Two weeks ago I had the privilege of traveling to the hospitable city of New Orleans to attend the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) Annual Conference. I was in good company with nearly 1,000 superintendents, CTOs, directors, specialists and corporate members in attendance – all dedicated to making positive changes in education through innovative technologies. CoSN made many changes of its own to the conference this year, and attendees and exhibitors alike seemed to appreciate the fresh new approach. One such change was replacing the typical exhibit hall with what CoSN called the Innovation Central. Instead of rows and rows of 10×10 booths, the Innovation Central felt like a large cocktail party, with corporate members engaging in conversations with attendees at tall café tables (Innovation Pods) stationed throughout the room. I even observed one exhibitor with a large cooler packed full of ice and beer placed “discreetly” by his pod. Now that’s a way to start a conversation! This new set-up facilitated more familiar and natural encounters between vendors and educators, which both parties seemed to appreciate. Perhaps we will see adoption of this idea at other conferences in the future. Another change that CoSN made was giving corporate members full access to the conference sessions. This was a great opportunity for companies to better understand the current challenges that our education leaders are facing today, and to hear the creative ways that schools and districts are addressing these issues. There was one session in particular that I attended which left a big impression on me – “Empowering 21st Century Superintendents: 5 Challenges that Technology Can Address” – based on a report developed by CoSN and a committee of superintendents. The presenter, Superintendent Chip Kimball of Lake Washington School District, was one of the best I’ve seen in awhile. And from the comments in the room, I think most of the session’s attendees would agree. Dr. Kimball spoke to us as colleagues, and it really felt like more of a conversation than a lecture. Here are a few interesting takeaways from the session:
- “Practice what you preach” – If district leaders expect to integrate technology into classroom instruction, they should really be modeling the use of this technology in their everyday lives. Not only does it set a good example, but it also helps improve efficiencies in administrative processes. It’s a win-win situation!
- “Go beyond the basics” – Reading, writing and arithmetic are well and good, but today’s students also need to be able to apply 21st century skills to many situations in school and in life to compete in our digital economy. This framework for 21st century teaching and learning should be reflected in every new technology initiative.
- “Shake up the learning environment” – Little by little, schools are moving away from lecture-style instruction and introducing a more collaborative, engaging learning environment. One way to deliver this is by using a blended learning approach which is the combination of a traditional classroom setting with online learning, giving students and teachers access to digital tools.
- “Teach the teacher” – As the education industry is ever evolving, so are the jobs and skills of the people in it. Professional development is critical to the continued success of a district. And technology needs to be integrated into professional development, both as a skill and a powerful delivery mechanism.
- “Be accountable” – At the end of the day, district leaders need to be able to show student progress and success. Technology-based assessments can help quickly and easily transfer data to the classroom to assess both student and faculty performance.