FabLearn 2014 registration now open

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 11.00.48 AMFabLearn 2014 is the third annual conference on making, fablabs, and education. This is a high quality event for educators, researchers, and designers to meet and talk about things that matter in the quest to make schools more authentic places for kids to learn.

The event will be held Oct. 25-26, 2014 on the beautiful Stanford campus in Palo Alto, California. This is an intimate, education-focused gathering  with the emphasis on making schools better, not selling stuff.

The first phase of registration is now open! Last year, the event sold out in a matter of days, so early registration is recommended. 

You can find out more and register here! Seriously, don’t wait – you may end up on the waiting list and be sad 🙁

I’ll update this post as more of the schedule comes online – but I’ll be there for sure!

To apply for a registration waiver and/or travel stipend, please fill out the form found here.


Educon 2.1

The second year of anything is always a test of faith against the sophomore slump. Expecting lightning to strike twice is hardly a good bet, so I approached the second year of the Educon conference with deliberately low expectations. Last year, the first year, was brilliant and amazing, so how could it be any better? Whatever happens, happens – and I was prepared for pretty much anything, or so I thought.

But it happened just like last year – the conversations were meaningful, I went to lots of great sessions, the social events were all too much fun.

What I didn’t expect was to gain so much new clarity about the issue of student voice and teacher voice as the crucial element in creating the kind of learning environment I want to promote in schools. Maybe it all seems blindingly obvious that I would figure this out after having worked to promote student empowerment through technology for the last eight years, but it really hit home as I watched the interactions between the students and teachers at Educon.

I’ve talked before about the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and Chris Lehmann, their inspirational principal. (Read last year’s blog post about Educon: I’m the luckiest teacher in Philadelphia) He’s a big part of the reason this school exists, why Educon exists, and his mastery of this domain is apparent. And he’s hired a great bunch of teachers who care about kids’ minds and hearts. But I’ve seen lots of adults who walk easily with youth, with the kind of two-way trust and respect that makes you believe that anything is possible.

What is different at SLA is the feeling that it’s more than students “being heard” or “being liked” or even “being taught” — any one of those is hard enough in many schools.

It’s much more complex and intertwined with teacher voice. Teachers being listened to and taken seriously, given responsibility and trusted to be education professionals. It’s like the whole community has a voice – trust and responsibility, respect and care, and everyone who comes in the circle gets the same treatment. You notice it at first in the small gestures and acts of kindness, the ease with which intellectual challenge is assumed as the norm, and then you start to see it everywhere, between kids, teachers, and staff, and extended to us, strangers and visitors to their school.

And I also saw clearly how the expression of teacher and student voice is not just about social action, or being a change agent, it’s about taking charge of learning, of facilitating choice and agency in the academic process. I saw teacher voice being honored in choosing avenues of learning with their students, teachers being respected by students because of it, students taking their choices seriously, and the resulting mutual responsibility to get the job done and not let each other down.

This kind of learning is often caricatured by the “back to basics” crowd as contentless and rudderless, but it’s simply not true. Charting a unique course doesn’t mean you let go of the tiller.

Hoping that you can replace teacher passion and knowledge with a checklist results in kids knowing that something is wrong. Students need to see teacher expertise, and they know full well when it’s missing or if the system doesn’t care about it. One silent voice in the chain means every voice is lessened.


NECC… Buyer Beware

When at NECC, you know that the minute you walk into the exhibit hall, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of vendors, all selling educational technology products. The lights, noise, free t-shirts and hats all signal that this is a place where vendors are working hard to gain your attention and your money.

On the other hand, attending sessions and keynotes at NECC is supposed to be an educational experience, since the sessions were submitted and reviewed by independent reviewers for their educational significance. They support the goals of educators using technology to improve education. Right?

Let’s take a look at one session in particular on this year’s program:

Assessing Students’ and Teachers’ Technology Skills: NETS as Benchmarks
Mila Fuller, ISTE with Don Knezek
Monday, 6/25/2007, 10:00am–11:30am; GWCC B211
Join ISTE’s CEO, Don Knezek, and other national leaders as they highlight various approaches to assessing technology literacy and ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards. (Commercial Content) (Exhibitor-Sponsored)
Blog Tag: n07s909

Ah, it’s a session given by ISTE itself, the sponsoring organization of NECC. ISTE, a non-profit membership organization, has created a set of standards for student, teacher, and administrator technology literacy called the NETS. So this is a session about how to use those standards to assess these skills. Sounds great! But wait… what does it mean, “commercial content” and “exhibitor-sponsored”?

This is where the “other national leaders” come in. Who are these national leaders? In the extended explanation (found online, but not in the NECC program book) it says that executives from Certiport, Learning.com, Microsoft, and PBS Teacherline comprise the panel. All of these companies are ISTE 100 members, which means they pay an annual fee to ISTE. Each company has products for sale that assess teacher and student technology literacy. Each company has also paid fees to ISTE to have these products receive a “Seal of Alignment” to the NETS standards.

So, is this in fact, a session that helps educators sort through the issues of technology literacy, what assessment means, and offer educators a wide array of research-based alternatives? Or is the purpose to promote products of particular companies who pay ISTE?

While it is noted in the program that there is commercial content in this session, the implication is that since ISTE and “national leaders” are hosting the session, any commercial content will be presented fairly, with other alternatives noted. And what will be said, if anything, in the session to fully disclose the financial relationship and incentives for ISTE to promote these particular company products?

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should note that I work for a company that also works with schools to help them address student technology literacy, and we sell an alternative, project-based model of assessment, with materials for students and resources for teachers called TechYES.

The session I submitted on technology literacy was not accepted. Hey, that’s fine, I know that it was reviewed fairly (I hope, anyway) and I’ve had other sessions accepted in other years. And I was accepted for a Problem/Solution panel on Wednesday (Connaghan, Karen: ‘Assessing Student Technology Literacy’ in B213 at 8:30 on Wednesday (also: Kate Kemker, Sylvia Martinez, Mia Murphy, Nicole Piggott)).

But my panel does not have Don Knezek, CEO of ISTE, at the head of the table. This panel is more like what NECC is supposed to be, presentations of multiple viewpoints, multiple alternatives, without access sold to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, I expect the ideas discussed in our humble session will be bigger and the audience smaller.

Being fair is not hard to do. Several states have done extensive analysis of student technology literacy products and created toolkits to help schools deal with the issue of student technology literacy assessment. These states have worked hard to avoid any conflict of interest and not endorse or favor any one intervention over another. In both these cases, TechYES is the only project-based assessment on these lists.

The Georgia Department of Education created a comparison chart of approaches to the NCLB 8th grade technology mandate.

The Connecticut Regional Educational Service Center (RESC) Alliance created a report describing a variety of assessment formats and products meant to address student tech assessment.

Generation YES is not an ISTE 100 member. It’s very expensive to join ISTE’s program. We also have not submitted TechYES for the ISTE’s NETS Seal of Alignment; it’s also very expensive. We’d rather keep our products affordable. We have correlated TechYES to the ISTE NETs standards for students, and that correlation, along with the 40 pages of research supporting the methodologies of TechYES is freely available on our website. The correlation documents for the products blessed by ISTE are not publicly available.

When I presented about TechYES at NJECC a few months ago, one attendee came up to me after my session and said she was aware of a panel at NECC about tech literacy, and that she strongly felt that TechYES should be presented as an alternative. She gave me Mila Fuller’s name and suggested I email her. I did, and Mila responded that she would be happy to talk to me at NECC (of course, after this session is over). Since Mila is in charge of the ISTE 100 program, I’m guessing she’s going to “invite” Generation YES to become a member once again, and once again, I’m going to tell her that we’d rather spend our money on making great resources for students and teachers.

We have a booth on the exhibit floor, where commercial products are supposed to be. We feel like we’ve played by the rules, and this just doesn’t seem fair. Worse, it’s a misrepresentation by ISTE, and a disservice to their membership base. Educational technology educators pay their dues to ISTE with an expectation that their interests are first and foremost, that ISTE is not simply selling them out. I pay my dues to ISTE too, and I expect ISTE to promote a vision of educational technology that improves the lives of teachers and students, not one that improves the bottom line of companies who write the biggest check.