ProctorFree - Themes of ET4O

Hey friends, Director of Partner Relations Jeff here. I’m just coming off a long road trip through the great state of Texas; the last leg of which was the Emerging Technology for Online Education (ET4O) conference by the wonderful people of the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan Consortium). I’ve written a few of these “conference wrap-up” posts and they usually go one of two ways: I’ll either write about the highlights of the conference or wax on about some recurring theme that underpinned the general rhetoric throughout the conference.

This post falls under the latter category, recurring themes. I’d like to use this post to address one in particular, linking technology to learning goals.

There are likely three main reasons “linking technology to learning goals” permeated ET4O, each contributing some in it’s own right.

  1. Strategic Sponsorships
  2. ET4O presentation selections
  3. Paradigms shifting

Strategic Sponsorships

The first time I heard of VoiceThread was back in 2009 when I was in a PhD program in Learning Sciences in a course titled Learning and New Media. It was essentially part of a “show-and-tell” where students showcase new technologies and discuss the applicability for classrooms. VoiceThread is a really good example where the end goal is the focus, then technology was designed around it to facilitate the peer collaboration. All too often technology applications are developed the other way around, with an innovation first then trying to tie a goal into it.

VoiceThread was a major sponsor at ET4O, I happen to think it was a smart play. They recently had a big redesign so this was a good opportunity to show their new functionality. With sponsorship and pre-conference emails, VoiceThread was able to prime, or cognitively seed, the attendees expectations at ET4O that aren’t here to discuss technology, but the pedagogical implications for learning with technology.

ET4O Presentation Selection

I’m not just saying this because I presented at ET4O, twice, but good job selection committee ;).

Over the last year I’ve attended over a dozen conferences and seen a wide range presentations with how to use technology, social media, videos, etc…in the classroom. One even admitted using technology as a gimmick to develop interest and nudge them toward content. But that doesn’t fly at ET4O. The committee was picky, choosing presenters that were talking about not just innovative uses of technology, but uses that foster student growth. Uses that create interactions with students. Uses that help teachers engage students, and keep them engaged. The presentations were full actionable items that you could take back to your school and start using right away.

Paradigm Shift

The recurring theme throughout sessions reminded me of a bit from Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody. He talks about 3 levels of social awareness:

  1. When everybody knows
  2. When everybody knows that everybody knows
  3. When everybody knows that everybody knows that everybody knows

Shirkey talks about awareness in the context of a social revolution. The 3 levels have also been associated with The Emperor’s New Clothes, but it really isn’t so far off from how we (yes, I am including myself with the academics) are talking about technology in the classroom. We’ve moved beyond the gimmick hooks. Beyond the idea that we are bringing outside-of-class-interests into the classroom to engage students. The paradigm is shifting towards linking technology to real legitimate learning goals.

The discourse is different at ET4O from other conferences. Amongst the presenters and attendees, we no longer accept technology for technology’s sake. The scrutiny is higher. Assumptions are challenged. Perhaps this is a natural evolution resulting of so much educational technology to choose from. The variety instigates selectivity.

The combination of factors at ET4O of strategic sponsors, selective presentations, and a paradigm shift in the discourse toward legitimate learning goals, beyond the flash and cool factor, bodes well all educational technology. Hopefully OLC’s impact will spread across our industry encouraging more schools, designers, and presenters to link technology to goals, not the other way around.