ISTE 2019: A Wonderland for Education Innovators

By Jacquelin Fink, M.Ed., BGL‘s Vice President of Curriculum & Professional Development

As a long-time online educator and first-time ISTE Conference attender, I was blown away by the wonderland known as ISTE 2019. Like an amusement park for innovators in education, ISTE offered dazzling attractions as far as the eye could see. All around child-like joy sparked on the faces of 20,000 attendees, educators from around the world abuzz with the theme “Bold Educators Activate Change.”

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I had the great fortune to be a part of the Leadership Exchange, which was a small group of about 300 education experts, set apart from the crowd by our orange colored lanyards. Dedicated leaders from around the world gathered to engage in courageous conversations about equity, and to explore the landscape of a future in education that we can barely imagine – a future brimming with the possibilities of a tech-integrated system of education that prepares learners beyond the workforce. The kind of future in which global relations and interpersonal skills rise to the top of the value in human contributions to the world.Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 10.26.53 PM.png

My luck began as I sat at a table with the ISTE author of  Innovation Age Learning: Empowering Students by Empowering Teachers, Sam Sakai-Miller. She has invaluable insight after 20+ years in the world of technology in education. Together, Sam and I worked through the Innovator’s Compass, a thoughtful model for answering big questions and solving problems. Throughout the conference, I was excited to see the orange lanyards of these fellow leaders, proud to part of a cohort of some of the most brilliant minds in education.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 11.14.46 PM.pngLater I wandered through the wonderland of the Expo, falling down rabbit holes of the kind of technology I dreamed of as a child. Robots were everywhere at the ISTE Expo! From simple coding using color blocks to advanced AI capable of machine learning, there was a technology to meet any need or dream. The samurai block robots from ArTec caught my eye, and I was excited to learn that they offer a full curriculum as well as live student competitions. Swivl turned my head too, with its tracking capabilities that allow teachers to move more freely while teaching on camera – perfect for the animated, engaging style of BGL’s Learning Live program. There were also the familiar logos of some of our favorite Edtech providers, like Flipgrid, Edmodo and Peardeck amongst the giants Microsoft, Apple and Google.

Alas, I emerged from the magnificent Expo to a labyrinth of concurrent poster sessions, workshops, pop-up seminars, lectures, discussions and tech playgrounds. A favorite of mine was a session from the co-founder of  the interactive white board tool Explain Everything, Reshan Richards. His session, “10 Research-Driven Teaching Strategies, Augmented with Technology, That Leaders Should Use,” explored some of the fundamentals of teaching as they apply to the world of training and professional development. Most poignant in his animated, sincerely personable delivery of succinct, practical content was an idea echoed throughout ISTE: the most valuable asset to our future workforce, and future society, is our humanity.

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Many thanks to Rehshan for gifting me his book Make Yourself Clear. Just a few chapters in, I am reminded of the adage, “just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should.” Technology should be integrated thoughtfully in consideration of the value that human interactions can bring. In other words, just because many jobs can be taken over by robots doesn’t mean that all jobs, or even all parts of jobs, are beneficial for robots to complete.

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Some of the best moments of ISTE came from the connections made with genuinely passionate, like-minded educators. I found just such a person in Todd Lash, research associate at the CSforAll Consortium, and presenter of “Making Computer Science Accessible to ALL Learners,” who is clearly committed to equity in access to technology. His work with students with special needs was particularly touching as the proud aunt and advocate of a nephew who is bravely fighting a kidney disease while navigating the complexities of his teenage years as a teen with autism. Through Todd’s encouraging work and words, I was empowered to continue as an advocate knowing that I’m not alone.

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I met Kasper Hua while signing up for PAECT, a nonprofit organization that supports educational technology in Pennsylvania, and we immediately connected after a brief language exchange and laugh as I practiced my less-than-fluent Mandarin. Over lunch at the Reading Terminal Market, I learned that Kasper and I share many views on inclusion, technology and equity in education. I now have a friend and ally in Kasper who echoes my hopes for a brighter, more inclusive future in education.

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While there was so much to learn from these sessions, the poster sessions were really a blast for me. Given BGL’s focus on delivering high-quality education over video conferencing technology, I was so excited to discover an entire row of other educators specializing in this same pursuit. When you’re on the cutting edge of technology, it’s a challenge to find others who are on the same level. TWICE impressed me with their global, philanthropic endeavors to encourage student collaborations, and eMINTS with their extensive library of teacher training videos.

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At BGL, we’re teachers as well as students, so I was happy to talk with Kiersten Greene, Professor of Literacy in the Elementary Education Department at SUNY New Palz and BGL collective contributor. She was presenting research findings on the preparedness of teachers for the real-world of teaching. Although the current state of affairs in teacher training programs is a bit bleak, it was inspiring to talk with others who are as committed to raising the bar as we are.

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We hear all the time about this exponential rate of change in technology that makes the future uncertain – an idea that can be as intimidating to teachers as it is to students. At ISTE 2019, we learned what an exciting time this is for us as educators as we get to be a part of changing the very fabric of what we call education. When we work together, share our knowledge, and become the leaders we want to follow, our students – and their students, someday are sure to be prepared for our changing world.

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As a Pennsylvania native, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the beautiful sights the City of Brotherly Love had to offer.

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