FETC 2008: It's All About Community


Education technology took center stage in Florida last week as teachers, administrators and district technology experts gathered at FETC 2008 in Orlando. Podcasting, digital collaboration and Web 2.0 dominated much of the discussion, but security, new and emerging technologies, and environmental education were also major themes.

With 200 concurrent sessions, a wide range of speakers--including the opening keynote address by The Discovery Channel's Jeff Corwin--and the first ever State Multiplayer Educational Game tournament and more than 480 exhibiting companies, this year's conference provided a bit of everything and set some show records to boot.

Jeff Corwin Speaks about the Environment, Education
The conference opened Wednesday with a keynote address by Emmy award-winning television host Jeff Corwin, who spoke about the importance of educators during what he called "a critical time for the environment."

"I can't think of a time in the history of our species," he said, "that the role of the educator has been just so critically important."

Jeff Corwin speaks at the opening keynote address Wednesday at the FETC 2008 show in Florida.

Corwin spoke at length about environmental stewardship and the importance of building awareness through education and instructional technologies. He called on teachers to empower young minds to build a sense of passion and urgency, encouraging them to be conscious, active citizens. "Education isn't about a single person," he said. "It's about a community."

Corwin concluded by insisting that what educators do is the most important mission on our planet, closing with the thought that, despite the many challenges that lay ahead, "there is still hope."

200 Concurrent Sessions, Something for Everyone
This year's FETC offered a wide range of session topics, focusing on everything from how Web 2.0 is reshaping the education landscape to the importance of Internet safety in our homes and schools to using podcasting and other new technologies to augment the learning experience.

Thursday, presenters from the University of South Florida's (USF) College of Education shared their insights on the use of podcasts, powered by Apple's platform, iTunes U, to enhance classroom instruction and widen university reach.

According to the speakers, the podcasting program has provided a variety of benefits to the college, such as allowing faculty members to serve as "virtual guest speakers," enhancing the use of related instructional technologies, as well as creating a general buzz around the university.

Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, spoke about the implications of Web 2.0 on the classical understanding of "learning" and "knowledge."

"Web 2.0," Dede said, "is a major paradigm shift in the way people think." He went on to discuss the need for a synthesis of classic modes of learning and Web 2.0 modes of learning, encouraging educators to help "reinvent education" based on these new forms of knowledge.

In his session on Friday, Jonathan King, from iSafe--a congressionally funded, non-profit Internet safety organization--addressed growing online safety concerns, such as cyber-bullying and Internet predation, emphasizing the need to teach students to be responsible cyber-citizens.

King noted that children need to understand the relationship between the physical world and the world online so they can make informed decisions. Just as we teach our children to protect themselves in the real world, he said, it is our responsibility to teach them how to be safe online.

Other sessions included discussion on using technology to inform oral fluency instruction, enhancing learning through networked communities, addressing technology and security on a budget, and an inside look at the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization process.

New Technologies--Cool Never Gets Old
Several new products and technologies were showcased at this year's conference. Among them, Tabula Digita's 3D Multiplayer Educational Game (MEG), DimensionM, went center-stage during the first-ever State MEG tournament. Competitors from more than twenty states showed off their math skills in a race against the clock for a chance to win valuable prizes, including an iPod touch and a site license of DimensionM.

Also at FETC 2008:

  • Discovery announced the launch of its "Science for Elementary" service, along with a new media management service, dubbed "MediaShare";
  • BrainPOP demonstrated its animated robot character, Moby, the star of its online educational series BrainPOP, BrainPOP Jr., and BrainPOP Espanol;
  • Angel showcased several school districts that have implemented the company's learning management system, Angel LMS;
  • Bretford launched its "Instructional Workstation," a multimedia rack-mount system designed to replace the traditional instructor's desk;
  • Pearson announced the expansion of its online math remediation tool, Pearson Perspective, to include video tutorials from Video Math Tutor;
  • School Specialty Media showcased its Learn360, a new streaming media service for K-12 education, with content from a wide range of media providers; and
  • Sebit launched it's new online educational resource, Adaptive Curriculum, focusing on math and science for middle school.

Further coverage of new technologies introduced at FETC 2008 can be found by clicking here.

Closing Session: Educators Encouraged to SWIM into the 21st Century
The conference closed Friday with an interactive address by John Kuglin, where participants used handheld, infrared voting devices to respond to questions, projected on the two large screens that flanked either side of the stage.

CIO at Eagle County School District, in Vail, Colorado, Kuglin used the acronym "SWIM" to describe the elements for building a 21st century learning environment. Short for "Space, Web, Infrastructure, and Media," these key components, according to Kuglin, are vitally necessary in a world where information is becoming increasingly visualized.

John Kuglin delivers the closing address Friday at the FETC 2008 show in Florida.

"We need to transform our classrooms because of these things," he said, "and not just tinker with the technology."

Kuglin's presentation included a demonstration of the power and capability of Google Earth, as well as audio and video that was both intriguing and fun. Kuglin closed by insisting that 21st century learning begins with creative teachers and urged the audience to "be different ... teach different," and, of course, to attend FETC 2009.

FETC's Numbers Grow
By all accounts, this year's FETC was a resounding success, with all numbers up from a year ago. General attendance figures topped 8,000, with workshop attendance doubling last year's numbers, at more than 1,800. The number of exhibiting companies was also up, at more than 480.

A Look Forward to FETC 2009
With FETC 2008 having come to a close, many educators and administrators have already begun to look forward to FETC 2009. With technology advancing at breakneck speeds, educators continue to be faced with challenges on how to relate to--and teach--the digital generation. It will indeed be interesting to witness the variety of changes that will undoubtedly come in the next 12 months and the ways educators and technology experts use their creativity and innovation to address them.

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About the author: Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.