Crazy About Conferences

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Looking back at SETDA’s Education Forum and ahead to FETC.

Geoffrey H. FletcherMY NAME IS GEOFF and I’m a conferencejunkie. Hi, Geoff!

If you like to learn about the use of technology in education, or about the technologies themselves, you have to get excited about going to conferences. At the moment, I am caught in that delightful rest stop between the end of one great conference and the start of another.

I just came from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Education Forum: What It Takes to Compete. A highlight of the event was a presentation by Andreas Schleicher from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. He delivered some sobering data about other nations’ academic prowess in relation to a slipping United States. This is not the usual “the world is flat” argument, which poses that India and China will soon overwhelm the United States in math and science due to their sheer numbers. Schleicher’s statistics call for a different mode of instruction and an emphasis on depth of content and 21stcentury skills.

The test that produced the data focused on how well students can extrapolate from what they have learned, and apply their knowledge and skills in novel settings. Go here and click on “Ed Forum” to see the slides from Schleicher’s presentation.

The conference lying ahead for me is one of the country’s largest and most successful ed tech gatherings, the Florida Educational Technology Conference, which runs Jan. 22-25. As I browse the conference program, I am reminded of my time spent serving on an advisory board for FETC, reviewing proposals for the 2008 event. They were filled with best practices for educators of all levels.

Particularly interesting is the strand that FETC has created with a focus on 21st-century skills. In addition to a panel chaired by Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a closing session led by Eagle County School District (CO) Director of Technology John Kuglin is ticketed, “Strategic Lessons for 21st-Century Learning.”

If you go to these sessions, I bet you’ll come to the same conclusion I have: If we don’t develop the skills businesses want in graduates of all levels, we are not teaching all of the right content, nor delivering the content in the right way. We need to have our kids use higher-order thinking skills to solve realworld problems; and we need to be sure they gain experience working in teams while solving these problems.

In addition to attending the great sessions, what most appeals to me about going to conferences is wandering around the exhibit floor. I am curious about what new products and services vendors will be introducing. At FETC 2008, more than 900 booths will line the showroom, with more than 450 companies showing off their wares. The sheer number of booths and technologies creates an unmistakable buzz on the floor. It’s that buzz I can’t get enough of. Like I said, my name is Geoff and I’m a conference junkie.

-Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.