Saturday, December 7, 2013

It's All About the Charging Station

This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.

The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.

What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.

A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.

The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.

As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.

Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.

What a message.