Photos From EduCon

Another EduCon has flashed by and I’ll have more to say about this weekend a little later. For now, here are a few images I caught from this year’s conference.

The Friday opening panel offered their insights on the topic of curiosity. Moderated by Zac Chase and featuring Stephanie Sandifer, Antero Garcia, RaFranz Davis, and Milton Chen.

Chris Lehmann, SLA founding principal and our host for EduCon.

One of the EduCon discussions, this one wrestling with how to help students find the truth in current events.

Always looking for a new angle to picture the weekend.

Zac Chase, always passionate about whatever he’s presenting.

Cannoli shells waiting for the filling. I was hungry.

The EdTech Boat Shows

Swap the boats for computers and it begins to look familiar.

Happening this week in London is one of the largest edtech conferences in the world, one that many educators in the US have probably never heard of.

It’s called BETT1 and the organizers say it will attract almost 35,000 attendees. For comparison, recent ISTE2 conferences, largest in the US, have included around 22,000 people.

Also happening this week in Orlando, Florida is another large edtech conference, one that is probably quite familiar to anyone reading this, FETC3. They usually attract around 8,000 people. So, big but not nearly the size of the other two.

All three edtech organizations, of course, want us, the common educator, to believe that the event will provide hundreds of professional development opportunities. Ones that address the “future of education” and “transforming education” (in the case of BETT).

Several days that will be an “intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices and pressing issues” (FETC). That will offer “powerful ideas and inspirational speakers, while connecting with innovative educators who share your passion for transformative learning” (ISTE).

However, a large and growing part of these huge conferences is the vendor floor. I would argue it’s the largest, and likely most important, part to these three organizations. Companies pay big bucks to have a presence at these events, even more for a high profile sponsorship, money necessary to keep their budgets in the black.

BETT at least is up front about primarily being an industry trade show, rather than a professional development conference. According to it’s about page, this is the “first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape”. ISTE and FETC are more circumspect on the issue, but their literature still places a heavy emphasis on the number of companies that will be exhibiting at their events.

Ok, I’ve never attended BETT or FETC, and, based on their online programs, I really have no desire to go. (Although I wouldn’t mind visiting London. Anytime.) On the other hand, I have been to ISTE many times (over almost twenty years) and the attraction for that event has been declining.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt my trips to ISTE were worth while, learning much during the time and always making or renewing some wonderful connections. And almost none of that came from visiting the “massive Expo Hall”. I expect that the same would be true if I was at the big events in London or Ontario right now.

But I find that it takes more and more work to find those professional benefits at these overly-large conferences. Considering the number of people I see spending hours in the vendor hall and flocking to the “Cracker Jack” sessions, along with the volume of social media posts about the “cool new” stuff, I’m not sure that’s happening at all for a large percentage of those tens of thousand attendees.

On top of that, the dominance of the edtech industry has steadily grown at these conferences. Large parts of the formal program at ISTE and FETC are now presentations by corporate representatives and sessions by educators sponsored to some degree by those companies. Extending their marketing reach beyond the one hall.

All of which is making these huge conferences more resemble the classic boat show than an education event.


The title for this post is borrowed, with thanks, from Gary Stager. It’s just such a wonderful name for the massive and increasingly flashy vendor floors of these events so I hope he doesn’t mind me using it.

The picture is from the Detroit Boat Show.

1 From the original name the British Educational Training and Technology Show.

2 Anyone else see something wrong about an organization with “international” in it’s title that’s never holds it’s major event outside the US borders? Sorta like the “World” Series.

3 Which started life as the Florida Educational Technology Conference. It was changed to the Future of Educational Technology Conference when the event was purchased by a media company that operates many other business conferences.

Are These Events Necessary?

Going back to the beginning of the summer…

In a podcast discussion with Will Richardson following the ISTE conference, Bruce Dixon made a comment about the need for organizations and conferences like ISTE that has stuck with me.

We always used to say when we had our computer using groups… we’d be successful when we’re no longer needed. And I’m not saying that necessarily ISTE isn’t needed any more, but I do think that half of what it’s doing is trying to strive to hang onto everbody that it has, rather than trying to build towards it’s extinction.

Because if all the professional associations were so embedded with their use of technology that there wasn’t a need for this specialist organization, I think they should see themselves as a success.

It’s very sad when it’s main reason for being is a conference and a vendor floor, and not enough to do with learning.

photo of poster sessions
The poster session at an ISTE conference.

For many years, as I reflected on the trip home from ISTE and other conferences, I’ve often had the same thought. Was that event was worth my time, effort, and money? Should we even be holding special meetings that emphasize technology?

However, another reason why Bruce’s comment and the whole issue of the need for edtech conferences really sticks with me is that I am part of the problem, so to speak.

I’m on the planning committee for the annual conference presented by our state ISTE affiliate, VSTE1 and we are just now gearing up for the event coming up in early December.

To the general question of whether edtech conferences have any validity, I think they still do, although I agree that we may not be working hard enough to put the organizational “edtech” establishment out of business.

For me, this has nothing to do with the vendor floor and only tangentially with the conference program. The value in any meeting like this, big or small, comes from the gathering of many smart people in the same place, and the opportunity for face-to-face discussions. I’m probably old fashioned in that way, but social media and other digital communications have many limitations in their effectiveness to convey ideas.

I worry about many of the people who attend ISTE, VSTE and other educational conferences. They miss many of those opportunities by spending large amounts of time with the marketing people, where most of the conversations are more about selling products than about improved learning.

They also spend too much time sitting in sessions. I realize formal sessions are the core of most conferences, with the keynote speakers often being a major drawing card for attendees. But those lectures are, with rare exceptions, very one-way relationships.

So, for those of us who will be assembling the various parts of our state conference, we have a challenge. To make the time spent by our members both valuable and interactive. Listening, so we can help them connect with new people and ideas, rather than telling them what is important and “hot”.

And to work harder to make the whole event, and the supporting organization, unecessary.

Is that like heresy? Do I have to return my edtech geek badge?

EduCon 2017

Last weekend was one of my favorite times of the year.

I spent a couple of days in a nondescript office building in center city Philadelphia masquerading as a school. This was a small but powerful conference knowns as EduCon, held each year in the depth of the mid-Atlantic winter at the Science Leadership Academy.

When I tell people about my trip, one of their first questions is why? Why do you continue to go to conferences like this? Aren’t you supposed to be retired?

The simple answer is, I’m still an educator and this event is a large part of my learning community.

Discussion

This was the tenth edition of this conference, which is very different from most. Here it’s all about conversations around the idea of changing education, attracting some of the smartest most creative people I know. I’ve been there from the beginning, leading or co-leading discussions in about half of them, and I always leave with a long list of books to read, ideas to investigate, and new people to follow.

The theme this year was sustainability and, considering all the local and national crap going on around us, I was half expecting the mood to be rather pessimistic. There certainly was an undercurrent of apprehension (how could there not be?) but, overall most everyone was positive and determined to help fix the broken.

Robot Controllers

One great part of EduCon is that the faculty of SLA, many of the students, and even some parents are active participants in the discussions. Many of the sessions are also lead by staff and students, talking about their work and the inquiry driven process at the school. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that this is a public school, working with the same limited budget as other high schools, with a representative cross section of the city’s population.

I have a couple of posts in the works based on some discussions from the conference, but to close this one I’ll just recommend that you plan now to be in Philly next January 26-28. Dress warm, wear your walking shoes, and I’ll see you there.

Sunday Panel

Find more images from this year’s conference in the EduCon 2.9 Group on Flickr.

Picture Post #14 (ISTE 16 Edition)

A few shots from our time in Denver for the 2016 ISTE conference. Not many of the photos I took are from the actual event but that’s fine. Plenty of other people took those shots. As always, more of my stuff is on Flickr.

Street Computing

This young man looks like he might be part of the conference but was just computing while waiting for the bus.

HackEd 2016

A group photo of the wonderful people who participated in the 10th annual HackEd unconference (which started life as EduBloggerCon) the Saturday before ISTE actually starts.

Stage Door

Next to the convention center and across from our hotel is the Denver Performing Arts Center. And every theater needs a stage door, with some interesting art work.

Blue Bear

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only photographer at the conference who took this shot. It was hard to miss the big blue bear curiously looking through the front window of the Denver convention center.