A little over three weeks ago I received a phone call from Don Cantrell of the South Carolina Department of Education. He called to tell me the South Carolina Association of Education Technology (SCAET) had been trying to contact me since September to inform me that Bluffton Middle School's Computer Technology 6 course (which I had mainly written) had won the Technology Innovative Program Award. To make a long story short, our school's core technology team along with our principal were going to Myrtle Beach to attend the SC EdTech conference and accept the award.
The theme for this year's conference was Unwired and Unplugged and most of the sessions were about the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Once the conference was pretty much over, many of the veteran EdTech people felt this was a down year for the conference and some complained it was a waste of time. As I have had time to sit down and reflect on what transpired over the three days at Myrtle Beach I don't think it was a total waste and here are my reasons why:
- The use of mobile devices such as iOS and Android devices have basically taken education by surprise with the speed of adoption by the general public. It shouldn't have but it did. Now school districts are going to be in disarray in trying to justify the continuation of money spent on laptop carts, computer labs, and interactive whiteboards. Mobile devices are the wave of the future so teachers are going to have to learn to deal with it.
- Most of the sessions were about what apps teachers can use in the classroom. Apps are proliferating at an exponetial rate to even attempt to recommend certain apps to use. While a few apps seemed cute, teachers really need to know how to find and evaluate apps for themselves to determine what is best in the classroom. Also, teachers need to do a better job in keeping up with the latest technology developments. This leads to my next point.
- Unlike laptop carts, mobile devices such as iPads and other tablets, iPod Touches, iPhones and Android phones do not work well in a unified controlled system like computer do. Mobile devices are designed to be, well, mobile. This means each device needs to be tailored to the unique needs of the individual. This means more differentiation of instruction for teachers. However, learning how to use these individual apps will have to fall to the student because different mobile operating systems act in different ways. Even the apps in different OS's behave differently. For example, the experience in using Evernote is way different on an Android device verses a iOS device.
- Again, most of the technology demonstrated at EdTech this year is still fairly new. I have to give credit to all who bravely stood in front of groups to do the sessions. At least they tried. I do have to say the group presenting the creation of videos from the College of Charleston did the best job. The one thing I was looking for was how were devices integrated into the classroom. This group did that by explaining what the assignment was, how it was evaluated, and how they let students use the tools they thought would be the best to use. Why force someone to use Windows Movie Maker if the student has a Mac with iMovie. Better yet, if a student has an iOS device such as an iPhone should they not use iMovie for iOS or Splice? It is the finished product that counts. That is what I wanted to see.
- Even if you go to a bad session (and I went to a few) you can always get something from it. Even if it is not how to do certain practices. The college professor that led the Online and Hybrid course session did have some good insights on course management techniques that she learned the hard way. While I felt a few problems were self-inflicted, others are good to keep in mind.
- Wireless carriers are going to have to pitch in and help. I have seen AT&T and Sprint come up with management tools for wireless devices but they will have to come together and adopt a single standard if schools will have safe use of student-owned devices (BYOD). Both companies have told me they have solutions but they cannot be balkanized like the carriers themselves.
- SC EdTech is not usually a conference that showcases the latest technologies but there were a few nuggets that impressed me the most. Augmented Reality reading, vocabulary and writing aids. It was cool watching an alligator shake his head no when you asked him if he ate grass. The latest in robotics programming that could tell a good story and dance up a storm. However, at $16,000 per unit for something I might could get at Target for $200 I will stick with Lego Mindstorm. Multi touch HD displays. I have been waiting on these for awhile and I hope my wait is almost over. This also spells the beginning of the end of Interactive Whiteboards as we know it. One technology that was not at EdTech but has been talked about, The ability to wirelessly mirror an iOS device to an Apple TV device. If the Apple TV was not HDMI only I would already have one in my room but there are alternatives.
The bottom line is that South Carolina educators, like other educators across the country are trying to deal with game-changing advancement in technology. I feel the time has come for students to start ditching traditional textbooks and bring their own mobile devices to school Teachers are going to have to start planning on how they are going to incorporate these devices in their classrooms and telling students to put them away will not cut it. If those who attended SC EdTech this year were not happy with their experience they need to realize the conference was asking presenters and attendees to venture into a totally unfamiliar area.