A Movement of Ideas

There were a lot of people at this year’s ISTE Conference in Denver. Some estimates had it as high as 20,000 making it the largest of this format in the world, and which would appear to confirm the increasing acceptance of the role of computers in our schools.

But what is that role? With nearly 1,000 breakout sessions, posters and workshops, what is the role that people are assigning to technology in our schools, and what has been its impact?

While it would be pretentious to suggest that I could somehow summarise the diversity of content that was shared in so many sessions, I do think there are some reasonable general observations that can be made.

In the first instance it appears most people now (finally) accept the inevitability of every child having access to their own personal device. It’s been a long time coming, and whether you’re happy labelling it 1 to 1, 1 to many, BYOD or BYO-whatever, there is now an obvious shift in thinking away from the compromised shared access model of labs and carts.

As pleasing as this is, there are still factions that do not seem to understand the notion of student agency, and are intent on:

  1. Controlling the student device in every possible way-locked down, limited rights or screen spying.
  2. Not allowing them to go home. Why?
  3. Dumbing down the device provided, usually because of cost. How about we start thinking of the cost of the device vs the cost of limiting learning opportunities for kids?

None of the aforementioned empowers learners in any way, so can we just provide our students with a fully functional computer 24/7 and finally get on with the things that really matter?

  • There is a genuine excitement around Maker. Not just about 3-D printers or as a set block of time on a Wednesday afternoon but as part of a learning culture, as a recent article by Mitch Resnick highlighted. It’s obviously been boosted by STEM et al, but there were an encouraging number of posters, breakouts and small companies on the exhibition floor who were sharing great work.  Our friends as CMK Press have also been very busy releasing some very interesting titles to support teachers in this work.
  • In contrast there is still way too much talk about “simple” and “easy.” Are we talking as amateurs or professionals? While I understand the more poorly informed vendor community think “simple” and “easy” is what we should have, however by now I would hope that as professionals, teachers do not need to have breakout sessions, workshops or products that have simple or easy in their outlines to appeal to them. It’s just another case of dumbing down the possible. Apps of all colors are the one of the biggest culprits.
  • As you would expect there were plenty of ongoing discussions around global connections and projects, and with social media now mainstream there are a lot more conversations about taking down the bricks in the classroom walls. Again, control raises its ugly head, but more and more teachers are balancing oversight and opportunity and there were plenty of innovative project ideas being shared, particularly through the poster sessions.
  • An event such as ISTE is of course very much about talking with peers, but it highlighted to me yet again just how much we are not talking with others. The echo chamber of educators can be way too self-confirming and inward looking, at a time when I think there is an urgent need for a broader conversation across the wider community. While I don’t think this is the responsibility of events such as this one directly, other than for PR, the educational community needs to dramatically expand its engagement with the wider community if we are to build support for the innovation and changes that we all now know will be coming.
  • Finally I guess I should mention a couple of the distractions. While there was only limited SmartBoard presence this year, thank goodness, I guess we have to accept that virtual reality and augmented reality will become a feature of exhibitions in coming years. I’m sure they make for fantastic gaming experiences, and have highly beneficial applications in areas of science and medicine, but you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me VR/AR should be a priority in our schools right at the moment. I would have hoped we learnt from the lessons of Second Life, which I remember so dearly from ISTE events of 5 years ago, and while I know it isn’t as sexy as wearing funny glasses, can we please stay focused on the things that really matter and stop looking for the Next Big Thing?

(And while I know that we do want some light heartedness across a 3 day conference, I would have thought that the conference committee would have wanted the opening keynote to be more about provocation and inspiration, rather than simple entertainment. If I want a warm bath, I’ll have it in my hotel thank you; when I’m at a global conference I expect a cold shower, a few shivers and even a wakeup call to get me going for the rest of the event.)

However, for all that I saw over 3 days, the overwhelming observation I would make is that much of what this event, BETT in the UK and many other similar conferences are about is endorsing existing practice. It’s about using computers to allow kids to do things they have always done, and it’s therefore largely about a “transformation” of medium rather than practice.

Now at one level maybe this is understandable at an event such as ISTE as it yearns to be palatable and unthreatening to the vast majority of educators, and of course must be cognisant of the commercial realities. Why would event organisers want to make attendees uncomfortable or be provocative when their business model is so dependent on large numbers through the doors of the associated exhibition?  So the reality is that events such as ISTE and BETT are not places to celebrate interesting things kids and teachers are now doing with computers; its a mardi gras of technology that showcases better ways to cover existing curriculum and content.

But is that all there is?

Is that really what all this energy and money and exhortation about disruption and digitalization is all about? Or is there more that we should be seeking?

I think we have now reached a time when many are starting to now see over the horizon to beyond the scope of existing practice to a new, different place where we have not been before. Not to new technologies but rather new pedagogies which emerge when we let go of the legacy lens through which we have always seen classroom practice. It’s about breaking out of the assumptions that have guided our notion of how school should be, and allowing ourselves to look at the possibilities through a new, different, digitally rich lens…and I think more people are becoming more curious about what is now possible.

The beginnings of this was very evident at the recent conference and across the globe there is now a growing conversation that is asking for more. There’s a movement that is starting to build momentum, and it’s a movement of ideas around modern learning.

It’s a movement that knows that we should be expecting more; that we must allow our students to extend their learning opportunities far far beyond what has previously been possible in in the non-digital world of the past, and breakthrough the barriers of legacy curriculum compliance with the support of visionary changeleaders.

These ideas are contagious; and it’s only the beginning.

As a changeleader we’d love to hear more about what you’re doing; I hope you can share your stories on our global community on facebook today.

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