I can honestly say, as I walk to my car, which is parked about 4 miles from the St. Charles Convention Center -- OK, it's not that far, it just seems like it -- anyway, I'm pooped. Exhausted. But in a very good way. I hit as many sessions as I could; I got my boy dropped off at school as early as possible so I could take in as much of the keynote speakers as I could. I had an early lunch on Wednesday so I wouldn't forget to order flowers for my wife. I refused work -- hey I'm a still a sub -- all so I could attend the Midwest Education Technology Conference in St. Charles. I am not sorry.
Facilitating for a couple of the presenters was a blast, although I don't know why offering paper surveys to someone would offend them. Anyway, wondering around that convention center, looking for just the right session that wasn't full, was not a blast. Trying to actually do something online was not a blast. But I enjoyed every minute. I really, really like this stuff. I attended last year, and that's when I knew I needed to pursue an MET. This year only strengthened that commitment.
I'm not sure why the conference is so cool. I guess because as educators, it's everything we want school and learning to be. It's our panacea, our respite, our fantasy world. We just want to stay here, forever. I'm sure it's disappointing for the many educators who return home and enter the same dreary 20th Century classroom they left behind a couple of days earlier. It's also disappointing for someone like me that has all of this new knowledge and desire but can't apply it because I don't have a classroom. How lucky are those that return to their home districts and can actually apply what they have learned to improve the quality of their classes in a hands-on fashion. I wonder if they realize how lucky they are.
It seems strange to say, but in the plethora of breakout sessions offered, the number of different subjects was actually rather limited. 'Bring Your Own Device' and '1:1' are a couple of the more popular concepts, along with education tools Moodle and Edmodo. The use of video in the classroom was very big this year. But probably the most popular subject matter was iPads. How to use them, how to get them, how to make sure every student has them, how to incorporate them, how to love them, how to throw them across the frickin' room when they don't work right (it flies just like a frisbee!). Of course, for the 40 percent or so of tablet owners that prefer Android, there was not one session offered that I saw on the program guide. Why the discrimination? You don't think Android is a real competitor to Apple; or a real force in technology? Have you seen the sales figures for Samsung devices?
iPads are certainly cool, and after attending this conference I may be opening my wallet soon. Some of what I saw was pretty amazing. An app called 'NearPod' allowed teachers to control all of the iPads in which students had logged in with. When the teacher swiped to the next page, all of the iPads went to the next page. Amazing technology. The app is not available in the Android store. If you are going to buy iPads for all of the students, I guess this is not a big deal. If you're going to allow students to 'bring their own device,' then you need to have a more diverse technology.
I was fascinated and pleased with the pair of sessions I attended that discussed the use of Edmodo. I had heard about it, but hadn't realized you could set up a classroom on it. With the apps available, plus the social aspect of the site, it is quite an all-encompassing tool. I could not say the same with the Moodle sessions I attended. I am very interested in improving my Moodle skills, but the two sessions offered little if any hands-on training. It was all about concepts and ideals. I did not attend any sessions dealing with Common Core, but obviously this is the national trend and a scary proposition for many educators. I think most see some wisdom in the core standards, but fear their implementation will mean more work and more needless testing. Someone smarter than me once said that it's ironic when we apply words like 'standardized' and 'common' to students who are 'unique' and 'individual.'
I'm sure Professor Hartman would assume that I'm brown-nosing if I called her sessions the best that I attended (I would never admit it if I was). The highlight was the Cool Tool Duel, because the format was so different than all the other sessions. And the tools were cool, as advertised. I think the audience reaction said it all. And the Powerful PD session Wednesday morning was also good, because I could sit back like a fly on the wall and listen to what educational media experts were thinking and doing (I really need to investigate 'EdCamps' further). This was different because of the extreme level of audience participation/discussion. I wonder if Professor Hartman knows that not all of the breakout sessions receive thunderous applause.
So the trends of 2013 are clear: iPads, video, Moodle, Edmodo, BYOD, 1:1, free web tools, and Common Core.
I want to talk a bit about the common framework throughout the conference, and professional development in general. Looking back on my undergraduate career, it was always a laughing point among us students that all of our teachers told us we needed to create different ways of teaching to our students, but when we would go to class what would we get? A lecture. If we were really lucky: a lecture with PowerPoint. This being my second METC conference, it struck me near the end of Day 2 that I was viewing my ninth slide presentation in the last two days. That's a lot of slides. No wonder I have a headache. But how creative is that? How excited and interested should we be knowing we are about to see another slide presentation. Some presenters are better than others, but they're all among the top educators, right? So even the best of the best just use PowerPoints? Even Josh Stumpenhorst and Howie DiBlasi used a slide presentation. (It didn't matter, they were soooo good.)
Each classroom has a projector that someone can hook their laptop to. I mean really, is there no other way we can learn about this stuff? Maybe not, but no one would accept that in our classrooms. We are, after all, talking about a conference where every classroom is BYOD and 1:1. Just like my undergraduate professors, I wondered why they couldn't be as clever as they expected us to be.
Finally, as I look at the conference as a whole, I think it may have outgrown the venue. Many classrooms were stuffed full, to the point that dozens of people had to sit on the floor. This occurred much too often. Once or twice, I could not attend either of my first two choices because the room was packed full of people. Meanwhile, other less-popular sessions were poorly attended. One session I facilitated had less than 30 people. And it was a good session, too.
Also, as much as it pains me to pile on a worn-out subject, the Internet access remained very poor. This is a technology conference, and the main conduit to that technology was lacking. Even presenters, who had their own wi-fi network, were stifled by the lack of a quality connection. This was the case last year, so I really thought it would be much better. It's truly a bandwidth thing. Sitting in a room, I found it almost impossible to get anywhere when the place was full. Yet after the session broke up, sitting in the same spot, I found the connection to be fast and effortless. My suggestion would be to bring in a couple extra cell towers, like they did during Mardi Gras in St. Louis. This way you could encourage the people with data plans to access their cellular networks, easing the burden on the wi-fi. Being in the middle of a developed area, with a major network, I was unable to get 4G anywhere on the grounds; and inside the building I had poor reception at best.
But as I have said many times, overall the conference is spectacular. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two years there, and even with all of the difficulties and challenges I would gladly come back again and again. I don't know why completely -- it's just that cool.