Stop It Already

I didn’t attend the ISTE Conference this year.  As I noted yesterday, it’s never held on a July 4 but it was on a July 1.  I enjoyed time with family and fireworks instead. 

At the same time, social media does allow you to track the conversations.  Fortunately, you can follow the discussions with the hashtag #ISTE15.  So, you can live the experience vicariously if you so desire.

I did a bit but felt that I needed to put on my filter a little more than usual.

I didn’t go running through the streets screaming but I could have. 

Over and over, I’d read “So and So says that it’s about the pedagogy and not the technology”.

So, why is “So and So” at the conference then?  Well, from this seat, many are people who write books and speak publically for a living and are trying to get a little notoriety.  Good for them and obviously the credibility has been developed with some to the point that what they say is important.  But how many times do we need to hear it?

I mean, really?

It’s the year 2015.

We’ve lived through so many models and so many attempts to perfect the educational system.  We know that or have always known that learning is a community event with all kinds of social actions and, importantly, relevancy in the eyes of students and parents.  Students so that they maintain focus and parents who want success and will stand fully behind a teacher that engages and pushes students to be constantly learning and improving.

A message from Wayne Hulley has always stuck with me.  “Nobody wakes up in the morning wondering how they’re going to screw up today”.  I’d like to take some liberty with his message and note that nobody goes to a technology conference to find a new piece of technology that will replace the job of teaching in their classroom.

That clearly is the job of teachers.  Instead, people attend conferences to listen to leading colleagues who want to share successes with technology (or whatever else the focus is of the conference).  They want to walk the exhibit hall and engage with vendors who have a relevant product and know how it fits into education.  People attend because they want to refine their craft and make their classroom a more powerful place to learn.

To that end, I just find the original quote a disservice to the profession and an insult to teachers who are doing their best to learn.

Does anyone hear that message and do a forehead slap “Wow we’ve been doing it wrong all these years.”


20 thoughts on “Stop It Already

  1. I was at ISTE and frankly I think there is a lot of “preaching to the choir” there. It’s all too easy. As you say the people there know that it is pedagogy first and technology second (or third). But I guess some people feel smarter hearing what they believe from people who have been “anointed” in some way. Others feel better hearing their ideas applauded even though they have to know at some level that they are reinforcing ideas rather than converting people.
    One of the interesting things I heard someone say was “haven’t attended a single session. Best ISTE ever.” Now that can mean a number of things. I attended a few sessions. The I enjoyed the most is the one I was asked (at literally the last minute) to present at. 🙂 What I really got the most out of were a) conversations with other teachers and b) ideas for tools that will help me do things differently (and I hope better) in my classroom. I found vendors who have great technology but who really don’t know how it can be used to teach better. Most of them are actively soliciting ideas both about how their products can be used and how they can be improved to help teachers. Even the vendors, well the ones I talked to, understand that pedagogy has to come first and that the technology is not a “magic bullet.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Doug. I feel this post has been a long time coming. Either that or I’ve just never gotten around to writing something like it myself. You’re right of course. We’ve been hearing this message for years. It was pretty exciting the first time you heard someone else echoing your thoughts, but come on. How long ago did we first hear this message? It’s not that it’s a bad message of course, but where’s the action? If it’s not just about the technology, then show me the evidence that marries x, y, and z teaching strategies with improved student learning. Let’s hear more from those teachers that are doing it right.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is an interesting conversation. Colin stated the following in his above comment:

    “We’ve been hearing this message for years. It was pretty exciting the first time you heard someone else echoing your thoughts, but come on.”

    How do we know that someone who shared this at ISTE didn’t hear it for the first time? I remember a major shift in my thinking about six years ago and wondering why everyone else was not at the exact same point I was at that moment. While so many others were thinking about me specifically, “why didn’t he pick up on this earlier?”

    The reality of it (and what I realize now) is that everyone gets to a different place at a different time, and we have to appreciate that they are ALL moving forward. There were many years as an educator that my major focus was using as many cool tools as possible, and not really thinking about powerful learning as the driver. Are you telling me this still doesn’t exist? Apple Watch was out for like 18 seconds before you saw posts on how to use the Apple Watch in schools. Sometimes the thing we have heard ten million times is needed to be heard once more. You never know who your message will reach at the time when they need it most.

    I agree with you Doug that nobody goes to the conference looking for some piece of technology to replace their teaching, but why are the “50 Tools” Sessions so popular at many conferences? ISTE has always been criticized for those type of sessions but what does it say when they are packed? And sometimes, the technology does come first, and changes the learning (I saw this on Twitter which for the first year I used this technology, I used it to keep up with Shaquille O’Neal and Ashton Kutcher).

    As long as people are moving forward, that is what matters, not necessarily where they are. The conversations that may seem redundant to someone, might be the first time someone else has heard them. I no longer think that everyone should be where I am, because I also realize that someone is wondering when I specifically will catch up to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have to jump in on this one as I have been (guilty!) tweeting this (actually RT’ing it) a lot in the passed week. I blogged about this back in January of this year and it gained some traction this week again. Must have been the theme of ISTE that made it catch wind.

    I have since re-read my post a few times ( and already disagree with some of what I was thinking then. But isn’t that why we blog? Seeing the past through a different set of eyes.

    In a nutshell, I think people are tired of hearing about “this app and that app” and “I need to learn to code” without really understanding “why”. Makerspaces are another great example. WHY? #AppChuck

    So the statement “pedagogy before technology” provides some comfort. It is incredibly overwhelming to be a new, or even veteran, teacher in this day and age. Always feeling the need to keep up with technology.

    Secondly, there are a gazillion edcamps, after school workshops and conferences that focus on the tool. I have seen far too often teachers doing a task in class because “the app is engaging”. Making a green screen video is a great way to “kill a Friday afternoon”, isn’t it?

    I think the statement pushes thinking. Do we all REALLY need to code with students? As you know I am a huge advocate for it, but not coding in elementary for the sake of coding. When a teacher says they are going to do the Hour of Code, I ask them “why?” because I’m not sure many really know “why”.

    Although the statement may have run it’s course, I think of it when I am determining what after school PD I wish to attend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, these responses and that on Twitter with @marthajez @courosa @kbhildebrandt @tina_zita @kbhildebrandt @iYantho @acampbell99 and others blows my theory that nobody reads blog posts on the weekend out of the water.

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts to my somewhat serious, somewhat sarcastic spewing this morning. I was going to, and perhaps I should have, included “21st Century teaching” in the same breath.

    I like to think that I learn with folks as opposed to learn from folks and I guess was disappointed. The statement was undoubtedly the product of the length limitations on Twitter; if there ever was an Exhibit A for blogging to get the entire message across… I really enjoyed the way that the discussion on Twitter had become a critical look at communication and this statement was simply the catalyst.


  6. Doug, I totally get what you’re saying here, but like Brian, I’ve also written blog posts on this same topic before (not sure of the dates when). I guess that my issue is that while many of us may nod in agreement that it’s about the pedagogy first, there’s still lots of focus and interest on the tools (as mentioned in George’s comment). If technology use in school is about the tool first, why is this? What’s needed to change practice (if practice needs to change)?



  7. I admire all of you who write and comment on blogs. I follow all of you and see you all as technology innovators, and leaders in education. I have gone to many workshops and concerns thinking “I know his stuff already and this is a waste of my time” however I have yet to go to a conference where I have not brought back something valuable to share with my students. Sometimes it’s not about what is being shown but how you use your creativity to make it work for your teaching situation. Thanks for always making us think Doug! Just reading this post I am thinking of how I will bring this back to my staff and students.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There was a time that I attended a conference for the tech knowledge, that morphed into a chance to hear a good keynote presentation, and later became a chance to share my own discoveries. The main reason I go to events now… the people. Reconnecting with peers is the lone reason I’ll attend a conference these days (bread pudding aside). Co-learners affirm and re-invigorate me in my work as teacher and learner the way no tech tool or learning strategy can.

    In fact, I’d argue that it’s not about the technology or the pedagogy…. it’s about relationships first, last and foremost. Whether in the classroom, or at a conference, it’s the human connections that foster engagement and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As someone in a school that is finally getting decent bandwidth, in a board that is finally starting to promote and support the use of technology, I know that it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the tools at our disposal. As a result, I don’t mind the occasional reminder (or kick in the pants) to shift focus back onto the learning and teaching that’s happening under the surface in the classroom, even though, as you mention, we all know the message already. I remember as a first year teacher in a laptop school 15 years ago, I tried (unsuccessfully) to use the laptops for EVERYTHING; I could have used such a reminder back then. I wonder if new teachers today still fall into that trap, and benefit from hearing the “pedagogy over technology” message – in the multitude of ways presented at ISTE (and other conferences) – still to this day?


  10. Wow, Doug! First I have to mention your mention of Wayne Hulley! He was my husband Steve’s Grade 6 teacher, and later the principal at the school where he was practice teaching. Wayne was later the Director at Peel DSB where Steve was teaching for many years – he had a huge impact on him as well! 🙂 Very cool and a small world.

    I was at ISTE 2015 and I’m not surprised that someone mentioned here that they learn more in the hallways and through connections with like minds, than in sessions. Joi Ito mentions this phenomenon when interviewed in The Power of Pull, by JSB, and I remember it sticking in my mind because I began to experience it several years ago myself. So relationships? Maybe…but…

    For me, conferences are about learning, and learning isn’t so much about what you might show me or teach me, but what I do with it next and my reflection on the experience. We might think it’s about relationships, but of course I can learn from someone I have never met because if they break through the echo chamber and shake me up – cognitive dissonance is a great thing. I recently experienced this with a blogger from Norway challenging the SAMR model. If we believe in learning out loud, however, we are going to hear a lot of noise! I guess we need our own powers of critical thinking – best described as crap detection by Neil Postman – more and more every day! 🙂

    Every time I attend a tech conference there are oodles of tools and low level application of such, and also lots of deeper learning to be had, but I’m responsible to myself for going about getting that. For me, twitter isn’t usually my place for that, because it’s not the self-promoters I’m interested in. I understand your frustration about low level, simplistic messaging. I actually heard an Ontario prof at ISTE mention that the early adopters…who started 5 years ago…don’t need to be going to a lot of the sessions. Are you kidding me? Early adopters from 5 years ago?? How about 30 years ago!!! How is it that people think something is new, just because it’s new to them? I remember my first ISTE included a keynote by Nicholas Negroponte which blew me away because I had been studying the giants for some time and respect the ed-tech pioneers who came before me – in my experience, ISTE has been more about access to these great thinkers than the next great app – but that could be because I hang out with Peter Skillen! 🙂

    I’m lucky to have many colleagues, like you, who help me understand that it’s never easy to improve education. Take, for example, this excellent post by Peter Skillen…I think he mentions a lot of what you are thinking too:

    Whenever I return from ISTE it’s with a feeling of being glad I’m an Ontario educator…we have many great opportunities and people here in our province!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thx Brenda! And thank you for the many deep conversations about this topic.

    And, yes, it is about the tools. And learning. And the pedagogy. And the relationships. To think they’re inseparable is naïve, I believe.

    Please read this post. I do not plan to replicate it here – except to say, that this is a complex issue beyond the simple statement “it’s not about the technology it’s about the pedagogy.”“it’s-not-about-the-tool”-–-a-naive-myth/

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is an interesting conversation with great insights about where people are in their learning and their journey. But isn’t that the whole point? We bring to each learning experience our past experiences and these influence, in some way, what we experience in the moment. So, some people are just beginning to shift the way they view teaching and learning, they are excited by the tools, like young children excited by a new toy. They will try it, play with it and, if it may find a place in their favourite toys. Or, it could be left to the side after just a short time.
    I agree with thecleversheep that I attend conferences because I get to meet up with people. But, I always challenge myself to critically reflect on the sessions I attend – what can I learn from this? George points out that
    “How do we know that someone who shared this at ISTE didn’t hear it for the first time?”

    It’s not about either them or me but we. Where can we meet, connect, discuss, talk – build a relationship that will allow us to share and grow as individuals? Simply being reminded of the excitement and awe of beginning to make connections with technology and teaching may indeed help us to continue to remind people that pedagogy and technologies need to work together and WE can help each other.


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