Wasting opportunities at ed tech conferences
It’s super fun to meet new people and see our friends at ed tech conferences. Sometimes they have photo booths and we can wear funny mustaches, Viking helmets, polka dot bow ties, and giant sunglasses. We get to hang out, eat a meal together, talk, share, laugh… all good stuff. It’s cool to see everyone having a great time and sharing their photos and thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
But I think that at most ed tech conferences we’re also missing opportunities. That session on the latest Google Chrome extensions isn’t going to change a kid’s life. That tools smackdown isn’t likely to make students’ learning much better (no, really, it isn’t). And those sessions on 60 iPad apps in 60 minutes? Well…
With rare exception, 80 to 90% of the sessions at most of our ed tech conferences are about extensions, apps, and tools and only 10 to 20% of the sessions are about nontrivial learning and teaching. Or leadership. Or systems change.
[I know some people likely will disagree with me on this breakdown. Fair enough. Grab Bloom’s taxonomy or Webb’s depth of knowledge levels, run through the session titles and descriptions of a recent ed tech conference, and make your own determination about what falls into the deep, meaningful learning category and what falls into the tools / low-level learning / ‘oh, tech is so fun and cool, look what you can do!’ category. Let me know what you find out.]
Oh, what’s the harm? A few sessions on apps or tools won’t hurt anyone, will they?
Probably not. Even when they’re the vast majority, not a small minority. But every time we just show how to use tools or apps or whatever – or our focus is only on low-level learning (or, dare we admit it, behavior control) – or we shill for some vendor – or we spend significant time on ‘OMG, this is so dang cool I might wet my pants!’ – we miss an opportunity to fight for significant grounding in and modeling of more substantive student learning. Every time we extoll the use of a technology tool for trivia or minutiae, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate how technology can be used for meaningful, cognitively-complex outcomes rather than routine cognitive work. Every time we decline to model the usage of technology to learn deep disciplinary practices, processes, and concepts, we reinforce the status quo of factual recall and procedural regurgitation and foster the idea that ’technology for technology’s sake’ is just fine.
We have entire ed tech conferences dedicated to the latest and greatest tools, apps, and extensions. Educators sign up for them in droves, often paying $200 to $300 per head to attend. They’re fun, they’re cool, and some organizations are making a LOT of money with this model. But next time you’re at an ed tech conference, ask yourself “Are these offerings really moving the needle in terms of systemic change in classrooms, teacher practice, or school systems?” (which is what we need)
I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon. I like ed tech conferences too, quite a bit. But I think our face-to-face time is rare and precious. So when there’s very little discussion or modeling of learning – deep, meaningful learning – I think that we’re missing important chances to change practice and move systems. We’re ignoring the opportunity costs. What could we have done – what could we have accomplished, together – instead? Ed tech conferences should be fun, but they also should be productive and maybe could be transformative.
I wish we had far fewer tools sessions and much more discussion about technology for the purpose of what?, with an emphasis on the what of deeper learning. What do you think?
UPDATE: Please also see An #itec14 apology