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The New York Times hosted a conference today called Schools for Tomorrow:  Bringing Technology Into the Classroom.  I live-tweeted some of the morning and most of the afternoon.  To see my tweets on the event, view my timeline, then scroll down to the block of tweets labeled #NYTEdTechHere is a transcript of everyone’s tweets about the event.  You can view video of the entire event here.

The morning panel included some very interesting people, including leaders in education from two countries acknowledged for their accomplishments in education:  Singapore and Finland.  The panel was moderated by David Brooks.  While Brooks lent a certain celebrity caché to the panel, he was clearly out of his element.  Panel members were experts in the field of education and how technology is being leveraged in the classroom.  Brooks is a self-described “Luddite” who admitted to being deeply skeptical that technology can play any role in classroom learning.  While I generally respect skepticism, Brooks’ variety of doubt was of the vaguely uninformed sort that drives me a little crazy.  At one point, he cited his students’ use of text-speak as one reason he’s worried about the use of the technology in the classroom.  As if text-speak were the result of technology in the classroom and not the by-product technology everywhere we look.  Reading the #NYTEdTech stream on Twitter confirmed that I was not the only one who was aggravated.

But as frustrating as it was to have Brooks’ ill-informed opinions lead the conversation, I was reminded that this is what it is like to talk about learning technology these days.  So much of the populace — even those inside the education sphere — has simply not caught up with the concept.  Instead, people load the conversation with their biases and anecdata.  For a professional in the field, it’s crazy-making, but it’s where we are.  When it comes to learning technology, we have nothing close to a level playing field for discussion.  Anyone who wants to engage in that discussion must be prepared to engage with an audience that comes to the topic from a ridiculously wide range of perspectives.  Fortunately, panel members were able to boil their message down to a level even Brooks could understand (they’re educators, after all):  using technology well is a pedagogical challenge, not a technical challenge.  (And, to lower the level of discourse even more, they assured Brooks that learning technology would not replace teachers.  I’m not sure he believed them.  David Brooks-directed eye roll.)

The keynote address was delivered by Lawrence Summers, whose name I’ve read a lot this past week — mostly in sentences that also feature the word “ass.”  In this venue, however, he was quite cordial and offered his predictions for education and technology in the future.  One prediction:  Learning in the future will be more about developing the capacity to collaborate and less about individual excellence.  There’s actually a lot behind this sentiment that I’m not prepared to unpack right now, but it reminded me a lot of what I heard at the Education and the Inquiring Mindset conference back in July.

Of the whole NYT conference, I found the Financing conversation with Doug Levin and Harold Levy the most insightful.  An interesting tidbit:  There are 14,000 school boards in the United States, each selecting and procuring its own learning technology tools and platforms.  By contrast, decisions of this nature in Finland are centralized to its single Ministry of Education.  In Singapore, the Minister of Education copes with 33 separate districts.  The sheer volume of school systems and ensuing learning technology initiatives makes it impossible to assess the effectiveness of any one initiative.

Also interesting was Levin’s observation that procurement professionals in the federal government must be fully trained and certified to commit federal funds; whereas procurement on behalf of public schools systems is carried out without any minimum standard of qualification.

In all, it was an interesting conference.  Following the Twitter stream actually made it more interesting because it provided the real-time input of other interested experts.  It also served as a “reaction meter” of statements that most resonated with the audience and statements that most turned them off.  It was interesting to note where my interests varied from the group at large.  For instance, it appears I was the only one tweeting about the higher education breakout session, while everyone else attended the K-12 session.  Judging by their tweets, I stand by my choice.

Education and technology is a hot, HOT topic.  I intend to look for more opportunities to tune into the various public discussions and blog about them.  If you know of any coming events I might be interested in, please leave a comment or send me an email.