Thursday, June 27, 2013

Concerned Teacher...thoughts from ISTE13

Everything is Bigger in Texas.
ISTE is "my conference." If I don't go to any other conference during the year, I always block out time to be there. This year was my twelfth year...eleven of those I have presented. Yes, ISTE is bigger than life; I guess what they say about everything being bigger in Texas is true at ISTE too. However, as I begin to process and contemplate on my experiences over the last few days, I have to say that I am concerned.  I am concerned that as educators, we have lost sight of what really matters. This conference is not a technology conference; it's an EDUCATIONAL technology conference. It concerns me that many of my fellow educators have lost sight of that distinction.

With so many options at ISTE, it is difficult to select the right events, sessions, and activities. The word I heard most often was "overwhelming." Today, our students are diverse individuals with unique needs. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. As educators, we must have a plethora of options. Using my previous ISTE experience, I looked for sessions that would deepen my understanding as a teacher. I want to continue to grow and learn new ways to provide my students with the best possible learning opportunities.  I want to sharpen my teaching practice. After all, this is an educational conference...we're all educators.

As I attended session after session, I became a bit disheartened. In almost every session, the entire focus was on tools and apps. Very few student examples of work were shown. The work that was used as examples, although fun to watch, held very little merit. After a day and a half of this, I sent out this tweet:

I am a concerned teacher. Where is the high level of engagement? Where are the learning activities that are promoting higher level thinking and problem-solving? How are students connecting their learning to their lives? Where is the creation of something new to share with an authentic audience? And collaboration...maybe I have a different definition than many others. I believe collaboration is when students each contribute something unique to a project. 

I began to wonder if I had unrealistic expectations. If so, I realized that I would not have very many to attend my session, "Are you integrating or innovating with technology?," because in my session there is a heavy focus on best practices and the role that technology has within our classrooms and schools. Yes, I share tools and apps; yes, I share student examples. But these tools and examples are used to support how we as teachers need to change our thinking and our practice in order to empower students. The conversation we had during this hour I found exhilarating. Many of the people who attended (it ended up being a closed session with people being turned away) expressed similar concerns to mine. They also had been looking for substance that they could take back to their schools and districts.

Of course, there is a place for the "60-tools-in-60-minutes" type of sessions as we do need to know what is out there, but it doesn't need to stop there. As Vicki Davis tweeted, we must "transcend hype and share practical ways that give us hope to reach all kids." We need to remember to keep our focus and become discriminating in our teaching practice. Dressing up a pig doesn't change the fact that it's a pig. Likewise, all the bells, whistles, and animations does not take the place of true learning and teaching. After all, it is not about the's about the learning...and our students are counting on us.

P.S. I'm positive there were other sessions out there offering fantastic models, practices, and ideas. I'm sorry I didn't find you this year. Please realize that I'm writing from my own experiences. Thank you ~J


  1. Julie,
    I couldn't agree more with you! I was sitting in one such session when I saw your tweet come through. I think we've moved past the point of simply using technology tools to engage students...or at least we should be there. Student learning should always be the most important part of the lesson plan, regardless of the tool. Although tools can be powerful vehicles for learning, we all need to remember that our focus is students, not tools.

    1. Farrah,

      You make a good point; technology tools are vehicles. You sit in a vehicle, but you have to be the one to make it go places. A technology tool is the same way. It won't take you places on it's's just the tool to take you on amazing learning journey.

      Thank you!

  2. I share your same sentiments. As you know, ISTE vets every session out. What we get as participants is what they selected. Over the years we have submitted several applications and all of them have been rejected. I love this conference and will continue going. However, it appears to be more and more vendor driven and less about teaching and learning. This being said...I did go to GREAT session on LitTrips with Google. Loved it!

  3. I share your concerns. It is one reason why I have steered away from ISTE the past two years. My concern has been that the ISTE conference has become more of a sales engine than about improving student learning. I made the infographic at the bottom of this post based on data from last year's conference that shows just how many more sessions are about aps and consumer tools than about computational thinking: We Live in a Make-Believe World #edchat #iste2012 #ties12

    I want to see more sessions where teachers talk about things kids have made with computers. I want to see sessions where teachers talk about how students modified code to customize software for themselves. I want to see more sessions where teachers talk about kids taking computers and other electronic objects apart and transforming them into something else. I want to hear how someone broke something to make it work for them.

    1. Carl,

      Your graphic brings to light startling information regarding the offering at ISTE. I had no idea it was that slanted. Another practice that I found startling this year, were all the vendors who contacted presenters previous to the conference up to the minute they presented trying to push their product. They even invaded the Blogging Cafe and Newbie Lounge. As a presenter and attendee, honestly, I felt a bit harassed.

      In the past, vendor sponsored sessions were clearly marked. You could easily steer clear of those sessions and the exhibit hall if you were not interested. That was not the case this year. They were everywhere.

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing that infographic with me.


  4. Great perspective, Julie! I share this concern, and often frustration, with you. It's "edtech" and not "teched" for a reason, right? Thanks for being wise enough to put it out there and shake up the trendy thinking. How might we reel back in some in our field to find ways to fit tech and apps to teaching & learning, and not vice-versa? Higher-order thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication? BINGO! When we can find a way to focus more on making that the main dish, and put an app or device on the side, then I'll take 2, please! Keep it up!

  5. Julie,
    I haven't gone to ISTE yet, but always follow it closely on Twitter. Each year I think to myself, "I really need to add this conference to my list."

    Beyond ISTE, you are asking a question here I wrestle with myself about all the time. Is the work we're doing with technology encouraging higher level thinking, collaboration, and creativity? Are students engaged? Are we working toward more global connections?

    Teaching first grade, these questions are compounded by the necessity to teach students how to use many tools and the developmental stages of learners. That being said, I know this is something I need to think much more about. I'm currently reading November's, Who Owns the Learning?. So far it is causing me to pause to think about some of these same questions you've expressed here.

    I think I saw one of your tweets during the conference asking are we "integrating technology or innovating with technology?". I think you are going to have me reflecting deeply in the coming weeks as I prepare for a new group of learners.

    Thanks, Julie, for asking the tough questions,

  6. Julie, it was great having the 1:1 time with you away from the conference. Being someone who has never attended ISTE before I was quite disappointed with many of the sessions that I attended. Using technology should be transforming the way we teach our students, not making learning "more fun". This year I've been fortunate to have a lot of access to technology and I have been blown away with what my students are able to do because of this access to technology. For me, and my students it's about making thinking visible. My students this year are far better able to speak about their learning then ever before. They have also been better able to take ownership of their learning because they are making the choices about it, not me.

    Next year I think I will try to apply to present at ISTE. I attended one session on technology and early primary and while I liked what they were doing, my students are already doing so much more than that. We need to keep sharing best practices because it's one of the few ways that our practice CAN and WILL get better.
    Super thankful Ms. Lara hooked us up.