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Reflections from a Conference: EdTechTeam California Summit (Mountain View, CA)

Making towns. Barnstorming. Circusing.

In putting myself out as a circuit speaker this summer, I find that I'm in a place I haven't inhabited in over a decade. It harkens back to my previous days as a sports broadcaster, where every other weekend was a new destination, a new story to tell, and seeking the uniqueness in the locale of the day.

Mountain View exudes a tranquility in motion, where the surface of normalcy serves as a foundation for the world-changing ideas developed within its city limits. The culture of Google permeates the community, and the people reflect the city's role in shaping the tools crafted within its boundaries.

In this spirit, EdTechTeam hosted its 7th annual California Summit at Mountain View High School. As a presenter, the location served as an appropriate backdrop to the work ahead: understanding not simply how technology can take what learning already looks like digital, but how the digital can (and should) fundamentally alter how learning takes place.


VR/AR need content to move the dial

The potential for experiential learning through augmented and virtual reality is high, as the entry cost for the tools has fallen. In addition to the accessibility of tools like Google Cardboard, the price of all-encompassing headsets like the Oculus have hit the sub-$200 benchmark. The demos on display led by Eric Cross were fairly engrossing, and having audio transmit through the device's headband as opposed to over/inner ear certainly provides a more immersive experience. I finally felt the sensation of being given purpose to observe an active scene in 360 degrees, but was still taken out of the immersion by an HDMI tether. As a media snob, barriers such as resolution and field of view are apparent, but as with any new medium, content is king. If, as an educator, you can jump ahead as a 360 content creator and assert yourself as a leader in the field given the right purpose and application.

Tech as path to entrepreneurship

Several of the keynotes featured young entrepreneurs who leveraged design thinking into contributive charitable causes and business opportunities, such as Kim Pollishuke shared with OddSox in Canada. It's interesting to me how many of these commonly-shared examples filter through the Dragons' Den/Shark Tank franchises. One of my signature project-based learning units as a 6th grade teacher was structured in such a manner: brainstorm and prototype a new product that solves a problem, research its cost and market, write a business plan, create a :30 second advertisement, and give a presentation on your product. The groups has a month at the end of the year to pull this off, and the ingenuity and processes my students demonstrated was inspiring; a hand lotion that removes pen ink without water (for classrooms to minimize trips to sinks & restroom), eye drops for gamers, Bluetooth-enabled medical-alert accessories, a storage add-on for bicycle wheels. On reflection, the Google for Education Suite made collaboration on the research, business plan and presentation extremely polished. I wonder how my approach toward the PBL design of the unit would change after these years, and which tools would be more efficient in the STEM component...

Graphic Design as Instructional Foundation

Overheard in my Same or Different session: "My kids told me I shouldn't use Comic Sans anymore because it's not that true?"

Yes. Yes, it's true. The light-hearted exchange did highlight a key component in modern lesson-design that had previously gone with little consideration. The modern educator creates much of their own content (or at least tailors existing content for their population) yet struggles with making them visually appealing or design-friendly. So many lesson slideshows written entirely in Arial, green text with a blue highlight, and screen-filling blocks of text. In a generation of classrooms where so much focus (appropriate or otherwise) is projected and subject to dynamics of classroom lighting, core concepts of graphic design are not simply a bonus, but seen as essential components for equity and universal design.

Peardeck as a tool for PD

Spending hands-on time with emerging tools is always eye-opening, such was the case with Nick Park's Peardeck session. I've had exposure to Peardeck before, and this session extended what I had previously taken away and then some. In my current role as an Academic Coach, I began to envision how I could employ Peardeck as a means of facilitating professional development; the ability to collect and discuss feedback in realtime has tremendous value in addressing teacher concerns, especially for collecting data on campus culture.


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