September 4, 2013, by admin

ISTE 2013 – Retooling Education

I was very fortunate recently in being able to attend the ISTE conference in San Antonio, TX.  ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education and has members that are teachers, school district technology directors, administrators, librarians, and even some students.  ISTE is more importantly a collection of educators that advocate, implement, and innovate ideas and concepts around the use of technology in education.  The conversations and presentations at ISTE 2013 where some of the most compelling and exciting that I have seen at any conference that I have attended.  I just recently gave a presentation to our firm about the themes of the conference as well as the things that I saw and overheard and I wanted to capture a few of those here in this post.

A Fish out of Water

My trip to ISTE 2013 was truly a fish out of water experience.  My wife is a teacher so I was somewhat prepared for my expedition into the education technology world, but I was continually amazed by the folks that attended the conference.  One thing that instantly hit me as I walked around the conference center was how massive the conference is.  I have been to some very large conferences in the past, but this was so much bigger.  18,000 people attended this conference which also boasted 700 different sessions and presentations.

The other thing that really was an eye opener from the very start of the conference was the use of the “back channel” during almost every presentation.  This usually meant that there was a live Twitter feed or some other live commenting feed being shown on the side during the presentation.  This was a really positive way for people to ask questions, post links to other resources, or to simply engage others that were attending the same presentation.  The “back channel” should be tagged with #practice_what_you_preach, because it was a demonstration of how some educators are engaging their students during class and leveraging social media to connect with their students.  Both the back channel and social media were big components of the conference.  Check out and for examples of back channel experiences.

The Science of Learning

Two of my favorite sessions were the first two keynotes of the conference.  Jane McGonigal was the first keynote speaker and is the author of “Reality is Broken”.  She kicked of the conference with, what was first received with skepticism, a discussion on how games and gamification will change education.  Jane’s assertion was that through ten different emotional connections a person can become a “super-empowered hopeful individual”.  Those ten emotions; joy, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, awe, contentment, and wonder, are experienced by people who play games.  She provided further proof around the amount of time that is spent playing games across the entire planet.  There are currently 1 Billion gamers across a world population of 7 Billion people, where a gamer is defined as someone who spends more than an hour a hay playing a game on a connected device.  What was even more amazing is the amount of time that is spent playing games by the 1 Billion people.  An IBM think-tank estimated that it took 100 Million hours to develop, build, and populate Wikipedia.  The number of hours are huge, until you think that it took the equivalent of 3 weeks of Angry Birds being played, or 7 hours of Call of Duty played across the globe.

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.”

Brian Sutton-Smith, Contemporary American Folklorist

At this point in the presentation, Jane was on a roll and had most of the audience shaking their heads in disbelief.  What really closed the argument for her, was a study called “The School Cliff: Student’s Engagement Drops Over Time” that was conducted by The Gallup Student Poll that showed that in elementary school about 76% of students feel engaged in learning and in their education.  In middle school that number drops to 61% and in high school that drops all the way to 44%.  The flip side of that, is that by the age of 21, the average child in the US will have spent 10,000 hours gaming.  This just happens to be the exact amount of time that a student with perfect attendance would have spent between 5th grade and graduation.  Further, a gamer spends 85% of the time failing (losing lives, not achieving the school, etc.) and still comes back for more and more.  What you have is truly an entirely separate and parallel path to the traditional educational model that is not being tapped into.

Distributed Creativity

The second keynote speaker was Steven Johnson, the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From”.  Steven opened up his presentation talking about Coffee Houses and how good ideas start.  His argument is that we need diversity of experience and expertise.  In his book he talks about why the coffee house was so important to the history of modern civilization.  It was a place for people of all walks of life to converge and discuss interesting ideas.  One day you might have an Architect and a Lawyer talking with a Banker about taxes and on another day an Artist and a Baker talking about bread.  Each one of these conversations were viewed and discussed from different perspectives and from different experiences.

“More innovative people are typically more diverse in who they hangout with, a diversity of professions not race or gender.”

Steven Johnson, Author “Where Good Ideas Come From"

He created a term for this interaction between different people called “The Liquid Network”.  It describes how ideas and conversations jump from one location within the network to the next to create more diversified connections.  This is a thrilling idea when applied to education and how to inspire ideas and learning.  If we can diversify the experiences that we expose students to, their ability to think and create is magnified.

Observations of a Fish

I wanted to close this post with a few of my own observations that were encapsulate the entire conference for me;

  • Stupid Question #1: Does technology really improve learning?
  • Stupid Answer to Stupid Question#1: Does paper improve education? Technology is a tool, it is not a magic pill.
  • School districts are extremely good at using social media to connect to their districts.
  • The challenges that are school districts face are not the same at every level within the school district; school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers all have different challenges and different perspectives.
  • Tablets are everywhere, but Google Chromebooks rule because they are cheap and connect to the Google Apps environment.  Much better solution than iPads.
  • Classroom design should be about agility and not simply flexibility.  An agile classroom adapts quickly to the teaching environment.  Flexible means it can change, but takes a while.