ISTE 2010: How to Avoid a Wasted Session

by Dean Mattson

As the technology coordinator at my school, it’s often up to me to provide professional development for our teachers in this area. Lots of times they work out, sometimes they turn out to be a total waste of time for one reason or another. For this reason, I always try to analyze the sessions I attend at ISTE as to what made them successful or not and use those lessons when I plan my own sessions.

Fortunately this year it was a high percentage of valuable sessions at this year’s conference. I attended several by people who are required to present formal presentations as a regular part of their job – college professors, professional trainers, principals – and all of their sessions were good. Interestingly it was the classroom teachers who lead sessions that weren’t very good.

Like the session on Google Earth. I was really looking forward to this session because, although I think Google Earth is a great program, I’ve never figured out a way to use it with students. About a year ago, I did set up a lesson in which students needed to find something in the program, but when the students launched it, they all didn’t see the same thing – there were several different variations in what was being shown. There was such a difference that I couldn’t give a direction because it was different for so many of the students. I soon gave up and went to something else.

So I really wanted to find out more about this program and ideas on how to use it with students. Unfortunately I didn’t get that with this session. The presenter was certainly knowledgeable and gave out a lot of information about different tools and resources available within the program but I didn’t really get a picture on how to present that to students or why I would want to. (Much of it seemed geared to secondary students, so that was part of the problem.)

During the session, we were encouraged to “play with” and explore Google Earth, but I’ve already done that on my own time. For me, what would have been more helpful is if I were given some task to do and see what connections I could make on my own – then I’d have a better idea on how to utilize the power of the program for my students.

I did get the idea of trying it out next year before the fourth grade students go to Carlsbad. They could follow the route we’re going to travel, locate Guadalupe Peak along the way so they’ll know which mountain that is and see if there’s any virtual tours available.

I also attended a session on creating a student-produced news program. We’re going to start a media class at our school so this session was especially relevant to me. It wasn’t a total waste by any means – it was interesting to see the different roles they gave students and the different segments they had (one of which – a public service announcement – was a good one that I hadn’t thought of). But they took too long on this and then the hands-on portion was a waste. They had these templates for us to download and adapt them a little bit. Again, it was interesting to see, but it would have been a lot more helpful if we’d learned how to make our own templates. I’ll use some of their ideas, but it’s not going to be exactly the same and I doubt any other school would have their’s exactly the same as our’s. So I think that would have been a lot more helpful.

Creating an engaging technology session is extremely hard, especially at a conference at ISTE where the attendees are so knowledgeable. I know the presenters were prepared and had useful knowledge to impart, but something got lost in the translation. At least, for myself, I didn’t get the necessary experience from the sessions that would push me forward in these two areas. You win some, you lose some.