Where’s the Innovation?

I’m glad to be back and able to blog – it has been a super hectic couple of months winding down the school year and I’ve been challenged to make time for myself to organize thoughts and reflect.  Included in the hectic end-of-year activities was a trip to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference in San Antonio.  I’ve been asked by colleagues “how was the conference?” and my honest response to date has been “it was OK.”  The networking with colleagues and conversations with practitioners is always a hallmark of the ISTE conference experience and something I find supremely valuable.

However, my overall mixed feelings about the event stem from the disappointment with the vendor floor.  A significant goal of the ISTE experience is exposure to vendors introducing some of the latest in educational technology innovation hitting/soon to hit our schools.  I was highly surprised at what I perceived as the lack of innovation in what vendors were presenting at the conference.  I’ve heard similar sentiments from others that attended as well.

#ISTE17 Vendor Floor – many vendors, but how much innovation?

In previous years, the ISTE conference was a great place to learn about instructional technologies before they appeared in classrooms.  It was the place to see technology tools and trends with the potential to evolve or even transform the learning experience in our schools.  Technologies such as interactive whiteboards, 3D projection & printing, robotics, and maker components were on the vendor floor at ISTE before they were part of the mainstream conversation.

Unfortunately, I found there was very little presence of these technologies that truly transform the learning experience.  I found the vendor floor to be a steady stream of interactive flat panels, cases & carts for tablets and Chromebooks, and robotics and maker kits – with very little to differentiate one from the other within each product category.  For example, when I asked one interactive flat panel manufacturer what makes their product different from competitors, I was told they had a longer warranty – not a particularly transformative response.  Many of the bigger announcements at the event seem to be about improved functionality to existing products – not revolutionary new products that can introduce/accelerate new learning potential.

Not necessarily the innovation desired from vendors at #ISTE17

After my initial feeling of discouragement with this lack of vendor innovation, I reflected further about what could be going on here.  I’m beginning to think we are at a crossroads in ed tech innovation:

  • There is a lull in true transformative innovation from the ed tech vendor community, and
  • True innovation is actually not occurring with products, but by individual practitioners changing learning models using tools that have become more mainstream.  Some of the poster sessions at the ISTE conference reflected this.

Or perhaps something else going on is that vendor technology innovation is still happening, just in other sectors than ed tech.  In particular, innovation appears to be occurring much more rapidly in the business/enterprise world and in the consumer world.  For example, in reading about a notable private sector conference held shortly before ISTE (Wainhouse Research – Infocomm 2017 Review), “ideation” was noted as a buzzword at the conference.  There was nothing of the sort at #ISTE17 from my experience.

This all said, I wouldn’t suggest there was NO innovation apparent at #ISTE17.  I’m finishing up compiling my notes from the event and I’m sure I will blog out a couple of the compelling takeaways I did have from the conference.

Ultimately, I am hopeful that we are simply in a temporary transition phase right now – when vendor innovation is limited but school, classroom, and teacher innovation is happening.  I’m hoping the next phase will be another revolution in technologies that will enable transformative change at a macro/systems level – truly changing what schools look like and what learning can look like.

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