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5 Big Reflections on ISTE13

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July 11, 2013 04:30 pm

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time to talk digital learning! The following blog post comes from Jeremy Macdonald, the Integrated Technology Systems Coordinator for Bend-La Pine Schools in Bend, Oregon.
After several weeks of trainings, presentations, and conferences, I’m finally home and able to process it all. After a trip to Cupertino, CA and Austin, TX, I had the opportunity to end the month of June in San Antonio for #ISTE13. I have a difficult time not thoroughly enjoying myself at conferences. I like to connect. I like to meet people. And I like to ask questions. This year I was afforded the chance to be the Alliance’s roving reporter. I was able to ask some questions on Facebook and share a few thoughts on Twitter during the week. That said, here are five take-aways from ISTE13.
1. Student Voices Matter
I am not your typical conference goer. I do not hit the vendor hall for swag and prizes. I do not typically attend every session I possibly can. I am more particular. Huge conferences like ISTE bring in a lot of great people from around the globe. While I attended one or two sessions each day, I looked for opportunities to connect with people that are looking at education and learning differently. Some of those folks included administrators, teachers, app developers, education consultants, and even a few vendors. But the people I enjoyed connecting with most were the students. A portion of the poster sessions were student-run. Districts from around the world were sharing what they were doing and letting students tell their stories. I really wish more of the conference revolved around this. Hearing the students talk, seeing them get excited when I asked questions, and hearing how they learn and what tools are actually relevant and working was better than what I imagine I could have learned in the typical sit-n-get or lecture style session. We need more students at more conferences sharing. I’d like to see more of this at #ISTE14.
2. Not “Appy”
What I am about to say might seem a bit hypocritical, but I need to say it. I am done with sessions that only talk about apps, favorite apps, 60 apps in 60 minutes, app smackdowns, and anything with apps out of the context of learning. And this is coming from the guy who typically writes about apps each month (womp womp). Many of these sessions can be fun and entertaining. They leave you with a million apps to download at a later time and leave you with little understanding of the use and purpose in student learning (and sadly, a lot of the apps merely replace simple/rote classroom practice). If a session is going to talk about “apps”, it would be time well spent if it focused on only a handful of apps within a specific context, experience or learning goal. Personally, I’d rather walk out of a room after an hour or hour and a half with context and application than just a long list that I have to sort through later. If you want lists of apps, google it or hit someone up on Twitter. So #ISTE14, could we focus more on quality (why this app and why it will enhance learning) and less on quantity?
3. Better Not Different
There were two big quotes that resonated with me. The first was delivered my first day at #ISTE13 and the second came just moments before the conference wrapped up. On Monday, Will Richardson addressed a large auditorium about abundant learning and new strategies for connected classrooms. I have read a lot of Will’s work and even spoken about him here. While a lot of what he had to say wasn’t new to me, there were a few things that stood out. This was the most poignant:
“We don’t necessarily need to be better. We need to be different.”
This can be a post all of it’s own, but for brevity’s sake I’ll focus specifically on our teachers. We are often looking for those teachers that stand out, those that seem to get it and are ahead of the curve. This is often because they are different. They approach learning, their classroom, and their students differently than what we have traditionally seen in our system. Does this mean they are better than the other teachers? Not necessarily. For too long we’ve been complacent with just a handful of ways to deliver knowledge and assess (read: test) how much they retained. Well, not only have those ways changed, but so has the need for education. We have great teachers. We have devoted, self-sacrificing, exceptional teachers in our schools. We just need them to begin thinking differently about why they are there, what their students need to be learning, and how we can provide the best opportunities for them to learn. What I would love to see at #ISTE14 are more sessions dedicated to looking at learning differently, outside of technology, apps, and devices. How would that change the focus of the conference? I’m not saying stop talking tech. What I am saying is, start talking (or talk more about) the bigger, more important questions around student-directed/organized/curated learning.
4. Fear and Bravery
The second quote came from Adam Bellow, the #ISTE13 closing keynote. He said:
“Innovation is the intersection of fear and bravery.”
The words touched on a lot of what I heard, discussed, and asked about during my #ISTE13 week. Our schools have been set up to promote and honor perfection, or at least the pursuit of it. Students often fear taking educational risks and tend to do enough to attain an “A”. But that is not the direction education should be heading. We need students that are risk takers, tinkerers, and innovators. We do not know what they are capable of until we allow them to know for themselves. Our classrooms should be places of ups and downs, oops and yays. We should not be pursuing an “A”. It is merely a letter. We should be pursing emotion, passion, drive, and potential.
5. You Are Not Alone
And lastly, we cannot do this alone. We must do this together. Governor Bob Wise touched on this just prior to the closing keynote. He mentioned that now is the time, more than ever, to get involved. We need to push for improved connectivity and accessible tools and resources for all of our students. The connected classroom is a thriving classroom. As part of this push, Governor Wise mentioned our current efforts with Project 24 — connecting districts, schools, and classrooms with digital learning experts from across the country in an effort to improve learning for all students.
I am glad I was given the chance to attend ISTE this year. I was able to leave with a better vision for my own district, and best yet, I was able to leave with more questions unanswered. We have a lot of work to do, you and I, but if we aren’t asking questions (especially the bigger, tougher ones) then we aren’t trying hard enough.
Jeremy Macdonald is the new Integrated Technology Systems Coordinator at Bend-La Pine Schools. His posts usually appear on the second Thursday of each month. Read his previous posts here. Find more information on Mr. Macdonald on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MrMacnology
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