When I first started going to conferences, there were a lot of tool based sessions. They were designed to give you as many options as you could possibly want in one sitting. These kind of sessions reached their height with the somewhat infamous 60 apps in 60 minutes format. iPad apps, Chrome extensions, web 2.0 sites, AT apps, and more would seemingly lend themselves very well to this kind of information style presentation.
However, in recent years, there has been some pushback against this format. The criticism being that we don’t need more tools, we need better pedagogy. We, as educators, need to spend more time on a more considered approach to technology integration in order to ensure that it has the right impact on teaching and learning. After all, the tool is just a tool. The state standards and the learning outcomes for your students are more important. The app, the extension, or the website you use, is just a vehicle to help you get there.
Of course, it is hard to argue with that notion. Technology has to be used purposefully in our classrooms, and we need to be sure we are using it for the right reasons. We won’t improve as educators if we don’t have opportunities to learn about best practice and what that looks like. There are frameworks that can help us with that, (SAMR, TPACK, T3, Four Shifts, etc.), and although we might not all rally behind the same one, I would bet that you could find at least one that fits the way that you like to teach. Good edtech conferences will have sessions like this for those that need it.
Is there a third path? A way to talk about new tools and new ideas for how to use them. Personally, I see more and more sessions that combine these two approaches. Sometimes it is a deep dive into one tool like Flipgrid or SeeSaw. The presenter shows how they work as well as how they can be used intentionally to support learning outcomes for students. Other times it might be tech tools that revolve around a theme or a particular teaching strategy.
At different times in my career, I have given presentations in all of these formats. Which one is best? That’s not really the purpose of this post, but what I will say is that different people have different needs. Beginning teachers who have less experience in the classroom are going to want to find some new tools for their toolbox, but unless the college they went to was a big proponent of technology in schools, they are probably going to need those best practice sessions first. However, experienced instructional coaches, the model teachers, the TOSAs and the tech savvy trailblazers who know what good instruction with technology looks like, well, they are looking for new tools that they can use to maximize engagement and give students new opportunities.
At the end of the day, I think that there will always be a thirst for what’s new in edtech. Free apps or services that teachers use, and love, do have a habit of going out of business, or they end up introducing paid plans that limit the features that were previously free. I’m not saying we should return to the days of 60 apps in 60 minutes, nor am I saying that the preferred format for an edtech session has to be a deep dive into teaching frameworks, but, if done well, a compromise is not always a bad thing.
As attendees, the onus is on us to make good choices. We are professionals in one of the best professions that there is. If we want to be better at what we do and create the best possible experiences for our students, we need to look at our practice and think about what you need as an educator. Be honest with yourself. If you attend a session and it isn't going in the direction that you thought it might, there is nothing wrong with getting up and walking out to find another that would better suit your needs. I will often pick two or three sessions in one time slot for that very reason. Good presenters know that this is not a slight against their content. It's just not the content that you need right now.
As presenters, we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that we are trying to meet the needs of as many people in our audience as possible. This can be a fine line to walk, but it’s an important one. These people are giving up their time to learn from you, so give them the best experience you can and model what you would like to see in their classroom. Technology can’t be separate from pedagogy. We want students using technology as part of an integrated learning experience that is part of a rich and varied curriculum, but some people are going to need help getting there. That’s our job as presenters and facilitators of learning. Some days we do this better than others, but if we hold on to this as our guiding light, and we make ourselves accountable to this philosophy, we have a chance of making a real difference in schools.
I’d love to hear more about the types of sessions that you like to attend at edtech conferences or any thoughts that you have on conferences that you have been to. Are they meeting your needs? Do they give you the inspiration that you need to make learning better in your classroom? Send me a tweet or leave a comment below.
Digital Learning Consultant, Grant Wood AEA