future of education

Creating the future of education

FETC 2018 was the real deal. Here's why

The power to create the future of education technology is very appealing. The ability to fabricate and then implement a technological universe that could lead our future generations of learners might be our generation’s greatest achievement. If I were going to put together a formula, I would probably do the following:

1. Identify around 1,000 of the best available education minds from all over the world.
2. Assemble these big thinkers in one place, and over a period of four or five days have open discussion and lively debate around some carefully thought-out subject areas.
3. Include areas of innovation, academics, emotional intelligence, and the business of technology.
4. Invite at least 10,000 working educators and administrators to join in the discussion.
5. Watch carefully as the magic happens.

If I could put together this much firepower in one place and ask the right questions, imagine what could be accomplished.

As it just so happens, somebody beat me to the punch.

The real deal
I have attended a large number of education conferences, meetings, and events in my day, and most of them become formulaic over time. Many provide solid professional development and some entertaining speakers, but I rarely come back feeling like these events are moving the needle, and almost never come back feeling like these events have the power to significantly change the quality of education for our children. I have become accustomed to tempering my expectations. That said, I know the real deal when I see it.

This year in Orlando, I saw the real deal.

(Next page: Program highlights and more)

The Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) has always been a solid event. Formerly, it was called the Florida Education Technology Conference and was what I would describe as a super-regional edtech conference. Several years ago, the event was changed to the Future of Education Technology Conference and began improving its programing and refining its focus. This year, all the pieces came together and the folks at LRP put on, from stem to stern, the finest education conference I have ever attended. It is no longer simply an edtech conference, although it easily rivals the other great edtech shows like ISTE, BETT, and TCEA. What sets this gathering apart now is that it is designed to give the education world the ability to discuss, design, and implement a real global future of education. It is no longer just a place to come and see cool tech. It is now the place where the greatest education minds, in tandem with educators and administrators, come to discuss the type of education system we need for a future that is very different from the present.

Program highlights
This year’s programming was fresh and original. Presenters came from all over the world and brought a global perspective to many of the panel discussions and workshops. One of the many highlights for me was a day-long series of panel discussions moderated by Matt Harris, deputy head of school for learning technology, at the British School of Jakarta. Harris has worked with schools and ministries of education in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North America, Australia, and Asia. He has also worked directly with over 25 international education organizations, including International Baccalaureate, accrediting agencies, and regional organizations. His panels focused on creating an edtech blueprint for the world and covered a wide range of subjects including global engagement, creating equal access in a borderless society, choosing the right IT approach, identifying data and making it actionable, leadership competencies, the role of technology in community-building, and positive external relations to improve school-based technology practices. Discussion was lively, and panelists and subjects rotated hourly for the entire day.

The panelists included names you might know or, certainly, whose work in global education has influenced what you do: Vincent Jansen, director of technology at SouthPointe Academy; Christina Devitt, head of technology at Jakarta Intercultural School; Trace Urdan, who followed the knowledge services market as an equity research analyst for more than 18 years, holding senior research positions at a number of firms including ThinkEquity, Robert W. Baird, Signal Hill Capital Group, Wells Fargo Securities, and most recently as a managing director at Credit Suisse; Pilar Quezzaire, curriculum manager for cross-programmes development at the International Baccalaureate Organization; Jianli Jiao, director of the Future Education Research Center at South China Normal University; Kyle Roe, leader of whole school innovation and computer science at Horizon English School in Dubai; Damian Bebell, director of research at Consilience Learning; Michael Toth, founder, CEO, and chief learning officer at Learning Sciences International; Peter Kraft, co-founder and CEO of Evolution Labs; Caitlin Krause, learning futurist from MindWise; Richard Marchant, secondary headteacher from the New English School in Kuwait; Mickey Freeman, co-founder and president of Education Funding Partners; and Jennifer Abrams, author, international education and communications consultant, and eSchool News columnist.

The panel was diverse and brought several different perspectives to each of the discussions. The topic of building a blueprint for a true global edtech ecosystem is an important one. The proliferation of education technology creates as many challenges as it does opportunities. Going back to management 101 makes a lot of sense here. Remember the five Ps? Proper planning prevents poor performance? If we accept that our children are citizens of the world and technology is a fact of their lives, then creating a blueprint, a standard of utility for education technology globally, becomes an imperative.

To give you an idea of the scale of the discussions and expert participation at FETC this year, these six blueprint panels, which were well attended, made up about one percent of the 600 expert-led learning opportunities. And this is quality stuff. I spent the better part of a day listening to the panel, taking notes, and asking questions. Had this been the only event I attended, it would have been worth the trip to Orlando. But the whole week was equally stimulating. Discussions were real and deep and completely unscripted. It may take me a week just to organize my notes for further study.

The Sir Ken keynote
Another highlight of FETC was the opportunity to see Sir Ken Robinson speak. Sir Ken is a top draw at conferences and events worldwide, and for good reason. He was the keynote speaker at FETC 2018, and he played to a full house. I was told that there were 10,000 people seated to hear Sir Ken’s address–and perhaps a good bit more who were standing. The excitement of being among 10,000 educators was palpable. This was the first time I had seen Robinson in person. I watched his interviews and TED Talks, but seeing Sir Ken speak alongside 10,000 fellow educators was an experience I will carry with me for a very long time. If you haven’t yet seen Sir Ken in person, it should be on your bucket list. He is deeply passionate about education and has the unique ability to connect on a personal level with every member of his audience.

I am a big believer in asking questions. As a journalist, I ask questions and listen. Sometimes, I ask the tough questions. Not because I want to be part of the story, but because I want to know. As educators, I don’t think we ask enough questions. But we should. The questions we do ask are generally around the “how.” But perhaps we need to first ask “why.” That’s what FETC is all about. In this case, the “why” is our children. And their future. And the how? That’s the fun part. Together with 10,000 new friends in Orlando, we just sorted that out.

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