This year I had a chance to travel to Orlando for the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC). I spent a good part of my time conducting workshops for Birdbrain Technologies, but I did have time to peruse the Exhibit Hall, hear keynote speakers, and talk with a number of folks who had participated in FETC before. Here are some of my reflections.
Here Comes Virtual Reality
For the opening Keynote Dan Lajerska, the Chairman of EON Reality, Inc, outlined how his Swedish company is moving not only into educational spaces, but commercial ventures. EON provides a very robust tool that will definitely play a role in educational technology. In the Exhibit Hall zSpace brought an RV to demonstrate their technology. However, the most impressive technology for me came from two young Chinese educators who have created “SnapBench.” Up till now most VR projects are opportunities for learners to consume and be entertained by the novelty of AR. SnapBench provides a creative tool that looks like Minecraft. You can actually create your own VR projects using SnapBench. Where this will lead is really up to the creative user. I can see environmental education, design projects, and other opportunities. In addition to allowing a user to create a virtual representation, SnapBench also provides a 3D printing option – something that no other technology I’ve seen can accomplish.
Teaching to One
Yes, Personalized Learning is on the radar for many schools. Tyler Sussman, the Director of Partnerships for Summit Learning, outlined at the opening keynote the opportunities for schools to tap into the free Summit Learning tool set. Marc Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook not only paid for this project, but they also provided the engineering behind the software tool. Summit Learning now has over 100 schools (grades 6-12) around the country using the software. The tool set is designed to provide not only an encapsulation of what students have done, but it also is designed to allow learners to set goals around careers and post-secondary opportunities. In addition to Summit there were workshops and presentations sharing success stories about Personalized Learning. Other companies, like Pearson showcased their software in the Exhibit Hall.
If there’s one focal point that everyone seems to agree upon, it’s the importance of giving all learners active learning experiences that are interdisciplinary and inquiry based. I participated in the Mobile MEGAShare where TechTerra organized 18 stations that FETA participants could sample in six rotations. I worked with one of TechTerra’s gurus to challenge folks to create an animated product in less than 30 minutes using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit from Birdbrain Technologies. I was amazed how teams of 2-3 educators could meet this challenge using the CREATE Lab’s Visual Programmer. We need to make all entry learning activities as challenging and rewarding as this. Other stations included software from BrainPop (one of the big hits in the Exhibit Hall), robotics from Lego, science inquiry tools from Pittsco, and Virtual Reality from SnapBench. Over 100 people jammed into the meeting room. In addition, at the Exhibit Hall there were dozens of STE(A)M companies. I had a great chance to talk with one of the representatives from SparkFun Electronics. In the past I’ve been involved in eTextile projects that have used the LilyPad from SparkFun. Today they’re a great resource for educators looking for STEAM materials.
While some people are proclaiming the end of interactive whiteboards, SMART Technology has moved forward with new tools that work both with their boards and without them. My wife’s nephew, David Dulberger, did a presentation on SMART Amp, an incredible tool for collaborative, active learning that has engaged David’s 5th grade students at the Emma Doub Elementary School in Maryland. Throughout the exhibit hall there were vendors demonstrating new furniture for active learning. There were also a host of hardware and software products. Everyone seems to realize that active learning leads to Deeper Learning. We need to provide opportunities for learners to move, to get out of their seats, to have flexible solutions, in order to have creative and productive learners. In addition, we need to make the activities project or problem-based where learners work collaboratively.