Ever since I started exploring ideas about education “reform,” I’ve been interested in leveraging the power of technology to help form an ideal learning system. For this reason, I was drawn to attend the International Society of Technology in Education’s 2014 conference (ISTE) that was taking place in my hometown (#iste2014).
Throughout the four-day conference, many of the sessions I attended supported the idea of technology as a tool and a means to achieving our educational goals. ISTE affirmed for me that the introduction of technology can lead to a more interconnected, global classroom with students engaged and at the center, taking charge of their own learning. These suppositions are not new, but at ISTE I was intrigued by the wave of new ways to reach these goals. With improved technology comes greater possibilities and I took away a series of best practices for each of the key “powers of technology” I identified.
- Power #1: Technology opens the doors to a global classroom.
- The first session I attended was a series of Ignite talks and round table discussions, a rapid format designed to squeeze the most ideas into a limited amount of time. As a result, I ended up hearing a multitude of ways teachers are expanding their classrooms past the brick and mortar walls. For example, UNICEF has come up with a collaborative online portfolio of international education resources that can be found at http://teachunicef.org/. Mail-order elephants (modern day flat Stanleys), mystery Skypes and international e-pen pals were a few that truly stood out. Many teachers also suggested asking the students what they want to gain out of the year and how global learning could help them achieve those goals. Each project was designed to foster not only knowledge of other areas of the world but also form relationships with people outside of the students’ cities and build an international community.
- Power #2: Technology fosters greater engagement.
- In that first ignite session, I spent my roundtable discussion with Vicki Davis, co-creator of the Gameify project, an inter-generational learning experience. Her students tried to identify what makes an “effective” game, linking ed-theory with game theory. They joined MOOCS and tested over 50 games to see their benefits. Only a few met all the students’ criteria of an effective game – one that is both engaging and informative. Sadly, the conclusion they reached with a majority of the games was that the highly engaging ones didn’t teach much and the highly educational ones aren’t very interesting. As a next step, the class wants to partner with older, more experienced coders to create the “perfect” game that would pass the rigorous judgment they’ve become accustomed to passing.
- I got a chance to see some of the educational games currently available up close and personal on the second full day of the conference. I sat in on a session between Dell and Brainpop that gave me the opportunity to play a handful of online games in Science, Math, and English, that targeted different specialties and professional fields. I was surprised at how engrossing some of them were and how completely boring others were. Despite having seen the research, I hadn’t realized how obvious the difference was between a game that was good (engaging and informative) and bad (monotonous, too general and/or not actually educational).
- Power #3: Technology gives students greater autonomy.
- On the first real day of the conference, I visited the general poster session, a hall full of different projects and teams from across the world, eager to share how they use technology in education. One of the booths that particularly intrigued me presented a “student voice and choice” curriculum. These teachers had their elementary students blogging and tweeting about what they learned and did each day, allowing them to learn by doing rather than having the teacher talk at them all day. Furthermore, 20 minutes of each class were dedicated to a project chosen by each student. The project guidelines were few and simple; the students didn’t have to be researching or solving a problem, just pursuing something that they were passionate about and producing a final result at the end of the year, be it a presentation or a product. I found this model simple yet very effective and admired how technology simply helped the students gain control of what they were learning.
- The last session I attended on the final day of the conference was all about changing the paradigm. The public school system of Manor, TX created an innovative student leaders program with a group of students who showed that they know how to integrate technology into their everyday lives. These schools realized that the students of my generation, the so-called “digital natives” are already well versed in a lot of technology and programs that schools are adopting. Therefore, rather than wasting time, money and energy in training certain teachers with no prior knowledge who in turn would teach others, the logical choice was to put the students in charge of technological professional development of all teachers.
- Power #4: Technology allows students to learn with real world applications.
- In addition to the sessions scattered throughout the days, an entire level of the conference space was dedicated to a sponsor/vendor expo. There, big companies like Adobe and Google talked about their new products and their educational initiatives and tools to large crowds while smaller companies like Bretford took up just as much space showcasing their flexible, re-arrangeable furniture/desk sets that come with built in charging stations. One of the smaller companies that really grabbed my attention was Bizworld. Bizworld endeavors to teach entrepreneurship to elementary students. Their newest product, Bizmovie, is a project-based module on the film industry. Students are a part of the full movie-making process, from creating the film to publicizing/marketing it and generating “revenue” by selling tickets. It’s a hands-on, simulation of real life that’s fun for the students while also teaching them valuable, real-life skills.
Through a variety of sessions, booths and discussions, ISTE 2014 (#iste2014) gave me a chance to see what 21st Century classrooms look like when technology is leveraged to its full potential.
Guest Post by Tara Subramaniam, High School Student and Blogger
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