(Previously published in T.H.E. Journal – February 2012)
It is winter in Wisconsin, which means snow and cold weather. The day I left the local airport snow and slush covered the ground and the temperature was seven degrees below zero with the wind chill. There was a short delay at the gate so the ground crew could de-ice the plane. A little winter weather will not stop my excitement. I was headed to the Florida Educational Technology Conference in Orlando, from January 24th through 26th. This would be my third trip to FETC, the first in 2010. My co-travelers, who are also assistant professors from Marian University, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, also attended. Assistant Professor Kristi Shaw was attending her third FETC while Robert Wagner, Director of the Educational Technology Masters program was attending his 25th, or maybe more, he claims it is hard to remember how many he has attended. This year was going to be different from our previous trips. I just knew it. I had that special feeling you get when something big is going to happen. Twelve years of teaching elementary school and three years of teaching as an Assistant Professor in the Master of Arts in Education: Educational Technology program prepared me for what was going to happen during my days at FETC.
I could feel the excitement among my team members. Not only did we get to soak up some Florida sun, we were going to network with teachers from around the globe. Listening to experts in education speak with passion about their favorite topic, using technology to enhance and engage students. Each person who attends FETC arrives feeling the same buzz. For those who have a hunger to learn about technology and its effectiveness in education it’s like a natural high. People everywhere, all friendly faces, some you know from social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or Linked In, while so many more are new faces. All are open opportunities to engage in great conversations focused on one idea: to become better educators. For me, the greatest joy comes from talking with so many other educators, at the Tweet-ups, (thanks to @stephenveliz and @Fernandezc4 for organizing the TGIF tweet-up), between sessions in the halls, in the exhibit hall, at a bench outside the convention center eating lunch, or at the annual coffee cup giveaway. This year featured a sit-down area in the exhibit hall for having those great conversations.
FETC 2012 provides another kind of high for me. It all began in 2010 after attending my first FETC, when, with great passion and excitement I wrote my first proposal to present at a national conference. Sure I was comfortable with presenting to small groups, my graduate students, local educators, even at the state level, but this was going to change my life forever. I was accepted to present on my favorite tech topic, using the iPad in the K-12 classroom and in January 2011, I presented a 50-minute concurrent session on iPad Apps to an over capacity crowd. It was so well attended, I was asked to present the same session a second time that same afternoon. Again, the room filled up. Like all great educators, I reflected on my experience and my presentation, how could I make it better next year? What could I do that would excite so many educators to go back to their classrooms and want to immediately begin using the tools to help impact their student’s learning? The 2012 proposal was immediately put together, an iPad App Shoot-out. I also put together a list of other topics I thought would be a great addition to the FETC 2012 line up. This year, when the acceptance email came, not only would I be able to present, my iPad App Shoot-out, it was to be the Closing session with Hall Davidson and Gail Lovely. Needless to say my excitement to attend FETC 2012 increased more than 10 fold. Whose wouldn’t?
Several months of planning, a long conference call with Hall and Gail, a lot of emails and ideas later, and here we were, the three of us on the stage in an empty convention room, getting our AV details taken care of, computers hooked up, iPads on the big screen, microphones, lights, and several bottles of water lined up. I need to take a moment to give kudos to the AV crew that day. Hooking up those iPads to the big screen took a lot of trouble-shooting, not to mention cleaning up the spilled soda on my laptop. Hall attempted humor to help calm my nerves, Gail just kept saying it’s going to be okay. The last piece of advice before the lights came up and I stepped on that stage in front of more than 3000 educators, “soak it all in, it goes by really fast.” Thank goodness my two Ed Tech teammates were sitting in the front row taking pictures or I might not remember much of the 40 minutes in the spotlight. It was better than I ever could have imagined. It was definitely an app shootout. In less than 10 minutes I shared and demonstrated 13 apps, along with a plea to the audience to contribute $0.50 each to my coffers so I could purchase the Proloquo 2 Go App. Gail Lovely was next and shared another ten or more apps, “accidentally” leaving a game app on her screen to kick off her segment of the shoot-out. Hall Davidson wrapped up the app shoot-out with quick wit and humor demonstrating a variety of apps for creative projects. The session was truly a shoot-out of our hot list of apps in education. With those bright lights it was difficult to measure the reaction of the crowd, however, a quick glimpse at the top of people’s heads and after reading the tweets, and the Today’s Meet live session I would say the Closing App Shoot-out was a huge success.
When I left teaching elementary school in 2008 my mother, a dedicated teacher for 35 years, questioned my career change, saying I was such a good classroom teacher, why would I want to leave? My response came from the heart. It was because I wasn’t making enough of a difference in the lives of my students. I wanted to do more. Well, I’ve done more. When I present to educators on educational technology topics like: Web 2.0 tools, Wikis, Edmodo, Animoto, document cameras, social media, SMARTBoards, as well as iPads and Applications I am impacting every one of the students who you teach. See, I am still teaching. I get to teach all of you. So this natural high I experienced on the stage at the Closing Session App Shoot-out was not because I was in the spotlight, it was because I was able to share my knowledge and enthusiasm of educational technology with thousands of educators who have hopefully gone back to their school districts to share their new knowledge and enthusiasm, to impact the students they work with on a daily basis.
The whole experience was magnified by the fact I was able to attend multiple sessions over two and one-half days delivered by skilled educators with a passion to share their knowledge with the FETC 2012 attendees. The sessions I was able to attend (and it’s always hard to choose from so many great ones listed in the program) were outstanding. If you haven’t been to FETC or if it has been a while since you last attended, I want to encourage you to add FETC 2013 to your list of professional development activities. The 2012 Florida Educational Technology Conference was a year of connections for me. I had the opportunity to connect with educators from Kansas, Florida, Illinois, California, and Puerto Rico. We talked about successes as well as brainstormed solutions for using technology in the classroom. I know those conversations will continue, they always do. E-mails and Tweets have already been going back and forth. FETC just ended, but I am looking forward to next year, to reconnecting with my “old” friends as well as making new ones, and hopefully being accepted to share some more of my knowledge and passion of educational technology with educators from around the globe. Will you be there? I will, just look for me in my blue Marian University shirt.