Never has a crowd at a professional development training heard such shrieks of laughter and cries of joy as they did last week at the Georgia International Convention Center.
As educators, administrators and educational technology company representatives gathered in Atlanta for the first all-live event since 2019, there was a tone of optimism, hope, and innovative spirit. Educational professionals embraced each other with hugs and rekindled relationships that had been distanced during the covid 19 pandemic.
It was also the first chance many companies have had to share new products and dynamic updates with the education community to meet the ever-changing demands of the latest “new normal”.
“After last year’s virtual event, our attendees, presenters and exhibitors are thrilled to be back in person. There’s been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to being able to be together this year. The over 100 volunteers who make GaETC possible have also been excited for the opportunity to see more than 2100 attendees at this year’s conference,” Jill Hobson, GaETC conference chair and board member of the Georgia Educational Technology Consortium.
There were still signs of COVID precautions, chairs were socially distanced, directional labels marked the carpets, color-coded comfort stickers, limited handouts and materials, masks and an abundance of hand sanitizer. However, the attendees were packing the session rooms to learn the latest creativity and productivity tools for teaching and learning, sitting on the floors when necessary and completely plugged into each speakers’ presentation.
Administrators and educators were eager to learn from software experts and other districts about how they are navigating the post-pandemic educational challenges and incorporating new tools for learning into their curriculum models.
A new level of interest from all educators in technology
COVID created a new cohort of teachers, those that may not have been ready to be thrust into the technology education, but now every educator is an edtech teacher. Senior-level leaders realize that technology is here to stay in education.
When teachers take time to reflect and design meaningful integration with technology and how to best integrate it into their practice, they’re better prepared for post-pandemic instruction. National technology trainers such as Leslie Fisher have been closely monitoring the participants in her popular Immersive Reader and Gadgets sessions to determine what types of people are seeking professional development now. Through self-response surveys, she sees a growing number of participants who were thrown into the fire with technology during the pandemic and now want to learn more to improve student learning opportunities.
To reduce the fear of having to know all about each technology, former principal Adam Welcome encouraged teachers to identify classroom gurus and let them be the experts to teach others focusing on the mantra, “Don’t do for kids what they can and will do for each other.” Lessons of empowerment and shared collaboration in problem-solving were common themes as the past year demanded “just in time solutions” and training for everyone on and off campus.
There was an optimistic air in each conference meeting room as many shared the inspiring role of technology during remote learning and increased parent communication as a result of nearly two years of disrupted education. Reflections of what worked during this emergency by school and district leaders helped them build a plan for a new way forward incorporating more technology, flexibility, professional development and personalized learning.
The evidence for self-care and implementation of social-emotional learning (SEL) was evident in nearly every presentation. Keynote Michael Bonner shared the message, “You can’t demand a withdraw from someone you have never invested in,” calling for relationship-building across classrooms everywhere.
Many speakers shared the integral role of video tools, such as Flipgrid and Wakelet during remote learning, as well as a variety of creativity tools to shift learners into producers of content allowing them a variety of ways to show evidence of their learning. Rooms of teachers learning how to incorporate Bitmoji, Jamboard, Google drawings, virtual reality field trips, Canva and Minecraft into daily lessons were filled with eager participants.
There was also an emphasis placed on teaching students to evaluate content for authenticity, engage learners in relevant experiential learning, and design units embedding coding in all subjects and grade levels. The excitement of using robotics, Spheros, STEM labs and esports to engage learners back in live classrooms left many reinvigorated as they returned to their home districts.
Looking ahead to 2022 conferences will be in full swing
The 2022 calendar is shaping up as many districts race to register attendees for professional development events across the country. “We are seeing a sweeping sentiment for connection and community,” said Mark Smith, executive director of the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL). “We will be hosting our 46th annual conference in person in March of 2022. Being face-to-face at our conferences is a driving force for networking, learning, and building a PLN that yields growth and inspiration long after the conference is completed.” Event teams are planning for large numbers of eager attendees to return to professional development events in the coming months.
Edtech companies are just as eager as district administrators and educators to meet face-to-face again and build relationships. Educational technology companies have heard the cries of school districts throughout the pandemic and developed tools to meet their changing needs. Corporate booths offering telehealth services, online tutoring support, curriculum assessment tools, personalized content, cybersecurity solutions and literacy tools were filled with eager participants wanting to know more about the latest apps and learning platforms to meet the needs of struggling students at GaETC. Many districts are looking for product solutions to new challenges they face and looking to spend ESSER funds on future-forward devices and tools at face-to-face events in 2022.
“Getting back to in-person events re-introduces one of the most important aspects of building and nurturing relationships- the in-between moments. For many folks, our calls and interactions have become so tightly aligned to an agenda, a Zoom window, and a calendar time slot, that we’ve lost the casual connections and conversations that come from the in-between moments that happen when we’re together,” Douglas Konopelko, national esports manager & K-12 education strategist at CDW-G.
The nation’s largest independent edtech show will kick off next January in Orlando, the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC). FETC is seeing early indications from increased attendee registration and from tech giants including Microsoft and Lenovo to special education suppliers, that there will be a huge range of district attendees, sponsors and exhibitors attending.
With schools returning to in-person learning, many teachers are eager to develop their technology skills and increase student usage going forward: those with a bring-it-on attitude and aim to build on hard-earned technical skills will find over 250 hands-on workshops to instruct every level of technology user.
“FETC provides many connections and new ideas. The amount of knowledge in one conference is astounding. The expo itself was a whole day of learning for me,” says Sarah Horner, a business and technology teacher at Abingdon-Avon High School in Illinois.
Districts are using ESSER funds to support teams traveling to national conferences to build technology skills, share best practices and learn leadership strategies to build future-ready campuses. FETC will offer more than 400 sessions and workshops in five distinct tracks: Administrator, Educator, Information Technology, Coach and Library Media Specialist.
FETC will also spotlight best-selling author and one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success, Shawn Achor, as the opening keynoter of the in-person event. In addition, the Expo Hall will host leading solution providers and give attendees the opportunity to get up close and personal with the most innovative technologies, applications and services available in edtech today as well as recognize the District Administration’s Edtech Top Product Awards 2022.
Registration for the 2022 Future of Education Technology Conference is open. For more information, visit www.FETC.org.