Thoughts from the Upstate Technology Conference 2011

The 2011 edition of the Upstate Technology Conference just wrapped up for another year. UTC has become one of my favorite conferences because of the quality of the sessions and keynotes. This is the result of the hard work of the Instructional Technology Staff of the Greenville County School District. Not is this hard work done to provide quality educational technology training for Greenville teachers, they also invite anyone to attend free of charge. Those Greenville folks know how to share and collaborate!

I was fortunate enough to give two presentations. One was on using mobile devices in the classroom and the other was on using Edmodo to communicate with my students. In the session on mobile devices there was some great discussion among the participants. It surprised me that the group mostly accepted the fact that technology is becoming more mobile and it will filter into the classroom soon. The biggest discussion was around how to do manage students to make sure they stay on task. There was agreement with the analogy of when paper was introduced to students to use there was some resistance by teachers who feared there would be doodling and note passing going on. We don't see spiral notebooks be taken away and teachers have developed classroom management techniques to combat these problems but it has not gone away. Students texting each other just presents new challenges in classroom management but this group seemed up to the challenge. The group also thought about ways to incorporate the mobile devices and agreed that school-funded 1:1 initiatives will never happen. Parents are going to have to pony up the money. As far as Edmodo was concerned, this group was very accepting and liked the idea of a way to interact with their students online in a variety of ways safely.

When I was not giving presentations I was attending some to see what others are doing. With the large list of opportunities it was difficult to choose six to sit in on. One thing the planners of UTC did was to bring in some fresh ideas. While podcasting is a great classroom tool, do we need more of it? Sprint had an interesting idea of managing content with the Sprint ID Pack which allows IT managers to select which apps will be allowed for a business or school. This will need work if students are allowed to bring their own mobile devices but it is a start. The next session allowed me to see an application I am considering for Computer Tech 7 at Bluffton Middle School, goAnimate4Schools. It was good to hear how a teacher in Greenwood, SC used this application with her students. A session of some web applications stimulated my thinking towards looking at some more offerings for my Computer Tech 7 class. This might become a two-year class with all of the possibilities. I gave some time to the historian in me as I learned about the Library of Congress's program to video interviews America's war veterans to get their authentic story. I love researching primary resources in history and this would be a way to engage student to help create those sources for future generations. Finally, my good friend Shirley Smith reported on South Carolina's e-Textbook experiment. She brought two participating teacher from the project to tell their story. One had netbooks and the other had iPads with textbooks loaded on them. One thing that stuck out was that the teachers really did not need the textbooks when they had other resources at hand. While did not go to the session on QR Codes, from what I hear they may be over used by teachers. Turing-in homework assignments as QR Codes? Really?

I still have a lot to digest from the two days at UTC and will over the summer. I am also looking forward to next year as I get to always see old friends and make new ones. Thanks Greenville for your hard work!