Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Technology in Education is not about Technology

That title must seem fairly strange, especially as I am now at day 4 of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, a 20,000 person shindig with educators from around the country and around the world all here to discuss and learn about - what else? - technology and it's place in education. I will post more about someof the specific take-always from this conference and some of the really cool things about it as well in later posts. For now, I want to focus on this one issue.

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.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Heading to ISTE!

This Sunday, I will be heading to San Diego for my first ever ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference - a 20,000+ person confab with over 700 sessions, keynotes, hangouts, hoe-downs, and every other possible way of getting a bunch of committed, innovative, and wired educators together to talk about ways to improve the field. And, of course, it is a good excuse to be in San Diego during the last week of June.

I will be blogging from the conference, and tweeting as well (follow me at @rabbiross) and will obviously have much more to say once I am there and get over the feeling of being overwhelmed. Right now, simply looking at the convention center is making me feel overwhelmed. A few thoughts before I head off:

1) Live meetings are important. One thing I am looking forward to at this conference is finally meeting many of the people that I know only through twitter and the blogosphere. Some of them I simply follow. Some of them I have had long, drawn-out twitter-fueled conversations with. Some of them I can almost pick out of a crowd. Some hide behind an animated avatar. As wonderful as social media is - and I am a believer - there is nothing that substitutes for sitting down for a chat or hearing a live session from someone that you have already gained so much from.

2) Everyone is your teacher. As the Sages say, "Who is wise? He who learns from everyone." I have no doubt that every single one of the 20,000 people in attendance at ISTE will have the potential for teaching me something, whether they are presenters or people waiting in front of me on line to get into a session. There will be so many people there from so many walks of life and types of schools (from around the country and around the world), and there are so many innovations being tried in classrooms that chances are anyone I speak to will have something to say to me that I do not already know. At the same time, I have to be willing to share and not assume that as a newbie at the conference I have nothing to contribute - as I said, everyone here will be a teacher.

3) Building a Jewish education technology cohort. I am attending this conference thanks to the good graces of the AVI CHAI foundation, who are sponsoring Jewish educators at ISTE for the second time. In addition, several other Jewish foundations will be sending cohorts, and many other ISTE veterans from Jewish day schools will be attending on their own as well. As events like this become more fixed on the calendar of Jewish schools, and as the network of ISTE attendees from such schools continues to grow, the impact on the type of education that we are able to provide to our students will increase as well. While Judaic education specifically currently is far behind more general subjects such as math and science in terms of the resources that are available online, an ever-growing group of Jewish educators will help to begin to produce materials and ideas that will allow others to leverage the power of technology to improve and enhance their classroom environment.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for updates from the conference.