It's the annual education technology jamboree, with its feet squarely planted in teachers' world. Held this year in San Diego (save that sunscreen for a trip to Texas next June), an estimated 18,000 people attended, including several thousand vendors and presenters. (Read all the Tweets at #iste12.)
Discussion of pedagogy filled the air. Teachers relish delivering blunt lines, both about vendors and and themselves. More than 500 retweeted comment on the #ISTE12 thread came from Apple Distinguished Educator, Sean Junkins (@sjunkins): "I have yet to have a student tell me they can't use technology in class because they haven't received any PD on it."
The formal kickoff to the conference featured an unfortunate presentation involving Sir Kenneth Robinson. The wry, inspirational Robinson is a demigod in education. His 2006 TED video, "Schools Kill Creativity," is the most watched TED video ever. Robinson did deliver some fine quips: "They say in England that Americans don't understand irony. But that's obviously not the case, because whoever came up with the 'No Child Left Behind' title obviously understands irony."
But putting Robinson in charge of a panel almost killed his creativity. The session sounded more like an infomercial for books, calculators, wireless devices and other stuff. (Frienemy conference CUE swiftly announced that Robinson will keynote its March 2013 conference, presumably without an accompanying panel.)
The heart of the conference were sessions by educators that brimmed with information--call it professional development on speed. Edublogger Kathy Schrock, a true edtech wizard, raced through 13 types of literacy (traditional to tools to historical) then whipped out her presentation in record time. New York tech teacher, Adam Bellow, previewed Educlipper. "Ignite" sessions, in which teachers gave the equivalent of concentrated talks about their passions were chock-full.
The exhibition space bustled, filled with shiny exhibits and pictures of shiny machines and shinier smiles. Remember when we said that "the market for global education expenditures could top $6.3 trillion by 2017" according to an April report from GSV? We had our doubts--right up until we stepped foot onto the floor and saw small fishes side-by-side with behemoths such as Google, Pearson and Adobe. It costs real money to be here: a small booth on distant edge of the floor started at about $3,500--and that doesn't including chairs, a desk, carpet or the all-important give-away tchotchkes. And want to hang something from the ceiling? Better count in the Benjamins.
Still there were more startups here than ever, noted veteran ISTE goer Audrey Watters. And even though it was pricey, Harris Goodman of LateNightLabs bubbled with enthusiasm. "Every business partnership we've struck has started at a conference. I had breakfast with my hero, Chris Lehmann. Everyone should be here."
Nothing embodied the tension between the old and new like the various vendors in the "clicker" space, AKA "classroom response systems." Promethean and RenaissanceLearning's 2know! booths held demo presentations about their hardware around the clock, while nearby startup Naiku boldly displayed trash bins asking passerbys to toss their clickers for good. The cheeky folks from Poll Everywhere reserved half of their precious table space for a satirical "Museum of Clickers" and served cookies shaped like an old-school clicker, smothered with tasty frosting. The old guard sales reps seemed taken back at the idea of mobile devices threatening to render their hardware obsolete. Their most logical defense? Their devices offer "better control" since kids can't wander off task or browse Safari for answers.
Kim Jones of Curriki: "I expect to see within the next few years a convergence, consolidation of the many companies currently tackling the same space."
Yong Zhao delivered an uproarious second keynote filled with crafty metaphors that began with Easter Island Moai statues and ended with Lady Gaga and water buffaloes. His message resonated deeply with educators: if we're really serious about "education reform," then quit emphasizing assessments. Why, he asked, does the U.S. glorify countries like China with high PISA scores when they are "miserable" and are looking to us for inspiration? He quoted ex-Google China prez, Kai-fu Lee: "The next Apple or Google will appear, but not in China unless it abolishes its education." Why worry about standardized test scores when you can measure achievement with, say, patents? As the U.S. glorifies the Common Core standards, it would do well to remember to celebrate that somehow it already has a common core for creativity and entrepreneurship that far surpasses those of other countries, he advised.