Friday, June 28, 2013

ISTE 2013 Reflections

I had an amazing experience at the 2013 ISTE conference in San Antonio this past week (June 22-26) and will be reflecting on it for quite some time, I'm sure. It was a different experience than I expected, but one that nonetheless exceeded all my expectations. My #iste13 notes are public, and I welcome comments and questions to help me further reflect.

The conference was big in every way. In fact, its size made for some difficulties, like full sessions and wifi issues. But overall, the size only added to the social aspects of ISTE, which were easily the highlight of the event. Having a chance to catch up with some old friends and meet and have face-to-face conversations with people I've interacted with on Twitter was worth the travel alone. The feeling of collegiality and acceptance at ISTE was almost overwhelming, since it seemed that I was rarely not caught in an engaging conversation with someone, whether sitting in the Bloggers' Cafe or just walking through the halls of the convention center. The Twitter activity was nothing less than amazing too, with over 50,000 Tweets logged during the event. It'll be interesting to read through them over the rest of the summer.

We had some great #coffeecue meetings, where we talked about gamification, PD, and social media tools like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and we had a great #brewcue at a local San Antonio favorite, The Friendly Spot. I learned a lot at ISTE, and I'll briefly highlight some of my more-specific takeaways from the conference.

1:1 Program Administration and PD

Saturday's HackedEd "unconference" was fascinating. In fact, I barely said a word, while I instead listened to the compelling insights that others had, based on their experience. In particular, I was very interested to hear what advice educations were willing to offer on professional development and working with 1:1 programs. Specifically:
  • Several people advocate the importance of getting teachers comfortable with the devices that their students will be using, if different from their own. Our teachers have PCs, but most students will have Macs.
  • The importance of visiting other 1:1 classrooms was underscored, and I think that we need to put more emphasis in doing this next year, when we begin our program.
  • An organized LMS is key, which will be another priority of ours in developing courses with Instructure's Canvas.
  • Interestingly, devices amplify what you do well and what you don't do well. We'll need to keep a close eye on this next year.
  • With that, teachers must be willing to not be the expert with the tools in the classroom anymore.
  • It's important to give only 1 or 2 tools for teachers to learn in the first year of a program. Next year, we're starting with 7th grade only and will be focusing our attention on Canvas and Google Apps.
  • Finally, some educators suggested that a good PLN is more valuable than a TIS or other person whose job it is to facilitate technology integration. We need to think about ways to build a stronger PLN at our school.

After reading Jane McGonigal's inspiring book Reality is Broken (on our #caedchat summer book list!), attending the Epic Leadership workshop, and talking to others about games, I have a new appreciation for gamification and the value of play in the classroom, namely, that the intrinsic principles of game mechanics (i.e. what makes a good game) can often be more valuable than the game itself. I've also come to learn that games don't just imply video games but can include almost any activity structured around solid gamification principles. Games can be played by students, but they can also be used with faculty for professional development and even to simply boost morale. I have some ideas for next year that I'll write up elsewhere.


I thought all three keynotes were epic wins. Sunday night, McGonigal highlighted the importance of gamers as "super-powered hopeful individuals" who are motivated by creativity above all other emotions (despite creativity not being an emotion).  She stressed that, when we're designing games for classroom, we should be thinking about positive emotions that gamers crave, in addition to points and achievements. And most of all, she stresses that we must "empower students to make contributions to the world now, not when they're adults."

Steven Johnson's Keynote on Tuesday morning was based on the premise that "not all great ideas are eureka moments." In other words, good ideas don't just happen but are the product of long-term thinking. In Johnson's words, an idea "is not a single thing; an idea is a network." I'd never thought of ideas in this way, where diversity becomes paramount. "When we surround ourselves with people who are different, we become smarter," Johnson stressed. With this in mind, I now believe that it's even more important to visit other regularly schools for professional development, given that "chance favors the connected mind." I'm going to make it a point to read his book Where Good Ideas Come From this summer.

Wednesday afternoon's closing keynote by Adam Bellow, adorned with his Google Glass, was both impassioned and emotional. He underscored the importance of creativity in the classroom, especially the role we educators play  we who "are the artisans, craftsmen, and chefs that make technology matter." As Socrates said and Bellow reiterated, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I understand this to mean that we shouldn't spend our time and energy looking to the past or arguing about what clearly doesn't work. Instead, we need to build new "superstructures" together (cf. Reality is Broken p. 318) that pave the way for more creativity in education today.

I appreciated the fact that the three keynotes echoed similar ideas but that each of them approached these ideas through their own unique lenses. That different insights reveal the same things about the current state of education has got to say something about the importance of these ideas, I think.

In the end, it's about the ideas, not the tools. We want to be social. We want to collaborate and help each other. As McGonigal, Johnson, Bellow and others have emphasized, we want to play hard and do meaningful work, and we want valuable feedback on our efforts so we can do even better in subsequent attempts. We want these things because, as the field of positive psychology is demonstrating, our brains have evolved to depend on them. With this in mind, my overall top takeaway from the whole conference, perhaps, is my own modified understanding the relationship we have to the technology we use. It seems to me that this relationship is Darwinian, in that the most successful tools we use have been selected for, based on their ability to give us these very things that our minds crave, like playful connection and meaning. If a particular tool doesn't allow us to do these things, it won't be very successful in the long run because no one will use it.

So, our task in going to conferences like ISTE isn't to learn how to force technology into our classrooms, but rather to move our classrooms to be more collaborative, meaningful, and give better feedback. And we do so by being connected. Technologies like GAFE and Twitter that easily help us to do so are the ones that we will always come back to. From now on, I plan to focus on the ideas and let the technology fall into place naturally. Next up, #gtachi!