By Jennifer Williams
Educational conferences bring great opportunities for learning through keynotes, workshops, sessions, and poster presentations. Beyond the formal learning experiences, the exhibitor hall is always a favorite place for educators to network and explore. Each year at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida, I am always eager to take ideas from the booths and the vendors and to find ways to apply the innovative practices of startup companies to classrooms and instruction. This year’s FETC conference was no exception. And, actually, this year perhaps even more than ideas on innovative uses of space, what I was left with was ideas on purposeful and inventive formats for sharing. Here are my top five lessons I learned from the exhibitor floor and ways to apply to the classroom for students:
#1: Pick-Your-Path to Learning
In the classroom, I always love offering menus of options for students to select their own paths to learning. Similar to a choose-your-own-adventure framework, the Nearpod team brought this concept to the exhibitor hall with a pick-your-path-style of sharing. Educators looking to take a peek and just learn the basics were able to visit and take a #SpinToWin for a chance at winning some great prizes for the classroom and also an opportunity to learn a little about the platform. As a second option, I sat in on one of the small group sessions where educators could join in interactive guided lessons to discover more and have an opportunity to ask questions. Alternatively, educators ready to learn about customized options for their schools could schedule 1:1 sessions with members of the Nearpod team to find out about solutions to meet their specific needs. With at least three pathways to learning, educators were able to personalize experiences based on time, scheduling, interests, and needs. I’d love to see this model carry over to classrooms more often! And, if teachers can get students lining up the way educators were in line at the Nearpod booth, we will know we are on the right “path” to learning!
#2: All Spaces are Spaces for Learning
Learning at FETC is everywhere! Energized conversations in coffee lines, inspired discussions at café tables. People buzzing through exhibitor hall rows filled with ideas ready to take back to schools and classrooms. For me, one of my favorite take-aways from the week came about from learning in an unconventional space. I first learned about Caribu, an innovative literacy app that allows parents/teachers to read and draw remotely with children through video and shared screens, on Twitter several weeks before FETC. After connecting with co-founders online, we decided a meeting at the conference was definitely in order, and as all spaces at FETC are spaces for learning, we figured a designated spot on a hallway floor was an ideal place for us to connect. Knowing I was searching for “Max in red glasses,” I quickly found my new friends, co-founders Alvaro and Maxeme, and with devices in hand we were ready to get to talking! In 30 minutes, I was able to learn all about their journey in creating Caribu and about ways families and schools could use the app to connect in shared literacy experiences. This type of learning and sharing moment truly examples the idea that for learning to be impactful and powerful, schools don’t necessarily need high levels of tech integration or perfectly designed learning spaces. All you really need is an engaged and inspired discussion with maybe a little bit of tech to support. Hopeful in 2017 we start seeing teachers and students taking learning to all spaces. Expected and unexpected. Physical and virtual. Because for me, those hallway conversations sometimes are the most powerful!
#3: Bring FUN to Learning
It isn’t surprising at all to me that Ami with Peekapak brought me a lesson for the classroom from the exhibitor floor. Peekapak, a social emotional learning platform, always brings joy to learning through their beautifully illustrated stories and their adorable characters. FETC attendees were able to become part of the fun as they learned about Peekapak throughout the week and “met” some of the 12 characters through the magic of fun, impromptu photo shoots that were also shared on Twitter. Whether posing with “Leo,” the adorable peace-keeping hedgehog, or the imaginative “Cody,” teachers were all smiles and, of course, quite inventive in their poses. For me, I got to pose with “Saffron”—a sweet little skunk that loves both cooking and chemistry. Perfect combo! Ami, one of the co-founders, also spent time with educators inviting them to share their ideas on ways to design the “world” that is developing within Peekapak. Invitations both to have fun and to share. What a wonderful way to think about teaching.
#4: Interact in Environments
My next lesson learned from the FETC exhibitor hall is one I am always seeking out. As I shared in my piece on startup culture with Edutopia, I see extraordinary benefit in bringing concepts of innovation and design seen in the startup world of edtech into education. The vendor hall is always a favorite place to gather ideas, and at this year’s FETC, three of my favorite booths perfectly demonstrated ways to invite educators to interact with the learning environment. Without even needing spoken words, the Sphero booth did a wonderful job at welcoming attendees passing by to join in play. With a beautifully built structure designated for learning and sharing, the Sphero “room” was always packed! Nearby, the MCSquares booth similarly welcomed educators to creatively “leave their mark” by adding drawings/ideas to the interactive panel board. Another favorite was the Gumdrop booth. The team did such a fantastic job showcasing their device cases in an open environment that seemed to naturally bring in teachers eager for hands-on learning. All these booths and so many others captured the concept that the learning environment is key in education. Prepared environments that are purposeful and practical—without distractions and narrowed specifically to the learning objective. Oh, and I love those casters on the Gumdrop booth tables. Brilliant hack for the classroom!
#5: Selfies. Enough Said!