ISTE 2011: We have met the future and it is us?

If anyone needed proof that technology is the future of education – and a good deal of its present – they needed look no farther than Philadelphia last week.   ISTE (formerly NECC) again proved  it’s the most vibrant conference in K-12.  While others are shrinking, it’s holding its own or growing.  Attendance exceeded 13,000 and may have reached as high as 15,000, in an era when such conferences as the International Reading Association’s have dwindled from 20,000+ historically to maybe 9,000 today.

This isn’t because there are more geeks than readers.  The preponderance of ISTE attendees are focused more on the “ed” than the “tech.”  In several dozen conversations with educators I didn’t find one traditional “programmer” or “systems administrator” type.   Attendees were teachers, principals, curriculum directors, professional development specialists.  Even the people with “tech” in their titles were looking for specific educational outcomes, not tech for tech’s sake.

Technology is mainstream now.  If there is a boundary between educational technology and education as a whole, it’s getting harder and harder to see.  More and more states are removing the funding distinctions between curriculum (“textbook”) and technology, and often throwing in professional development too.   What counts is finding the best solution to reach educational objectives, and increasingly that solution will contain – or consist of – technology.

This does not mean text is going away.  Not everything is animation and avatars.  The first “R” is still reading, not robotics.  Witness the transformation (in some places, at least) of “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, math) into “STREAM”: science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math.   “The fundamental things apply,” so ed tech companies must pay attention to the elements educational publishers have always been supposed to include: Sound pedagogy, valid content, standards, scope and sequence, measurement, feedback.

And guess what, ed tech?  That means you’re not in the sandbox anymore.  You’re playing with the big kids.   Now that technology is the common language of education, everyone speaks it, including traditional educational publishers.  “Textbook” companies face indubitable challenges changing their delivery and business models, but they are all aware of that.  Many of them have huge resources, both educational and monetary.  At least one of the “Big Three” unveiled a digital textbook platform that might enable a relatively smooth transition from paper to “pads.”  Removal of barriers between textbook and technology funding cuts both ways – you can go after theirs, but they can go after yours.

That’s why the question mark in my Pogo-inspired headline.  If you think of yourself as “ed tech,” the bright lights and bustle of ISTE may have created a false sense of superiority.  It’s really all about education.  Technology is just the means, available to anyone, and we forget that at our peril.


About mhbaumk12

Mike Baum has 40 years of experience with all types of direct marketing, has run several companies, spent 25 years as a consultant in franchising and in K-12 education, and currently helps companies find solutions to growth challenges.
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