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ISTE 2015: Five Takeaways

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ISTE 2015: Five Takeaways

What I saw, and what I liked, during three days in Philly.

By Wayne D'Orio

The dust has settled, my bags are unpacked, and now I’m starting to make sense of the panoply of ideas and sights I took in at this year’s ISTE conference. There’s no question I missed much more than I saw, but here are my top five takeaways. (To see Tech Tools’ editor Brian Nadel’s more extensive report, visit his blog.

1) People Want More From Computers

At a session that read more like a Gary Stager dinner-guest list (Will Richardson, David Thornburg, the astounding Audrey Watters, and Martin Levins), everyone gave their own take on how computers are being misused in schools. There were complaints about unimaginative uses, but more important, sound advice about the best way to forge ahead without being a Luddite, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Stager, a devotee of Seymour Papert, conducted the funny and thoughtful hour-plus session, but Watters stole the show with her 10-minute monologue that might have fit into a poetry slam.

 2) All Eyes on Google Cardboard

Sure, we’ve all heard about virtual reality, but its use in the classroom has seemed much more gimmick than actual learning tool. Google is attempting to change the conversation by eliminating two of the biggest roadblocks: cost and lack of practical uses. The cardboard glasses (yes, they really are cardboard) can be made at school with kits you purchase and personalize or ordered for about $30 a pair. Each set must be paired with a smartphone; right now Google’s apps only work with Android phones. But the real win is the content Google has created. More than 100 apps let students swim through a coral reef and play Ping-Pong, and Expeditions offers a wide variety of student field trips. In addition to breathtaking locales, the videos tackle more mundane, but useful, topics, such as examining a day in the life of a veterinarian. Samsung is also debuting some nifty VR goggles, so maybe this trend is truly getting closer to the classroom.

 3) Lexia’s Apple Watch App

Again, the big question with this new app is whether it’s a gimmick or a true tool. While you can debate how many underpaid teachers will own one of these expensive “timepieces,” there’s no denying that the ability to chart your students’ progress right from your wrist is cool. At a glance, teachers can see who is succeeding, who needs more time on task, and which students aren’t doing well. The first education app for the Apple iPhone also lets teachers dive into the specifics, seeing exactly how each student is doing on different tasks.

4) Boxlight’s New Mini Lab

Everyone knows that science class begs for hands-on learning, and there is a dizzying array of tools available for all levels of scientists. But keeping track of probes, wires, and other tools can be a major challenge. Along comes this new product called Labdisc that offers students 14 built-in sensors in one disc-shaped device. Using Bluetooth and eliminating wires, students can use the device to chart graphs, take air samples, and check humidity, sound levels, and turbidity. To see if this might work in your schools, watch this video

5) The Continued Progress of Education Software

Google added LMS-like features to its Classroom tool, and Apple has rolled out a new version of iTunes U, incorporating several ways to simplify the staggering array of education apps available on iOS. Classroom API allows administrators to manage classes while allowing third-party developers to create new apps. Google announced a few early partners at the show, including the learning management platform Alma, but expect more partners soon. Apple’s new version allows for more back-and-forth between teacher and students. Students can finally turn in work electronically. Even more exciting, perhaps, teachers can grade the work right on their iPad. More progress remains to be made by both companies, but these updates were a solid step forward and further proof that each company is paying attention to what educators need. 

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