Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to keynote Blackfoot Telecommunications Group's Educational Technology Conference in Missoula, Montana, a place that I previously have not had the opportunity to visit. I received this invitation, thanks to Wesley Fryer who has been involved with this conference for the past couple of years.
Montanan educators were attentive and interested in educational technology, and seemed dedicated and thoughtful about their craft. Most surprisingly to me, many of these teachers work in tiny schools, often with 15-20 student maximum, and are responsbile for teaching everything to their students. As a result, it seems that it's more difficult for students to slip through the cracks and I'm guessing that teachers have to be pretty accountable for making things work in these situations, too. I loved hearing about these teaching scenarios as my perspective was broadened in terms of what students and teachers across America, even in rural areas, are experiencing. It also made me think more about the idea of making "highly qualified" teachers available to all students. Here in the suburbs of Chicago, we take it for granted that our kids will have a Mandarin teacher or a Calculus teacher, but what happens in remote areas of our country where it might not be possible to recruit great teachers in these subject areas? Students in states with widely dispersed populations are going to definitely benefit from increased online opportunities, and this is another reason not to ingore the trend of virtual instruction.
Speaking of online instruction, Wesley introduced me to Jason Neiffer, curriculum director of the Montana Digital Academy, and Mike Agostinelli of Helena Public Schools. This duo gave a few compelling presentations (see Wesley's links below) and had dinner with us one night. Our conversations gave me further insight into Montana, and we started brainstorming ideas for a ed tech wilderness experience/retreat for similarly minded school leaders. Stay tuned to see if we go anywhere with this idea!
Mostly importantly, besides being my first visit to Montana, it also was my first experience working closely with Wes, and I'm happy to report that the entire experience really fun and enriching. If you've never gotten the Wes Fryer treatment during a conference, you are particularly missing out. He is one of the few people I know who still has the time and inclination to take detailed notes during events. The best part is that he posts these online almost immediately, and includes relevant links and recordings. As someone who gets nervous about being scrutnized professionally, I found Wes's blogging to be enormously helpful as he does this in the least judgemental way, and his posts help me determined if I covered salient points. Below are some of what he covered at the Blackfoot ETC and I think this is a tremendously valuable service. Additionally, Wesley also did one of the best keynotes I've seen him do over the past few years... he has really evolved and improved as a keynote speaker. So, this is an unsolicited plug for Wes in terms of the education conference circuit... I think he'd be invaluable for his speaking skills and for participating in the conference experience along with attendees.
Check out some of the highlights of the Blackfoot Educational Technology Conference, courtsey of Wesley Fryer:
Exploring Instructional Uses of YouTube (my session)
Beyond Search ( my session)