I Killed a Dog

Yes, I did kill a dog…kind of. I stepped on one of my son’s toy dogs in the basement and it broke. Although the bruise on my foot would indicate that I actually lost that fight. With that out of the way, here is the real reason I am writing this post.

The past three days I attended the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference in St. Charles. First, let me tell you that I was able to pull some great resources that I will share in a later post. However, I rode home each day rather disappointed in two major ways. I kept trying to get over these disappointments, but as I continued to reflect, I kept coming back to these two “problems” that I had with some of the conference sessions I attended.

The first disappointment was the apparent low level of technology knowledge and understanding among the participants and some presenters. While this may sound like an arrogant and potentially rude statement, let me explain. My view may be the result of me losing the roulette wheel of session picking. However, here is a short list of things I witnessed that gave me a bit of a pause:

• Presenter taking 15 minutes to explain how to turn on, capture, and plug in a flip camera. To me this should be common sense and does not require a chunk of a session, but clearly that was not the case.

• Very few of the masses of participants were on twitter or tweeting during conference. I know that not everyone has bought into the boom of the blue bird, but I was shocked at how few had.

• Participants were blown away by prezi.com as a “new” tool. This is a tool that I have heard about, used, and seen for nearly two years now.

• Presenter spending half of presentation talking about movie maker and photostory as groundbreaking tools in education. I don’t think I need to say anything about this one.

• An entire poster session on the power of wordle.com. Enough said…

• Presenters claiming to have “cutting edge” technology that was duller than a spoon…ten years ago. This kind of goes with the previous two, but I think my definition of cutting edge is not a universal.

• Presenter claiming wikis was one of the newest, best, and greatest web 2.0 tool out there. A wiki, while a good tool, is simply one tool and a vast array of potential tools out there.

• Presenter contradicting themselves by claiming to need to give kids choice in their projects…but they must use technology for it to be a good project. This presented went so far as to call out certain projects as not good enough.

Again, I don’t mean to be rude or sound disrespectful in any way. I did go to a great workshop on Media Literacy with Joanna Marshall and sat with Jon Orech in a productive Twitter session. All in all though, I was rather astounded by the seemingly low level of technology understanding. I take this to mean one of two things. One, I am that far ahead of the curve, which I don’t necessarily think is the case. Or two, we need to do a better job of sharing resources and getting more teachers caught up to the digital age we are living in. I know I have grown so much in the past four months as an educator as well as in educational technology. Those of us that do understand technology need to do a better job of sharing. Maybe more of the “tech studs” need to step up and present next year…I know I will be putting in more than one proposal next year. :)

The second major disappointment for me was how a majority of the sessions were focused on tools and not on learning. I will not call out any names in particular but if you attended, you know what I mean. A great number of presentations took the “The Great Tools of Web 2.0” or “Must Have Tech Tools” in their approach. These sessions were essentially a laundry list of the coolest tools and hottest gadgets. Many of the tools were neat and cool. However, there was little or no connection to how they actually improved student learning. I can go to Google and find a billion tools to try with my kids. What I want to know is how they have been tried, tested, and actually shown to improve student learning. Perfect example is the trend of interactive whiteboards. Many teachers think that just because they have these tools in their classrooms, they are integrating technology. Personally, I don’t buy that. If an interactive whiteboard is simply being used to present those cutting edge Power Points, then you might as well just have them pull it down and get out your overhead and erasable markers. Tools need to be used to make a job easier and more effective. The job I am worried about is student learning…don’t show me a new hammer until you know how well it drives a nail.

Although, these “tools” sessions were overflowing so maybe I don’t know what I am talking about…


Mrs. Weser said...

You are my new hero for this! Your post captures my frustrations as a technology teacher (but not the one in charge of teacher training). Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!

Gerald Aungst said...

First of all, I'm with you on all of your main points. I've been to conferences where I had exactly the same overall experience.

But it occurs to me that perhaps those "tools" sessions were so full because you can't learn how to use tools to improve student learning until you first understand the tool yourself. I think there are still many teachers who think they are ready to jump on the "bandwagon" of tech (see my last blog post for why I don't really buy that) and want to learn the tools first.

If I step back a second, I'd rather have a teacher who is open to learning about something new, even if they're not approaching it the way I'd like them to be eventually. Again, I totally agree it has to be about the learning, not the "cool." But if the cool factor helps get someone over the hurdle of "I don't do technology," then so be it.

Debbie Harris said...

I agree with your assessment of ICE. I was there, as well, and was shocked to see a presentation on creating with GarageBand.

I know that, for my own professional learning, I'm much more interested in big picture. If I want to know how to use a particular piece of software I'll look up a tutorial.

Maybe we need a Tech Educon Midwest..

Mrs. E said...

I would also have like to seen the tools presented in such a way as to show their direct application in the classroom; I think this would have been helpful for those of us (such as myself) that are relatively late to the ed tech party to not be so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of ideas and tools presented.

And I was in the session regarding the presenter who implied that projects without technology weren't as good; I would have appreciated a session on how to implement a blended learning environment. Sometimes you just have to get out the "old-school" methods to help kids learn; at other times, the technology is more appropriate. When my students are struggling with a concept, I know sometimes throwing technology at them will NOT help them understand it--it's those times we get out markers and butcher paper, lay on the floor, and struggle it out together until we get the basics, and then utilize technology to provide deeper learning experiences with that concept. It's all about using the right learning tool at the right time for the right students.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thanks for the comments... Bottom line, I understand that "cool" stuff may get educators to buy into using technology. However, if teachers are only using technology because it is cool, then they are losing the point of using it all together. Foundational learning and basic skills have to come first. Once you have those in place, then you can use technology to push learning to whole new limits.

kwaussie said...

It's so reassuring to hear other people feeling the same frustration as I do. It makes me feel normal as opposed to 'that techno weirdo'. I actually think you are way above the curve. I often feel well below the curve when I'm discussing things on Twitter or other forums but when I get back to the 'real' world, I find the opposite. Unfortunately, I think the number of educators who are at or above the curve is frighteningly low.
I had to sit through two staff presentations last year showing a term's personal professional dev't in ICT. One proudly showed how to compress photos and the other how to create a wordle. If I hadn't been trying to suppress my astonished guffaw I would have cried.

Rebecca Pilver said...

I know it is surprising, but you are ahead of many teachers. Because you are part of a professional learning community online that is ahead right along with you, it is hard to believe that some teachers are just now learning about Web2.0 tools. However, I agree with one of the comments made that you need to know the tool before you can make choices about how to use it for student learning. So at least they are there. I remember myself going to the November Learning conference years ago and feeling so overwhelmed, but excited, about all of the Web2.0 tools. But now I feel bored at these sessions. It sounds like the participants at the conference would have been better served if there were a variety of levels of break out sessions offered in order to differentiate for the levels of its learners.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


I totally agree with you. I think leveled break out sessions would be a great addition to the conference. I think there are some great educators at this conference and I think a bit more specifics in the sessions might help. For those newer Web2.0 users, offer some introductory sessions. In addition, have some higher level conversations and sessions for those more experienced and "seasoned".

Thanks for you comment!

Anonymous said...

Interesting and true. I felt similar in many ways and rudely walked out of the most boring session I have EVER attended in my life. If you're going to do a session on Voice Thread it might be nice to actually show some Voice Thread projects or something. Conferences like that are a bit of a Roulette you are right. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. I wonder if ICE should start classifying certain beginner sessions as such so that more advanced techies can steer clear?

Nancy said...

I had the same reaction at GaETC last fall. While participating in online discussions, I often remind people that the teaching workforce does not seem nearly as ready for change as those in the discussion sometimes imply. If attendees at a tech-oriented event lack what many of us believe is basic knowledge, imagine the state of many others who are not even attending such events.

Wm Chamberlain said...

Careful, you are beginning to sound like me ;) We have moved through these types of sessions and need something more. That is where the idea for EdCamps came from. That is why we are starting to look at other ways of bringing educators together that already "get it" and are looking to get even more.

Mrs. Castelli said...

Possibly in the future, the sessions can be labeled to identify the technological literacy level expected by the participants. I can imagine a screening inventory with the registration that would give attendees feedback and the sessions could be coded to that information.

I agree that those of you who are
'tech studs' could do more 'outreach' to those who are still behind the curve. On the other hand, you have to start where people are, so maybe it's not necessary for the presenters to be light years ahead of the participants?

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Again, I am not saying that tools sessions are a bad thing. I still recall the first session I was in when a presenter showed prezi a few years ago. I really like the tool but what I liked more is how the presenter explained how it could work for/with students. That application piece is what I felt was missing from the tools sessions I was sitting in.

I recognize that people are in verying levels of technology literacy and I don't have a problem with that. What I would like to see is the application piece being the focus rather than the tool. Yes, you need to understand a tool to use it. However, if you don't understand student learning, the tools are useless.

Butch Wilson, LTC6North said...

Some great discussion here. Thanks, Josh, for starting this conversation.

While I agree with much of your post, I want to offer one point on perspective. I go through the frustration, now and again, of being in a room where tools that I KNOW were covered last month or last year, are being presented to people who are "just seeing them for the first time!" But, here's the thing. For them, they kind of are.

First, because we all know that attending a workshop, tech or otherwise, is like being on the receiving end of a presenter's "brain dump" of details and ideas. If we come out of it retaining three things, we're good; retain half and you're a savant.

Second, and more specific to an event like ICE, or NECC, with hundreds of sessions, I think you'd agree that there were probably ten or twenty tools presented that we didn't get to see, and have never seen or heard about before. Out of that, there were probably a couple that would make that list that we all keep, the one with the really "cool tools" -- meaning they not only work, but they apply to our lives or classrooms.

So, given that, and the thousands of attendees, the laws of numbers and averages says a good part of any session is peopled with folks that some of the tools we've known about "forever" are brand new to. Doesn't make 'em wrong, just means they need to hang out with a faster crowd. :)

I really like Mrs. E's comment about presenters demonstrating direct classroom application for what they present, and Mrs. Castelli's idea of a "technology literacy" grading or classification. (Though I'm not at all picturing how we would determine pre-requisites with such a variety of technology possibilities being offered.)

Elsewhere in the ICE2011/ICE_11 twitter verse folks are also echoing many of these same thoughts, and promoting the idea of focusing on class structure changes and new attitudes toward teaching/learning, more so than new tools.

The next thing, IMHO, that we can do is to share these ideas with ICE, or maybe, better yet, put together the presentations we would want to see and bring them to next year's event!

Thanks, folks!

cmcgee200 said...


I share you frustrations with the most reacent Midwest Education Technology conference. I presented on social media to a room full of people, THREE of which had a laptop, TWO that were tweeting resources. I feel your frustration.

I kept thinking to myself, you have got to start somewhere so I will support these people to no end and I commend them for attending the conference I all I did is hope for them that next year they come laptop, cell phone, tablet in hand.

Keep up the great work that you do and be nicer to dogs in the future...

James Gubbins said...

I think stepping on that toy dog may have put you in a foul mood. I must say I am surprised by your post.
In fact when I complete my reflection blog post tomorrow I have a feeling it's going to be a complete 180 from what you have said here. I heard over and over in many breakouts - "I want this to be a discussion" and was very impressed by the effort being made to shift the dynamic from "this is a blog - here's how you write a post" to "here are some ways that blogging can enhance and engage the educational experience for your students" The tools are always going to be a part of conferences like this because educators are often so focused on teaching to the test that they don't have time to explore what is out there. The tools are the hook to get them engaged and get the thought process started. Unfortunately, I could not make your session because we were directly opposite each other and that meant you missed mine as well. I introduced tools but then questioned and facilitated a discussion on how they were being used effectively in the classroom. The problem is that a 45 minute breakout session can't get you much past an introduction. And that's important - let's not forget we all started somewhere with our journey into Edtech. There are still those educators who are afraid to get there hands dirty and those basic sessions may be just the motivation they need to do so.
For me, the most powerful learning was happening outside the breakout session walls. I had some amazing conversations with other presenters that got me motivated and inspired to continue to fight the good fight. I hope you also were able to have some similar positive experiences and didn't leave the conference as disappointed as your post suggests.

Jodi said...


Again, thanks for starting this discussion. I have been thinking about your post for the past 24 hours - off and on :)

Although I found *some* cool new tools and concepts, I too left feeling a little disappointed. However, I think the big question is....who is this conference for?

I came with a group of teachers who are just entering this world. In fact, many of them got a twitter account just say they'd be able to connect after the conference. This was their first tech conference, and one of them said that there was so much information that it made their head spin.

So, for you or I who lives and breathes this stuff, maybe this was disappointing, but for classroom teachers just entering this world, I think this conference was at the other end of the spectrum. No, prezzi etc isn't new to US, but it is new to THEM and at one point I'm guessing both of us were at a conference wow'd by something that was old hand to others there. At the end of the day, I would say that if there were teachers there being impressed by the "new" ideas -- AWESOME, at least they are moving forward in their classrooms and with their students.

What does that mean? I think what the other posters have suggested is the perfect solution. I know that ICE already tries to have presenters target their audience, but perhaps there's a way to get even more info. I know ISTE lists VERY detailed info on their site for participants to see for their conference, and you know exactly what will be taught before attending a session. Not sure if ICE will move to that extreme, but maybe somewhere in between.

Again, I get what you're saying, but I think there's probably another way to look at it as well.

Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

Tom Donovan said...

Butch hit the nail on the head:

"put together the presentations we would want to see and bring them to next year's event!"

Or better yet, become active in the organization and planning of the conference and help make it better.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thanks again for all the comments. When you post on a blog you sometimes forget that it is truly public, or maybe naïve that anyone will read it. First, let me apologize to the ICE coordinators and planners if they were offended by my post as that was not the intention. If any of them are reading this, please let me know what role I can have in helping plan, coordinate, or organize next year’s conference. It truly is a conference that I look forward to attending and plan to continue that trend…as long as my district keeps paying.
I am aware that all teachers are on different points along the path of technology usage and competence. It was unfair of me to criticize those that were still very new in their technology journey and for that I apologize. If you are one of those newbies that might be reading this, contact me and I would love to help you in your journey in any way that I personally can.