One of the overriding themes at many of the sessions that I have attended has been about keeping the focus on the students. I attended a session this morning co-presented by George Couros and Patrick Franklin, principals in Alberta, Canada and Burlington, Massachusetts, respectively, who between them have over 27,000 followers on twitter and are certifiable rock stars here at ISTE. One of the first things that George said was that he wants to remove the word digital from what we do because it incorrectly puts the focus on that aspect of our work. Their talk was about how principals envision their schools and how they encourage their students to think and take control of their education. It just so happens that a lot of technology is really useful for doing all of this - but it remains a tool, not the driving force.
On Monday morning, I attended a session by Alan November, wonderful speak who consistently advocates for teachers to find more and more ways to make students more active within the classroom. A key word in his presentation was motivation, with a particular focus on finding "jobs" for individual students to carry out in the classroom, such as scribe or researcher, that will allow them to have a greater and more active role in the learning that is taking place. Again, many of these ideas could not come to fruition without the powerof technology and the web, but the goal is what we do with all of that technology, not our focus on it.
I could go on and on, and I yet may do so in later posts. If you want to see my notes from the seasons I have attended, I have been posting them using Evernote (a wonderful tool that Tzvi Pittinsky just wrote about on his TechRav blog) and sting them to twitter (follow me at @rabbiross). But my point for now is that this conference is largely nothing that a critic of technology in schools would assume it to be. Yes, everyone is walking around with a smartphone and an iPad or chrome book or laptop and sometimes using more than one at a time. Yes, there is an overwhelming large vendor expo with more technology products than you could ever dream about. And, yes, I have learned about some really cool sites and devices.
But at the end of the day, this is an education conference and not a technology conference. To those people who have an allergic reaction every time someone suggests a new device or app to be used in the classroom, get over it. Technology already exists in your classroom and the best thing that you can do is to get ahead of it. It is indeed overwhelming and there are more products and sites and apps out there than we have time to think about. Nevertheless, the word from the experts and gurus out here is that the key is to keep our focus on where it has always been in schools - on our students. The rest is just commentary.