I have just participated in a conference in Florence, Italy, which had a focus on the future of education, sponsored by Indire, an Italian educational research organization in Florence. It was an old model for a conference where we sat and listened to presenters all morning (the traditional process did not match the evolutionary content, but I guess you have to start with a process where people are comfortable). The afternoon program was another three hours of presentations, no breaks, no interaction. At the end of the day, there was an interesting performance by a mime, and in between different session, they showed a silent video on the wall in the auditorium, with different people walking by and peering into the camera. In many ways I felt like I was in the middle of a Fellini movie! It reminded me of the experience I had in college, watching La Strada, and not understanding the movie or the culture. This movie and mime performance seemed like the same experience.
I provided the last presentation on the second morning and I included a little group interaction at the beginning. After I was done, they allowed 30 minutes of questions from the audience, but most of the questions were really speeches, all in Italian, of course. We all had wireless translation devices with earphones, they could hear the translation from English (most of the presentations) and we could hear the introductions and discussion by the presentation chairs (all in Italian). Actually, I was surprised at how well the bilingual translation worked for me.
We were told that this was actually the first International Education Conference held in Italy in quite a few years. All of the presenters were from outside of Italy, although I was the only one from the U.S. Other presenters were from Iceland, Holland, France, Australia, England, and Spain. There were about 400 educators present. But I could tell that they had little experience with this type of event: no coffee breaks, all sitting in one room, no interaction until the very end. But it was an interesting experience. I met some great people, and I still have a workshop to do on Monday afternoon for a smaller group at the Indire office. I think they want me to teach a distance class for them on electronic portfolios (no traveling, they said!). We'll see what happens and how it would work.
I'm glad I made the decision to come to this conference. I now realize that my initial impressions about this event was from their relatively inexperience with this type of event. I think I added a different dimension to the event, especially after I showed my granddaughter's 2nd grade portfolio and autobiography as an example of an electronic portfolio with a digital story. They applauded after her story was over. The Italian version of the portfolio is more of an assessment record kept by the teacher, not owned by the student. Teachers resent the additional effort (no wonder!). This is another example of the perversion of the concept of the portfolio, co-opted by a government for large scale assessment. My perspective provided a very different definition for them. One gentleman held up his wallet: that was his portfolio to keep valuable little items inside. I said that was very similar to an educational portfolio, containing valuable items for the learner to keep.
[posted from an Internet cafe in Florence]