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.