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8 lessons from ISTE 2017

A roundup of observations and lessons from the year’s biggest edtech conference.

6 min read


8 lessons from ISTE 2017

Kanoe Namahoe

More than 21,000 educators and education providers attended this year’s ISTE Conference & Expo in San Antonio. SmartBrief editors were on the ground, talking to teachers, administrators and industry experts about the new technologies and trends shaping the classroom. Read on for eight takeaways from the show, including what four things we need to stop doing in education and insights from studies on E-rate and the Internet of Things in schools.

Want to know how to carry a Chromebook? Ask a first-grader. That’s how they do it in Plano Independent School District in Texas, according to technology specialist Clara Alaniz, who highlighted the district’s CLICK website. Website operation involves students working with teachers to create videos, uploading the videos, and then sharing them with others. Student technology tips range from a first-grader’s view of how to carry a Chromebook to a high-schooler explaining computer-aided design, Alaniz explained.

Stop doing these four things in education: homework, long lectures, desks and bullying. These were the top-line suggestions from four students who gathered together for a tech chat moderated by ISTE CEO Richard Culatta. The students also suggested making learning more fun with games and virtual reality. San Antonio student Chloe Kaplan, who aspires to become a teacher — and president –, said memorable learning takes place during “hands on labs that we do at school for science or even just reading as a class together [because it] helps bring everyone together […].”

Give students something to take with them to college and workforce. Shawn Beard, director of career tech and virtual learning at Sand Springs Schools in Oklahoma, recommends using Google Sites to help students create digital portfolios. “As classrooms move from paper to digital, we need a way for students to carry their body of work with them,” and Google Sites is easy to use, he said. Digital portfolios also help teach digital citizenship. “Student learn how to use a professional email address — to put themselves out there — and to be safe about what they put on social media and aware of the digital footprint they leave behind,” Beard said.  

Tell your story. Who’s telling your story? That’s a question keynote speaker and chief innovation officer Jennie Magiera challenged attendees to consider, and a topic echoed by ISTE CEO Richard Culatta, who said while “data hits the brain, stories hit the heart,” adding that we need data, “but sometimes we can forget the power of telling the right story as an education community, and especially as an edtech community.” Tech can help you share your story and shatter the single story told to the world, Magiera said. “It’s incredible what we can do today — how we can share our humanity.”

Create an IoT plan. CDW-G this week released a report on the future of the Internet of Things in schools. Nearly half of the 300 schools and districts surveyed said they have a formal IoT strategy in place. CDW-G K-12 strategy team members said they were surprised that the number was that high, but noted it also means about half do not have such plans in a landscape where 82% said that in five years the majority of schools and district will have incorporated IoT into core functional areas. What are some of the hallmarks IoT planning? CDW-G’s Pete Koczera said planning should begin with a strategic vision for technology that is informed by the education goals of the institute, and, he added, leaders should take time to bring together experts with specific knowledge from across district departments. Beginning there, Koczera said, “might slow down implementation, buts it’s worth it because to understand the benefits and engage in that way will help implementation go smoothly.”

Connect, learn, grow. Peer-to-peer relationships help foster learning and growth, said Sarah Thomas, regional technology coordinator for Prince George’s Public Schools, during her pre-keynote speech Sunday evening. “When you have that peer-to-peer collaboration between students, it just works amazingly,” she said, “They’re able to learn together and exchange information more freely.” The same is true for teachers, Thomas noted. When educators connect, they are able to build relationship, share experiences and find solutions to the tricky issues they face. She encouraged attendees to use Twitter, Instagram and other social media tools to create these deep connections. “When we get together and have these conversations, you don’t have one brain on the problem – you have multiple brains on any given problem,” Thomas said.

Dear teachers, please get Scratch’n. “I love Scratch!” said a smiling, exuberant Nadia Smith, during her Tuesday tabletop presentation, Students Show You How To Start Scratch’n Computational Thinking with Scratch Jr. The nine-year-old presenter was patient as she fielded questions from teachers and walked them through examples of the stories, animations and games she has created with Scratch Jr. Smith, who was supervised by her mother, co-presenter and Texas State University professor Shaunna Smith, said she taught herself Scratch Jr. She created her own book series when she was in the first grade. She encourages teachers to bring Scratch in their classrooms. “I wish my teachers would use Scratch!” For those who aren’t familiar with the coding language, Smith recommends starting with PBS Kids ScratchJr, a coding app designed for students aged 5-8.

E-rate matters. E-rate continues to be an important funding source for schools and libraries across the nation that provide internet access to students, according to findings from a report released this week by E-rate compliance consultancy Funds for Learning. Eighty-seven percent of the roughly 1,100 applicants surveyed said that “E-rate funding is vital to their organization’s internet connectivity goals,” and 78% said they are able to “connect more students and library patrons to the internet because of the E-rate program,” according to a statement from the organization. The findings did not surprise John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning. “Schools have upgraded their networks and students are using more devices,” Harrington said during a meeting with SmartBrief editors at the conference. Harrington, who has had conversations with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, also expressed optimism about Washington’s support for the program. The Trump administration “supports deployment of bandwidth in rural areas” and investments in infrastructure, Harrington said. He also pointed to President Trump’s recent nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel, a former FCC commissioner who served during the Obama administration, as an indicator of support for the E-rate program.

Melissa Greenwood is the director of education content at SmartBrief.

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor of SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.

Stay tuned in August for SmartReport on Edtech, where we take a deep dive into emerging edtech trends and how they are shaping the education landscape.

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