Thoughts on EduCon 2.1, Day 1, Session 1

So I woke up this morning knowing I would come out of the day amazed.  Today was the first full day of EduCon 2.1, a technology conference that takes place at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  The majority of the sessions were streamed out via Mogulus, and the sessions are being archived at the conference wiki. The only complaints I have with the streams is that the audio feeds were not loud enough and some of the student videographers were intent on rotating the camera around to catch a glimpse of the crowd, causing many to experience slight motion sickness, or at least Blair Witch flashbacks 🙂

For the first session, I was trying to decide where to focus my attention and I started off with Gary Stager’s session on “The Best Educational Ideas in the World.”  I previously had little expereience with Gary’s work. I had read a few posts of his online, as well as some comments to other bloggers posts. I had even perused an outline of a session he was planning to present at NECC.  My first impressions of his message were not that great.  Gary’s main point was that we have moved away from the creation aspect of technology.  He is a strong proponent of robotics and feels this is the best way to get our students educated in technology.  Now, I must tell you that two fantastic early technology experiences in my life were a week long computer course where we discussed programing in DOS and another week where we put together a small robot kit.

Now, I didn’t disagree with everything Gary had to say.  In fact, I agreed with quite a bit.  These are not exact quotations but they capture what I feel was the intent of his statements:

A major focus of technology in education is on gaming. Educators logic follows this line: kids love video games, kids hate school, so if we make school more like a video game, kids will love learning.

I agree this is a dangerous and slippery slope. Games can be powerful motivators for some students.  Properly designed games can also be great educational tools. I believe the two games in my previous Serious Games posts are perfect examples.  However, we don’t need more “edutainment” games of the variety I grew up with: Number Munchers, Writer Rabbit, Oregon Trail…My recollections of these games go as deep as learning that Troggles were dangerous, never try to caulk the wagon, and don’t even think about shooting that buffalo because you can’t carry all of it back anyway.  This is not educational gaming in the same vein as Global Conflicts: Palestine or Quest Atlantis.

The other statement, or at least implication, of Gary Stager’s session was this:

We’ve moved away from technology as a creative process. Our focus is on simplistic things like where the space bar and return key are on a keyboard.  We should use robotics to get kids to create more.

Yes, creation needs to be more of a focus. I even think programming needs a better treatment in the classroom. However, the creation can come about in some of the programs that are being taught in a limited fashion. Not that I agree with all the mandates handed down to teachers, but adding “Build a robot in your class” to the list does not fit the bill in a majority of situations.  Should kids be able to have experiences in robotics? Absolutely…does every teacher who focuses on technology need to drop the keyboard and mouse and pick up a soldering iron? No…that is unrealistic at best and irresponsible at worst. Yes we need students who CAN think in ways to create in a field like robotics, but we also need a much larger group of students who are competent with the tools of technology that will be used in their everyday lives going forward.

I lasted through about 45 minutes of Gary’s hour and a half session.  The breaking point for me was the third video of someone talking that he played. The audio feed was bad enough trying to listen to a presenter, it was impossible to listen to the video feeds that were being piped in and then back out over Mogulus. Apologies if there was much more to the session that I missed after I checked out, however I got a strong sense of where things were going in the first portion of the presentation.

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2 Responses

  1. I would agree with your observations completely which is why I did not choose this session. Actually I missed all of the first for a trip to meet dear father in law for a late breakfast. But this is typcial Gary, and I swear he WANTS folks to debate him. He is the devel’s advocate embodied on many issues. Sometimes I learn as much from the debates than from his views.

    I beg to differ with your assessment of this conference being a tech conference. Correction. It is a conference about student learning.

    Yes, my brain is on overload too, and as one who sat in the rooms and even copresented last year, and then to be sitting on the outside (from home in South Carolina) this year, my heart is breaking. I soooo wanted to be there this year too, but it wasnt in the budget. I was supposed to co present w/ Lisa Thiumann and Liz Davis on PLNs. So I’m jealously hirding al the rss feeds, flickr uploads, tweets (thank heavens for hashtags), and video streams w/ chats–even if those video streams at times make me feel sea sick.

    I am enjoying the content flowing out so freely. But I regret that I dont think many miss me there–i am a nobody in the grand scheme of things Educon. But that’s okay too, b/c I tune in to hone my skills as a facilitator of learning. I hope you get more out of tomorrow’s content. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts here.

    • I will definitely agree that the focus is student learning. Tech conference probably implies a more “Gadgets and Gizmos” approach a la CES. I stand, actually sit, corrected. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

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