Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts on I11I

The first reflection by anyone attending the session has to be a big thanks is in order to CASTLE. That includes Scott McLeod for the vision and Jamie Fath, Nick Sauers, and John Nash for the work putting it together. We can't lose the fact that this conference was:
  • Free
  • Brand New
  • With Limited Marketing
And yet, it was powerful to connect with other educators on this magnitude. Almost 600 people were there, and enrollment was capped back in February. When we were originally kicking around the idea of this conference last May, I believe I had told Scott he would be looking at about 200 people the first year. I won't underestimate the enthusiasm of Iowa's educators again... when we estimate that we'll have to double enrollment for next year's session, I believe that will be too low as well.

Reflection #2 is one I'll echo from Steve Linduska. Steve has been working with Iowa school districts and 1:1 computing initiatives for over a decade (and with technology in general much longer than that). He mentioned he never thought he'd see the day there was this level of enthusiasm for 1:1 computing in the state.

And what is most amazing is, conference aside, this enthusiasm has been at a grassroots level. We at the AEAs and the DE haven't made a big push for 1:1 computing, and in many ways, are now coming along for the ride. Look at who was presenting at this workshop. Teachers and administrators, not AEA/DE consultants. This is a refreshing change. Just as we need to shift our classrooms away from teacher-centered to student-centered learning (moving the teacher to facilitator), we need to shift the conversations around school change away from the statewide positions towards those at a local level. And, this conference did exactly that.

Which leads to reflection #3. Iowa is still a state of rural school districts, despite the growing migration to the urban centers and the consolidation of districts. Having taught in some very small districts, this was amazing to see the leaders in the state were small districts. This conference, much more so than ITEC or SAI, gave districts a concrete vision of what could be. Visiting with many of the teachers and the administrators who attended, they all had a very similar response to what they saw: That can be us in a year. Where else have we provided the avenue for that much change and hope in a year's time?

The most lasting image for me was the image of the map in the foyer with the pushpins from those who were attending. The pushpins were colored based on your district's current thoughts on 1:1... whether you were implementing, starting next year, next couple years, or wondering if this is for you. It is lasting predominantly because of the number of pushpins, representing a large percentage of Iowa.

But there's more to it than that. I met with Audubon's superintendent Brett Gibbs a year ago, almost exactly. At the time, we were preparing for a professional development session on technology with his whole staff. Brett was (and still is) very excited about what technology could do for achievement as well as enthusiasm within the community. I asked Brett what his current technology was like, and in the midst of describing it, he said "We do what we can... we can never go 1:1".

Audubon had a pushpin through it on the map, saying they are going that way in a couple of years.

This is serious change on a transformative level in the state. Naysayers will question the effectiveness of 1:1, and it is true that just getting the technology won't necessarily make a difference for students. But Brett will tell you that in rural Iowa, it is very difficult to make any sort of change against the inertia, even though it is critical for small district's survival.

Many state leaders, just like Brett, have found empowerment with CASTLE's leadership, whether directly or indirectly. I'm very impressed with all of them.

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