As ISTE Edtech Conference Kicks Off, A Call For ‘A Major Infusion of Joy’


As ISTE Edtech Conference Kicks Off, A Call For ‘A Major Infusion of Joy’

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo     Jun 26, 2022

As ISTE Edtech Conference Kicks Off, A Call For ‘A Major Infusion of Joy’
ISTE CEO Richard Culatta gave a keynote address this week.

The education landscape looks a lot different than when educators last gathered in person for ISTE’s annual convergence of classroom tech aficionados.

So much so that CEO Richard Culatta thinks of events in two categories: B.C. and A.D. That’s “Before COVID” and “After Disease,” he said Sunday from a New Orleans stage. It was the official welcome to the organization's first in-person conference since the pandemic sent the country into quarantine. (ISTE is the parent organization of EdSurge, though we operate with editorial independence.)

Take access to devices. After COVID-19, the proportion of school districts with 1:1 devices for students shot up from 50 percent to 90 percent, Culatta told the audience. It was a remarkable shift—but one done in support of what he termed “emergency remote learning.”

“Let's make sure we’re not conflating emergency remote learning with effective digital learning,” he said. “The main difference between those two is one is built on a solid foundation, inclusivity and principles of ISTE standards.”

The past two years have shown a need for better learning environments, Culatta said, and he shared four shifts he believes are needed to achieve them.

Do Over Don’t

Schools frequently frame their digital citizenship expectations for students as a lengthy list of don’ts, Culatta said. One school’s includes a whopping 35 things not to do.

Culatta says what would benefit students more is a clear outline of what educators want them to learn from digital tools.

“This is a complex world, and you can't practice not doing something,” he said. “If you want to practice being successful in the digital world, you have to practice the do’s.”

He spotlighted the efforts of La Cañada Unified School District in California, which went beyond teaching against cyberbullying and instead promotes good digital citizenship with a “cyberbuddies” program.

From Online Safety to Digital Wellbeing

To illustrate his next point, Culatta used his daughter’s flight school education as an example. Of course safety is part of what she’s learning, but it’s not the entirety of her education because safety is not the goal of learning to fly.

“It’s to defy gravity and visit amazing places,” Culatta said. “Online safety is a pretty low bar. We’ve got to aim a little higher.”

Creating good digital citizenship is a “team sport” that will take not only teachers but the whole school and parents, he added.

“If they have a healthy digital culture at home, you have a healthy digital culture at school,” he said.

Making Connections

Culatta asked folks to recall the Speak & Spell, a classic ‘70s and ‘80s toy that did what the name promised: spelled aloud the words typed into it. It was a genius concept back in its time, he said, but not how technology should be used today.

“The least interesting thing we can do with tech is to present information,” he said. “The most interesting thing we can do is connect people together.”

Thinking Digital Pedagogy, Not Tech Skills

It seems counterintuitive, Culatta said, but new teachers are often the least effective when it comes to using technology in the classroom.

That can be a problem for schools. Culatta shared the concerns of one superintendent who wanted to know that new teachers in his district’s schools “won’t need significant remediation in terms of their technology skills.”

“Sometimes we use [the term] ‘digital native.’ It turns out there's little correlation between effective tech use and using tech for learning,” he said. “We have 350,000 new teachers entering the classroom this coming year, we have to make sure they're coming ready.”

More than 50 institutions with educator preparation programs have taken ISTE’s Digital Equity and Transformation Pledge to implement ISTE standards for effective teaching with technology.

Screengrab from the live broadcast of ISTE CEO Richard Culatta's Sunday remarks at the organization's 2022 conference in New Orleans.

Bring the Joy

Culatta ended his opening keynote with a request. The last two years have been so tough that he worries educators have lost some of the joy they find in the learning space. What he said classrooms will need this coming year is “a major infusion of joy.”

“If I can ask you, ‘Spend some time thinking about what brings you joy,’” Culatta said, “and, ‘How can you help infuse that joy into all parts of learning at a time when we desperately need it?’”

ISTE attendees quickly obliged. After the final keynote speaker (filmmaker Zach King followed Culatta), a couple got married on stage in the conference’s first-ever wedding. The couple met as ISTE volunteers, organizers say, making the mainstage a fitting locale for exchanging their vows.

Editor’s Note: In August 2023, images and personal information about the wedding mentioned in this story were removed.

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