Putting Edtech Conference Design Back in Teacher Hands

Putting Edtech Conference Design Back in Teacher Hands

Creative Commons / Miami Device

There's been buzz online about a new entry to the edtech conference scene--the Florida mobile learning conference cleverly named Miami Device. Part of the reason for that buzz? Its conception and roll-out has, quite literally, come from the educators themselves.

The first-year conference, which will be held in Miami on Nov. 6-7, 2014, is attracting attendees from around the world, drawn by the speaker lineup, the innovative program and the alluring prospect of spending a couple of days in Miami in November.

But perhaps what's most unusual about Miami Device is that it is being organized by an educator: Felix Jacomino, the Director of Technology at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove, Florida. I caught up with Felix recently to get the scoop and hear about best practices in mobile learning and the Florida edtech scene from his point of view.

SB: What did you feel was lacking from other conferences you’ve visited, specifically ones planned by individuals with little or no experience in the classroom?

FJ: I never like walking through vendor halls anymore. Yes, I may sometimes want to talk to a representative of a company, service, or product that I may have questions for, but for the most part, I find myself avoiding eye contact as I walk by. I'm don’t want to be "caught" and have to listen to a nice person show me an app that scans bubble sheets! (By the way, that example is a real one I've experienced.)

There are too many companies out there trying to color, enhance, bling out, or otherwise repackage what technology can do for schools, but most are stuck at the "S" of the SAMR model. In fact, they haven't even heard of it! If I had one message for all technology companies trying to get a piece of the education market, it would be, "Stop making new stuff that encourage teachers to keep doing things the old way!"

In that vein, why did you decide to found Miami Device?

My team of edtech integrators and I began realizing that what was being presented as 'fresh and new' at various conferences were not really so fresh and new. They were ideas and strategies we had already been implementing at our school.

In the spirit of sharing, we thought we could invite a couple of local schools, showcase some of what we've done, and then share our journey, with ideas, tips, tricks, pitfalls, mistakes and anything else that would help their schools with technology integration. That small idea grew into an intercontinental “Learning Event.” We have registered attendees coming from all over the United States, Colombia, Holland, Pakistan, and more.

Our target audience is educators interested in best practices in learning. Teachers and administrators who realize that teaching and learning is rapidly changing and that they must learn, as all other professionals do, the best ways to prepare today's students for their future.

Have you ever planned a conference before? And what is important for other educators to know if they'd like to plan edtech conferences?What advice can you share with other educators hoping to craft their own?

Nope! But being able to ask Carl Hooker of iPadpalooza, and Tony Vincent and Katherine Burdick of Mobile Learning Experience for advice has been priceless.

In terms of advice, you better have an amazing team! It is hard work filled with countless details. Constant meetings, ideas, and clear communication is a must. As the main organizer, you must delegate (at least that's what I'm told)! I do have a great team but we are all doing this ON TOP of our regular busy jobs so it's a real whirlwind right now.

How does Miami Device differ from other conferences, specifically edtech ones?

At least for this first year, you will not find any vendor sessions. Although we do have vendor sponsorship, there will be no one trying to sell you anything at Miami Device.

Our small size will also make for a close-knit, friendly, personalized, and fun learning experience, all happening on St. Stephen's campus. Our host school's teacher assistants and administration will serve as the conference staff. And then there’s the location, location, location. I mean, it’s Florida in November, on a campus with some beautiful views of Biscayne Bay. Next up, the lineup of speakers (not just the keynote and featured--all of our speakers are awesome).

What has been the biggest challenge for you in planning the conference, and how are you financing the event?

Logistics. Signage. Alternate rain plans. Scheduling sessions so that it is as diverse as possible during each concurrent session. Basically, all the stuff you don't want attendees to have to think about, but make the difference between a smooth, pleasant experience and a confusing, frustrating one.

For financing, it’s mostly conference registrations. Sponsorship by our platinum sponsors have helped with our general session venue and delicious food (no bagged lunches here!), and have offset some other costs.

But, what about teachers who can’t afford it? Even though this is planned by teachers, for teachers, what if they can’t make it?

We also started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign (still accepting donations) so we could award 10 teachers free registration plus a night's hotel. We realize events like these are costly and that schools do not always have the funds to send their teachers. We also know that sometimes teachers have to pay for these opportunities with their own money. Some of our sponsors loved the idea so much, they wanted to do the same and so far, we have awarded 13 freebies!

Please read 5 Experiences to Expect at Miami Device, and feel free to contact Felix Jacomino at learn@miamidevice.org with any questions about Miami Device and beyond!

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