ISTE 2011 has just completed and once again it people leave with a variety of experiences. I don't know the official number but over the past few years it remains one of the largest educational conferences in the world. A conference, that like many others has evolved over the years and organizers seek each year to improve and increase value for all.
The intent is to offer enough variety and content that everyone can have a great learning event customized just for them. There are sessions, workshops, student showcases, social gatherings, exhibit halls, and more than enough choice for people to find meet their needs and interests. It is very unlikely than any 2 people would leave the event having seen the same things.
The only real unifying events are the keynotes. These represent a singular experience for attendees that insure at least a common conversation and viewpoint that everyone can explore, debate and ponder. The conference has three keynotes. One on Sunday evening, another Tuesday morning and a third to close the conference Wednesday afternoon.
Given the "T" in ISTE, stands for Technology, it would seem to me that the keynotes should, in some way address technology. They didn't. That's not to say they didn't offer value. Given that only one of them was a K-12 educator, I'd have to say the choices seemed odd. I've read John Medina's book and it's a great read with some important ideas for educators. But it's not about technology. I'm guessing 95% of ISTE attendees know more about technology than Stephen Covey. The conference closed with Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Let me first say that my good friend did have an important message and as a school that is a 1 to 1 school, they do use technology in some powerful ways. I thought Chris and his students were inspirational and was grateful for the way they ended the conference. But Chris would even admit, because I talked to him about it afterwards, that his talk wasn't really about technology. As a collection of keynotes the focus on technology was weak.
Certainly many believe we ought to be shifting to ideas that learning is learning and it's not always about technology. I agree. But at the same time this is an organization whose mission is to help schools effectively use technology for learning. Shouldn't we at least be trying to focus on learning and technology? How did Stephen Covey and John Medina support this goal?
Finding keynotes that everyone will enjoy is near impossible. Keynoting is hard work. In the age of TED and online video, it's difficult to find someone whose message is fresh, provocative and inspiring. I've attended the last four ISTE/NECCs and have yet to recall a keynote that truly was memorable. The keynote I do remember was from 2005 from Dave Weinberger. I've watched that video (I couldn't locate the original video but this is a version of that talk) at least 3 times and it still resonates with me 6 years later. I don't know if you can ever find a keynote that will offer this but at least the talk should focus somewhat on technology, its use and impact on our learning lives. ISTE should be the ones to advocate the use of technology and the keynotes are the one time all attendees can rally around a single experience.
Here is a list of a few people I think would be great keynotes that are actually doing or working directly with technology:
Sugata Mitra (a thought provoking experiment and idea)
danah boyd (knows more about teens and social networks than almost anyone)
Biz Stone (the story of twitter)
Ze Frank" (understands the Internet in ways most don't see)
Conrad Wolfram (a true mathematician)
That's a quick list that comes to mind. There are dozens of others who fall into the caliber of speakers that are using technology or can offer research directly to our use of technology in schools. I say, find people who are technology users. I don't see how Medina or Covey belong at ISTE. I think ISTE needs to live up to their name and find keynotes that will support their mission. Who would you like to hear keynote?
ISTE11: Photo by Michael Walker http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_CA / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0