FETC 2016: A Recap

Monday, January 25, 2016 -- Scott Sterling

The rebranded Future of Education Technology Conference (it used to be the Florida Education Technology Conference) was held a couple of weeks ago in Orlando. FETC seems to be getting bigger each year. This year’s conference boasted nearly 10,000 attendees, 400 sessions (quite a few of them workshops), and 500 exhibitors. Unless attendees had a hoverboard, they definitely met the 10,000-step goal every day.

Here’s what I took away:

Teachers are starting to apply new technologies in the classroom

Obviously, the past few years have been rich with technology advancements in general. The problem, from my point of view, has been translating these new technologies into the classroom. Yes, a virtual reality headset is cool, but are there any interdisciplinary lesson plans for it?

Things are starting to come together. Creative teachers are taking the cutting-edge tech tools from a couple of years ago (augmented reality, 3D printing, robots, etc.) and using them in engaging, academically rigorous ways that go across the subject areas. I saw a lot of lessons I wouldn’t have thought of using tools I had written off.

Preparing students for the real world

This year at FETC, there was a shift in focus from what’s going on in the classroom to what might happen once a student leaves. Marketable, career-focused skills were a hot topic this year alongside traditional academics. There were quite a few sessions on career and technical education, as well as strategies and methods to give kids the skills they need to get a job (not just pass a test).

Coding, coding, coding

Speaking of marketable skills, there was a huge emphasis on teaching students to code. The conference’s opening keynote speaker was Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that educates girls in the computer sciences. Females only make up 19% of the computer science workers in the US, a statistic many dedicated individuals are working hard to change.

I interpret this emphasis on coding as narrowing down the focus of STEM education. It can be easy to talk about STEM in a vague manner, without a lot of real substance. Focusing on coding provides that substance.

Innovation for ELA (finally)

As a former English teacher, I have been discouraged by past conferences where a majority of sessions and exhibitors served math and science educators. This year, the tide seemed to be turning. I saw more ELA products on the exhibit floor and enough sessions about applying technology in ELA that I was occasionally sad I couldn’t be in two places at once. Here’s hoping this trend continues next year.

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