ISTE 2016: Top Takeaways

Written by Natalie Gilbert

It’s a wrap! The annual International Society for Technology in Education conference (ISTE) has come to an end, sending educators home with plenty of interesting information to digest and new friends with which to connect. When it was all said and done, over 19,500 educators and exhibitors from 73 countries attended the conference, including 391 student presenters. In the virtual world, there were over 221,000 Tweets posted using the #ISTE2016 and countless more educators following from afar on the #NotatISTE tag.

While it’s nearly impossible to capture everything that happened over the course of the four-day conference, here is a snapshot of the highlights from this year’s show.

New ISTE Standards for Students
ISTE released its updated Standards for Students. Unlike previous years, this version crowdsourced the voices of 2,714 people from 52 countries, including 295 students. This comprehensive, practical approach to data collection reflected the report’s emphasis on empowering students and putting them at the center of technology. This report provides a blueprint by and for educators to guide education transformation and meaningful, future-ready learning. It is less about devices or using technology, and more about giving learners voice to ensure that they are at the center of exploration and discovery.

The standards were broken down into the following categories with student statements:

  1. Empowered Learner: “I use technology to set goals, work toward achieving them and demonstrate my learning.”
  2. Global Collaborator: “I strive to broaden my perspective, understand others and work effectively in teams using digital tools.”
  3. Creative Communicator: “I communicate effectively and express myself creatively using different tools, styles, formats and digital media.”
  4. Computational Thinker: “I identify authentic problems, work with data and use a step-by-step process to automate solutions.”
  5. Innovative Designers: “I solve problems by creating new and imaginative solutions using a variety of digital tools.”
  6. Knowledge Constructor: “I critically select, evaluate and synthesize digital resources into a collection that reflects my learning and builds my knowledge.”
  7. Digital Citizen: “I understand the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world.”


Google Expedition
Google for Education made a few announcements at ISTE that might be of interest to our customers who use Google Classroom in conjunction with Learning Bird. Google released their Expedition app to allow all students to experience virtual reality (VR) field trips in the classroom. After a successful launch of their Expeditions Pioneer Program last September, they have expanded their offering to all students, with the free download of the Expedition app that features over 200 places to visit.

Google for Education also announced Google Cast for Education, which allows teachers and students to share their screen wirelessly from anywhere in the classroom. This tool will empower students in their learning, as it allows them to show their work to the class without being tied to the projector. Another announcement was the introduction of Quizzes in Google Forms, a feature that allows teachers to auto-grade multiple choice and checkbox questions to provide faster feedback to students.  

Tech & Learning Magazine’s ISTE Best of Show Winners
Tech & Learning Magazine’s judges scoured the exhibit floor at ISTE, rating the products they saw based on their quality, effectiveness, ease-of-use, and their creative use of technology. After consulting, they came up with a short list of winners that had the most impact in the classroom and deserved to be named “Best of Show”. Learning Bird is proud to have received this award for the second consecutive year. A complete list of winners can be found on the Tech & Learning website. A write-up that includes all winners will appear in the August issue of the magazine.

Topics and Trends
The topics that were most represented in ISTE sessions were:

  1. Innovative learning environments (104 sessions)
  2. Communication and collaboration (86 sessions)
  3. Online tools and resources (77 sessions)
  4. Creativity and productivity tools (63 sessions)
  5. Project, problem and challenge based learning (61 sessions)

Along with these topics, there were also recurring trends that popped up during many of the keynotes, sessions, and discussions throughout the conference. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) were frequently referenced as the future of technology, and many related applications were being showcased in the exhibition hall. Both provide new, immersive opportunities for student engagement. Digital citizenship, mindfulness, the evolution of professional development, ESSA and education funding, makerspaces, robotics, and STEAM were also frequently mentioned topics.

Opening: Dr. Michio Kaku, Physicist and Futurist
Dr. Kaku spoke about the future of education, including what teachers can do to prepare students for a world that contains talking wallpaper, data-reading toilets and smart contact lenses. He predicted that nanotechnology and artificial intelligence will drive the economy of the future, and advised teachers to prepare students for jobs that will be available in fifty years. While this might seem like a daunting task, Dr. Kaku advised educators to focus on teaching concepts and principles, and to avoid memorization.

Second Keynote: Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Assistant Professor, Department of African Studies at Princeton University
Dr. Benjamin’s keynote addressed the relationship between innovation and racial, economic and gender equity. She pointed out that technology doesn’t always work to solve social issues and can often cause inequality in the classroom. From her research, she draws on the differences between gaming and hacking to use as a comparison for how educators should approach technology in their classrooms. While gaming is about competition and consumption, hacking requires collaboration and an understanding of how something works in order to make it better. She uses that analogy to encourage educators to empower their students and to harness technology and their own imaginations to create new solutions for social issues.

Closing Keynote: Michelle Cordy, Elementary School Teacher
Third grade teacher Michelle Cordy wrapped up ISTE with an energetic talk about overcoming obstacles in the classroom. A longtime blogger and applied researcher, Cordy received a grant for 1:1 iPads in her classroom in 2012, but she was the only teacher in her school using technology. She reached out to other educators online, and started to build her professional learning network (PLN). Cordy inspired the audience to stay connected with other educators, to promote a community of inclusion, to empower students, and to never give up.

Screenshot 2016-07-06 11.32.50

Feel like you missed something? Even if you attended, it’s impossible to catch everything that happened. In the spirit of collaboration, dozens of educators contributed to shared notes, including this Livebinder and this Google Sheet. You can also visit ISTE’s conference website and filter by ‘Digital Tote’ to find presentations that have digital resources for you to download or check out this impressive curation of Digital Tote Archives.

Next Year
Next year’s ISTE will be held in San Antonio, TX from June 25th to 28th. If any the sessions we’ve mentioned have provided inspiration now’s the time to work on your proposal submission. The call for proposals opens on September 1st and closes on September 29th, 2016.

About the author

Natalie Gilbert

Natalie has spent the last five years working in both traditional and experiential education settings in Haiti, India, and South Korea. Her background is in journalism and education, and she is currently pursuing her M.A. in Educational Technology. She enjoys running, exploring new neighborhoods, and cooking.

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