July 09, 2014

Glimpses of International K-12: ISTE 2014

As I write this, I’m still in Atlanta, about to leave the ISTE Conference. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend one yet, ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education Conference. Educators across the globe, both K12 and College of Education professors, come together with the shared ideal to improve education for primary and secondary students across the globe.

As the late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

As with any field, whether it’s neurosurgery or shoeing horses, there are some universal truths that quickly become apparent:

#1: It’s NOT about the device. I must admit my personal guilt here, having worked for Apple Education for more years than I care to admit, and having sold Chromebook 1:1s…but improving learning isn’t about the device. I think we learned that back in the Stone Age (OK, maybe the 1990s) when plunking one of those enormous desktop computers in the back of every classroom was supposed to change learning…perhaps by osmosis? Professional development wasn’t comprehensively done back then and, without that, the computer was nothing more than a fanciful collection of plastic and metal parts. Or, perhaps, more of a gaming reward for good behavior? [Another round of Oregon Trail anyone?] One thing was certain: it didn’t transform learning.

Modern educators have come to realize that the total learning environment must be changed. This entails instituting professional development, enabling “anytime, anywhere” mobile learning, and appropriate infrastructure preparations to facilitate the curricular metamorphosis.  (After all, putting iPads in your school without a robust, modern network is like putting Ferraris on pothole-riddled, dead-end dirt roads.)

#2: Curriculum directors must work with technology directors. In these days where politicians can’t seem to work together, I was heartened to see how many teams worked across disciplines to achieve a unified goal. In the spirit of “it’s all about the child,” educators proved that working together is what really matters.

#3: The perfect device isn’t out — yet. Educators and tech directors alike complained about imaging iPads, and compared Chromebook tales. Google Glass users graced the hallways, and discussions turned to these next category of devices: wearables. With Google and Apple reputedly working on medical wearable devices, districts can only expect these to appear on their networks within the next few years. Schools that don’t wish to allow BYOD will probably have to reconsider their policies, for the battle against juvenile diabetes is too important to ban wearables when they can help monitor blood sugar levels. This certainly sounds very futuristic, and something straight out of Star Trek: “Spock, check your Tricorder readings, and your glucose levels.”

#4: It’s about personalized learning. That truism is why folks visited our booth. Whether it was iPads, Chromebooks or Google Glass, educators have realized that the “one-size-fits-all” network is yesterday’s world. Having implemented 1:1s, they wanted to differentiate network services for 3rd graders vs. 12th graders, as well as reinforce AUP. One university popped in to design a personalized learning environment with differentiated delivery of Internet services — with ease-of-use accompanying such flexibility.

Now, just toss in an admixture of heat + humidity, some peach-flavored frozen “treats” that rankled your taste buds, and about 500 excellent conversations, and you get an idea of what transpired at ISTE. The venue (Atlanta) was magnificent, the goodwill abundant, and the educators proved nicer than on my last personal vacation, where I remember getting poked in the ribs by anxious travelers.

And to reinforce the “Prime Directive” (in Star Trek terms): It’s all about the child!

About The Contributor:
Jean MickelsonEducation Specialist

For 17+ years, Jean Mickelson has worked with K20 education throughout the Midwest and Canada. She has worked with districts to transform classrooms into digital learning environments, focusing on aspects such as digital citizenship, Common Core standards, security, and network management. She has helped establish one-to-one programs and the various flavors BYODs. Before joining Extreme, Jean was an EDU specialist with Apple and Google Apps, assisting both iPad and Chromebook deployments.

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