Ed-Tech Industry Goes on (Huge) Display at ISTE Conference

You know how people say education is dangerously slow to embrace technology? That policymakers, teachers, and administrators have ignored society’s advances and our students are ill-prepared for a digital future?

Well, somehow, this is the 33rd year the International Society for Technology in Education has held its annual conference. I’m pretty sure the trade floor consisted of a bunch of folks showing off their encyclopedia-sized calculators back then. When the 33rd edition of ISTE begins this weekend in San Diego, it will showcase an industry overflowing with hardware, software, apps, and tech-savvy teachers. (The onslaught of emails and phone calls leading up to the conference that tell journalists how great each one of those products is, should be proof enough.)

This will be my first ISTE conference, but I’ve been told it is a great way to gauge the industry’s health, and how it is reaching into the classroom. For four days, attendees are bombarded (in a good way) with panels, workshops, briefings, networking opportunities, and, of course, marketing. There were 501 companies with exhibits at last year’s ISTE conference, compared to 379 in 2000 (there’s an interactive map just for the trade floor).

I will covering the spectacle this year, along with my colleagues Ian Quillen and Katie Ash, over at our Digital Education blog. Check back there and here for updates and dispatches. And if you’re at ISTE, feel free to look me up and say hi (that’s my face in the upper-right corner there). If you aren’t going to be there, here are some tips on how to follow the action remotely.

For now, here’s a few items from my agenda that I’m looking forward to.

  • It’s the Computational Thought that CountsJune 25, 8:30 a.m.I’ve written before about renowned computer scientist Stephen Wolfram’s computational approach to education, which favors problem-solving and analysis over fact-finding and memorization. He created a search engine, Wolfram Alpha, that spits out graphics, data, and reports on topics, not just information. Anyway, Wolfram is a bit of a mad scientist, so this panel will provide a welcome look into how computational thinking is actually used in the classroom. The presenters include a college professor and ISTE staffer that helped develop computational thinking resources for the classroom, and a 30-year teaching veteran who incorporates that approach.
  • Global, Creative, and Entrepreneurial: Defining High Quality EducationJune 26, 8:30 a.m.Just as technology drives the insurgence of entrepreneur into the education industry, schools are focusing more on how to use technology to foster entrepreneurship among its students. In a keynote speech, Yong Zhao, an associate dean at the University of Oregon’s College of Education, will argue that students must think globally, and about how to make an impact globally, in order to ensure our nation’s competitiveness. And our current methods of measuring student achievement aren’t helping us get there, Zhao believes.
  • Online Learning’s Promise, Potential, and PitfallsJune 26, 12:15 p.m.This panel is lead by Brian Bridges, the director of the California Learning Resource Network, a clearinghouse for online courses in California, a state that promotes the use of free digital textbooks through its California Open Source Textbook Project. The resource network is a key component to the state’s attempts to reduce the money it spends on textbooks, because the program vets online content for quality and ability to meet state and Common Core State Standards. Perhaps the biggest criticism—mostly from publishers— of open content is that it is difficult to find it at high quality. It will be interesting to hear if California can.

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