Scaling Down to Ramp Up Learning: How to Bring the ISTE 2013 Conference Model to Your School

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be in San Antonio at ISTE 2013. I had the amazing opportunity to present some research around how high school teachers take up technology with students. Though I was worried about the flooding in Calgary, my home survived unharmed and the city came together with tremendous spirit. (Quick shout-out: I have to share this great video of how the Calgary Stampede worked so hard to clean up in just 14 days).

Alright, back to the topic at hand.


Me + the ISTE Banner in San Antonio!

We are all a part of a shift in approach to professional learning. There are many lessons to be learned from the model that ISTE 2013 executed so well. ISTE is a huge organization with many hands, funds and experience. This year saw over 13,000 attendees, 800 concurrent sessions and 500 exhibiting companies. This is no small gathering! But it doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming to apply the successful strategies that ISTE has, and keep the fires of excitement burning long after the event. I believe there are ways in which you can scale down and apply ISTE’s model without excessive effort, time, or money.

Current research into effective models for professional learning include characteristics like:

  • Choice and flexibility in topics, formats and approaches
  • Participation in a PLN, community and/or network
  • Ongoing, long-term and supported professional learning
  • Shared learning and improvement goals for staff, students, parents and the community
  • Research-based strategies
  • Focus on student data to determine needs and paths

Here are some ideas for how you could adjust the ISTE model to fit your own needs in a team, school, or district, and use activities to foster professional learning by teachers, for teachers. The key here is that you don’t need to plan for hours to pull it off. Based on the types of sessions offered at the conference, I’ve put together ideas that require little pre-planning and do not focus on formal presentations. All you need is to set time aside throughout the school year and select a few of the activities to try (I recommend trying an activity several times over a few months) and learn as you go. I hope they are useful!

  • Keynotes. ISTE featured keynote speakers who are leaders in the education field. Take advantage of their websites, books, publications, TED Talks, and YouTube videos (not to mention the many blog posts that have been written about their ideas) as a team, staff, or district. Delve deeper than a single speech and share the free resources.
  • Networking Fairs and Lounges. The conference hosted a number of events that brought together various groups, including young educators, newcomers, Tweeps, and special interest groups (e.g. focused on topics like mobile learning, edtech coaching, edtech in early learning, edtech in the arts, etc.). You can host regular get-togethers (as opposed to meetings) that encourage informal and creative discussion and sharing. Create spaces and times that allow people with specific interests and ideas to come together face to face and/or virtually.
  • Technology Infrastructure Pavilion. The conference included a space aimed at technology administrators, IT professionals and infrastructure planners. In my mind, infrastructure is just as important as the application of effective pedagogy in edtech. As educators, we should be able to plan for and evaluate the state of our technology infrastructure. It would be useful to invite those who are involved in infrastructure decisions to visit your school regularly and speak with students and staff as part of the technology planning, acquisition, maintenance and professional learning process, and to maintain open communication between IT professionals and educators.
  • Playgrounds. One of the largest areas of the conference featured hands-on opportunities to ‘play’ with software, apps, and hardware. Following the notion that everyone has something valuable to offer, I would suggest that educators bring something they are already using in their classrooms to share with others, such as a web 2.0 tool, social networking tool, or website that they find useful. Playgrounds can also be organized by topic, such as social networking, video conferencing, blogging, etc. Let’s say a few staff members share something each month in an informal playground setting. This would allow staff who are not sharing that month to select which playground to attend. Students could share too!
  • Learning Stations. This is one of my favourite ideas! At ISTE, these were informal two-hour sessions where students often led the conversation and shared short and long-term learning activities that they were engaged in. This idea can be expanded to include student sharing opportunities at lunch time in a learning commons where staff and other students can learn together. Wouldn’t it be terrific for students to share how they use Google Docs to collaborate with others, blogs to reflect on learning, or share their in-progress work to gather feedback from students and staff that they don’t normally interact with?
  • Start-up Pitch Fest. Edtech innovators pitched their ideas to the crowd in a fashion similar to the show, Dragon’s Den. In schools, you may not be pitching your idea to business investors, but both staff and students could present tools and apps that they are using in a quick, 2-minute format, or they could pitch  ideas such as a proposal for a student advisory board, or an edtech student-teacher support group.
  • Edcamp-style Sessions. If you haven’t experienced an edcamp event, you should look for one near you! Edcamp or un-conference events aim to flip professional learning upside down by encouraging educators to lead informal discussions on particular topics that are determined and facilitated by the  participants themselves. Un-conferences require little organization. The entire group of participants sets up a time to meet and brainstorm the topics they would like to discuss and share. Then they select which ones to participate in and the time(s) for the sessions that they will hold. Here’s an example of a first-time edcamp setup by my amazing buddies at Edcamp YYC. Though they solicited topics of conversation ahead of time, the facilitators were exactly that–they came to the table with some thoughtful inquiry questions, not formal presentations.
  • Ignite! Sessions. These were engaging PechaKucha presentations (20 slides in 5 min. where each slide appears for 15 seconds) in which presenters prepared something fun, inspirational and valuable to share. This would be a great way for students to share their ideas and inspire other students and staff.
  • Iron Chef. A new feature of ISTE this year was a hands-on event where groups set forth to create a solution to a challenge such as, “How would you design a program to facilitate digital citizenship in your school?”. Groups were given a couple of hours to work on their solution and then presented in a fast-paced PechaKucha style session the next day. Not only would this support fast iterations of prototypes and fuel brainstorming to solve challenges in the school, but it could also support team spirit channeled toward school-wide goals.
  • Roundtable Presentations. My roundtable presentation (along with my first ISTE conference) was an incredibly exciting experience! I shared my research into how high school teachers use technology with students and ended up meeting some incredible educators and app developers at the session. The roundtable session lasted for an hour and allowed for both the presentation of information as well as time for discussion with a group of 10-12. I prepared for my presentation, but believe that you could use this sharing format in a way that encourages the exploration of real examples and collaborative planning.

To sum it up, my ISTE 2013 conference experience showed me that there are ways in which we can harness the power of everyone’s experiences, and provide low-prep, collaborative opportunities for a variety of different types of professional learning. Could you select a few of the above items, work them into your team, school, or district’s calendar several times during the year, and watch the engagement around professional and peer learning grow? Share your thoughts below!

I’ll post more about my reflections on ISTE soon! For now, it’s back to the Calgary Stampede. I’m going to try deep fried butter and Doritos this year…

Counting Down to ISTE! Join Me and Learn About Effective PD

Stephanie Chan photo

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go…to ISTE 2013! I am looking forward to joining everyone in San Antonio soon. This will be my first time at ISTE. I am incredibly excited about learning with passionate, skilled and knowledgeable educators and students, and having a ton of fun while I’m at it!

I am also excited to be presenting the results of research that I conducted, along with focuses that I have undertaken as a result of my findings. During my research, I followed a group of four diverse high school teachers and experienced a year in their work as they used technology with their students. I learned so much from what they did, what they said, and what they thought. Their incredible openness and honesty has directly influenced my approach to support and professional learning around educational technology.

My presentation will be targeted, fun and full of useful strategies and resources. Here are the details. I hope you will join me! I also invite you to stay connected on Twitter @TechPudding

Topic: Experiences of High School Teachers in their Use of Educational Technology 

Monday, June 24, 2013 – 4:15-5:15 pm, SACC 101; Table 2
Format: Roundtable research presentation
Presenter: Stephanie Chan, Educational Technology Specialist
Calgary Board of Education, Alberta, Canada 


What Makes Effective Professional Learning?

Providing effective professional learning is a complex challenge. How can we make the most of tight budgets and limited supports? Join me as I discuss a yearlong case study that profiled the everyday challenges and experiences of four high school teachers as they used educational technology with their students. Then learn about strategies and resources that can support effective PD engagement and design. Walk away with:

  • Insights into what works for edtech coaches, school leaders and PD providers
  • Strategies for planning and implementing successful edtech professional development for individuals, teams, schools and districts
  • Examples of district-wide professional learning initiatives that emphasize flexibility, choice, scalability, collaboration and informal learning
  • Access to free professional learning modules and templates that you can use to design professional learning to suit your needs and the needs of your staff

Presentation Resources

I am all about sharing! If you’d like to use and share my resources with others, please do! (If you do, please link back to techpudding.com so that we can all continue to expand our learning connections.)

Now I just have to get through this week. See you there!

And by the way, if you have questions or comments about my presentation materials, please write me a comment! You can help me improve them and perhaps I can answer some questions about it! Happy to learn with you.

The Studio Model: Collaborative, Real-World Learning

I am currently in the process of re-designing a high school Innovative Technology (IT) course with a group of incredible teachers, and have been documenting highlights of my work here on TechPudding. My first post about the course re-design gave an overview of our move from basic how-tos of Microsoft Office applications, to a dynamic approach to helping students explore and examine technological change, ethical, social and psychological interactions with technology, and the application of an array of Web 2.0 tools (along with Office) in learning and productivity in the real world. We also decided to use the ISTE NETS (International Society for Technology in Education National Educational Technology Standards) for Students and Teachers to guide our re-design.

In today’s post, I will examine an incredible article that I just happened to stumble upon online (that’s the beauty of so much information at our fingertips!). I can’t wait to share it with my IT team members! The article is titled, The Studio Experience: Educational Reform in Instructional Technology by Lloyd P. Rieber. It describes a structure for education that truly mirrors the real-world workplace where designers work in teams to complete projects. With some adaptation, I believe that we can learn from it in designing our course.

The article outlines the ‘studio approach’, an approach used in graduate studies courses teaching multimedia design for educational purposes at the University of Georgia. The following are highlights  that made me think hard about how to structure not only our IT course, but our school in general.

The big idea that the studio model rests on is constructivism and in particular, three  ideas: (1) Learning is an active process in which individuals construct meaning. (2) Learning is a social and collaborative activity. (3) Learning happens through the construction of artifacts that are shared and critiqued by peers. Furthermore, to support constructivist learning, scaffolding helps us move from simple to complex concepts with different levels of structure and support (Rieber, para. 3). The idea of constructivism is not new to teachers, but it is a challenge for many to apply it in their teaching. I appreciate the emphasis on on-going critiques (a.k.a. reflections) of learning in all classes.

Rieber states, “Tools, such a computer authoring languages, are often taught according to the tool’s structure, not in how it is actually used in a design project. This is akin to learning English by studying a dictionary” (para. 4). I appreciate this comparison with learning from a dictionary because it points out our lack of context and application in the real world. He also acknowledges that when tools are taught through their structure, they are usually taught according to an “ideal sequence” (para. 4), without taking into account individual student differences in learning processes and task approach. This often leads to instructors having to re-teach material to students because they do not understand how to apply learning in different situations outside of the “ideal”.

Rieber also states that the “one-course/one-instructor model” isolates students and faculty in an artificial way, and teachers usually focus on a few tools that they are most comfortable with. Instead, students should collaborate and critique each other’s work in an on-going process of learning while faculty should share their expertise by sharing instructional duties and tasks (para. 4-5).

Students in the course learn concepts of design while developing technical skills in various software tools in a social setting (in both formal and informal collaborations). Students from all levels work and learn together. Mentorship teams are established and students and instructors use online learning management systems, email, and online resources to aid learning 24 hours a day (para. 6).

Student work in the course consists of projects, some of which have prescribed components, and others of which are determined by the students. Students share their work daily in design critiques with others, while documenting their own reflections related to their work and the theory and literature that they study simultaneously. A significant portion of student assessment is tied to personal reflections as well as evaluation criteria that students themselves create in conjunction with faculty (para. 7).

The final project in the course consists of real-world client services projects. They are posted on an online job board and students apply to the ones that they would like to work on. Team leaders then comb through the applications and decide which students to ‘hire’ for the jobs. Students can also be involved as “consultants” or “contractors” to other teams while working on their own projects (para. 9). 

There are several forms of assessment and evaluation of student work in the course:

  • Studio Showcase – a professional conference where all major projects are showcased to peers and the wider university and professional community, generating excitement and motivation
  • Comprehensive Exams – not written tests, but participation in online discussions as well as an oral exam about theory, literature, and practice involving faculty, professionals, and peers (para. 11-12)

In the re-conceptualization of their program, the multimedia design students and faculty at the University of Georgia learned some important lessons. One lesson was that change takes time, and both students and faculty members had to be patient and open-minded to a highly interactive and collaborative way of working and learning together (para. 16).

Also, it was vital that students became mentors and tutors to other students as well as faculty members so that instructors didn’t have to feel as if they had to know everything. They therefore required each student to contribute at least 10 hours to a volunteer position of their choice. Many chose to volunteer right in the design studio to help other students learn. Some also chose to lead online discussions, workshops, or seminars for other students based on their own expertise and passions (para. 18).

I would like to point out that this article was written in 2000, and the studio model is commonly used in post-secondary level art, design, and architecture schools. This shows that we are woefully far behind in making learning relevant, rigorous, and collaborative for our students.

The Studio Model in High School IT Class

The work of the multimedia design faculty at the University of Georgia is exceptional, and can be applied to high school classes. Here is how I might structure our IT class.

  • Teachers should teach collaboratively. We can begin by timetabling so that groups of teachers can share classes and teach to their strengths. We can start with our Multimedia, Design, and IT teachers. We can exchange classes for periods of time or teach them in combined groups, and focus on different aspects of the technologies, while engaging in professional learning together.
  • Students should be required to support other students in their learning in the areas of their strengths. They can choose between different types of support, from answering questions on an online discussion board, to providing just-in-time help in class, to planning a formal mini-workshop, to creating instructional videos or hand-outs.
  • Students should engage in regular personal reflections, peer critiques/discussions, and beta tests on peers. In a high school class, this process requires guidance because students have been taught for so long that what they do only matters to their teacher in order to receive a mark. I believe that we need some sort of reflection daily, and structured processes to help students and teachers become comfortable with it.
  • Client services projects can be conducted throughout the duration of a course. Students can select from a bank of projects submitted by the community, as well as school clubs, athletics, events, or celebrations. Students must stay in contact with their clients, manage their time based on timelines, submit drafts, and reflect on their progress for different jobs. Furthermore, students can apply for these jobs and the teacher and client can help to place them in the appropriate teams. The idea of also having contracted or consultant students is also a great way for peers to learn from each other while engaged in their own projects.
  • We need a few formal celebrations and showcases of student work to the wider school and professional community. If we can contact some professionals in the field and have them guide our learning and then critique the final products, that would be incredibly meaningful for students and staff.
  • The idea of an oral exam is intriguing. Not all students might be comfortable with this so perhaps we can structure them more and give students time to develop their answers. Then, with their regular practice of peer critiques, they can perhaps select one of a few ways to participate in an informal ‘defense’ of their learning and development through the course. This would be a wonderful culminating experience for students and their peers.

What do you think of the studio experience in your classroom? How might you adopt characteristics of the studio model?

Rieber, L. P. (2000). The studio experience: Educational reform in instructional technology. In D. G. Brown (Ed.), Teaching with technology: Seventy-five professors from eight universities tell their stories (pp. 195-196). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
(Image: Brainstorm at INDEX: Views, by @boetter. 2005. Available under a Creative Commons License.)