Where Education Professionals Are Going to Learn About the Future

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The coming month will be host to two exciting conferences that educators can attend to start the year off right. The 39th annual Future of Education Technology Conference will be held during the last week of January on the 27th-30th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Next month, San Antonio will be host to the Texas Computer Education Association Convention and Exposition on Feb. 4-8. Both events will provide educators a chance to experience the latest groundbreaking innovations in education technology, and changes occurring this year will make each more accessible to potential attendees than ever before.

The 4-day FETC conference will offer more than 600 learning opportunities, organized broadly into five tracks to cater to the interests of every educator. A Keynote by Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of Khan Academy will kick off the event on Monday night, and polymath Mae Jemison will close out on Wednesday with the presentation of the STEM Excellence Awards and keynote “Pursuing the Extraordinary.”

This year, FETC Program Chair Jennifer Womble is most enthusiastic to see the creative elements of learning that are being embraced in education technology, where the focus on tech use has shifted to what students can create.

“What I’m seeing evolve is a concept around creativity. Because we often use technology as a tool to develop creativity for students in the classroom to create products. But there is now a really more urgent request for teachers to embrace this concept a little bit stronger” she said.

Teachers in attendance this year can expect an unparalleled opportunity for networking and will leave the conference with strategies that they can implement right away.

Last year’s FETC conference drew in over 10,000 industry professionals, and FETC continues to do more to make the event a top destination for professional development. One major change this year is that the conference will begin on a Sunday rather than a weekday, giving local teachers a chance to participate in pre-conference workshops using a single-day day pass without having to plan for a substitute.

“We actually wanted to grow the room size at the event. We kind of overgrew our space last year, so in order to get more space, we had to accompany that with some different dates,” Womble shared. “What we’re hearing from school districts is that they’re thrilled because it saves them a sub day.”

The popularity of the Sunday date has enabled Code.org, Microsoft, and BrainPOP to host free workshops that day.

Two other big draws of the FETC are PitchFest and the STEM Excellence Awards. PitchFest is a Shark Tank-like platform where companies compete for the opportunity to pitch directly to real-time users like superintendents, administrators, and CIOs. The event began last year, according to Womble, and Weird Enough Productions was its first winner.

“Our market has just become more app-driven” she explained. “Companies like Blackboard really led the way. Instead of trying to bulk sell to schools, districts and universities, now students buy the app independently.”

Thirty-eight total companies will pitch this year including computer science ed-focused BlocksCAD and codeSPARK. Learning tools are not the only innovations, however, and assessment-focused startups like Lennections are breaking ground as well.

The FETC’s STEM Excellence Awards redirect attention from startups back to teachers in the field.

For schools to win an award, Womble explained, “What we’re looking for is how they’re integrating STEM activities across their curriculum. Not just having a robotics team, or not just having a science fair, or not just having one engineering day. It’s what is being integrated across your school.”

The 31 presentations given by competing schools is one of the conference’s most well-attended events, according to Womble, because they give teachers a chance to see what is already being implemented and what is realistic in today’s schools.

The first week of February will bring educators to San Antonio, Texas for a full five days of professional development at the TCEA Convention and Exposition. Organizers hope the conference, normally held in Austin, will attract San Antonio locals who would otherwise be unable to attend this year.

Roughly 8,000 educators attended last year, and similar numbers are anticipated this year according to TCEA communications specialist Susan Meyer. Jemison will deliver the opening keynote for the conference.

A significant change for the convention this year was the revamping of the registration process. Rather than having a Premium and Basic registration option, Meyer explained, all workshops and sessions will be available for everyone with a basic registration. In addition, attendees who only want to register for the Exhibit Hall will newly be able to attend sessions and the closing keynote by mountaineer Alison Levine on Friday.

The conference is centered around active participation events for educators like the Innovation Lab and the Innovator Spotlight. The Innovation Lab provides educators with a more intimate, interactive experience with workshop presenters’ content, while the Innovator Spotlight is a one-hour presentation followed by an “Innovator Roundtable,” a Q&A session and networking hour.

“The intent behind these interactive playgrounds is to give educators an opportunity to get hands-on with digital tools and strategies in a less structured environment. They have the opportunity to network with presenters and with each other and ask questions specific to their interests and roles” explained Meyer.

Educators will also have the opportunity to participate in Solution Circles on topics ranging from “Being the CTO for the Next Century” to “Bringing the World to the Youngest Learners.” There are no less than 23 topics for Solution Circles spread throughout the week-long convention.

“These facilitated discussion groups are an opportunity for educators to network with peers, make new connections, discuss challenges they’re facing, and discover new, innovative solutions,” according to Meyer.

Another important feature of the conference is the TCEA Educator Awards, where winners in each of eight categories will win a $1,000 cash prize and two finalists in each receive $500 prizes. Past winners have shared with TCEA in a series of interviews that participating in the awards was a meaningful and positive experience.

Suzanne Ross, 2017 winner in the category Library Media Specialist of the Year, said in her TCEA interview “Being named the Library Media Specialist of the Year has made me more aware of the importance of sharing and supporting others to embrace and integrate new knowledge and devices into our learning spaces, which are within and beyond our four walls.”

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