By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor
An Attendee Recap of the ISTE 2012 Conference
June 24-27 - San Diego, California
Leaving Day 1 of sessions feeling empowered and motivated, I headed into Days 2 and 3 of ISTE ready for more. The keynote speaker, Dr. Yong Zhao, didn’t disappoint. I’d had the pleasure of watching him present to a smaller audience at a TASA conference a couple of years ago and he always has some thought-provoking ways to think about our views of test scores and how they relate to education and jobs. His assertion is that Americans have always been bad test takers, yet somehow we have cornered the market in entrepreneurial jobs and those that focus on creativity. He had many memorable quotes; two of my favorites are that “Creativity cannot be taught, but it can be killed.” The other is that “Education shouldn’t be about fixing someone’s deficits, it’s about enhancing their strengths.”
Following Dr. Zhao, I thought it would be a good idea to visit the always-controversial Gary Stager and see his viewpoints on the subject of change in education. Stager didn’t disappoint, starting out his presentation by saying that the ISTE NET-S standards could be mastered by a baby in diapers. Stager shares a lot in common with his colleague Seymour Papert, who really believes that our job isn’t to inform the learner, but rather to put them in a place where they can use their own tools to learn. Teachers and administrators are to blame for not transforming their methods of teaching, but mostly it’s the common core and standardized tests that keep them from thinking they can change. In one video, he introduced us to Super Awesome Sylvia, a precocious 8-year old who creates her own how-to videos on how to use arduino circuit boards and open-source program to do some amazing things. His “Constructing Modern Knowledge” conference does look interesting, and there is a certain childlike passion that Stager exudes that makes you want to listen to what he has to say even if you don’t agree with all of it.
After nearly 48 hours in the conference, I finally decided to brave the exhibit hall floor. I’ve gone back and forth in my career about whether or not to even bother going into this labyrinth of shiny objects and pushy sales people. I know their financial support is key to the operation. I also have built a bit of rapport with several vendors and felt that I owed it to them to have some face-time. Trends in this area very much mimicked the trends in education, but their were some outliers. Anything that had to do with the iPad seemed to get the most attention, although there were still many “non-mobile” software companies pitching their wares. One trend I hope goes away is the need to give away pens as “schwag” for attendees (although they can continue to give away candy). Some of the more modern vendors gave away styluses instead of pens, but how many of those can your really have. I mean, will a stylus ever run out or wear down?
In the afternoon I decided to really spend time collaborating and networking with colleagues I’ve met on twitter but never talked to in person or hadn’t really had a chance to visit with them. I chatted with Adina Sullivan (@adinasullivan) who I hadn’t really talked to since our Apple Academy days back in May of 2011. She caught me up on some of the California issues that she encounters in her position as an instructional technologist for San Marcos/San Diego area schools. It seems that California is a couple of years ahead of Texas once again, only that’s not a good thing in this case.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit a Blogger’s Lounge at one of these events, I highly recommend it. You get an opportunity to discuss ideas with some of the most passionate people in educational technology for free. I saw Gary Stager, Will Richardson, David Jakes, Dean Shareski, Chris Lehmann and a host of other twitter/ed tech celebrities hanging out in the lounge on a regular basis. All were friendly and open to having serious discussions on a variety of topics—from changes in educational culture to who has the best BBQ (an ongoing debate between many).
I ended my ISTE experience with Ian Jukes and his discussion on 21st Century Fluency. I had missed an opportunity to hear Ian when he visited our high school a few years back and had heard he wasn’t received well. That said, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained with the information and thoughts he presented. He spent a great deal of time discussing some of what Dr. Zhao mentioned in his keynote about how American jobs are transitioning rapidly from manufacturing/agriculture to service-based location-specific jobs and those of the creative class. His big point with education is that we need to apply much more of the higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) in blooms than the lower-order thinking skills. Unfortunately, we spend over 80% of our time on those lower-order thinking skills, partly due to the fact that our institutions are set up to train to those skills.
My “AHA” moment of the conference came at the end of his presentation when he introduced his wife and some of the research she has been doing with learning and brain retention. I’ve spent a great deal of time lately discussing passive and active learning with the community during our iPad roll-out, but this was the first time I had seen information presented on it specifically. Her research hasn’t been published yet but it detailed how learners retain information first passively starting on the low scale with auditory only then building to audiovisual—where most classrooms are today. The active phase applies directly with Bloom’s HOTS and refers to the verbal method of retention (talking about it helps you remember) and finally the ultimate method which is multi-sensory (actually living the real-world experiences or through visual stimulations). I think this will continue to be a trend in educational practice and look forward to their research in this area. For more information from the Jukes team, go to their 21st Century Fluency Project.
Looking back on my experience at ISTE 2012, I think the fields of education and educational technology are progressing. However, there are still many battles, both big and small, to take on in the future. The speakers presented many ideas for expanding our horizons in education, but there is one glaring problem with all their ideas that I still have not found a proper resolution. As long as high-stakes tests dictate technology, teaching, learning and how the institution of school is delivered, we’ll only get so far in our progress. While I’m excited about next year’s ISTE and “Forging the Learning Frontier”, I would be much more excited if it were called “Leaving the Past Behind”.