I have just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Sad to say the weather in Orlando wasn’t much better than here. The conference has been going on for 35 years and participants have seen incredible changes in that time. While the conference was framed around technology, the message that it conveyed was one of creativity, community, compassion and cooperation.
I was particularly stuck with the advances in assistive technology for people with disabilities. What was once very esoteric and expensive has now become part of many common devices. Specific applications are almost magical. One in particular that was showcased was a free app called Taptapsee. It is a camera for blind and visually impaired people. By pointing the camera at an object, a scene or something that the person wonders about and tapping twice the camera takes a picture and searches the web. It comes back with a description of what the camera sees, be that a five dollar bill or the Dallas Cheerleaders. It is eerily accurate. There is also a Tap Tap app for people who are deaf to alert them to loud sounds nearby. That one costs $2.99.
STEM and STEAM products and sessions were everywhere and there was a sense of the importance of play. Play was stressed in the keynotes as well as the sessions. Students creating content, real life-changing content was another thread that ran through it all. The stress wasn’t on preparing students for future life and jobs but on making real life significant contributions now. Not having the right tools to accomplish this is no longer a problem. It was generally acknowledged that the jobs of the future may not exist yet.
Gaming was a very hot topic. Minecraft in particular has become very popular with the new release of Minecraft for Education. There are modifications that allow teaching quantum mechanics among other things. Cooperation, physics and architecture were commonly cited as outcomes in class. The quantum physics part was cool– I actually understood it! Along with coding (another hot topic) there are a tremendous number of resources to assist teachers to incorporate game design, coding, robotics and use into their classrooms. All of these possibilities come with core relationships built in so that the justifications are available when you want to incorporate them into curriculum. We will be offering resources to explore these things in the Earl Center and you can also ask your nearest 11 year old.
In some school systems they have replaced children with robots—that is, children who can’t attend school due to health or other conditions can now attend as a Vgo. This is a shiny white robot on wheels with a screen face and a camera and microphone. On wheels, like a Segway it can roll around a school allowing the student to attend classes and interact with teachers and peers. The student at home controls the Vgo with a laptop.
As I sift through the 25 pounds of literature I collected and re-listen to my recordings and notes I will be sharing more. Stay tuned.by