo by Scott Wolf



Opensource Heroes
One more surprise from the Friday night CESI Meet was the presentation by James Crook, a member of the programming team behind the hugely successful Audacityaudio editing program.  An audible gasp went around the room after the unassuming Crook asked if anyone had heard of Audacity.  He went on to invite a crowdsourced Irish translation of the application before receiving a huge round of applause by the awed attendees.  Another bit of CESI magic.



A feeling that real change starts here
The most potent reason for anyone to consider attending CESI next year, is the feeling that this sort of grassroots event is where real change and growth emerges.  If you get the chance, come along next year!  Catherine Cronin put it like this:


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