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ISTE 2018: What we saw, what we learned, and how we need to move forward

ISTE — the annual whirlwind that sends thousands of educators home with new connections, sore feet, and renewed enthusiasm for their profession — successfully came to a close a few weeks ago. With over 24,000 attendees (representing over 85 countries), 1,700 sessions, 900 student presenters, several of the biggest names in edtech AND one ISTE baby born, there was a whole lot going on on the conference floor this year. In case you couldn’t make it (or in case you were just overwhelmed by everything), I wanted to reflect on a few themes that stood out to me this year.

While most people don’t like to be sold anything, I’m always impressed with how companies continue to find creative ways to draw people to their booths. Here are a few of my favorites.

Three Fun Booths

1. Pop-A-Shot

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2. Blend While You Ride

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3. Skeeball

Getting people to your booth is one thing, but more important are the conversations that occur once people stop by your booth to talk. Here are three of the trends that I saw numerous people talking about and showcasing.

Three Trends to Watch

1. AR

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Kevin Chaja @el_chakka demoing MomentAR

VR

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Steven Sato @stevensato tearing it up with the HTC Vive

2. Digital voice assistants in the classroom

3. Differentiation, Personalization and Standards-Based Grading

When you combine everything you see, hear, and talk about at ISTE, it takes some mental effort to distill all of those million different things into overarching takeaways. But here are the three most important things that I came away from the conference with.

Three Takeaways

1. Connections/relationships are everything

The ISTE conference does one thing exceptionally well in my opinion: it provides a place for educators from around the world to talk to each other about what’s working in their schools, recent failures, and how to get up the courage to take more risks for the benefit of students. There are people I still exchange Tweets with going all the way back to my first ISTE in Atlanta in 2014 and every year my network of talented and passionate educators grows. I lean on them in times when I feel frustrated or need validation that I’m on the right track — there’s no doubt I wouldn’t be the educator I am today without these people. No other conference has such a collection of smart and talented people at this scale. For that, I am forever grateful every year, because these people have truly pushed my thinking and stretched my imagination of what’s possible in our classrooms.

2. Technology reigns supreme

It may come as no surprise that a conference hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education was full of nothing but the latest and greatest shiny, flashy tools. The show had robots big and small, a software solution for every problem, and future-looking applications such as voice assistants, augmented and virtual reality, and hologram headsets in the classroom.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about digital voice assistants like Alexa or Google Home in the classroom, they certainly raise red flags about the security and privacy of students, but if you can put that aside for a second, you can see amazingly powerful potential applications. Imagine a classroom where students have access to a voice assistant. Perhaps one kid is working on improving fluency and the voice assistant can make minor suggestions and record the reading for the teacher to review if needed. Maybe there’s more than one student who has similar reading skills to work on and now more students get 1:1 assistance, all the while generating data for the district to use. This is just one scenario in which technology can make a tangible difference in our schools.

3. Modern education technology + ineffective teaching = ineffective teaching

As exciting as the technology may be, we still have little-to-no evidence that technology on its own improves learning in education. If schools are simply adding new technology to traditional teaching methods, they’re not improving their teachers’ abilities to provide relevant and authentic learning experiences. This is particularly true when they don’t have a plan for implementing said technology. One of my favorite metaphors for the ISTE conference, or even the smaller regional shows, goes like this: Nobody visits a hardware store to buy 30 of the latest and greatest tools and then returns home to decide what they’re going to build, however this is often what happens at technology conferences. Successful and meaningful technology integration starts with clearly defined educational outcomes and the desired learning experiences for students. Once those are identified, the likelihood of choosing the appropriate tool, technology or otherwise, and arriving at the intended learning goal is greatly increased.

In order to solve this problem, we must first identify what’s causing the issue. Buying and distributing technology to teachers and students is very exciting for school districts and there’s instant gratification. It also happens to be the easiest aspect of a technology initiative. The hard part is getting educators to think differently about the nature of the work students are doing, the type of assessments we’re using, and the grading practices that reflect what students are learning. The hard work takes years before one can realize the fruits of their labor. If don’t we stop celebrating “going 1:1” and start acknowledging those who are changing the paradigm in our schools, I’m afraid we’ll continue to get more of the same and you’ll be reading the new version of this article after ISTE next year. “New Technology, Same Old Results.”

What did you think about ISTE 2018? What were the coolest booths or technologies that you saw? What will you keep in mind going forward? I’d love to hear your thoughts — let me know on Twitter at @NoApp4Pedagogy.

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