Innovate 2015: The Power of Learning Together

This year Graded hosted its second Innovate Conference and welcomed over 400 participants to its campus.  As one of the organizers of conference, I missed out on being a full participant, but I did get the chance to step into wonderful sessions led by the likes of Suzie Boss, Ewan McIntosh, Scott McLeod and Joey Lee.

I attended a session by Ewan called, Building Better Ideas Through Creative Conflict.  He took us through a fantastic protocol that helped us anticipate resistance to innovative ideas and plan for how we would negotiate in order to develop sustainable changes at our schools without falling into the trap of compromise.  In the session there were about 30 of us working in groups of 5 or 6.  The room was buzzing with intensity as we all tried to finish our task in the allotted time.

At the end of the session, Ewan pointed out to us the power of being next to so many other educators who were committed to the task at hand.  By witnessing each other's energy, we all were stimulated to match that energy with our own... and this was the story of our conference. The collective focus on learning and the constant sharing through twitter created a momentum that was palpable for all participants.  Inside each session, in the hallways, at the cocktail or coffee break, people were engaged.  Joey Lee commented on the conference in his blog by saying:  "I’ve never seen a group of educators so engaged and passionate about designing learning experiences through innovative approaches."

We shouldn't forget the importance of the social construction of knowledge.  As much as online learning has allowed us to break down barriers and create the possibility for asynchronous learning environments, it cannot replace the power of face-to-face collaboration.  Bill Rankin, Director of Education at Apple, also presented at the conference.  He cited Vygotsky who once stated that "All the higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals." What we saw at innovate was the power of these relations and how they can create synergy towards the accomplishment of goals.  One of the unique elements of the conference that stimulated deeper relationships was the cohort structure.  Twice during the conference learning cohorts came together to reflect on their learning in small groups and make concrete commitments towards implementation on the return to their schools.

In Rankin's session he shared with us an image created in 1910 by French artist Villemard.  It is a fascinating portrait of what the artist imagined education would look like in the year 2000.
Unfortunately Villamard may have been quite prescient in his predictions.  We often hear of so-called innovative practices that merely digitalize passive learning experiences. I am confident that participants at Innovate 2015 have moved past this both conceptually and in practice.  They are re-imagining schools where students take ownership of the learning and collaborate effectively to address real-world issues.

After the conference, our Middle School teachers shared some of their great take-aways from the conference. You can check out their insights by clicking here.


  1. I like the sound of Ewan McIntosh's workshop and will have to do some reading around his work. I also like the sound of the cocktail breaks; seems like a conference I wouldn't mind dropping in on :)


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