Events | Feature

The iPads in Education Conference That's Not About iPads

App laundry lists and fly-by-night teaching fads are some of the things you won't find at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit. Instead, the focus is on deeper learning.

Edtechteacher Boston iPad Summit
Attendees at last year's EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston collaborated in various workshops and sessions devoted to fostering a student-centric approach to technology. (Photo courtesy Leise Jones Photography)

It could have been a keynote from a different conference. A call to action, the message that author Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap) delivered at last year's inaugural EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston inspired, engaged, and motivated, but it was decidedly scarce in one element--mentions of the iPad itself. Perhaps it seemed a bit out of place for a conference ostensibly all about the Apple tablet, but this was no accident.

"He set a tone because his entire talk did not feature a single slide and rarely mentioned iPads," said Tom Daccord, co-founder and director of EdTechTeacher, the consultancy that organizes the event. "His basic focus was on teaching and learning."

When Daccord and EdTechTeacher co-founder Justin Reich conceptualized the iPad Summit, which will run from April 10-12 in Atlanta this year, their goal was to close a critical information gap.

"In my twelve years in education technology, I have never seen a piece of hardware adapted so quickly and so fervently by schools," Daccord said. "And one of our concerns was that educators were not employing the iPad effectively in the classroom and that there was a dearth of information, a dearth of strategies, and a dearth of best practices available to educators and schools."

EdTechTeacher developed the iPad Summit as a way to bring together leading iPad integrationists and thinkers with educators, schools, administrators and instructional technology specialists from around the country. What Daccord and Reich emphasize, however, is that the conference is not a shallow discussion of apps. It's the opposite of that.

"We take a holistic, comprehensive approach to iPad integration," Daccord said. "Our approach is the antithesis of 'there's an app for that.'"

Instead, Daccord and Reich focus on a spectrum Daccord calls EdTechTeacher's pedagogical foundation: consumption, curation, creation, and connection.

"Our approach to an iPad workshop is to move educators through this spectrum, so how can we use the iPad effectively to consume materials, how can we then curate the materials, how can we create educational products, and how can we connect and share via the iPad," Daccord said.

The summit tackles the spectrum from multiple angles. One is to put educators in students' shoes with a series of pre-conference workshops that focus on a "challenge model" approach. Attendees are divided into groups, given an app, and with no instruction on how to use it, assigned a project to complete in a designated amount of time. Even though the task involves specific apps, the workshops do not depart from the broader vision.

"There's really only a handful of apps that we focus on and yet that handful of apps creates hundreds of instructional possibilities," Daccord said.

The more traditional format of the formal conference, which involves presentations, panels, and informal "birds of a feather" discussion groups, facilitates conversation about how a student-centric approach to technology—a key component of integration, Daccord says—manifests itself in the classroom.

"What we know is when technology is introduced in the classrooms, teachers will almost instinctively use it in traditional ways," he said.

Keynote speaker and digital learning coordinator for the Academy of Urban Leadership in Chicago Jennie Magiera is a prime example. She was one of the first classrooms to initiate a 1-to-1 program in Chicago in 2010 (and the only classroom in her school at the time), but initially had trouble getting results.

"I was working in a really narrow-minded way," Magiera said, explaining she first used the iPad for "low-level" tasks, like transferring physical flashcards to flashcard apps. "I had all of this power, and I was only using five percent of it."

After re-grouping on her own, Magiera transformed the way she used the device in the classroom and began to see "amazing results."

"Once I was willing to break down and build from the ground up and transform what I was doing with the devices, [I saw results]," she said.

From her success, Magiera was inspired to "spread the good gospel of tech" and began coaching teachers in her school and district, attending board meetings, and working with administrators, all while managing her own classroom. In 2011, seven classrooms in her school had iPads, four of them 1-to-1.

Today, Magiera does everything from working with teachers to build digital learning pedagogies (which she notes, aren't limited to iPads) to supporting administrators, directors, and coaches to leverage digital devices in their own systems. She and the three other 1-to-1 teachers at her school presented at the first iPad Summit in Boston last year and will keynote this year's conference, discussing "how to move past substitution to redefine and transform our learning environments so we can leverage iPads to be truly transformative devices," Magiera said. The four will also present individual sessions that delve more deeply into their own subjects (Magiera's is math).

Magiera will explore "the whole concept of what I can do now with devices that was impossible before, and not just for technology's sake, but to make learning more accessible for my kids," she said. "How can I close the assessment loop, where I know what kids have learned closer to the time they've learned it? How can I access metacognition in a different way—not just did [my students] get the answer right or wrong, but did they understand it?"

Exposing educators to the vast potential of using technology to "service learning" is the chief goal of the iPad Summit, Daccord said. He looks for speakers who will open educators up to the multitude of opportunities technology creates. Which brings it back to Wagner's speech last year: the imperative to change the model of education in today's classrooms.

"His basic argument is that in today's global economy … we need to create a culture of innovation in schools," Daccord said. "Wagner was urging us to think of the iPad as a [tool] for unleashing creativity in the classroom that would help develop a culture of innovation that's essential for America in competing successfully with China, with India, and countries around the world."

Magiera's work echoes that sentiment. Her blog, "Teaching Like It's 2999," describes the need for classrooms to be "creative, innovative, and outstanding places to learn" in the face of today's "terrifying job market." Students must learn to become "digital authors and creators and work at higher levels than rote memorization," she said.

While the summit centers on iPads for now, Daccord believes it will eventually evolve to become a broader mobile learning conference, because the scope of the event seeks to change the educational system with technology.

"Ultimately, it's not about the device, it's about learning," he said.

Ed. note: For more information about the conference, visit www.ipadsummitusa.org. Those unable to attend will be able to find presentations from the event online. 

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