Sunday, June 28, 2015

ISTEchnology the point?

Blog 2, day 1

Here are a few random thoughts generated after my arrival at the Sheraton Downtown and attendance at the official opening ceremonies of the ISTE 2015.

I sat and waited for other teachers from my school and when they arrived, I sat and waited for the registration to be completed for an hour plus. It takes time to tell a computer that 13 people ate registering at a hotel but paying for one check. Computers are dumb like that, apparently. Our fearless leader, while explaining that all 13 of us were n0ot there just yet but that we would all show up, also had to explain that we were here for a technology conference and were told that there would be complimentary wifi access in the rooms. They wanted to charge us 13 bucks a day to have access to stuff which we were here to discuss. Eventually, they said that they would eliminate it from the bill. I can’t wait to see how that works out.

The room is lovely but I had only 8 minutes to admire it before we struck out on the mean streets of Philly to hit the conference at the convention center. The building is relatively close by, at least the entrance is. The registration area is 4 miles away, all within the building. We walked and walked and final, when they ran out of hallways to send us down, found where we pick up our tote bags and advertisements for the companies that paid for the additional hallways. The structure was overwhelming to say the least. If I wanted to say more than the least I would start by saying it in all caps.


We found the registration area (destroying the one ring in the process…it was a long walk) and got similarly overwhelmed by the content of the free tote. The maps were confusing, the paperwork was cryptic and most of it was either wrong or unnecessary. And I had trouble putting the ID badge necklace on over my ears. I suffer. The next big item was the keynote address by news person Soledad Obrien. Instead of fighting the crowds to get into the hall in which she was speaking, my compatriots found a television on which the speech was to stream. I found a dark corner with relatively little noise so I could assimilate all the info that had been dumped on us. It took a while and in the middle of it I realized that I was operating on 4G not wifi. It seems that the wifi kicked out and I was using data! After a few minutes the wifi turned back on – I had been warned that the wifi can’t always handle the demand.
I am not comforted by the advice they give in the info packet to turn off the wifi on devices while at the conference in order to save bandwidth. [“To maintain Wi-Fi speed, please turn Wi-Fi off when you are not using it and switch off any auto-syncing applications.”] This is a technology conference and they are asking people not to keep synching, not to keep connected etc. They have set up apps so that we can have online schedules and maps and take notes to share with the world, but they want us to turn off wifi when we aren’t actively using it? Doesn’t this smack of a problem (if not simply an example of delicious, delicious irony)? I found myself transferring everything to a pad of paper using a (gasp!) pen so that I wouldn’t have to rely on the fancy technology at the tech conference.

I also noted that there were long lines of people waiting to get in to the key note. It looked like the lines at Disney except the weirdos here weren’t toting children along to make their bizarre habits look acceptable. I wonder what it feels like to be a Soledad Obrien groupie.

I sat in my corner and tried to chart each session I signed up for, each table I wanted to visit and each time slot in which I was supposed to be in 3 places. The supposed “interactive map” which would guide me was a series of static images which didn’t correlate to the printed map (as a note, the street we walked on wasn’t even ON the printed map…we had wandered that far inside the building that I believe we were in Connecticut). There were no indications of room numbers on the local maps so I couldn’t ground myself and figure out how to orient the map. I found my way by wandering back and forth, dropping breadcrumbs and hiring a dog to urinate on various escalators.

Soledad’s speech was…um…speech I guess. She spoke more about herself and her interactions with stuff than about technology. I now know about her family and upbringing and about 5 different news pieces which she filmed over the last 3 years. Fascinating, and her hair is nice. But it wasn’t about technology. It was about her and about the sad state of education, mostly as a function of politics, race and economics. I applaud the candor with which she said “We can leverage technology to change the world” and I endorse the truth in her statements that this shouldn’t be about technology for technology’s sake, but about creating opportunities for all to succeed, but it took her over an hour to make a simple point and I had lost interest way before then.

We moved all the way back to the entrance and the vendor tables there. I visited 7 tables before I headed out:

1. Two teachers who are marketing themselves as experts because they use technology such as interactive notebooks and kids seem to like it. There were hearts and polka dots and colors and I have no idea what they were selling
2. A group which tries to create virtual dialogues between students from different cultures internationally. I don’t know what else they do, but I signed up for their informative email because tolerance and stuff is awesome.
3. A program designed to teach digital literacy and citizenship from the young ages and from pre-computer stages so students understand how to use Twitter without a computer. Truth.
4. An organization which groups tech resources and can create suggestions for you once you tell them what you are looking for. They are consultants who for a fee, will tell you which of their products to buy depending on your need, your skill level and bank account size. Huzzah.
5. A bunch of elementary school students who were talking about ho they connected with another school virtually and shared info about Hans Christen Andersen and global warming. It seemed more about giving these 5th graders a chance to present their Weebly presentations – is this about the specific content? The ability to connect disparate school systems? The skill of creating said presentations regardless of who sees them? I have no idea, but I now realize that Hans wrote the Princess and the Pea, so there’s that.
6. A program which encourages sharing of stories and traditions between Native Americans and Jewish day schools. Except the sharing is done IN PERSON and not by leveraging technology. So if we want to take our students out to Cheyenne for a week, they can set that up.
7. A program modeled on the BOCES system of shared resources to defray costs and make various technological opportunities available to public schools in North West NY state. I don’t know what they were selling.

On the whole, I was left with many questions, not the least of which was whether this entire thing was about technology or about different approaches to teaching with technology being an asterisk or an afterthought. It just didn’t seem like the focus was on anything revolutionary in terms of technology or even its use. It was just people saying “het, I did this and it seems to have worked…pay me X dollars and you can copy me even if your situation isn’t the same as mine…and, oh yeah…technology.” So I’m not yet convinced.

I stopped back at the hotel with just enough time to leave my room and get lost on the way to a dinner that can’t be beat and a faculty meeting before retiring to my room, my almonds and my chocolate chips. As a side note, Philly's downtown is architecturally beautiful. All three sky scrapers are works of art.

Tomorrow, the fun begins before 8AM as I have to hit 3 more tables, a level 3 area, and 5 rooms before 9:30 when the real stuff kicks in.

So, until then, I leave you with something Soledad Obrien said: “Hi, I’m Soledad Obrien.”

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