#ITEC11 Reflection

Image from http://itec-ia.org

Well another ITEC has come and gone, which means it’s time to reflect on all the learning that has taken place over the last few days.  This year was probably my favorite ITEC yet, and was certainly the biggest.  My trip began bright and early and often lasted well into the evening.  I went about my “note” taking in my typical way: tweet most everything and for the things that don’t warrant a tweet, I wrote them down in Evernote.  You can find my tweets for the day @dmourlam.

If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question? – Sylvia Martinez

Gaming is one of those areas of education that I’m interested in, but still trying to figure out.  I’ve grown some since I first was introduced to gaming in education and know the focus should be less on the game and more on the gaming, or the process students go through as they progress in the game.  It’s all about how students solve the problems they encounter in the game and the reflection that takes place during and afterwords, either alone or with others.  The first thing profound to hit me during this session was how do we define game?  This may not seem very profound, but it is and here’s why.  There are a variety of different types of games: edutainment, serious games, virtual worlds, alternative (augmented) reality, and commercial off the shelf.  Games will fall into one of these categories, providing a very different experience for the user.  When we think of gaming in schools, we often think of edutainment, which are games aligned to a set of educational standards.  Now the problem with edutainment in most cases, is that they are nothing more than worksheets with some exciting graphics.  Worksheets of any format will not transform education, which means as an educator, even if you aren’t into games, you still need to have a critical eye.  This means taking time to play the game for 15-30 minutes to see what it’s all about.  So before gaming can be part of your lessons, finding the right kind of game is important.  There needs to be a balance between fun and difficulty.  If the game’s not fun, kids won’t play it!  Playing games does not appeal to everyone, and no one game appeals to all gamers.  Sylvia gave us a great way to go about using games in our lessons: put on your skeptic hat, play it, would it be useful if it weren’t a computer game, and think about the assessment.

Keynote: Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas – Gary Stager 

The keynote was very entertaining, while still providing some things to think about.  Gary Stager talked about 10 things you can do with at laptop, or for all intents and purposes any computer.  He started out by saying we need to develop a sense of urgency in education, which I agree.  We need to let the teachers who are still doing the same activities they did 20 years ago that they need to change or move on.  What worked then won’t today.  Dr. Stager said, “Knowledge is a consequence of experiences,” so we need to make sure the experiences our students have are worthwhile and will serve them well in the future.  This means using technology in the classroom, but it’s more than the hardware.  It’s the software that matters, because that is what determines how we will learn.  I could go through all ten points he made but I’d actually like people to read this post so I’ll cherry pick the ones I liked the most.

  • Write a novel: This is spot on for me, because when I entered college, I was woefully unprepared for the type and quality of writing that was expected of me.  However, I think Dr. Stager was going a step further in that we need our students writing “more, better, and differently.”  While writing can take many forms, there needs to be a variety of writing experiences that support reflective learning.  This means having time for both reports, essays, creative writing, among other styles of writing.  If we limit our students to only research based writing, then we are creating a society that doesn’t think for themselves.  I’m comfortable saying this because if all we do is research then students will bore quickly and will  do the minimum to complete the task.  If we challenge students, they will surprise us.  The problem is, we don’t challenge them enough.
  • Share Knowledge: I liked this one a lot since we often think about who should be sharing knowledge and traditionally it has been the teacher.  However, Dr. Stager showed a video of students building robots that really challenged this idea.  In the video, the 6 year old student showed an older student (probably 9-10) how to make a robot ballerina.  All students have information to share, we just need to let them do so.  This can’t be done with teacher-centric classrooms!  We must free ourselves from the constraints of our own imagination/abilities and let our students flourish.  Until then we can only expect more of the same.
  • Change the world: The main take away I have is that if we want our students to do incredible things that can have a difference in the world, we need to let them learn through authentic experiences.  This means real projects that keep students and the teacher up at night, as well as letting students use the tools they need to be successful, whatever they may be.  Learning isn’t about what you can do in a class period, so as we create learning experiences we need to keep in mind that changing the world isn’t going to happen in 45 minutes.

Educational Uses of Facebook – Daniel Mourlam

This was my session!  I was encouraged by Leigh Zeitz to lead a session, any session and I chose an area that’s very central to my beliefs as an educator.  My session, while focused on Facebook Pages, was not so much about how to technically use a Facebook Page, but rather it was about getting educators to give Facebook a chance.  There are a number of different reasons why we should or shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom, but in the end it really comes down to having an ethical obligation to model appropriate use.  This was my big point I wanted to make in this session.  As a teacher, we typically model appropriate behavior when we are in class with our students.  We act responsible, respectful, and so on.  However, as technology continues to advance, so does our culture.  With the emergence of social networking sites, so to has our culture expanded to included interactions using these sites.  However, in our classrooms if we fail to use these technologies, we fail to model how they should be used.  We know this to be true based on the number of cyber bullying incidents every year.  This is a problem that schools rarely do anything about beyond disciplining students.  I’m promoting a more proactive approach where teachers and schools begin using these technologies in their classrooms to support the type of teaching and learning that should be taking place.  I’m talking about the collaborative, problem solving, critical thinking projects and student-centered tasks students should be engaged in.  It is only though the use of these technologies that we will be able to help our students understand how they can use these sites in a responsible way.  If we educate our students about what is acceptable, then when incidents do happen, very few will tolerate the ignorance and bigotry that often is employed when students and others are targeted.  As a presenter, the best thing about my session was that people came and that there were students in the room who interacted with the entire group.  I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more engaged group.  However, I’d like to improve for next time, so if you were in my session let me know what you liked and what you didn’t by leaving a comment.  Thanks for coming!

TPACK & Creativity in the Classroom – Punya Mishra

This session was very fulfilling.  I have what some might call an intelectual crush on Punya Mishra and his work on TPACK.  For me TPACK just makes sense.  For those who don’t know what TPACK is, here is the quick and dirty: when we integrate technology (T) in the classroom we need to think about how the technology is going to change both the content (C) and the pedagogy (P).  Kohler and Mishra (2006) argue that effective technology integration is at the intersection of all three (T, P, C).  So getting the opportunity to listen to Punya talk about TPACK was very gratifying for my development as an educator.  A lot of what was discussed were things that I already believed, but here they are for the record:

  • For facts go to Google…for wisdom come to me (funny quote from Punya)
  • The single biggest measure of how effective we are as teachers is if our students talk about what we are doing outside the classroom.  This means they are engaged and interested.
  • Adding technology to the learning experience is going to change the dynamic of the classroom so we need to prepare for that by thinking about how the content and pedagogy are going to change.
  • There is no such thing as an educational technology.  Only technology that has been repurposed for educational uses.
  • Repurposing requires teachers to be curriculum designers instead of consumers.  No longer will following the textbook suffice as you begin using technology with your students.  The textbooks weren’t designed to be used with technology, which means we need to take what’s there and make it work for the type of experiences we want for our students.  That may mean using the textbooks or maybe another resource.
  • We know how to use technology, and we are getting good at integrating technology with the things we are already doing.  Now is the time to begin innovating with the technology to begin creating new types of experiences for our students.  This is where the future of education is.
Cell Phones: Smart, Digital, and Mobile The Next – Vinnie Vrotny/Leigh Zeitz
Last year I attended a couple of sessions facilitated by Leigh Zeitz where he used Skype to bring in experts from around the world.  Last year we had a presenter from Sydney, Australia.  This year we had Vinnie Vrotny from northern Illinois.  Vinnie talked to us about how cell phones can be used in education.  While I didn’t necessarily have a huge aha during this session, I still learned new ways of using cell phones in education.  The genius of this type of presentation is that while the video is playing in the physical room at ITEC, there is a backchannel happening with the presenter where we can ask him questions related to his presentation.  We have direct access to him, allowing us to go deeper into an area we are interested in.  For me, Vinnie and I talked more about how cell phones were being used at his school.  While cell phones are not allowed in the building, the athletic director has embraced the technology and blogs from the sidelines during school events.  The blogs are typically short and include pictures.  What an innovative way to engage the school community even if they can’t be there!  I’d likely take it a step further and have the blog connected to a Facebook Page or Twitter account to connect to a larger audience.  This session was one of my favorites not because of the content, but because of how I could interact with the presenter and other conference goers during the presentation.  A unique experience I hope continues for next year.
Facebook in First Grade?  You got it! – Devin and Erin Schoening
This was the best session of the conference hands down, and I almost missed it!   Devin and Erin talked about how they used a Facebook account with their first grade class to bring parents into the classroom during the day.  Parent involvement is crucial for success, but is becoming more and more difficult to get.  However, by inviting the parents to be friends with the class, Devin and Erin were able to let parents see what was happening throughout the day, allowing parents to further the learning at home by making connections to class.  I learned that Facebook Corp is supportive of educators using Facebook accounts for their classes, which is good to know.  In fact, when Erin was contacted by Facebook about her account, they apologized for not having more resources for education.  Talk about surprising!  Being able to see how others are using Facebook in their schools really reinforces what I believe.  Here are some more of the highlights of their session:
  • Used News Feed to see what other classrooms were doing
  • Created Facebook note of who’s friends with the class so reassure parents that only the right people could see and interact with their children through Facebook
  • Council Bluffs has not had any abuse of Facebook by students
  • Sent note home for parent permission and level of use by student
  • Facebook allowed for more immediate feedback from a variety of people, no longer confining the class to the four walls of the classroom
  • Using Facebook doesn’t mean we stopped communicating with parents in other ways
  • Students aren’t on Facebook all day, just a few minutes out of a day
  • Same rules online as face to face
  • Address the problems rather than blanket block if something happens
The Good, Bad, and Ugly.  Taking Digital Pictures Effectively – Leslie Fisher
This session was for my own development.  I am terrible at taking pictures so what better session to attend!  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here are Leslie’s tips for taking better pictures:
  • If you have to ask if it’s a good picture, it’s not
  • Frame your picture before taking and move closer if needed
  • Cropping is only good if you have a high mexapixel camera (above 10)
  • Macro setting will take better pictures when closer than 3 feet
  • The further away you are from what you are taking a picture of, the longer it will take to focus
  • Lanscape mode will focus on everything in the picture, Portrait will only focus on the middle area of the photo
  • More light = less blur
  • Stabilize the camera to reduce camera shake (use a tripod, set timer and place on firm surface before taking picture)
  • Night mode takes better pictures in low light conditions
  • Work angles to tell the story of the picture better
  • Shoot high and low angels
  • Exposure compensation will make take darker parts of picture darker or lighter parts lighter
  • Pay attention to the background to make sure it doesn’t take away from your photo
  • Move if background is distracting
  • Lower quality memory cards take slower pictures (want 8 or above)
  • Flash will reduce items beyond 8-10 feet, which can be good or bad
  • Sports mode will take faster pictures
  • Bigger lens = better zoom, more lighting
  • Digital zoom will kill the quality of the picture
That was my ITEC experience this year.  I think what made this year my favorite was the variety of sessions I attended.  I felt satisfied at the end, which is what I think we all stive to attain.  How was your experience?  Share by leaving a comment!

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