Educational technology conferences are strange beasts. Masses gather to focus and discuss technology, all the while maintaining throughout the discussions that it isn’t about technology. It creates a rather odd juxtaposition. I actually really like Ryan Bretag‘s statement he made a while back on Twitter that he prefers to go to content-specific conferences rather than technology conferences. The reason that statement makes so much sense lies in the very nature of what most often transpires at a technology-specific conference.
I attended the Illinois Computer Educators’ conference a few weeks ago, and I was struck by a notable disconnect in almost every session I attended. In almost every case, the session focused on a tool or on a specific technology devoid of any pedagogy or specific framework of how the said technology impacts a student’s learning experience. It was quite troubling. Many highly intelligent people were presenting tools that in essence, became sessions entirely about the tools rather than their implications. A statement might be made at some point along the way, like, “this is really great for a math class” or perhaps, “you can see how useful this would be in a reading class.” The problem is, that’s not pedagogy. It’s not really much of a connection at all, to be honest. Where’s the needed construct of what makes the technology truly transformative in the learning experience?
If a presenter took the first five minutes of a session to truly frame the discussion and base it entirely on a specific student learning skill, or set of skills, I believe the technology conference experience would be made much more powerful for attending teachers. As it currently stands, a general classroom teacher enters a sessions, gets bludgeoned by a series of tools or applications, and then is left to leave the session dizzied and potentially disoriented as he or she attempts to draw a correlation between the dazzling tool just demonstrated and the learning experience he or she wants to afford students. What if a presenter focused at the outset on foundational learning skills? I don’t mean necessarily specific teaching content like math or social studies, but rather skills we know students need to be engaging in to be successful in life. What if a presenter started off explaining the power of collaboration and communication in general terms-why those two skills are relevant and meaningful in today’s culture and built upon that foundation to frame the technology entirely within that learning context? Discussions of pedagogy could then ensue.
For presenters, it would be like lobbing themselves up a nice softball to be hit out of the park from the very outset of the session. If a presenter jumps out of the gate just swinging the bat, there’s zero change he or she will connect with anything outside of the occasion where the bat slips out of the hands and inadvertently strikes a nearby object. An analogy that really does bear true in many technology sessions. If a presenter is simply swinging that bat at the air, the only thing that can be said of him or her would be focused on the swing itself. If the softball of learning is first lofted up, then it’s the connection that’s made that will be the focus of discussion, or perhaps the obvious lack of connection the swing of the tool makes with the ball of learning Even if a weak connection is made and the ball is barely dribbled out of the infield, at least the discussion will be focused on where it should be, the connection that the swing makes on the ball. It’s the whole point of why we learn to swing in the first place-to make contact with a ball and hit it as successfully as possible.
I hope more conference presenters consider this approach as they prepare for upcoming sessions. Think about how you want your participants leaving your sessions. Is it about the tool you are presenting or about the learning that ensues when utilizing the tool? If everything we discussed was framed in the learning context, I believe we would serve the population of conference attendees in a much more powerful manner, and we might just find that we hit home runs with our sessions quite a bit more often.
Thanks to eschipul for the Flickr image.