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Tag: conferences (Page 2 of 7)

Are EdTech Conferences Still Relevant?

I drove home from our state edtech conference earlier this week with lots of ideas, questions and conflicts. Nothing new there.

But one of those questions has been stuck in my head for a while: Are “tech” conferences like VSTE really necessary anymore?

Becker tweet

Adding to the conflict was a recent tweet from Jon Becker suggesting a conference merger between the Virginia affiliates of ASCD and ISTE.

He has a good point. VASCD could probably use a good dose of technology and grassroots social networking (as opposed to the manufactured version used by many organizations and most corporations).

And VSTE’s conference needs more focus on instruction and less on scattershot dispersal of tips/tricks/apps of the kind we saw in the closing keynote.

However, edtech conferences like ours (and the giants like ISTE and FETC) are only part of the problem. For the most part, their programs are very much reflective of the way technology is still used in most schools.

Despite decades of spending on “educational” computing and talk of web 2.0/21st century skills, actually using all that technology is still optional.  For most administrators and teachers – and students for that matter – it is not an essential part of the school learning process.

Thus we have conferences about education separate from those about technology in education.

Missing ISTE… Sorta

Tomorrow in San Diego, the ISTE conference begins with the annual meet-up now called SocialEdCon*. And, for the first time in ten years, I will not be attending.

Will I miss it? Sure.

San Diego is a great city. When I was a kid we used to visit my grandmother who lived in one of the little coastal towns to the north. We would take the bus into town, go to the beach, visit the zoo, and enjoy the nice sea breeze. I haven’t been back in a while so it would be nice to see how things have changed.

What about the conference itself?

Well, maybe not so much.  Actually, what I’ll miss most about not being at ISTE are the pieces not listed in the conference program.

Sitting in the Blogger Cafe and having great conversations with some very smart people. The impromptu hallway opportunities that often go “Let’s grab some lunch/coffee/ice cream and I’ll tell you what I’m working on.” The tweets that result in meeting someone I’ve only known through their creations.

In fact, the most valuable part of the formal program over the past few years has proven to be the Poster sessions, which offer lots of ideas in a compact space, plus the opportunity to discuss them with the people directly involved.

It’s certainly not the humungous vendor floor, which seems to get larger and move more to the center focus every year, and is totally forgettable. Or the growing number of sessions presented by representatives of those same vendors and crowd out the more authentic voices in instructional technology.

Despite all this, I would probably be in San Diego right now if it wasn’t for the fact that my district won’t pay my expenses (except for registration, the smallest part) for conferences and I have the opportunity to spend a week in Italy a month following ISTE. When it’s your own travel budget, you gotta make choices.

And this time next year, I’ll probably be traveling to ISTE once again. Why not? Visiting San Antonio for a week or so makes a nice little vacation and, for just the additional cost of registration, I get dozens of learning opportunities.

But for the next few days, I’ll just have to follow along on the back channels and build my own virtual conference.


*Ok, I know we’ve outgrown the EduBloggerCon name for this event but there must be a better replacement than that. And corporate sponsors? Blackboard? What’s next Pearson? Doesn’t mix with the whole “unconference” meme. Sorry. Ignore this side rant and go back to the main one.

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.

educon.jpg

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.

Pioneers.jpg

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.

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