Technology is Still the Wrong Answer, In My Humble Opinion

MY 2011 MEGA MeetingEarlier this week, I posted a blog entry about Lucas Gillispie’s work with video games in the Pender County schools (North Carolina). I had run into Gillisppie at a MEGA meeting/expo, a group that formed out of North Carolina State University’s College of Education eleven years ago. MEGA stands for Middle Education Global Activities. As I recall, the organization’s initial focus was on science education, but it diversified over the years as did interest in elementary and high school education. Becky Reed, MEGA’s manager, spent a few minutes at the end of the event reviewing some pretty impressive statistics that described their growth, both locally and globally

— and it was an impressive expo.

The picture above shows only one of three rooms filled with representatives of showcased schools from across the state, examples of what they’re doing with technology in their classrooms, some students to give the learner perspective, and lots of local educators who’d come to be wow’ed.

Becky makes a big deal about how I travel the world, this big technology guru, but what impressed me was things that I saw here that I didn’t know about — how classroom teachers and their tech facilitators are playing with emerging technologies — and I use the term play with the most respectful and admiring intent.

I’ve written about QR-codes, those two demential bar codes that can be used to access web pages and other information resources with a smart phone. I’ve used them for more than a year in my presentation slides, on my business card, and even in my latest book, A Gardener’s Approach to Learning. But for the first time inside the U.S. I walked into an education event, and they were everywhere. Every business card handed to me had a QR Code. One of the schools is using them to direct elementary students to the proper video tutorials on their iPod Touches.

There were teachers there from the school system I served as tech director 20 years ago. They’re experimenting with Nooks, the eBook reader that runs Android — some interesting potentials there.

Yet, with all of this impressive show of mostly appropriate utilization of ICT in classrooms, I remain unsatisfied with their answer to my prevailing question…


I honestly believe that these educators are seeking new ways to use new information and communication (literacy) technologies in teaching and learning for the very best reasons. But we need better answers than, “Because it’s technology. Our children will do anything if it’s with technology.” ..and “this is the engagement!” pointing at the an iPod Touch.

I continue to maintain that the little box is not what engages them. it is what happens through that box. It is the information experience that…

  • Is responsive
  • is fueled by questions
  • provokes conversation
  • is rewarded with currency
  • Inspires personal investment
  • is guided by safely made mistakes

When we talk about modernizing formation education, this is what we should talk about, not the technology.

– Posted using Blogsy from my iPad

Reflections on NCTIES 2011

Early Registration at NCTIES in Raleigh

Last week was the NCTIES conference.  NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education) is the ISTE affiliate for my state.  They use to be NCAECT, and I understand that there was another acronym before that.  But Thursday they launched their 40th conference, and I do not remember being a part of any anniversary conference with a number that high.

Before the conference, I lamented on all the people I’ve worked with from across who I’d miss because they have certainly retired.  But I was surprised at the number who were still at it, mostly informing me that they were retiring in May or August  or some other of the next 9 months.  But it was also trilling to see the folks who were back for the 40th anniversary.

But on to my reflections.  It occurred to me this morning that I can tell when I have been fully engaged in an education technology conference by the number of times I remember asking, “But why?”  Here’s a typical exchange.

“We’ve bought iPads for our alternative school kids.”

“Cool!  But why?”

“We’re trying to get them to read more, and we believe they will read more if its on an iPad.”

“Why do you think they’ll read more with an iPad.  Is reading what’s cool about using an iPad?”


“Why do you want the students to read more?”

You get the gist — and I know that I am doing a lot more reading since I got my iPad.  But it’s not because the text glows.  But that’s a different blog post…

Another thing that was interesting about this conference was my ongoing and often playful quest for the next cool thing — the next “buzz.”  It’s more of a game for me, a cool hunting sort of thing.  After all, most cool things in educational technology grow cold, hopefully before we start to integrate and effect instruction.  Anyway, I got an inkling of two cool things here at this conference. One was the topic of my session on infographics and data visualization.  Of course, in my preparation for the session, I realized that there is nothing new about this stuff.  We’ve been doing data visualization for years through geographic information systems or GIS with products like ArcGIS.

It was my first planned presentation on this topic, and it did not go as smoothly as some of my more practiced topics — as a number of demos didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped (starting to justify the purchase of Camtasia for my Mac 😉.  What got me wondering about the impact of this is the fact that Kathy Schrock, one of the other featured speakers of the conference, was in the audience and she told me that she is planning a similar (better) presentation on the same topic for an upcoming large conference (A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Infographics as a Creative Assessment”).  If I think it’s cool and then Schrock sees it’s pedagogical value as a learning tool, well, you’ve got something there…

Jason Standish Timothy Smith
Talking about QR-Codes

The other cool thing that seemed to be buzzing throughout the conference was QR-Codes.  Part of it was the interesting way that the presenters, Jacob Standish and Timothy Smith of Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools preceded the conference with QR-Codes in their conference wiki page and their YouTube video introduction (blogged about here).

QR-Codes have actually been around for more than a decade, and I have used them on presentation slides for over year, though, until recently, only recognized and used in Singapore and Hong Kong.  But the buzz in Raleigh was palpable and it was contagious.  During their session, you could feel the excitement in the packed presentation room, and the scurrying of educators rushing up with their smart phones held up, and seemingly bowing down to this new great thing.

It was exciting and more than a little funny.  It’s like I told my son (who attendeed the last day of the conference), “You’re going to be with people who are passionate about what they do.  They don’t have jobs — they have a mission.  You don’t see this everyday, and I double you’d see it anyplace else in the field of education.”  And it was certainly true NCTIES.

As for QR-Codes and infographics, only time and our capacity to innovate will tell.  I have some big questions about QR-Codes, and one of my next articles will likely take a more critical, but certainly not a dismissive look at this application.

An Idea that’s Reaching its Time

I do not believe I’ve seen this before, a YouTube video intro to an upcoming conference session. It’s probably common, though more apt to come to your attention in anticipation to a “local” edtech conference.

This week the North Carolina (My home state) ISTE affiliate is hosting its 2011 educational technology conference, NCTIES for a packed house — and it’s a short bus ride from my home.

NCTIES is an anual event, which I missed last year because I had agreed to keynote a conference in Singapore for ISTE.  ..and coincidentally, that Singapore conference was my first presentation where the

The opening slide for one of the new presentations I’ll be doing at NCTIES this week.

audience didn’t squint with confusion at the QR-Code on the opening of my slidedeck (or Prezi document).  When the image appeared on that day, about 350 smart phones shot up out of the audience, each capturing through its built-in cameras, the URL embedded in the code and loading my online handouts for use during the address.  I say, “coincidence,” because on Friday Jacob Standish and Timothy Smith, both of Mecklenberg Schools (Charlotte), will be doing a session called “QR Codes and Why they matter to education.”

What I’ve not seen before was an @technology_tim tweet, launched just before 10:00 PM last night,

Feb 26, 9:52pm via Twitter for Mac

Presenting at #NCTIES updating our info page! #yam #CMSk12 Who else presenting?

Click the link in the tweet to see the YouTube video they’re using to introduce and promote their presentation.  Again, this might be common, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it.  I’ve often suggested that teachers might create video commercials for their classrooms or even as introductions to upcoming units of study.  But I don’t think that a commercial for your conference presentation has occurred to me.

I hope I’m able to attend their session.  Although I’ve not thought a lot about QR-Codes in education, the idea of hyperlinking physical objects to the digital world intrigues me.

So I guess it’s two ideas that may be reaching their time, teacher-produced video commercials and QR-Codes.