Archive for July, 2014

If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests. If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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