Professional Development

Some Kids Had a ‘Choppy’ K-12 Experience This Year. ISTE Will Explore Solutions

By Alyson Klein — June 21, 2021 2 min read
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The International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference is one of the largest and best-attended K-12 education events around. (How big is ISTE? Back in 2019, the last time it was held in person, in Philadelphia, the Panera across the street from the conference center ran out of food. There were more than 20,000 participants that year.)

Last year, of course, ISTE was a virtual-only event, thanks to the pandemic. And this year, it will also be held online only, beginning June 26.

Richard Culatta, the chief executive officer of ISTE, expects that the biggest themes of the conference will grow out of the aftermath of the pandemic. He is betting there will be a lot of talk about digital citizenship and thinking about what it means for K-12 now that “so much more of our lives happen in virtual spaces.”

And he thinks that helping students stay on track will be a hot topic too.

“We have students who had very different experiences” of learning during the pandemic, Culatta said. Some were able to make great progress, but others had “a very intermittent or choppy learning experience.” The big question going into the fall will be around what needs to be done to make sure all students are on track.

The virtual event will feature Leslie Odom, Jr. of “Hamilton” fame. (Will he sing? “It’s possible. Wink-wink, nod-nod,” said Culatta.) Also speaking: Priscilla Chan, a co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropy; U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona; and Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

ISTE has tweaked the event, based on feedback on last year’s virtual conference. While it’s not really possible to simulate the experience of being out on the floor at an ISTE in-person conference, there will be more opportunities this year to “be able to see what the latest and greatest tools look like in action,” Culatta said.

So is ISTE sticking with an all-virtual format for the long haul? That’s a no, Culatta said. “We are going to go back to having a physical presence. And that will start next year,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean the virtual component is gone for good, either. “There’s just some great value in having virtual participation as well,” he said. He expects there will continue to be a hybrid piece to the organization’s signature conference in future years, as well as its other events.

“We’ll have some variety of face-to-face and virtual experiences throughout our program,” Culatta said.

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