On Thursday, October 20th, Liz Homan and I attended the MassCUE/M.A.S.S. Technology Conference at Gillette stadium. This was my first time attending the annual techie conference, and I must say, it did not disappoint. Liz and I presented about our work with the Waltham Integration Network (WIN Project) during one of the break out sessions and took advantage of attending other break out sessions led by teachers and technology specialists as well.
I had an amazing time at the conference. I figured I would share a little bit about what I experienced there as well as what Liz and I spoke about about during our presentation.
Here is a running diary of my MassCUE day:
7:35 AM: Arrive at Gillette Stadium, I am way too early. There are like five cars in the parking lot. I decide to play around on my phone and act like I am doing something important until more people arrive and I deem it suitable to enter the conference. Also, this is the closest I have ever parked to Gillette Stadium in my life.
7:45 AM: Time to check-in to the conference. They have a high tech system that scans a QR code on your phone and then prints out your name tag. I was wowed, but then again, my school was built in 1967. It doesn’t take all that much to impress me. After a long escalator ride, I end up on the main floor where they have the technology exhibitions.
7:50 AM: I wander around looking at all the technology offerings. Right away, it becomes apparent to me that education has become a serious market for technology companies. Everyone from Apple to Google has a table or leads a breakout session at MassCue.
8:15 AM: I realize that the conference is spread out throughout the entirety of Gillette Stadium. A quick analysis of the schedule tells me that Liz and I will be presenting in a luxury box… I quickly realize this will be the only way I ever set foot in a luxury box…
8:30 AM: It is time for the keynote speakers. There are a bunch of people lined up to talk about the importance of technology integration. The highlight is a speech given by a ten year old child prodigy, Collin Keegan. He talks about the gamification of education, teaching students at their level, and engaging students with fun activities. Collin has an interactive slide show where he displays his many passion projects: building a treehouse, starring in a “kid science” web series, building science projects, and flying a plane! Yes, I said flying a plane. Beyond making me feel quite inadequate (what have you done today?), he made many good points about the need for education to be entertaining and engaging. That being said, if I had a little more space here, I would push back on Collin’s line of thought for many reasons. I don’t think that learning should always be fun, because life isn’t always fun. However, I can leave that discussion for another day. Collin still kicked butt!
9:15 AM: I peel away from the larger group in search of a breakout session. I must say that I wasn’t overly impressed with the selection designed for teachers. In many ways, I think this conference is geared more toward administrators that want to buy new toys to their districts (more power to them). Like many conferences I have attended, I think this conference suffered from some less informative presenters. The first breakout session I attend is about using technology in a history classroom. The presenter simply lists websites they have used with their district. I leave halfway through this particular presentation, because I felt like I am not learning anything new. Upon exiting the room, I realize there are no other sessions that I want to attend, so I go back in with my tail between my legs.
10:45 AM: I attend a breakout session about maximizing productivity by using all the tools within Google Suite. I think this one will be right up my alley, because I frequently use Google Suite with my classes. This presenter is must better than the first, but much of what they talk about has little relevance to my classroom. First of all, the presenter starts with the premise that teachers/administrators receive hundreds of emails a day. I don’t know about other teachers out there, but I don’t receive that many daily emails to which I have to respond. Also, I am extremely Type A when it comes to my inbox, so I try to clear out emails after I complete them. This presenter does offer a good idea, however, about creating draft emails that you can reuse to send parents updates about their students. It seems so obvious in hindsight, but having a few stock emails would definitely speed up the process.
12:00 PM: At this point, Liz and I meet up in our luxury box to run through our presentation, and connect her computer to the AV system. The MassCue technology specialists are incredibly helpful by providing us with the appropriate adapters. As we set up, a few spectators arrive for our presentation. Almost immediately, we realize that Liz has connections with one of the people in the audience, Nicole Hart. Nicole is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Making connections is one of the best things about MassCue, and a key to teaching and integrating technology. After our presentation, Nicole followed me on Twitter, and now we share lesson ideas and have Twitter conversations about technology integration.
12:20 PM: We begin our presentation a little late, because we end up having fewer people in our audience than we would have liked. This was quite unfortunate, because Liz did a great job putting together an excellent talk. Oddly enough, however, I end up knowing two people in our audience. One attendee is a former assistant superintendent for Waltham Public Schools (Alec Wyeth), and the other is a principal from Dedham (Jim Forrest). I found it funny that three people connected to WHS serendipitously ended up attending our presentation.
12:30 PM: Liz begins our presentation and talks about the importance of making technology integration accessible to all teachers in a school. Through her doctoral studies, Liz discovered that teachers often feel disconnected from technology integration or from teachers that are especially good at integrating technology. The WIN Project was the genesis of Liz’s research. Her goal is to demystify technology integration by creating cohorts of teachers that research and blog about technology. This will create a network of core teachers that can share discoveries, vent, and model technology integration. Liz’s goal is for the core network to grow within a school until it becomes the new normal. That being said, I think Liz hopes that our network can grow beyond Waltham, to other districts in neighboring towns.
12:50 PM: I share my part of the project with the audience. I talk about my research goal (see previous posts), and my successes and struggles throughout the process. I talked about what I’ve learned, and the importance of the project for me. The main point I make is that being involved in the WIN Project held me accountable. I had to come up with ideas for integrating technology because I had to blog and create videos. This lit a fire underneath me to come up with new ways to integrate technology. I need that kind of motivation.
1:20 PM: Liz and I finish our presentation, and we head to lunch with our new friend Nicole Hart. As we walk to lunch, we hear blaring hip hop music. Nicole explains to us that this type of loud music was playing the day before as well. It turns out that the Patriots are practicing on their practice field and simulating crowd noise by playing loud music. Without thinking, I pull out my cell phone to get a picture of my favorite football team. It never occurs to me that this is a bad idea…. Until I am yelled at by Patriot personnel. They explain to me that what I am doing is prohibited. After I delete the image, I have to prove to said Patriot personnel that my phone is void of images or video. The Patriots are protective of their practices and of keeping their playbook secret. I assume they didn’t want me to tape anything that could be intercepted by rival teams. I would never do this, but I guess the Patriots feel like they have to be extra careful. After all, they would know…. 😉
1:35 PM: Liz, Nicole, and I eat lunch from a picked over MassCUE buffet (It just so happens that our breakout session was in the middle of lunch… thanks scheduling folks), and chat about technology integration. I meet a few people from universities that offer technology courses and degrees. Maybe there is one in my future?
2:00 PM: The day ends for Liz and I so we go our separate ways. Time to sit in the famous traffic that plagues Gillette Stadium’s surrounding highways.
In the end, I had a great experience at MassCue. Although the presentations I attended were not as informative as I had hoped, I enjoyed presenting and making connections with technology specialists. I think it is important for teachers to get out and see what other schools are doing, and this was a step in that direction for me. I hope to attend this conference again in the future. Maybe next time Liz and I can present to a larger audience, because I think we had a lot of valuable things to say about technology integration.