Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rants, Ramblings, and a Challenge from #ISTE13

The Presentations

I attended a few sessions at ISTE this year and to be honest, I wasn't all that impressed. I've come to expect a certain style of presentation. Basically, I expect the presenters to know the content so they are not reading, there is minimal text on the slides, and they have hooked me in with their unique stories. I expect the content to be fresh and engaging. If you're not sure what this style might look like, next time be sure to attend a session by (to name just a few) Ken Shelton, , Dean Shareski, Adina Sullivan, Lisa Thumann, Kevin Honeycutt (master storyteller) and/or Rushton Hurley.

Where is the Fresh Stuff?
At conferences, I struggle with the content being "fresh." It seems so often, we are hearing the same messages. Old wine in a new bottle, so to speak. Excellent stuff for anyone who is new to conferences, but there are a lot of us who stopped learning a long time ago. This is one of the reasons why I haven't presented in a few years. At this point, I don't think there is much that I can bring to the table that isn't already being shared in A101, B201, and C301, at any given time. Recently I was asked to keynote a conference in December. To be honest, I was shocked and honored, but then when I considered my message, out of respect for the audience, I declined. I think more people should start looking inward and thinking about what they are truly offering before submitting proposals to do breakout sessions. But hey, that's just me.

Topic du Jour
In the past few years, there was the concept of the Digital Natives to warn everyone about, then the tablet revolution along with the never-ending cry for BYOD. Soon enough the cloud was upon us, and lest we forget the Flipped Classroom. All intertwined are messages of Project-Based Learning; which most teachers are still struggling to (truly) understand. Now we have Common Core, Marzano (being sorely misinterpreted and mismanaged) and teacher evaluations systems, all of which we are effectively ignoring at these conferences. Overheard at ISTE: "Any session that mentions 'assessment' will have me running for the door," and "If I hear Common Core one more time..." and "I don't get why Pearson or any of the companies that are systematically destroying education are allowed to be here." Rather than ignore these awful intrusions into our educational ecosystem, why not provide teachers interesting ways to make it all work AND still be creative? I did not see any of that at ISTE.

Pretty soon, there will be a "break-out something new" to talk about. Something that will light everyone's fire again. I don't know what that will be, but I'm venturing to guess it will include a device that is something like an iChromeMacPCbook. The newest best, biggest network of connected teachers will be ADE-GCT-DEN-MSPiLs who will help us figure out the latest way to reach the newest generation of learners.

Free Stuff
I commend Microsoft for giving away 10,000 Microsoft Surface RT to ISTE attendees. I'm still learning about mine. I love my iPad, and I'm willing to learn to love other devices, too. Especially for the sake of education. I currently use a Macbook Pro and a Windows PC. I love my iPhone and enjoy an excellent working relationship with the good people from Apple. I also enjoy my relationship with the folks from Microsoft. Will the RT be the perfect device for education? I doubt it, but I know that we have yet to find the perfect solution.

On a personal note, it saddened me to see and hear some of the snarky comments being made about this effort by MS.
Image from Twitter.
When did we become a community of snobs where we not only choose our loyalty based on, I don't know, maybe some prestigious initials we get to add to our email signature, but where we feel it is OK to publicly diss the gift giver? Microsoft pulled off this generous event in just a few weeks. If you received your RT, you saw how expertly organized the distribution was. There was no line and there were many tables staffed by MS "geeks" who were there to answer questions and/or help you set up your device. It was very impressive. I'm sorry but I must have missed the rooms where other companies were doing the same thing. 

Why Bother?
So, why do I continue to attend? Because I still learn a lot. I learn from the same people who give those presentations, as well as those who don't. It is the organic conversations that evolve without planning; the ones where anyone can pull up a stool and join in. It is the conversation I had in the Bloggers' Cafe with: Kristin Hokanson, Lisa Parisi, Adina Sullivan, and Scott McLeod, about women and leadership. (Read by Sheryl Sandberg.) It is the conversation about religion with Lisa Parisi, Deacon Paul Wood, and Scott Floyd. How to properly eat at a Brazilian Steakhouse (with Chris Lehmann). I learn so much from casual conversations with the people I deeply respect and seem to have gotten it right such as: Joyce Valenza, Andrew Ko, Scott Kinney, and Hall Davidson (he's not as manic as you think).

These conferences and these conversations help steer me back on the right path. Somehow, when I engage in these conversations, I feel as though my words have some value. Throughout the year, so much happens that causes me to lose focus of who I am, my value, and my purpose as an educator and manager. I often arrive at ISTE almost deflated. By the time I step into the taxi to head back to the airport, I feel full again. Full of good reasons to keep on. Full of ideas and strategies. Full of feelings of contribution. By the way, I hear this same sentiment from other folks as well. Is it just women who feel this way? (Again, read  by Sheryl Sandberg.)

A Challenge
By next year, I hope for one thing. I would love to see my friends and other educators who are a part of fantastic networks such as Apple Distinguished Educators, Google Certified Teachers, Discovery Educator Network, Microsoft Partners in Learning, etc. expand out and join more than that which they are currently a part. There is much crossover and so much to learn from each other. There is so much to give and learn. Why limit yourself to one group where the echo chamber can become deafening? Listen for new voices that challenge your ideas.

Let me hear your thoughts in the comments. 

*Let's Learn Together
If you attended ISTE13 and received a Surface RT, (or just if you use a Surface RT) please complete this to provide feedback that we can all use to learn from each other. This is not associated with Microsoft or any other companies. It is my way of providing a space where we can share information as we explore this device. After you complete the form, you can see the results which include input from others.

Images from .



I also was offended by the Microsoft bashing I heard in several sessions. I would have happily gathered up all of the unwanted Surface tablets to bring back to my classroom. They were a generous gift! I like to present my class with a variety of devices and platforms on which to work as that is more like the real world. I enjoyed the connections and conversations at the conference, airport, and at tourist attractions as much as the conference sessions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and providing the challenge.


Lee, you always provide a balanced approach to everything you do. It is one of the many reasons I have so much respect for you as both an educator and a friend.

I'm afraid I'll have to take issue with one aspect of your blog post, however. We must have been visiting very different sessions. For me, this was one of the most enlightening years to come along in a long time as far as sessions to attend.

I chose to sit last year out simply because, like you have expressed, I was burned out on hearing the same things over and over. I love my iPad, but if I heard one more session about the "10 Best Apps for..." I thought I would explode. Loved Philly. Didn't like ISTE11.

This year, however, nearly (and I emphasize nearly) every session I went to was engaging and taught me something valuable. Perhaps its just that I found more sessions that seemed directed at exactly what I was looking for. Or maybe it was because I skipped a year and wasn't as worn out as in the past.

Everyone I talked to pretty much said the same thing. They were learning things in the sessions again. Were they perfect? Not hardly. But they kept my attention and made me want to seek out the next one.

I really thought I would spend more time in the Blogger's Cafe this year. As it turns out, the closing keynote was the only time I got there to speak of. But I understand what you mean about the conversations. The connections are far more important than the sessions. Always.

As for the Surface Tablet, yes, I'm appreciative of the gift. I've wanted to try one ever since they came out. And yes, I did a little joking back and forth about it. I look forward to working with some more in order to fill out your form.

And I'm really glad I got to see you briefly, even if it was just a wave across the room. Let's hope we get that chance again before ISTE14!


As I stated in the beginning of my post, I only attended a few sessions. When I was looking at the program, I must admit there were more sessions than ever that actually excited me, but as I said, I wasn't impressed. Admittedly, I did not get to all of them. I'm very glad to hear that it was a good conference in that respect for you and others. As for the Bloggers' Cafe, I usually spend a lot of time there, but this year I only watched the opening keynote from there. For some reason, I wasn't able to make it over there much this year. And yet, I still managed to have an enriched experience. You didn't leave any identifying information in your comment, but I'll assume you are my favorite Tim C. :)

Thanks to you and Cheryl for your comments.



Lee, it was wonderful to have conversations with you. And you expressed my views very clearly. I go to ISTE to fill back up. I didn't attend any sessions this year. My learning took place in the Blogger's Cafe, at lunches with friends, at get togethers with companies I support. I met many new people this year and had some amazingly educational conversations. That is what ISTE is for me.



Thanks for your post. Even though this was my first ISTE conference, I completely understand your point about some of the sessions being less than stellar. It seems like so many people get caught up in the latest tip or trick or new web 2.0 tool, they forget our most important job is to prepare our students for life. I really don't care how good your Prezi is if your students don't understand when it's appropriate to use presentation software vs. a word-processing program. And I won't bash any of the companies that were there either. It's up to us to select quality products, give constructive feedback, and drive the educational technology marketplace.

Thanks again for the thoughtful post. I hope it challenges teachers to reflect on their goals and on appropriate use of social media.


I feel that Microsoft should find a way to reach out to teachers in districts who never send anyone to ISTE. My district has provided me with a nearly 10 year old laptop and an LCD project that I must monitor its use because if the bulb burns out who knows when it will be replaced. My district was ready to install wireless on all of the campus but backed away when one parent at a board meeting stated that wireless causes autism.

I have managed to set up a wireless router in my classroom but I am the only one that can use it. Districts like mine need to have teachers attend ISTE.

I have also set up video help sessions for my students, used Desmos with them when I can schedule time in the computer lab and use an LMS with my computer students. All of this without attending ISTE.

I use social media and list servs as my PLC and I am so greatful for both.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being honest. Some of these sentiments I felt, but I did not know if it was really occurring or my exhausted mentality.

I felt the same way with the sessions - but the poster session always makes up for any disenchantment that I have with regular sessions. I don't need to be preached at. I am a strong teacher. I would rather be challenged or encouraged. I love the enthusiasm and learning environment of the poster sessions and the student showcase.

I hate when vendors make comments about people just being a teacher. Microsoft did not do that. I am still playing with my Surface, but it will be appreciated in the classroom. Students adapt. Students enjoy something novel. They also have more respect when I share my devices with them. If I was going to complain about a vendor, it would be the ones who made snarky comments about too many people being 'just a teacher.' Yes, I can't make bulk purchasing decisions, but I do make decisions that shape hundreds a students lives. So I am not just anything.


No, it is not just women who feel that way. In short, I was re-energized, as well. I feel ready to take on another year.


I guess I do have another thing to add (I always do), I do like to blaze through the Poster sessions and get what I need and move on. It's like speed-dating. I don't feel like I am being rude if there is nothing there for me and I leave. I did enjoy some time watching some of the kids present at the Posters, as well.


I attended because it was held in my hometown and I was very excited to do so. ISTE is like a magical elixir scented with kindness, knowledge and eagerness. Even though I agree with a variety of your points, I am always refreshed to meet international attendees. They not only gift wonderful ideas, but allow me to reciprocate in kind. And when they happen to be presenters, they are even more gracious! Their passion re-invigorates me and when all is said and done, I am thinking, planning and hopeful for the next school year. Too bad it can't always be in San Antonio, ;-)!

And I didn't get a Surface so if there's ANYONE who'd like to pass their Microsoft gift to an educator, I would be happy to accept it if you're interested in re-gifting it.

Anonymous said...

I had a lot of the same thoughts about ISTE this year. This was my second one, but the word I came up with is stale. Like you said, same stuff just repackaged. After walking in line for over 30 minutes just to get into the Keynote I started off the conference frustrated. Sessions don't seem like they are presented by real experts in their field. It gets frustrating when you are in a session you thought was one thing and they are really just going over basics that you know. The paid/ticketed workshops looked like they had great content, but who can afford them on top of registration? I would prefer a half day or whole day session where you dive deep into a topic. I also think that bloggers and twitterers need to lighten up. I'm still new at Twitter, but I learned how to go back and read the tweets from the iste tag. I think some people take things way too serious. Looking at the tweet you posted I admit made me giggle. It seemed more like humor or sarcasem instead of someone being serious. Otherwise, I will have to check out the other presenters you mentioned to look for something a little more fresh.