AV Staff Attend Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Three Rivers Education Technology Conference (TRETC) was held in Cranberry, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, November 20, from 7 AM until 3 PM. Gary Swanson, Director of AV Services, Katie Bittner, Assistant Director of AV Services, and students Brad Steward and Erin Sullivan joined over 450 educators from K-12 schools, higher education and non-profits to learn more about education technology tools and ways to improve the work done within and outside of Westminster's AV Department.

The intent of TRETC was to discuss new educational technology and approaches with it designed to create engaging learning environments in the classroom. According to organizers, technology is a massive part of student lifestyles that needs to actively be incorporated into the classroom landscape in new ways.

"Dramatic change is happening now, not in the future, and we need to aggressively look at where we belong in that change," said Swanson. "Also, as high school students enter higher education, their expectations for ubiquitous access and interaction between tools and resources will be more diverse than ever before, something I find both challenging and very exciting."  

The keynote speaker for the conference was Richard Culatta, Acting Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education, who talked about the role of "Big Data" in the eduction.

"He challenged educators to get away from "pencil sharpening innovation," or using new technologies to do things in a similar, possibly more efficient manner without focusing on outcomes," said Steward, a Computer Information Systems major and AV Operations and Research and Development Manager. "He explained that you might find a great way to get a razor sharp pencil, but you should be asking if using pencils still even makes sense. His fear is that we'll have nothing more than a complete digital replica of what we have now." 

Culatta emphasized that connectivity is integral to innovation, lamenting that only 20% of American classrooms currently have access to broadband, but declared that change is happening now. He said the President's aggressive ConnectED program is well on course to connect 99 percent of America's students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within 5 years.  Culatta provided other specifics of the National Education Technology Plan and highlighted what he called "low hanging fruit" that is ripe for the picking right now, driving home the idea that technology discussions are a waste of time without desired outcomes.

"That really rung true with me," said Sullivan, an Environmental Science major who also serves as AV Operations and Equipment Circulation Manager. "My position in AV with equipment circulation focuses on finding out what a particular person's goals are, and then I work to provide the right tools to get them to that goal. If the goal isn't clear, everyone's job is more difficult."

Close to 30 breakout sessions followed the keynote address, centering around the theme "Using Technology to Remake Learning" while over 40 technology vendors offered hands on demonstrations and answered questions on products and services. Several presenters shared ideas for effectively "flipping the classroom," or changing the teacher's role in the classroom from a lecturer to more of a facilitator. Lectures are pre-recorded and viewed by students out of class. Class time is then used to provide students meaningful ways of demonstrating and discussing their understanding of a particular concept. (More detail can be read in a blog post Steward wrote on the subject.)

Swanson also attended a session led by Andrew Slack from the Harry Potter Alliance. Slack is a Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow where he is spending one year in New York City developing the Imagine Better Network: an unprecedented movement that goes beyond Harry Potter to all fandoms so that fantasy is no longer an escape from our world, but an invitation to change it for the better. Slack presented excerpts from the PBS film "Is School Enough?" (a segment of which he appears in,) and discussed ways in which meaningful social justice initiatives can push students beyond the classroom into real world issues.

"He's a very engaging, energetic individual that has moved massive fan communities into organized groups that seek out social injustices and go right to the front lines to fight them through inspiration of the fictional characters they love," Swanson noted. "I admire the innovative ways he is using technology and media to leverage what he calls cultural acupuncture to create a better world."

"It was wonderful to talk with other educators and administrators about their technology initiatives," said Bittner. "I learned a lot about how K-12 schools are leveraging new technology along with some good tips, apps other ideas to promote understanding of technology here in AV," said Bittner. "There also was a special Sit With Me national advocacy campaign designed to encourage women in computing and technology careers, that takes a novel approach to recognize the value of women's technical contributions."

The rest of the Westminster quartet agreed. "Speaking directly with and hearing from colleagues who are facing  the same challenges we are is invaluable," Swanson added. "As technology specialists and educators, it is our duty to keep abreast of the important advances that are occurring, and nowhere is it occurring more rapidly than technology."

For more information about the TRETC conference or Audio Visual Services, please contact us at (724) 946-7188 or via email at avstaff@westminster.edu

Contributed by Savanna Adams, Assistant Public Relations Manager

Richard Culatta adresses the TRETC attendees.

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Erin Sullivan

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Brad Steward

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Katie Bittner