FETC 2014 in Review

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 -- Andrea Gronberg

As always, FETC 2014 in Orlando set the tone for an exciting year in educational technology. With hundreds of concurrent sessions, many hands-on workshops, and an exhibit hall filled to capacity, there was a lot to cover.

Here are some of the bigger themes we saw during the week:

The nuts and bolts of flipped learning

Last year, people were still feeling out the concept of flipped learning. The sessions that covered the concept were more explanatory and less functional. This year, as the movement has grown, so did its presence at FETC.

Plenty of workshops were dedicated to helping teachers get started in flipping their classrooms, while the concurrents gave teachers a lot of tools and support once they’ve made the leap. Most of that help came in the form of assuring teachers that they didn’t have to produce their own videos, then giving them some free online tools that they could use instead.

What comes after 1:1 and BYOD?

Quite a few sessions acted as if teachers were already lucky enough to have enough devices for every student, either through a 1:1 strategy or a BYOD policy. They started focusing on what you do after there is a device on every desk.

One of the more popular ideas was Backchanneling, which provides a way for students to converse during a lecture or video through a chat service or Twitter. Another was various solutions that let teachers “blow down” their presentations to each individual device so students can move at their own pace. As teachers become more innovative with their technology, the effectiveness will grow as well.

Not so much Common Core

The implementation must be going fairly well, as both the concurrent sessions and vendors in the exhibit hall didn’t have nearly as much to say about the new standards as they did last year. In 2013, there were a lot of sessions devoted to helping teachers cope with migrating their tools and techniques to new systems. This year, Common Core was almost an afterthought.

That probably means that people have started taking Common Core alignment for granted in their technology and that the implementation around the country is going well enough to where it’s not front-of-mind for educators.

Changes in the exhibit hall

The exhibit hall can be a pulse on the ed-tech market as a whole. Some big players downgraded their booths. Others upgraded. Some sounded more like carnival barkers than marketing professionals. One even had a ribbon gymnast doing tricks. We, on the other hand, were constantly busy with educators curious about our solutions and our latest innovations, like Sensei. No tricks. No gimmicks (okay, maybe a giveaway or two). Just sharing information.

A new addition to the exhibit hall was an “innovation corridor”, where startup companies were making their FETC debuts. A lot had already received some venture capital from Silicon Valley, while others were attending via a National Science Foundation grant. This corridor shows that the industry itself is healthy, robust, and innovative.