Reflections on a Visionary Conference

by Kevin M. Riebau

I recently was afforded the opportunity to attend Intel’s 10th Annual Visionary Conference in Washington D.C. This year’s emphasis was on the intersection between creativity and innovation, and being a drum player and someone who enjoys producing graphic designs, I was naturally excited about what I would learn in the full day jam-packed with prominent movers and shakers in industry, decision making, and education. I wasn’t disappointed to say the least, and the notion that providing students with customized learning options really resonated with me. I feel like my school district, Aurora Public Schools, are innovators in instruction and especially in the instructional technology niche. We create because there is need, and we want to support the belief that the more choices we can offer our students for their learning will ultimately lead to more success, higher achievement, and increased confidence to attend university.

I felt like what I heard and was exposed to at this conference reaffirmed the hard work we are involved in as educators. There is a crucial need for us to help make real applicable connections for our students to the world they will enter after school. Sometimes in the educational technology arena it is hard to know if as decision makers we are making the right choices in these efforts, since technology is ever-changing, and we are constantly bombarded with “magic bullets” that never seem to pan out as intended by those who sold them to us. I feel like the real game changers are the innovative ways we use available tools in order to fill crucial needs.

At the close of the conference, we were treated to the amazing site and sound of a piano being played remotely in real time by someone on the other side of the continent, thanks to Yamaha. I could see the keys moving on the piano before me, I could here the sound emanating from it, but no one was sitting there playing it! I could see the source of the beautiful sounds via video teleconferencing and then began to make a connection in my mind that I could visualize these amazing artists actually sitting in the room with me at that piano. Physical space folded in on itself and distance disappeared in that instant.

In Aurora, there is a need for our students to have options, and we can’t let them down if we are to accelerate achievement and close achievement gaps. If kids are able to be in a higher level math class and it isn’t offered at their school but elsewhere in our district, that should not prevent them from getting more when they need it. We are currently interfacing HD video teleconferencing, interactive white boards, and tablets in order to provide live lesson distance learning opportunities where our students are not just consumers, but have the ability to be prosumers. For the kids at the schools who are at a distance, they can interact with their teacher and contribute to the source classroom’s whiteboard with their tablets and vice versa. It’s almost like the teacher is right there with them - encouraging them, pushing them, and facilitating their learning - and they are, in a new way. Yet these educational technology tools are not new, just as the piano is not new. The key is what we are doing with them and how that translates to new, creative, and innovative ways to deliver beautiful sounds from an instrument - or teachable moments via technology. Most of all, we must provide options for students - options to find success regardless of the physical constraints of space and distance.

Kevin M. Riebau is the Director of the Department of Instructional Technology for Aurora Public Schools in Colorado