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Are Tech Conferences
For Geeks Only?


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Afraid youre not techie enough for a tech conference? Think again! Four classroom teachers share how attending a national tech conference impacted their teaching and networking.

"You want me to go to a tech conference? Uh-oh. Attendees dressed as pointy-eared aliens? Scary acronyms like RSS, XML, and SQL? Contests to build a laptop that can fly or a robot that tells jokes underwater? No way!"

Sound familiar? You might be surprised to learn that as districts and schools bring more and more technology into the classroom, more and more K-12 teachers are attending technology conferences. And many are finding, to their surprise, that such events are not just for geeks. Tech conferences can be accessible and relevant to everyone -- no matter what their tech skill level.

Recently, Education World asked four teachers who attended the Laptop Institute at Lausanne to tell us about their experiences, and about the affect of that conference on their teaching.

See the sidebar for more information on this annual gathering of teachers, techies, and administrators using laptops/tablets in the K-12 classroom.

More Ed Tech Conferences

* ISTE Conference (was NECC)
* Florida Educational Technology Conference
* Texas Computer Education Association Conference
* K-12 School Networking Conference

Those teachers are:
  • Melinda Berger, science teacher, Notre Dame Preparatory, Lutherville, Maryland
  • Kristine Kwant, science and language arts teacher, Zuni Hills Elementary, Sun City, Arizona
  • MaryLee Wesberry, science teacher, Hutchison School, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Debbie Wheeler, biology teacher, Sayre School, Lexington, Kentucky

Although from different content areas and educational backgrounds, all four of the teachers we interviewed said that their technology skills were fairly strong. Kristine considers herself a great troubleshooter, but not techie enough to set up a network. MaryLee, however, admitted "I actually thought I was quite up-to-date, until I got around the real techies at the Laptop Institute!"

The four educators also noted that all their schools currently are using laptops on a regular basis. According to Melinda, at Notre Dame, the middle school has two laptop carts and high schoolers own their own laptops. At Hutchison, carts and an "e-classroom" are available to classroom teachers. Because of the accessibility of laptops at her school, MaryLee recently chose a new biology textbook with a completely online and interactive component. And, at Sayre, more than half the students had laptops and were using them in most of their classes (some more than others!). All the teachers interviewed agreed, however, that their use of technology is not mandatory or tied to evaluations; it's up to them whether or not to use it.

So should you only consider attending a tech conference if you've had a lot of experience with technology or if you're already teaching at a laptop school? Absolutely not! At Lausanne's Laptop Conference, 30 percent of attendees were simply considering a laptop program.

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

So, why did these four educators choose to go to a tech conference when they could spend their time and resources going to a content- or age-specific conference instead? For all four, the decision came down to a desire to be exposed to new ideas and to more effectively integrate technology into their classrooms.

As Debbie noted, "New technology excites me, and I am continually looking for ways to use it to improve my teaching. My biology teaching partner and I spent many hours last year revising our course to make the labs we teach more user friendly. We hoped to get ideas from the conference."

Kristine agreed, noting that she was impressed with the variety of laptop distribution models (carts, student-owned, labs only) presented, and enjoyed hearing about the different possibilities for laptop schools.

NETWORKING

All four educators also were eager to brainstorm with other teachers in similar classes and grades. As Kristine said, "I was excited to meet other teachers who were 'geeks' too!"

Additional EW Resources

* EW Conventions and Conferences Center
* The Ten Best Education Conferences
* Before You Fly Off to that Conference
* Are Education Conferences Worth the Cost?
* Education Conferences: Going it Alone

The opportunity to network with fellow teachers was particularly helpful to all of our teachers. MaryLee and Melinda continue to correspond with other attendees months after the conference. Melinda noted that networking was so easy, she even met teaching peers on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel! From the welcome dinner to the individual sessions, she reported meeting and brainstorming with many other educators.

Melinda agreed that the all-inclusiveness of the Lausanne conference (where participants eat all their meals together, stay at the same hotel, and take the same shuttle) really helped her get to know her fellow attendees. Kristine even wished for a few more chances to meet others outside of the sessions!

Debbie had a slightly different experience. She met with other science teachers, but discovered that she was the one with the most experience. For example, when another teacher asked who had created the lab model Sayre School uses, she was amazed to learn that Debbie and her teaching partner Rachael Holsinger had designed it themselves. So, for Debbie, the experience involved less networking than helping others. Because of that, she and Rachael have decided to present at future Laptop Institute, where they can continue to share their ideas for integrating technology into the science classroom.

WHAT DID THEY LEARN?

In addition to the opportunity to network, our four educators also discovered practical and engaging ways to use technology in their classrooms.

Melinda became excited about electronic portfolios; her middle school students now are creating e-portfolios that highlight their best work.

Kristine changed her classroom set-up and took time to really organize herself. She reports that those simple changes have helped her students tremendously. She even went to a few administrator sessions to pick up information for her principal!

MaryLee gathered dozens of Web sites and resources, but more importantly, she realized that "I tended to use the laptop only as reinforcement of curriculum. I now actively use it as the main tool for presentation of material."

Debbie began a blog highlighting what she had learned at the conference. And both she and MaryLee loved playing with Tablet PCs!

So, would our teachers recommend a technology conference for other teachers who want to use computers in their classrooms. Absolutely! Melinda offered this advice for potential conference attendees: "Meet as many teachers as you can. Find out how others are using technology. Ask lots of questions. Take lots of notes."

Debbie cautions educators not to be afraid to leave a session if it's not what they thought it would be. And, if you have successes to share and see a need to share them, be sure to submit a proposal to present the next year. Debbie did that and she and Rachael presented a workshop called "Paper to Electronic Delivery" at last year's Laptop Institute!

About the Laptop Institute

The Laptop Institute, hosted by Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tennessee, is a nationally renowned think tank for K-12 schools using or considering using laptops as a tool for learning.

See the Laptop Institute for more information.

Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

03/21/2006
Updated 04/28/2010



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