08 Mar, 2010
CUE 2010 conference – the good, the bad, and the ugly
Once a year educators from across the US (and a few from Canada) get together in Palm Springs for the CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference. Each time I attend, I get both energized and disheartened. There are some incredible educators using technology in creative ways to engage students and foster real learning. Then there are those who still don’t get educational technology – even though they consider themselves experts. Educational technology is not simply transitioning old practices to new technologies, without changing or updating the practices. And it certainly isn’t about adding fancy animations and transitions to a PowerPoint presentation.
Educational technology is about advancing student learning. Various tools can be used to advance learning, but it’s the learning, not the specific tools, that is the focus. Good educators understand this, and are finding creative ways to engage students and enhance learning. Some of these good educators attend the CUE conference, but it’s painfully obvious they are the minority.
The good news is there are a large number of educators who attend conferences like CUE with an open mind, hoping to learn how to affectively use technology to advance learning. The bad news (more on that later) is it’s a crap-shoot trying to figure out which sessions will be presented by the “good” educators, and which will be a waste of time. Most of the sessions I attended were a waste a time. Luckily, the couple that were worthwhile made up for the rest.
Getting teachers to adopt technology
One of my favorite sessions was “Getting Teachers to Adopt Technology” by Rushton Hurley. In his session, Rushton gave tips and examples for getting reluctant teachers to start using technology to engage students. Real-world solutions to real-world problems – this is the type of session that makes attending CUE worthwhile. I won’t go over the entire presentation, but here are a few nuggets that resonated with me:
- Don’t have teachers require themselves to be technology experts. (I’ve been saying this for years – you don’t have to be a technology expert to use technology with your students. In fact, your students will likely teach you a thing or two about the technology, which can be very powerful for the students. For example, say you give an assignment to create a video based on whatever topic you’re currently covering. Tell your students they have 4 weeks (for example) to finish the project. The students will not receive technical help from you. Students may work with up to 2 other students if they want, and they may opt to create a poster instead of a video. In his experience, Rushton has never had a student opt for the poster, even if they didn’t have a computer at home. The students will find a way to get it done. Every time. You don’t need to know how to make a video, only how to evaluate the videos that are submitted.)
- Do remind teachers of their expertise. (You have the subject matter expertise and shouldn’t let your lack of technology expertise keep your students from utilizing the many great tools available.)
- Don’t blanket the school with expensive hardware. (Get the technology for the teachers that want to use it, and don’t worry about the rest. It’s not about equity. Why would you try to appease those who don’t want to use the technology anyway?)
Teaching Internet literacy as a genre
Another great session was “Teaching Internet Literacy as a Genre” by Heather Wolpert-Gawron. Heather shared specific lessons and activities for teaching Internet literacy, including: reading a website, writing, socializing, collaborating, networking, researching reliably, and netiquette. Internet literacy should be taught in every school and incorporated into as much of the curriculum as possible. Knowing how to judge a good website (source) from a bad one is a critical skill. Knowing how to do a proper web search is absolutely necessary. Knowing the basic rules of netiquette, how to comment on a blog, and online ethics cannot be overlooked.
Each of my co-workers who attended the conference attended a few good/great sessions as well, so collectively we got the value we were looking for from the conference.
Educational technology is about advancing student learning. Various tools can be used to advance learning, but it’s the learning, not the specific tools, that is the focus. Bad educators don’t understand this, and focus almost entirely on the tools. Some otherwise good educators mistakenly believe that converting existing (old) practices to new tools, without updating the practices, equates to effective use of educational technology.
I’m not going to call out any specific sessions or presenters, but I will never understand the value of an hour-long presentation that does little more than rattle off a list of “cool tools” without any specific strategies or examples of how to utilize those tools in education. Sadly, there’s no shortage of “cool tools” sessions at CUE. Some sessions narrowed the focus down to a single tool, but spent the entire hour showing the nuts-and-bolts of how to use the tool, without giving any indication how the tool might be used to enhance learning.
Other sessions seemed promising on the surface, but the presenters were either disorganized or unable to control the flow of the session, allowing themselves to be easily hijacked by those in the audience. I walked out of more than one session after realizing I wasn’t going to learn anything, which was disappointing given how carefully I had chosen which sessions to attend.
Here’s where I get to really vent. As I walked around the conference, or sat in a session waiting for it to begin, I would overhear conversations that made me cringe.
For example, I heard one person telling another that he’s a “technology trainer” at his school, and when asked for some examples of the technology he’s teaching, he replied that he recently taught his teachers how to use “Text Effects” in Microsoft Word, so they could make their text look like marching ants or Las Vegas lights. I almost lost my lunch. Ridiculous text effects is not educational technology, and does nothing to enhance learning. File that overheard conversation under “missing the point entirely.”
In another session, a woman was seated in the front row and kept asking the presenter questions from the very start of the session. When the presenter put up his welcome slide that included his name, contact information, and his degrees, this woman asked where he got his EdTech degree, how did he like the program, what learning management system did they use, etc. I wanted to tell her to shut the hell up and stop wasting our time. We paid good money to attend this conference in the hope of learning something, and we don’t need our time wasted by a single person trying to pick a masters program. She hijacked the presentation several more times, interjecting her own experiences that added nothing of value to the topic.
Overall, the good at CUE 2010 outweighed the bad. Hopefully, as we move forward, more and more educators will realize that it’s not the technology that matters, but how we use the technology to enhance learning.