ISTE 2016 Live: Reflections on Day 1

My feet are a couple of fat sausages. My Apple Watch tells me I've more than doubled my move goal. My body aches like an 80 year old.  And yet, I've got a super-charged attitude and am ready to run right back to my office and begin planning for the coming school year! On this first full day of sessions at ISTE 2016, I have to say I'm thrilled to be gulping from the fire hose of information that has come at me today.

As with every ISTE gathering, trends and lead topics start to rise to the surface as I peruse the exhaustive list of session choices. Along with mainstays like coding, Makerspaces, and effective PD, I have seen some new trends gain more and more momentum. Topics like digital badging and AR/VR  are hot and really have the potential to be game-changers in ed tech, especially after hearing the poignant words from Opening Keynote speaker, Michio Kaku. His focus on education needing to transform from memorization and 1950's automation to conceptual thinking is nothing really new. However, hearing the evidence and seeing his vision for the future really helps drive this need home. We truly are preparing our students for jobs that don't yet exist. We need to develop a generation of independent thinkers, doers, and dreamers. We can do this, in part, through these new hot topics.

Digital badging is becoming more and more relevant as we work to individualize instruction and motivate students to pursue passions. A session today led by Theresa Richards, of Carnegie Mellon University's "Girls of Steel" robotics program, Katie Bordner and Dustin Stiver, introduced us to the ideas behind the creation, design, and issuance of a digital badge. Through this process, teachers are able to guide the students through lessons, workshops, and activities they already do with more focus and a goal that still allows for plenty of voice and choice. While their experiences mostly lie with the Pittsburgh Cities of Learning Initiative, we attendees were given guidance, templates, and ideas for ways in which we could develop our own digital badges. In content-focused small groups, we were even able to attempt the workflow of digital badge development with great success. The concept of digital badging is so diverse and lends itself to so many wonderful opportunities to let our kids shine as they choose to achieve in a modern day version of the varsity letter jacket.

Another trend I saw throughout my ISTE session lists was virtual reality and augmented reality. Considering where theoretical physicist, Dr. Kaku, says we will be in the upcoming decades, there is no doubt in my mind that AR and VR are forces that definitely demand curricular attention. His prediction that science and medicine, in particular, are going to be the driving careers of the future lends itself to this need. With surgeries taking place virtually using robots armed with scalpels and driverless cars careening through our future streets, students can benefit from learning about the power of virtual reality and its development now. In a panel discussion that included one of my favorite tech guys, Richard Byrne of FreeTech4Teachers, among others, the conversation stemmed around the experiences that can enrich the learning of students. VR and AR level the playing field. No longer are students trapped by their physical location. With virtual and augmented reality, there is really no experience that can't be simulated or enhanced. More and more scenarios are being created on a daily basis and these are even being developed by students as another means of showing aptitude. Suddenly an object that was once inanimate and by itself non-descript can become layered with new material, videos, examples and the like. It's souping up the ordinary to make it extraordinary. Personally, I have been quite excited to use Google Cardboard for VR and Aurasma for AR, although I know there are several options out there and more will continue to grow and evolve. Companies like Nearpod have really stepped up their game to include field trips that give teachers the ability to bring students, virtually, all over the world to enhance lessons and spark student interest and learning. I think we will see more and more companies follow suit.

Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to another jam-packed day of learning. Until then, I'm going to go put up the sausages so they can set out on my continued quest for what's next in ed tech at ISTE 2016.



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