Gracefully Accepting the Unknown

At the ISTE conference in Denver last week, I was intrigued by this building near the convention center, both for the name and decoration.

Bovine Metropolis

According to their website, this is the home of a theater and school dedicated to improvisational performance, one that “teaches the art of accepting the unknown gracefully”.

I can’t help thinking that is a core skill we should be helping students to learn. Along with the art of improvisation.

A Conflicted First Reflection on ISTE 2016

As usual I’m returning from the ISTE conference conflicted. I have a love-hate relationship with the conference. Well, hate is rather strong. It’s more like a love-meh relationship.

ISTE is huge, loud, expensive, frustrating, often confusing. Even those of us with experience participating in these large meetings 1 occasionally wake up trying to remember what day it is.

But the size of ISTE can also be a big positive. Many of people I read, follow, respect, and known for years attend the event. And even with ubiquitous social media, sometimes there’s no substitute for a face-to-face conversation, if nothing else just to catch up on where they are in their lives. The HackEd unconference, which started ten years ago as EduBloggerCon and held on the Saturday before the conference start, is a big draw all by itself.

As to the formal conference, many of the session presentations seem to spend far more time on technology than on teaching and learning. And that’s especially true of massive vendor area that has come to dominate ISTE. More and more, it’s clear that major sponsors are increasingly driving the content and focus of the conference.

That influence also seems to be leaking out into other, more informal areas of the event. The themed playground areas were spaces where, for the most part, educators who actually work with kids show off what they were doing in their classrooms. This year most of what I saw in those areas seemed to be a mini vendor area, with prepared demos selling products instead of ideas. And it appears to be seeping over into the poster area, with more sales pitches instead of one-on-one conversations.

I know I’m seeing ISTE through different eyes than most of the attendees. But if you didn’t attend this year’s conference in Denver, go watch the video of the opening keynote when they post it in a few days. The attempted late night talk show style of the way-too-long lead up to the main speaker (at least an hour), full of product placements (products being people and organizations), exemplifies for me how this annual event has become more about selling and less about learning.

Anyway, all of the above is a brain dump, written on the flight home and published with minor edits. I reserve the right to revise any of these thoughts after time for reflection (plus some nights of regular sleep). A large event like ISTE always requires several weeks to fully process all the conversations, images, ideas, URLs, tweets, and plain old notes collected over five days.

However, I’m pretty sure my conflicted relationship with ISTE and it’s conference will continue.

Conference Overload

Did you ever think that there might be too education-related conferences? Especially edtech-related?

You probably don’t know the half of it.

Twice a year, a consultant from Toronto assembles a list of “selected events that primarily focus on the use of technology in educational settings and on teaching, learning, and educational administration”, to be held in the next six months, all over the world.

And it is a very long list. I didn’t bother to count the number of items in the current edition, but the information is distributed in a 102 page Word document. Each entry given two or three lines of 10pt type.

Some, like the International Workshop on Content-Based Multimedia Indexing (next month in Bucharest, Romania) and WorldFuture (presented by the World Future Society in DC in July) don’t exactly strike me as education conferences. And the list likely misses many state and local conferences.

However, my overall feeling as I scroll (and scroll, and scroll,…) through this list is: Are all these meetings really necessary? They all cost someone money and time to assemble; are they worth the costs involved? Do participants at these events really learn something that improves their practice, and, more importantly, positively impacts their students?

As someone who attends and presents at a few conferences a year, I always leave them asking those same questions. I’ll be in Denver for ISTE next month (attending, not presenting) and I know I’ll learn from the people I meet, as well as having a good time. But that doesn’t mean I won’t question the value of both the conference and my participation.

Anyway, just something to think about. If you’re interested in scrolling through the conference list yourself, the 35th edition, covering mid-May through December 2016, is now available.