It’s Not the Technology

We all learned a valuable lesson tonight at the ISTE keynote, it’s not the technology that matters in educational technology. Education trumps technology. That was evident in tonight’s opening ceremonies and keynote.

Unfortunately, what should have been an interesting presentation about global problem solving—what I hoped would be an especially relevant example of 21st Century skills—ushered in the opening ceremonies with a yawn through the use of a 19th (or perhaps even 18th) Century teaching style. Yes, I would call it teaching, because most information presentation is teaching. Visualize this…mumbling economics professor with his back to the classroom filling up chalkboards by writing over and over his notes in text you can’t read in the first place. Substitute presentation software for chalkboard, and you’ve got the idea.

This was a valuable lesson, though. Too many pundits claim that technology has limited impact on education. Well, tonight thousands of us learned first hand that it’s more likely that some teaching styles are the culprit. The ISTE conference is a tough crowd. Many of these folks are exemplary educators who work with technology day in and day out, but their end result is focused on student learning. They deal with a tougher audience—kids. They know what it means to engage them and keep them focused on learning targets. And much of this crowd is pretty savvy when it comes to using technology to do so.

Jean-Francois Rischard is a very knowledgable man. He was the Vice President of the World Bank, after all, and he was presenting on 20 global issues that we need to solve in the next 20 years. He’s even written a book on it. How more compelling could that be?!? Yet, despite the topic, despite his obvious depth of knowledge, the audience left in droves. Why? Because it’s not the technology that matters.

The example we saw tonight didn’t embody the principles of 21st Century teaching and learning. These educators saw that, and just like their students, they needed more to simply be engaged—on this very important topic! They were quiet and polite as they left, but after 10 minutes of sotto voce lecturing to the back of the stage, too many of them had had enough and the deserters began. Mr. Rischard outlined seven points for his topic. I tried to count them off, but I think I only got to the third one. Fourth tops. I was trying to stick it out for the planet, and my blog reader, but even that couldn’t overcome his teaching style. Maybe I’ll buy the book. It is an important topic, after all.

I try, and hope that sometimes I succeed, to model 21st Century skills when I present, because they still seem nebulous to some. Sometimes it’s hard to do, and we lapse back into our comfort zone, which for too many teachers is lecture. I’m guilty, too, but I keep working at it. That being said, I’m optimistic that I will find some good models over the next couple of days. I usually do at this conference. The poster session after the keynote had some interesting examples, and I’ve highlighted many overlapping sessions tomorrow. Here’s to being positive and “Exploring Excellence,” the conference’s motto.