“Why would someone from Georgia Tech attend ISTE?” That was the question posed to me by a fellow conference attendee last week. It’s a good question – ISTE is primarily focused on educational technology in the K-12 market. While there were a handful of higher ed-related sessions during the 2016 edition of ISTE’s annual conference, I was one of the few attendees that didn’t teach in a K-12 classroom.

Despite my oddball-ness, I still derived a lot of value from the conference. In fact, I might’ve gotten more value from ISTE than if I’d attended yet another higher ed-focused conference. I didn’t attend sessions about the familiar problems, solutions, and tools that I’m used to. I learned about the challenges within K-12 and found potentially unique solutions that may be used at Georgia Tech.

Below are my cleaned-up notes from 3.5 days of the 2016 ISTE Conference:

Opening Keynote: Michio Kaku

Kaku is a futurist and a theoretical physicist who opened the conference by providing a sneak peak into the future. In a free-wheeling onslaught of PowerPoint slides, he covered all the hits: driverless cars, 3D printers, augmented reality, wearable technology, and more.

His key point was that the future of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology are coming, and we aren’t preparing the future workforce in an educational system that focuses on memorization and knowledge recall. The future workforce needs skills in innovation, creativity, empathy, savvy, and more. You’re probably heard these referred to as 21st-century skills.

One minor quibble with Kaku’s presentation: he claimed that 90% of students in online courses drop out before the course is complete. When he shared this frightening statistic, there were audible gasps in the crowd. It’s unclear where he found this number – perhaps it was a study that focused on MOOC completion – however, the real story of online persistence is a little more complex.

Technology Integration Strategies of Higher Education Faculty

Experts from Arizona State, University of Maryland, Indiana University, and others discussed methods to prepare future educators for the use of technology in their classrooms. One model that stood out to me was the one described by Arizona State University.

Previously, they offered a stand-alone Educational Technology course to all students in their teaching program. However, they eliminated that course and infused technology enhanced curriculum into all of their courses throughout the program. ASU faculty members model technology integration strategies and facilitate student exploration. Students integrate technology into their lesson plans and teaching experiences.

EdTekTalks – Exercise and Learning

EdTekTalks was a session comprised of multiple TED Talk-style presentations, all of which were inspiring. I’ll summarize one specific presentation, mostly because my notes from the other presentations are a little less coherent.

Dr. Alex Thornton from Boston University shared research that shows the importance of exercise and sleep on brain activity when learning. In fact, he demanded the audience complete jumping jacks, run-in-place, and hop up and down during his session.

His takeaway: technology can play a role in reducing exercise and sleep among learners, but it can equally play a role in promoting exercise and sleep if used appropriately. It may be a while before sleep monitors appear in our classrooms or students’ heart rates are integrated into EdTech tools’ dashboards, but it’s worth exploring.

Keynote: Dr. Ruha Benjamin

Dr. Benjamin, from Princeton University, delivered the highlight of the conference with this keynote presentation. She argued that we shouldn’t adopt technologies in education without first wrestling with societal inequities. It’s too easy to say that technology will “improve the future.” Improve it for whom? Who gets to participate in the design of new learning technologies? Who gets access to these technologies? How do they affect populations differently?

Here are a few lines I jotted down during her sessions:

·      We should be experimenting with technologies of love, reciprocity, and justice.

·      Why can we imagine growing heart cells in a lab, but not growing empathy in our hearts?

·      Our social and political milieu can sometimes foster innovation, but it can also stifle innovation (see the Ahmed Mohamed clock incident).

·      You can game the system or hack the system. If you game it, you learn to use and play the system (e.g. changing one’s personality to fit into a certain culture). If you hack it, you understand the system and make it better (e.g. changing the exclusionary culture itself).

·      Love is the most powerful technology at our disposal.

These notes don’t do justice to Dr. Benjamin’s fast-moving and inspiring talk – it’s difficult to take notes while applauding. A periscope archive of the talk is available at https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ynJOPoQWQrxR.

EdTech Pitch Fest

One of the most entertaining concurrent sessions came in the form of a Shark Tank-style pitch fest where different EdTech startups presented their products and answered questions from an expert panel. At the end, winners were selected by the audience using an audience response system. The four finalists included:

1.     Cogent Education: A suite of interactive case studies for science courses created at the University of Georgia

2.     Airtame: Screen projection devices that wirelessly project from all devices anywhere in a room

3.     Books that Grow: E-books that offer differentiated content for various learner preferences and reading levels

4.     Talking Points: A communication tool for parents and teachers with language barriers

Cogent Education took the overall prize, which included free exhibit space at ISTE 2017.

Learning Out of the Box

William Rankin, of Unfold Learning, gave a presentation titled “Learning Out of the Box.” It was a great presentation, but unfortunately, I only jotted down two notes:

1.     If you can replace your learning technology with pen and paper, you should do it with pen and paper instead.

2.     If you’re using technology only for content consumption, you don’t need the technology. Technology is for making, not consuming.

If you’re going to jot down just two notes, those are good ones to pick.

Free Digital Textbooks – CK-12

This panel included an employee at CK-12, a company that creates free online “flexbooks,” and three K-12 teachers who are currently using CK-12 books in their classrooms. CK-12’s platform includes digital books that contain seeded, peer-reviewed content. Teachers can then remix and add to the books as they see fit.

The platform was originally intended for STEM courses, but people have started using the platform to create their own content in non-STEM fields. Likewise, some universities have started using the platform, despite its focus on K-12.

One particularly interesting use case was the district that is using CK-12 for project-based learning. Students curate and contribute content for books used in future iterations of the course. The platform includes texts, videos, simulations, and practice activities. It also features deep integration with learning management systems such as Canvas and Google Classroom.

After the session, I spent some time playing with the platform and was quite impressed. Try it at http://www.ck-12.org.

Google Apps in the Classroom

This session demonstrated innovative uses of Google Apps within learning environments. The main nugget I gained from this session was a new Google Slides features called Q&A.

It’s a back channel tool that is deeply integrated with Google Slides. As you present the slide deck, an associated discussion takes place using the audience’s mobile devices. At any time, you can insert a question or comment from the back channel into the presentation with the click of a button.

This looks like a really nice feature that could be helpful in large university courses. Learn more at https://docs.googleblog.com/2016/05/slidesQA.html.

Badging at Aurora Public Schools

Colorado’s Aurora Public School System has launched a micro-credentialing pilot program throughout its elementary, middle, and high schools. Using Credly as a platform, students earn Journey Badges and Summit Badges.

Journey Badges are earned when students exhibit specific skills such as teamwork or providing feedback. Each badge is attached to specific evidence that details how the student earned each badge. Once all Journey Badges within a group are earned, the student earns one of five Summit Badges. Summit Badges align to 21st-century skills such as collaboration, invention, or information literacy.

My favorite part of the program’s design is the inclusion of community partners. Upon earning a Summit Badge, students are provided a list of organizations and businesses in the community who have chosen to endorse a particular Summit Badge. For example, students who earn the “Invention” Summit Badge might choose to participate in a job shadow at a local engineering studio. Others might be given opportunities for mentorships, job interviews, and site visits at other community partners.

Most importantly, the program gives students a mechanism through which they can communicate specific skills and experiences that might not appear in a school transcript. A student might tell a potential employer or college admission officer exactly how he/she has collaborated with others using earned badges and their attached evidence.