ISTE Wants to Be More Than Just a Conference. Learn How They Are Expanding.


ISTE Wants to Be More Than Just a Conference. Learn How They Are Expanding.

By Jenny Abamu     Jun 25, 2018

ISTE Wants to Be More Than Just a Conference. Learn How They Are Expanding.
Photo inside ISTE headquarters

With the two last directors of the federal Office of Education Technology, Richard Culatta and Joseph South, at the helms of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), it is no surprise that the organization is seeking to expand and rebrand.

ISTE is traditionally known for its annual edtech conference, which draws as many as 15,000 people each year. But for the new leaders of the nonprofit, the goal is to build a community of education-technology enthusiasts that interact year-round.

So the organization is trying some new things, like running online courses, eligible for graduate-level credit, through what it calls ISTE U. And it is looking to rebrand its annual conference as well, to stress that the event is just one service offered by the group, not the main attraction. This year’s event will not have a specific name since ISTE officials are still mulling over the idea.

In addition, the organization has announced a new platform to review technology tools and a framework for implementing edtech in the classroom. Educators can also be ‘ISTE certified’ as someone proficient in the group’s standards.

“ISTE has an amazing conference and we get incredibly positive feedback about it, and if we could somehow make that last 365 days a year, everybody would be happy,” says Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE, noting that his charge is to help lead the expansion. “That is unfortunately impossible.”

A Degree From ISTE University?

The group’s new ISTE U is a partnership with Dominican University, in California, and D2L, a learning management system provider. Enrollment will begin June 25th, running 11 online classes on subjects such as artificial intelligence, personalized learning and open education resources for educators.

For many, what ISTE is doing with online courses may sound similar to MOOCs (massive open online courses), or other online certifications for educators offered by big companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. But it is unclear how much weight an ISTE U class or ISTE certification might carry as opposed to certifications from the big technology companies, whose brand recognition is global.

But South says this is not about competing with the big technology companies, and he stresses that it is certainly not another MOOC.

“MOOCs don’t have to be low touch, but 95 percent them are incredibly low touch—you are just out there on your own,” says South, noting that his program is meant to be the opposite, with small cohorts and “personalized” instruction.

He says ISTE U offers professional learning in the edtech space that is tool agnostic and vendor neutral. The courses, which are expected to take people 15 to 45 hours to complete, are not designed to get as many people in them as possible, but focus on cohorts of no more than 100 people at a time. Each class also has a remote instructional coach who supports participants with their learning goals.

“Our members come to ISTE for that sense of community, and so our goal is really, ‘how do we carry that sense of community into a professional-learning experience?’” South continues.

In its digital citizenship course, educators are instructed to review the policies their school has in place to see if it matches up to model policies in other schools. Throughout the course, participants are encouraged to make presentations that they can show fellow school members, in hopes of them making real changes to school policies.

South says the group has run pilot versions of the courses and have received useful feedback from educators. They also say the chance to compare notes with other teachers is something educators want more of.

“They are tired of some course that talks about some theoretical school where all the kids are above average. That is not the school they live and work in,” says South. “Educators want tools that help them improve the practices they do every day.”

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