Saturday, July 30, 2016

ISTE 2016 Impressions From a Noob

A month later, this post might be a little bit slow in coming but this experience was formative in my professional career so I thought I would share a few thoughts.

Mine was the distinct pleasure of attending the ISTE 2016 conference in Denver, Colorado at the end of June.  I had heard of the ISTE conference and never really considered that I would have the opportunity to go until someone really awesome at Samsung contacted me and asked me to be part of a panel on VR in education.  At this point I was only a few weeks out from the conference so I scrambled to rearrange some of my summer plans in order to be able to attend, and I am glad that I did.

After finding out that I was going to have the chance to go out to Denver, I started asking around to other fellow educators who had been.  One buddy referred to the event as a "boat show" which made a lot more sense when standing on the expo floor.  Actually my experience was unique from some others, let me elaborate.

A Unique Experience

The experience was unique for me in a couple of ways.  I was an exhibitor and as such, I didn't get quite the same participation as a regular attendee.  Typically, exhibitors spend their time on the expo floor showing off their educational technology solutions.  On the other hand, I was also there for my own professional development and took every opportunity to soak in the different presentations and activities.

My main reason for being at the conference was to participate in a panel discussion that was hosted by Samsung, the panel was a blast.  The other members of the panel were absolute rock stars and passionate about their respective fields. The panel consisted of Richard Byrne from FreeTech4Teachers, Jan Ståhlberg from Labster, and Nick Uhas from Nickipedia.  I thoroughly enjoyed being able to converse with them about the exciting aspects of VR in education.  The video below is a little promo that Samsung shot on the expo floor to show off the GearVR and get people thinking about VR in education.  You can also check out their write up on their blog. I'm super grateful to Samsung for the experience and have already started concocting ways to see if I can attend next year.

Other Takeaways

I consider myself an educator above all else and love what I do because I get to work with the kids.  It was interesting to me to see the tech community at large and the ways in which tech is being leveraged into education.  I understood the "boat show" metaphor immediately as the two cultures seemed to hit head on with educational decision makers left trying to discern between new-and-flashy and what actually had educational value.  I personally saw some of the biggest innovation coming from the smallest players, the grass roots ideas that came straight from hard working educators like myself.  Despite all the innovation, I often was left wondering if some of those smaller entities had much of a chance against the huge companies who were peddling their wares almost unaware of any real impact that it might have on education.

I guess that as educators, we aren't that much different from the students we teach.  Given all the hype that has always surrounded educational technology, it becomes a constant weighing of what things will contribute to our craft and what is merely a distraction.  Will we have the discipline to take advantage and leverage the academics held within cutting technology or will it be a crutch that we fall back on solely to entertain and impress?  Leaving the conference inspired me to start this blog and started me thinking about a lot of things.  This idea  is what excites me the most right now about education; bring on all the awesome new technology and leave it to the teachers to figure out how to use it.