Conferences / EdTech / Pedagogy

Simple is Better: Reflections on ICE 2013

I got a chance to head out to the ICE conference on Thursday and, needless to say, it was an interesting event. The most impressive portion of the conference was the PLN Plaza, where wonderful people I have come to respect on twitter got a chance to sit down and have live, in-person conversations about education and the role of technology, instruction, and teachers within the field. The more I attend these events, the more I find the interactions with colleagues to philosophically regenerative in way that few other experiences can match.

A couple of specific takeaways:

1. Simple is better, Part One. 

As educators, we thrive on making the complex simple for students. Yet, when we deal with one another or with those who strive to impose barriers on what we do, teachers (as a whole) have an uncanny ability to overcomplicate things. In an effort to describe all the ways in which a teacher might impact a student’s life, we move from “nuanced interpretation” to “overwrought over explanation” far to often. Teachers can learn to keep it simple:

We are societal catalysts. 

Simple as that. The work we do collectively inspires our students to make change in the world. Can it be more nuanced? Of course. Does it have to be in order to encompass what we do? Absolutely not.

(Thanks to Angela Maiers @angelamaiers for the “simple inspiration”)

2. Simple is Better, Part Two

When it comes to technology in the classroom, the simplest interface is always the most effective. In attending the presentation by Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) on appmaking, it became clear to me that teachers need to do more front-end work to make the “User Interface” of education more seamless. It’s important that students, in a truly innovative classroom, see technology as an extension of the environment in which they inhabit. In order to do this, the initial interaction with the tech in a class needs to be simple: think about the UI of an app like Flipboard. Clean, easy to use, intuitive…just touch what you want, swipe to where you want to go. This needs to be how students initially interact with educational technology. It can build from there. While a teacher has limited control over the physical environment in which her/his students engage with the material, s/he has absolute control over their virtual world. We would be remiss if we did not put the utmost thought into how we create that virtual world, as the space in which one learns is likely more formative than what they learn in that space.

Teachers need to think more like appmakers and entrepreneurs in this sense: how can we create the simplest, most integrated experience for our students? Then, once we immerse them in the environment, how do we push them to become the authors of their future environments?

Overall, I came away from ICE invigorated. As I leave for SxSWEdu on Monday, I can only hope to leave with even more inspiration from both the educators as well as the entrepreneurs in attendance. I’m looking forward to my time in Austin.

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