Yes, I’m Still Unpacking ISTE 2017

Two weeks after ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, Texas, I’m still unpacking my suitcase and sorting through the experience. It was an enormous 4-day gathering of 21,000 energetic educational technology educators and vendors with thousands of sessions and events to attend.

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The first thing I discovered upon returning home was unexpectedly inside my suitcase. The TSA had generously given me a free travel resource flyer! It included websites about how to pack my bags, suggestions for securing my luggage with TSA approved locks, and of course, a short statement about my good luck that my bag was selected for inspection. I would have preferred a pound of Texas brisket .

I’m sure it will take more weeks to unpack my reflections and experiences about ISTE 2017 along with all the presenters’ online resources, vendor flyers, vendor tschotkas, stickers, and business cards. These represent the deluge of artifacts of attendance, but the impressions are much more valuable.

Overall, my best experiences flowed from one person to the next rather than from any event or presentation to the next. The events were destinations on my daily schedule that designated a pathway to reach 15K steps and meet interesting people. It was about the journey, after all, and the other travelers along the way. I enjoyed walking with the intention of finding a serendipitous interruption, thanks to advice from Bill Selak (@billselak). I found tremendous value in saying “yes” to the chance to linger a bit longer between event destinations. The learning that happened outside the scheduled presentation rooms, in the hallways, byways, and bloggers’ cafe, were, for the most part, more valuable than the scheduled destination.

The first “yes” pathway was the evening before the conference started. I was invited to a great Mexican restaurant, Tomatillo’s Cantina, where friends of friends and soon-to-be-friends gathered in an interesting collage of compatriots and experiences. We were a group brought together by one man, Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh). We were four principals from New Zealand (Andrew, Patty, Simon, and Tony) and folks from Michigan (@dprindle), Maine, and California, to name a few I can still remember. I really enjoyed saying “yes” to the unexpected chance to socialize over a great meal and discover new, interesting colleagues and friends.

That good experience inspired me to say “yes” to another dinner invite. My friend, George Garcia (@edtechchamp), from Santa Clara Unified School District, introduced me to his TOSA Chat (#TOSAchat) peer, Ann Kozma (@AnnKozma723). Our greetings and exclamations sounded like we had been friends forever. That evening they invited me to the fantabulous Fullerton (California) School District (@FullertonSD) TOSA team dinner. That was definitely an over the top fun, interesting, and way cool night. Ann’s smile and exuberance were infectiously joyful. Being a part of their group inspired me to consider moving to Fullerton! Reflections about this experience, include: The first “yes” made it easier for the second “yes.” As Rushton has often stated, “What better way to enjoy a meal than with fantastically interesting people!” For me to have said “yes” rather than “Oh, sorry, I can’t join you. I have a presentation to finish for tomorrow,” was a major advancement over my previous conference experiences.

Jad Abumrad, host and creator of NPR’s Radiolab program, was the opening keynote presenter. His presentation was a story of his journey to find his voice. Voice! This really resonated with my quest to find my own professional voice as an education consultant. Jad offered us the idea that finding one’s voice requires perseverance and overcoming the “gut churn” that no one may be listening. Say “yes” to the potentially gut-churning opportunity because your passion won’t let you quit. His presentation was deep and metaphorical. For days afterward, I was still unpacking it. During a reflective conversation with Noah Geisel (@SenorG), a Spanish teacher, and blogger, we uncovered nuances of Jad’s presentation that connected to education. We mused together as he wrote this blog post for Medium about Jad’s keynote, “Sound is a Touch at a Distance” How did that meeting happen? While taking another “yes” pathway with friend and colleague, Jon Corippo (@jcorippo), Innovation Director with CUE, Inc., we walked into the conference press room where Noah was writing. It turned out to be an amazing twofer serendipitous opportunity.

When I actually entered a presentation session, the “yes” attitude continued to lead me into conversations with other attendees and presenters. In the past, it would have been easier for me to quickly leave the room for the next destination. I decided to bet on the chance I might be able to get 2-minutes of the presenter’s time and learn something more. I scored when I reconnected with eQuatIO guru, John McCowan (@Texthelp), the artistically enlightened and heART inspired Aussie, Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt), and visual literacy craftsperson, Ken Shelton (@k_shelton). While watching Ken’s presentation, “Storytelling, Creativity, and Communication through Effective Presentation Design,” I had the extraordinary added benefit of sitting next to the consummate learner and teacher, Kathy Shrock (@KathySchrock)! Another twofer gold payoff for saying “yes!” and allowing serendipity to be a trusted friend.

Serendipity knows Matt Miller (@jmattmiller), too! He’s the author of Ditch that Textbook (http://www.ditchthattextbook.com). We had the fun of crossing each others’ paths at least two times a day while among 21K people spread out over umpteen acres of floor space. The first pathway crossing with Matt occurred with friends Jon Corippo and Andrew Schwab (@anotherschwab) on the Expo Hall floor. The cheery Paulette Donnellon (@sdpaulette) of Gooru appeared. It has taken three ISTE conferences for me to finally connect with her for more than a hot second. A “yes” attitude to serendipity can even hop, skip and jump over itself through space and time.

The Exhibitors in the Expo Hall were everywhere, so I systematically walked the rows and columns. My wife, The Gloria (@glori2glory), an edtech 5th-grade teacher, decided to give me targeted objectives instead of allowing my wandering ways to lead me randomly. She was cheeky enough to post my “#HoneyDo” list of exhibitors to visit on Twitter. There’s nothing like group accountability among my PLN to keep me on the “yes” track!

Taking the humorous high road through my honey-do list, I crafted a sympathetic line for each vendor I visited. Generally, it was something like, “Hello, my name is Steve, I’m Gloria’s husband. [dramatic pause] I’m on a mission to find _________. Can you help me stay in her good graces when I return home?” Add the image of a grown man’s puppy dog pleading eyes to the discussion. Quickly, I had the sympathies and good humor of new friends from: GoAnimate (@GoAnimate), Ozobot (@Ozobot), Sphero (@Sphero), Mentoring Minds (@mentoringminds), Remind (@RemindHQ), Tynker (@goTynker), and LittleBits (@littleBits). Hooraayyy…#HoneyDo #ISTE17 #Done! That was a special benefit of allowing someone else to guide my “yes” opportunities into another dimension of the conference experience.

While on the mission for Gloria, I purposely strode through the aisles with a focused gaze, trying to deflect any potential distraction from my honey-do purpose. My steely-eyed gaze must have appeared too friendly. I was interrupted by Dr. Edward Tse (@doctorET), Director of Education Strategy at Nuiteq and a developer of Snowflake, a collaborative touchscreen software. Sales pitch warning bells went off in my head when he invited me to take a closer look at a huge touchscreen mounted on a motorized stand. I’m actually surprised I said “yes” to the invitation. There was no way I would buy a $4K+ device, especially if it wouldn’t fit in my office.

By end of our 45-minute discussion, I realized the interruption was not for the purpose of learning about a cool technology (it can handle four applications simultaneously running in different locations on the screen). It was all about meeting a new friend and like-minded peer. Edward has a genuine, compelling heart and passion for education that actually surprised me for a guy pitching a software/touchscreen package. We found kinship in the idea that technology is a service for the collaborative learning experiences that bring students and teachers together in unique ways. Edward is a compelling educational technologist. Watch him on his YouTube Channel, “Ed on Edtech“. Sometimes choosing “yes” is for a different (and surprising) purpose than either party had originally thought.

Another surprising vendor encounter happened with Alec Chen, the charming senior sales manager for Ibenzer, a company that makes cool looking and rugged cases for MacBooks. Since I am not a buyer or influencer for school districts to purchase MacBook cases, I thought I could easily dismiss his coy questions about my preferences for a laptop case. This initial “no” position slowly turned into a long, friendly “yes” conversation about his life as a Chinese national living in New York and his college-abroad experiences in France. Note to self, don’t be quick to jump to “no” when an energetic, positive person selects you as a candidate for their questions.

There are more “yes” stories of unexpected paths taken and more ISTE conference reflections to unpack. I will let those settle into place, for now, allowing them to form new and deeper impressions. The significant value of the ISTE 2017 experience was the people I met. I was inspired by and sincerely appreciated their willingness to talk with me when my “yes” instincts led me to “serendipitously” interrupt their conference pathways.

I also recapped this ISTE 2017 conference experience in Storify to capture the social media viewpoint.

Instructional “designer”?

What do I want to be when I grow up?

An instructional designer!

This is not the usual statement from a child, rather a mid-career instructional technologist. I have been thinking about the differences and similarities of instructional “designer” versus “technologist” for more than two decades. My recent musings were triggered by an EdSurge article, “So You Want to Be an Instructional Designer,” which I highly recommend reading. Until that article, I had identified myself as a “technologist” because my master’s degree diploma states that I am one. Considering the main word “technology” has a zippy appeal in Silicon Valley where I live and perhaps most of all because people outside of the instructional technology field do not really understand the foundational concepts of it. I’ll save that definition for another post.

I want a different professional label as I launch into a new career as a consultant. I can define myself any way I wish! I really do like the term “designer” much more than “technologist.” I fancy myself a designer of anything and everything since earning an undergraduate degree in art design. So, I can legitimately claim the title of “designer.” But why abandon the “technology” term if I also claim to be an advocate for effective use of technology in instruction?

I am foremost an advocate for education, which, in my viewpoint, is for the benefit of the student to help them understand themselves, master learning, and nurture their ability and desire to learn in perpetuity. Education can be really helpful for developing a student’s passion for lifelong learning, whatever age they may earnestly start their new learning journey.

Technology is a tool for learning, not just an adjective or defining concept for instruction. The real power of technology is unleashed in the careful design of an instructional experience, whether in an education or training setting. The experience should never blindly be about the technology, rather focused on the learning outcome. Technology, as a term in common use, creates a defined box of concepts in one’s mind. I would like to further twist an often misquoted phrase to make a point, “…we don’t need no stinkin’ ‘boxes’.” I think boxes restrict and confine how instructional professionals can define the nature of teaching and learning. Designers, by nature, are inclined to creatively break the paradigm of the box. I like that idea.

If we take the focus off of technology, it becomes another tool, like chalk to the chalkboard, simply used to achieve a higher goal. It is no longer a novelty, a new concept to be added on to education, or a way of sounding modern and hip when defining learning activities. Technology may or may not be an effective tool for each learning outcome, that is why the skill of the instructor is needed to determine which tool best facilitates the learning of a particular concept or skill. In this scene, the instructor moves away from being a technology tool picker and becomes a designer craftsman of learning, using different strategies to accomplish the goal. Technology may or may not be a part of the solution. To clarify, I am not moving away from technology. I am choosing to define the field and my professional self in terms of what really matters…learning and teaching…not technology.

Imagine if learning is an experience, then I want to be a designer of learning experiences. Imagine what might result in an education system where the same type of careful thought and consideration for the end-user that goes into designing living spaces, automobiles, phones, dinnerware, and software interfaces, were used to craft a learning experience for students. The learner (i.e., end-user) becomes the focal point of the design ideas for the instructional activities. I bet the activities would be made better for ease-of-use, last longer, and become more relevant as they better meet the learners’ needs.

That’s why I want to redefine my professional label. Yes, I’m convinced I want to be an instructional designer.

Wait, on second thought, maybe I really want to be a “Learning Experience Designer!”