This post is a direct result of a conference that I recently attended with some of the brightest minds in education. The attendees were education thought leaders all. I was humbled in their presence, which is not unusual for me. I was an education lightweight compared to many in attendance. What struck me about this group however was their lack of relevance in the world of EdTech education. They were not at all a part of the model we have all come to believe is now the EdTech-influenced model of education for the USA. I was asked by some what a Blog was. Others had never ever heard of a Professional Learning Network. Somehow the model of education portrayed by so many and being sold to America by the press through some vocal politicians and financial influencers, who probably don’t have a clue what goes on inside most classrooms today, does not exist for these folks. Like many educators today, PowerPoint is the extent of their technology integration into education.
I am so very fortunate and grateful to be able to travel and participate in Education Conferences worldwide. My interaction with educators is not limited to a building, district, county, state, or even a single country. I talk to many educators from many places both inside and outside the USA. One factor common to all these educators is that they are attending some form of education conference. This is not a common experience for many, if not most, educators. Few schools budget for teachers’ attendance at conferences and the view that a teacher’s place is in the classroom is one that is probably the most prevalent view among most keepers of the purse strings.
As a result of limited teacher participation at many of these conferences, only the best, or the most innovative, or the most influential of teachers get to attend. Of course the number of administrators, movers and shakers, the decision makers, or those who control the budgets and purse strings are most often represented in greater numbers and repeatedly attend year after year at these conferences. Of course they are also the people most sought after to attend such conferences since most of these get-togethers are sponsored and supported by companies trying to sell their products to that very target audience. This is not a bad thing, but an element in considering the big picture of education conferences, especially in the area of EdTech.
Now that we have an understanding of who attends these conferences, let us consider the “what and why” of the sessions presented at these conferences. Often, the very companies sponsoring the conference to display their Tech wares will do their own informative sessions within the program. They are probably the most knowledgeable of their product, so it is a great way to represent the best potential of that product. The employees who demonstrate these products are trained to do so, and, more often than not, they are trained extremely well. Certainly their training exceeds a typical teacher’s experience with a PD session in school. Additionally, these demonstrations show off the latest and greatest version of the products. Companies are not stuck with older product versions because of budget restrictions that schools often face.
This is my personal view of what a typical education conference looks like. It is a showcase for the best and brightest schools have to offer with the help of EdTech companies supporting and promoting the teachers and districts that are effectively using their products. Unfortunately, with all the hype, public relations, and a need to put education stories out to the press, this is often touted as the picture of education in the USA: Teachers using technology to teach our digital native children in preparation for their world. This might be the perfect time to mention those flying cars of the future that we have heard so much about over the years.
The point here is that it is not representative of what is going on in education in the USA. We are not as fully tech-oriented as the press and politicians would have us believe. Many schools lack the budget, or infrastructure to support it. Certainly the way PD is provided today, as it has been in centuries past, is hardly adequate to get educators up to speed. Trying to maintain a 20th Century model of education in the 21st Century is not moving us forward either, yet it seems to be a dominating education philosophy.
We need to somehow take the vision of what we see in education conferences and mix it with the reality of what is actually being done in education. If we want to focus on a better education for our kids, we need to focus first on a better education for their educators. If the promise of EdTech is ever to be realized than we need to clearly establish where we each are in that picture and make specific individualized plans to get us to where we each need to be. It will not happen organically. We will never have out-of-the-box, innovative learning until we promote and support out-of-the-box and innovative teaching. Technology in education should not be limited to PowerPoint presentations and word-processed book reports.
The picture of what American education is has been blurred by politicians, well-intentioned business people, profiteers, and to a great extent educators themselves. I don’t know if we can describe a picture of a 21st Century classroom that holds true for all classrooms. I imagine that the most typical class in America still resembles a 20th Century class which is not far different from a 19th Century class: Rows, a board, and a teacher standing in front of the room. The frustration I have always had as an educator is that the vision for education is far better than the reality.