My Takeaways from ISTE 2010: Creativity, Remixing, Crap Detection, and Global Connections

I See What You Mean by Lawrence Argent

I returned home from ISTE 2010 this past Wednesday and spent most of Thursday and Friday catching up on things that needed my attention (like putting in some extra time at the dog park to make up for the days I missed). A box of conference stuff that I FedEx’d myself from Denver arrived Friday, so I unpacked it over the weekend and got a chance to review my notes and handouts from the sessions I attended. With Denver now in my rear view mirror and a few days to reflect on ISTE 2010, here are my main takeaways from the conference:

During past ed-tech conferences I’ve attended, including ISTE (formerly known as NECC), a number of presenters were fond of saying “it’s not about technology,” rather it’s about effective teaching and what digital tools enable students to do. I often heard a similar sentiment expressed this year at ISTE, as typified in this tweet by @dmaas354 that was retweeted by over 100 conference participants:

BTW: This was one of over 25,000 ISTE 2010 conference tweets archived by @DR4WARD using Twapper Keeper.

Even with the effort to put teaching and learning at the forefront, it was impossible to ignore all the devices and digital tools in use and on display at this conference. Most notable were iPads; not only were they popular among conference participants but a few were given away as prizes by exhibitors and during the opening session (unfortunately I didn’t win one).

Besides the iPad, several gadgets caught my attention in the exhibitor’s area. But, the one that is now atop my wish list (right under an iPad) is the new MimioView Document Camera (pictured below), which I can see several possible uses for in the art room.

As for presentations, two in particular resonated with me. First, in his session titled Creativity 2.0: The Quest for Meaning, Beauty, and Excellence, Gary Stager encouraged the audience to expect more of students and to use technology in ways that make students’ learning experiences richer. While creativity is often mentioned as a desired outcome of students’ technology projects (See ISTE’s NETS for Students), Stager is the first speaker I’ve heard at this conference to address the sort of expectations and classroom conditions that must be in place for students to actually achieve creative results with digital media (or any media for that matter). He posed several essential questions that teachers should ask themselves when planning classroom projects involving digital media: “What constitutes engagement with digital media?” “What makes an effective project?” and “Are students creating works that have meaning, significance and beauty? If not, why not?”

For Stager, a good project is one that students can “sink their teeth into.” He also feels that educators are often too quick to accept students’ work with technology as successful and that many overlook the overall impact of students’ work (i.e., we often fail in the matter of distinguishing between “craft and crap,” something I’ll return to below). I especially appreciated (with bias of course) that Stager encouraged teachers to use the aesthetic of an artist when designing projects for students and assessing the resulting work. (For more on Stager’s views about project–based learning download the two PDF articles on this page.)

The other session that tweaked my interest was Remix: Blending Creative Works to Show Mastery of Classroom Content presented by a group of Apple Distinguished Educators lead by Joanna Seymour of the Cedar Valley Catholic Schools in Waterloo, Iowa. Referring to a companion website they produced on the topic of remixing, the group presented the following model (illustrated in this YouTube video) for designing learning opportunities where students can remix content to create personalized learning experiences:

    Reflect on your audience, purpose, and message
    Explore existing works
    Make it personal
    Invent and incorporate
    eXhibit and Share

In addition to showing several examples of student videos, the presenters
touched upon the use of Creative Commons materials and made recommendations regarding tools and software to use. One of the things I appreciated about this presentation was that time was left at the end for questions from the audience and that several good questions were brought up. Two of the most intriguing questions dealt with what “remix” actually means and how to distinguish between “a good remix” and “crap?”

While the presenters offered possible answers, both questions continued to linger (at least for me) after the session was over. That lead to some poking around on the Web where I came across Remix: The Art and Craft of Endless Hybridization by Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear, which offers an overview of the different ways remixing is being exercised by youth culture today.

Crap Detection
I found the comment on “crap detection” in the remix session as well as by Stager in his earlier session promising in that it suggests that having students simply work with technology tools in the classroom in not enough; rather more and more educators are recognizing the need to attend to the quality of the digitally-enhanced learning experience and the resulting products that students produce.

BTW: Earlier references to “crap detection” can be found in Howard Rheingold’s 2009 article Crap Detection 101 plus Neil Postman and Charles Weingarten’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1971) both of which give a nod to Ernest Hemingway who recognized in 1954 that “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him,” a skill that is more valuable today than ever before.

Global Connections
A fourth theme or takeaway to emerge from this conference for me has to do with increasing global awareness and connections in the classroom. This, of course, is not a novel idea in education, nor is it something new to this conference. But, I found myself picking up on references to global thinking and activities throughout the conference, starting from the first night’s keynote address. Several globally-minded organizations including iEARN, Global SchoolNet and TakingItGlobal presented Poster sessions on the opening night of the conference. I was especially interested in TakingItGlobal’s Tread Lightly climate change education initiative that is starting this fall with a global 40-day challenge intended to encourage secondary school students to minimize their ecological footprints.

While I’ve given lip service to promoting global thinking in the art classroom in recent years, I’m going to put this goal on my front burner this coming school year. I’ll start with tapping the collective brainpower of the growing international community of art teachers on Art Education 2.0.

Speaking of Art Education 2.0, I was happy to offer (along with Robb Sandagata from Davis Publications) a Poster Session on what’s happening on the site during Wednesday morning, the last day of this year’s ISTE conference. Over the course of two hours, we had countless visitors come up to our table where we shared some of the projects, groups, activities, and content that make Art Education 2.0 such a rich and vibrant learning community. I was especially pleased to talk with a number of principals and technology specialists who came up to our table curious about the site and wanting to learn more so they could share it with their art teachers back home.

In sum, even though I was only able to attend a portion of the sessions I wanted to go to, ISTE 2010 gave me lots to think about and work on in the coming year. Thanks to the organizers and all the volunteers who worked to stage such a wonderful conference. I look forward to next year in Philadelphia.