I was lucky to attend my first ISTE conference last week. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) is the premier ed tech conference in the world. With more than 21,000 attendees and over 1000 learning sessions it was nearly impossible not to take some valuable information away from this conference. I learned many new things and was exposed to many great ideas, but to me the most valuable part of attending any conference is the inspiration I draw from the speakers and other attendees. Being around so many passionate educators always energizes me and causes me to reflect upon my own practices. I think this is the true value of attending conferences. Sure, it's great to learn something new and to get a few lessons or tools you can turn around and use, but the greatest benefit is that it causes us to look within ourselves. This reflection helps us to keep our passion and to continue changing and growing as educators. As George Couros said in a session I attended, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”
Building on this point, George pointed out that innovation is not the same for everyone. My journey from point A to point B is likely different from yours. Not only do we each implement our own strategies for change, but we each have different starting and ending points. The importance lies not necessarily in where you start or where you end, but in that you are progressing from one point to another. The goal is continual improvement, not reaching a specific end point. This is nothing new, most of us have always wanted to keep getting better, but this really resonated with me as I thought about how it applies to our reflection as educators. It is essential that we reflect upon where we are and how we can continue to grow. This not only improves our professional practices, but it also models reflective practice for our students. This was a key point that Will Richardson brought up at another session I attended; we as modern educators must model modern learning for our students.
The emphasis on students was a consistent theme at most of the sessions I attended. I know this seems like an obvious point (I mean it is an education conference, right?), but often our learning loses its focus. As Scott McLeod pointed out, conference sessions sometimes get sidetracked by highlighting tools or other information rather than focusing on student learning. I think educators need to learn about new tools, but many presenters at ISTE pointed out that in today’s world the importance must be on learning rather than the tools used to achieve learning. George Couros reminded us that the process of learning is much more important than the product created by students. Will Richardson emphasized the importance of providing opportunities for students to learn continuously, adapt, and solve problems. Educators must recognize that the content or skills from our curriculum are not as important as helping students learn how to learn. Will stressed that flexibility, problem solving, and creativity will be the most important skills moving forward. Alan November challenged us to teach kids to ask questions and allow them to find the answers. This motivates and engages students while often resulting in more complex problems than those designed by teachers for a class. George Couros reinforced this point as he reminded us that power is not in the consumption of information, but the creation of it.
As I’ve tried to summarize my thoughts from ISTE (a technology conference), tech is conspicuously absent from my reflections. I saw many new tech products in the vendor’s area, I learned about a few new tools in sessions I attended, and I heard conversations among attendees about new technologies. Some of these tools sound great. I will probably use some products I learned about at ISTE. However, I think the bigger theme was emphasized by Alan November when he said, “Technology makes no difference unless you change the work students do.” He went on to stress that we need to take the focus off technology and put the focus on the learning that can occur when technology is used effectively. Will Richardson shared a similar sentiment as he explained that transformative education is student organized with depth and complexity, but it does not require technology. When used effectively, tech can amplify powerful learning, but it is not a necessity. As George Couros said, “Technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.” But, it is essential that teaching and learning are placed ahead of the technology.
George Couros proposed one simple step to promote change within schools. He urged teachers to tweet one thing a day they did in their classroom to a school hashtag and then take five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets. I think George rightly predicted that this would have an enormous impact upon learning and school culture. This opens up the confines of each classroom and challenges all teachers to create an engaging, stimulating classroom environment. Sharing and collaboration are invaluable in our journey of continuous improvement.
I may not have shared a lot of specific, concrete things I learned at ISTE, but this conference’s affect on me is more conceptual. I began this post by reiterating the value of reflection for educators. I believe this is the most important takeaway from any educational conference. Many sessions advertise resources, ideas, or lessons that you can use on Monday, but the things that truly change our educational practices are not so tangible. To create powerful learning we must constantly be challenged to reflect, refine, and improve our educational practices. The speakers and attendees at ISTE challenged and inspired me, causing me to reflect upon my own beliefs and practices. This is the true value of educational conferences and this is why I would like to see opportunities expanded for all educators to attend more conferences. I think this would help to energize, enthuse and reignite our passions for education.