ISTE Quick Thoughts: They’re Selling You

Yesterday someone asked how many ISTE Conferences (rebranded from NECC when we hosted in DC a couple of years ago) I’ve attended and, after checking the history, I realized that this is my 10th (starting in 1999). It also struck me that, although the technologies we’re discussing and using have changed a great deal*, the basic format of ISTE/NECC hasn’t.

Especially unchanging is the vendor floor where I spent some obligatory time yesterday. The expansive hall is prominent, huge, crowded, and noisy, and I can see how many attendees, especially first timers, might get the impression that this is the main focus and heart of the conference.

Well, it could be if you let it. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that this experience is what you want it to be. If you attend a lot of bad sessions, you probably didn’t have a clear idea of what you wanted to learn. Or you didn’t do enough research into the speakers and topics.

If you spend large chunks of time in the “exposition” or in vendor-sponsored sessions, then you come away with the impression that instructional technology is all about buying IWBs, new gadgets, and instant “solutions” to every problem in your professional life.

There are plenty of other opportunities at ISTE but finding them requires planning. And spending minimal time at the shopping mall.


*The iPad on which I’m writing this is an amazing conference tool compared to the iBook I lugged around my first ISTE.

Join The Conversation

Next weekend I’ll be heading up to EduCon 2.2, the most unique conference I’ve ever attended.

For one thing, it’s relatively small, although with 500 people registered this year, it will be a little more crowed than the first one in 2008 where 75 or so of us showed up, not knowing what to expect.

But the big difference with EduCon is that the sessions, for the most part, are not lecture/demo presentations or hands-on workshops. And it is not a conference about technology.

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The concept of EduCon-founder, and principal of the Science Leadership Academy, Chris Lehman was to get a bunch of interested and interesting educators together to have conversations about how we can change schools to better fit the way our students learn and the real world in which they live, as well as to grow networks of people who would continue those discussions long after the conference ended.

I’ll be leading one of those discussions and, while my topic does address technology, it’s concerned with why schools have remained isolated islands of status quo over the past twenty years, while the rest of the world has been fundamentally altered by computers, networks, and communications tools.

My session is titled “Why Has Technology Failed to Bring Substantial Change to American Schools (and what can we do about it)?” and this is the short description, the in-50-words-or-less explanation of the session in a way that will attract an audience.

The authors of Disrupting Class ask “Why haven’t computers brought about a transformation in schools the way they have in other areas of life?”. Excellent question. Join us for a discussion of what we can do to change that situation. Bring any and all ideas to share.

The proposal for this session grew from my growing frustration with American education and the two-faced embrace of techie tools while at the same time rejecting the transformative possibilities they offer.

Schools in the US have spent billions of dollars in just the past decade to buy laptops and software, install networks, connect classrooms to internet, and train teachers.

However, walk down the halls of your average American school, especially high schools, and you’re likely to see a teacher-directed, lecture-demo formatted lesson, with little or no technology use by either teacher or students.

Over the past few years, the most visible example of technology use in the classrooms of our overly-large school district has been interactive whiteboards, devices which chain teaching to standards of the previous century.

Talk all you want about “student engagement” and “interactivity”, these boards are little more than expensive electronic extensions of blackboards and chalk, controlled by the teacher, and locking the learning focus on them, not the students.

Anyway, IWBs are a topic for another rant and only a small piece of the discussion that I’d like to have in Philly.

If you’re coming to EduCon, please join us at 12:30 Sunday afternoon for what I hope will be a wonderful exchange of ideas on this topic.

And don’t think you must agree with the premise to participate. Feel free to let me know that I’m full of crap and that I’ve missed the mark entirely. Bring evidence of my cluelessness, however. :-)

If you’re not able to be at the conference in person, you can still attend and join the discussion online through the generous efforts of Elluminate who will be providing an interactive room for each session.

Links to the Elluminate rooms will be available from the conversations page on the EduCon site.

Now, if they can just keep the snowy weather out of town for the weekend, we’ll be golden.

Conference Time

I’m just about finished with my not-quite-at-the-last-minute prep for my trip to our annual state edtech conference, sponsored by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

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The program starts on Monday but I’ll be headed to beautiful downtown Roanoke just before noon tomorrow, mainly so I don’t have to leave at 3am. :-)

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, Tuesday afternoon I’ll be doing a concurrent session titled You Don’t Have Too Much Information. You’re Using The Wrong Tools.

It’s a variation on the same presentation about why you should be using Google Reader, Delicious and Evernote I’ve been doing in 90 minute to three hour time frames for a while.

However, this is the first time I’ve tried to squeeze the essence into an hour so we’ll see how that goes.

Bright and early Wednesday morning (7:30?!), I’ll be doing a Bring Your Own Laptop workshop on Building Tours in Google Earth.

Around my sessions I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from other parts of the state in an analog, face-to-face way that’s still not possible with Twitter.

Even if you’re not staying to hear my ravings, stop in and say hi.

EduCon Proposal

Since EduCon 2.2 proposals were due today, of course I submitted mine just a few hours ago. Nothing new… I usually do my other homework assignments at the last minute as well. :-)

EduCon is something unique among the many education-related conferences out there.

Sessions don’t involved being lectured at or about playing with the coolest new tools. It’s all about the “opportunity to discuss and debate ideas” dealing with just about anything to do with education and learning.

Anyway, my little proposal borrows ideas from the book Disrupting Class, in which the authors note that we’ve spent a lot of money on computers for classrooms while getting very little change.

In the book Disrupting Class, the authors make the observation “While people have spent billions of dollars putting computers into schools, it has resulted in little change in how students learn.”

They also ask “Why haven’t computers brought about a transformation in schools the way they have in other areas of life?”

Excellent question. Certainly there are plenty of answers, including this one also from Disrupting Class “…the way schools have employed computers has been perfectly predictable, perfectly logical – and perfectly wrong.”

But the focus of this session will not be about placing blame. Instead let’s discuss what we can do and what is being done to change things. Come join us for a discussion centered on these ideas and bring any and all ideas, whether from your personal experience or elsewhere. Invite your friends and colleagues who aren’t attending EduCon to be part of the conversation from wherever they are.

With any luck, the program will see fit to include that in the agenda. I did a session at the first iteration of EduCon and it was a great experience.

If you haven’t made your plans to attend EduCon, do it now. If you’re not able to come to Philly in January, watch for how to participate from wherever you are through a variety of back channels.

Playing With Numbers

Yesterday at the Building Learning Communities conference, one of the speakers offered up an interesting statistic.

75% of college graduates never read another book in their lifetime.

Wow!

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That’s an incredible statement, although it must be true since he put it on a slide projected on a big screen in front of nearly a thousand people.

Anyway, it’s also the kind of number that just didn’t sit well with my crap detector.

A little bit of Googling turned up similar statements (like the one in this collection of book stats) with different (smaller) numbers.

And the speaker did qualify his statement with something about that 75% including people who started reading books but never completed them.

Still, three quarters of the college educated population not reading even one book after graduation strikes me as awfully high.

Did the researchers include audio books? Books parents read to their kids? Graphic novels?*

As with the results of so many polls, surveys, and studies, you really can’t understand the results without knowing the source and the method used to assemble the numbers.

However, we have a large part of the population in the US (and possibly elsewhere in the world) who often accept the statistical numbers handed to them almost daily as fact.

Unless, of course, they come into major conflict with their own beliefs. And even then, they don’t question the numbers as much as they outright reject them.

Wherever the 75% number came from (and I have no doubt some pollster somewhere did get it), it’s just one more example of why we need to do a better job of teaching students to understand probability and statistics before they become adults.

After all, they need to know that 67% percent of all statistics are simply made up. Right? :-)

[The picture is of some books from my bookshelf. And yes I’ve read them all since college. Well… except for Harry Potter #7.]

*Don’t laugh, some of them have very complex stories!