Monday, March 11, 2013


NCTIES 2013 Post Analysis

     NCTIES 2013 is North Carolina Technology in Education Society's 's state conference, THE annual state conference, March 6-8, for those focused on making NC's schools digitally and 21st century relevant, which included my humble offering on Composing Digital Games.
How long before state and national educational "technology" organizations recognize that the issue is not about technology but about what we do with it? Can we replace the noun technology with better goal focused titles than this seeming focus on mere equipment? How about Literacy, Discovery or Learning? What about verbs, e.g., Solving, Thinking? What did fill the halls and rooms of the conference though was an intense and motivated interest in the presentations at hand, with many filled to overflowing.

     David Warlick did a fine pre-conference analysis of the last two years of NCTIES presentation topics that also showed changing trends. Post-conference, after seeing many of them, I analyzed 203 presentations (David counted 202) in the downloadable Conference Program. I deleted a couple of them for which there was insufficient information to determine what the presentation was about. Naturally this eCROP blog site takes the digital palette strategies and media categories (image on right) that make up 21st century literacy and reworks the NCTIES presentation topics  into eCROP's digital palette structure. Note that deciding on the focus of a presentation is a highly personal perspective that others would treat differently. You can try your own hand at categorization by changing my outlining treatment in this Word file, NCTIES-sorted-by-eCROP-digipalette-only.

     On this first pass look at the data, it showed 67 Strategic focus sessions and 136 Digital Palette media focused presentations. Further details show a much deeper tilt. Of the 67 strategic thinking related sessions, only 1 focused on problem sharing and discovery. Two were on problem shaping (thinking more deeply about questions), and 61 focused on some aspect of problem solving (46 on the Look or search for digital information or the annotated listing of digital thinking tools, with 5 on actual search technique and the rest on new teaching strategies with new tech) 4 on composition (Evoke), 9 on Assessment and 3 focused on Publishing. That is, our state's digital leadership is missing much of the exploration of 2/3 of the larger strategic problem process on which our culture's advancement depends and lacking a fair amount of attention to key elements of the problem process (LEAP).

Distributing the 136 Digital Palette media presentations across the the 11 media elements of the digital palette that make up the current range of dominant tools for digital composing and understanding, the results showed: 17 Text, 2 Image, 2 Audio, 11 Video, 1 on 2D Animation, 2 on 3D Animation/Printers/Virtual Reality; 1 Sensors/Robotics, 15 Interactivity and gaming, 3 programming, 15 on teaming/collaboration and 69 devoted to Frames (planning tech use, use of digital devices, 1:1 computing, and software tools).

     None of the sessions on programming tackled the topic head-on by focusing on real computer languages, addressing them rather obliquely. As programming and computer science undergirds everything we discuss, where is our both our instruction and our advocacy for this knowledge as well as lucrative and critical career? No one in the vendor area nor any presenter discussed the impact of 3D printers, laser cutters and the potential rebirth of the "shop" in school programs undergirded by new digital technology. (It should be noted that the vocational education theme was the first bill sought from the Legislature and signed by the governor in 2013. Do we need a Current Topics session every year so that late developing topics can get proper attention? But even with the noted shortcomings, clearly the term "technology" in the conference title is relevant to the overall thrust of the conference. What was surprising here is the small numbers of sessions that focused on gaming given that gaming was the theme of the conference. Perhaps this tilt towards technology, this focus on digital things and their maintenance, is one more measurement of the current state of the art in our educational systems's digital integration. Our schools are a long way from universal one to one (1:1) integration but clearly moving in that direction. Until our outgunned and underfunded technology staff teams can put the 1:1 issue to rest, a monstrous challenge, it is hard to see beyond that. Though I wonder how we can properly do that planning without the larger strategic view being much better understood.  I conclude that our group is far more focused on applying the mechanics of the digital tools of the age than the bigger picture of where we are and where we should be going with those tools.

     Of greater concern are the topics not covered, ideas that were perhaps not proposed or perhaps not the top priorities of the conference organizers. Most notably policy and strategic thinking discussions seem a missed opportunity and important to add for next year: Legislative funding priorities for 21st century schools; current digitally relevant state legislation; DPI policies on educational technology; and Instructional Technology Division’s guidance and advocacy for future directions. There was no discussion or analysis of how well our 2 and 4 year higher education institutions are doing in preparing our educational elite for digital culture and relevance, whether preparing future teachers or preparing citizens. What are they doing or prepared to be doing digitally with those who advance from K12 institutions? What does the handoff look like? Is the baton getting dropped? What is higher education's digital mission and its application? Has any of our higher ed institutions tried to define this?

     There were no general discussions of the need for or available strategies for integrating all 4 levels of thinking skills, or awareness of digital entrepreneurship and the digital skills sets needed for it. There is a need for more comprehensive strategies for search. STEM concepts were mentioned in just two presentations and the term entrepreneurship and any focus on its digital applications were totally absent. We lacked discussion about where we might be in 3, 5, 10 years with advancing technology and how we should prepare for it. There was was no discernible discussion about how the reading and writing competencies have been transformed and the increasingly narrow relevance of the titles of English and Language Arts. How about changing this division in DPI to the Communication Arts? There was astonishing little attention to the need for problem discovery and the opportunities that tidal waves of information provide for educators and their communitities in the 21st century. There was a narrow perception of teaming and zero discussion of true live online team teaching between classrooms. But the real fun is in rehashing and rediscovering. What did I miss? Which of these ideas are in need of correction and debate? Let's have at it in the comment field below. What do we need next year?

     All in all, we have plenty of room to grow for NCTIES in 2014! In what directions do you think NCTIES should grow?

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