ISTE 2015: The Big Themes—On-site and in the Backchannel | ISTE 2015

Melissa Techman recaps the highlights from ISTE 2015, much of the value, as in past events, coming from conversation and social media.
ISTE 2015 brought together an enormous crowd, with lots of possibilities for conversation. Themes emerged as educators, librarians, and a variety of other attendees flowed from poster sessions to playgrounds to halls to learn, try out, and discuss. Professional Learning Networks are the official ISTE member cohorts. Although I spent the most time with members of the Librarians Network, I loved the chance to talk to lots of other people, from a variety of backgrounds. One theme that wove through our conversations was the power of voice and how we include and support a variety of perspectives. VoiceThe Edcamp or “unconference” model was the approach for Saturday’s Hack Education open-voice day of learning, before the official start of ISTE 2015. Many attendees said it was their favorite part: an informal, interest-driven, conversational learning day. Librarians have always talked about access, but there’s a new urgency to defending it. We need to strive harder to include student voices in talking about social justice, especially in light of income inequality and persistent racism. It’s important to put more tools and knowledge in the hands of our users, and expand opportunities for them to explore and tinker. I met Adam Phyall, Instructional Technology Director of Hickman Mills C-1 School District, in Kansas City, MO. With 80 percent African American students in his schools, he’s concerned about the digital divide—he wants engaged digital citizens. “We stressed to our board that we don’t want to evaluate based on test scores,” says Phyall. “We want to get students’ thoughts about their learning. How do students feel? What are parents thinking?” In some of their preschools, Hickman Mills has offered Parent Learning Cafes, with laptops and access to Atomic Learning tutorials. His next step is involving students in providing these technology learning sessions. From professional development to more student-focused use of technology, school librarians are tech integration leaders, a message that was the subtext of Shannon Miller’s ISTE Librarians breakfast keynote, which centered on student voice: Miller says “Being connected makes a huge difference. This needs to be the backbone of our learning, and our students’….,” Nikki Robertson, #tlchat cofounder from Huntsville, AL, is working on a project collecting and archiving Google+ hangouts that highlight school librarian events and conversations. Her take-away from ISTE? We must strengthen our own voices as we advocate for libraries and students. How can we reach out to encourage each other to speak up for what should be at the heart of our schools: inquiry, critical thinking, kindness, creativity? Joquetta Johnson, librarian and ed tech consultant, Baltimore County Public Schools, MD, has become an expert YouTube user for and with her students. It’s blocked in her district, but her students can find tremendous resources and playlists on their phones. Johnson uses videos as hooks, discussion starters, and readers’ advisory tools. She gives her students voice through their curation of YouTube playlists and the videos they make. They are encouraged to use social media to communicate with vendors, such as Gale and Animoto, tell what they like and don’t, and share their creations; she is putting students in interactive and consultative roles. Both Johnson and Carolyn Foote, a school librarian with the Eanes Independent School District in Austin, TX, talked about how our library spaces should be reflective of the communities we serve. Who has voice in these decisions? In Foote’s session, she discussed the necessary “unthinking” of some unexamined beliefs, before we can “rethink” library spaces. Sprint’s ConnectED was at ISTE, promoting a selection of learning sites to a maximum of 50,000 limited income students via free internet as part of a White House initiative. Students could research how internet access works in the U.S., and how to lobby for internet as a public good. They could connect and discuss access with students in other countries. It is impossible to extract some of our key challenges and issues from the social and political backdrop and we shouldn’t want to. Overall, there was a healthy attention to purposes, not devices, at ISTE; it’s important to keep the focus on users, not corporations. The toll of testing is enormous, but as Chris Lehmann noted, in a Twitter quote of Josh Stumpenhorst’s closing keynote: “we can complain about the challenges we face but we must still do great things with kids.” Photos from the #POCatiste feed on Twitter.

Photos from the #POCatiste feed on Twitter.

And we also need those voices of caution. Scott McLeod tweeted Audrey Watters’s article in Hack Education that says bluntly “virtual field trips are not field trips” and reminds us that access to field trips is an equity issue, among many other equity issues. A new hashtag this year connected diverse voices talking about ISTE: #POCatISTE, allowing people of color to find each other and share sessions and resources. And there’s been a growing use of #techquity and #educolor in the months before ISTE 2015, underscoring the continuing need for diverse voices. What about the voices of those who couldn’t make it? Susie Highley, a middle school librarian from Indiana, was not at ISTE, but enjoyed following via the #notatiste Twitter hashtag. Craig Yen, a fifth grade teacher from the San Francisco Bay area, was a very active retweeter for the whole group. They also used Voxer, a live voice app. “The #notatiste Voxer group was great for up to the minute news, for example, telling us someone was on Periscope currently, or TeacherCast, but also for longer discussions, says Highley. “We had some long conversations about copyright and curation, and lots about Periscope and Voxer itself. There was even a separate "notatiste" edtech karaoke channel. We shared many, many links through the texting side of Voxer.”

Related links:

Hack Education crowdsourced list of tools, resources, or ideas Audrey Watters: “Virtual Field Trips and Education ‘Technology’ Inequalities” ISTE Librarians Network Site Joquetta Johnson’s “Putting the U in Youtube” More about Voxer and Voxer Chats The TLChat Google+ Community White House ConnectEd Initiative   Melissa Techman, MLS, NBCT, former K - 5, former public librarian, is a librarian at Western Albemarle High School, Albemarle County Public Schools, VA.  

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