The Virginia Society for Technology in Education holds a special place in my heart. Back in 2009 when I was just a computer technician working at Longwood University I took a trip with my wife, who was an ITRT (Instructional Technology Resource Teacher) for Prince Edward County Schools at the time mostly to hang out at the Hotel Roanoke while she attended this “tech conference”. When we got there I was thumbing through the schedule while she got registered and realized I could gain a lot from the sessions there. As an IT person I was always curious *how* different services that we supported got used directly in the classroom from a pedagogical standpoint, and it was clear that K12 was miles ahead of higher education in terms of innovation. I told my wife when she got back from the registration booth that I was seriously thinking about registering as a walk-in (which was no small commitment, over $300 of our own money). Luckily she agreed to let me and I got to attend my first VSTE conference that would end up defining much of the work I’m doing today.
I decided if I wanted to play a bigger role in education technology I could start by presenting what I knew and where I saw things going at these conferences. Heck, maybe one day I could actually get a “real” job doing that sort of thing in higher education! The next year I registered and presented on mobile technology in the classroom. The iPhone was just starting to get some traction, but I was also keenly interested in the OpenMoko project and how open source software on mobile phones could be an interesting option (could we build our own phones in the future using FOSS like the desktops of today?). One thing was clear, with phones beginning to have cameras, GPS functionality, a variety of “apps”, and text messaging services doing interesting things for polling, I felt that schools that were putting blanket bans on all cell phones in the classroom were horribly misguided.
That year VSTE held their conference twice because they were switching from a Spring conference to a fall conference to better align with school budgets for professional development. Although my wife hadn’t been able to come with me for my first presentation she got funding to come along that fall and we decided to do a presentation together (I should add that to Longwood’s credit they consistently supported sending me to VSTE each year, even as funds started to get tighter). We both had gotten iPhones earlier that summer and I had an idea of doing a rapid fire presentation called “60 Apps in 60 Minutes”. It turned out to be such a popular session they had to move us at the last minute to a large ballroom area and over 100 people attended the session, by far the largest group I’ve ever presented to. I jailbroke my phone so we could share the screen fluidly up on the stage and tied it into a large audio soundsystem. I played the Ocarina, took panorama photos, navigated Google Earth, and we basically entertained the audience while inspiring them to start navigating the App Store for possibilities of engaging their students. It remains one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever given and it was really special to share the stage with my wife.
In 2011 my wife and I were back at VSTE again and the iPad had just come out earlier that year. Longwood had purchased one for me as I was becoming one of the lead support techs for mobile devices in the IT department. I pitched the idea that we should do our 60 Apps presentation for the iPad since the app ecosystem was so very different on this new tablet. Unfortunately the conference location didn’t have any large rooms to hold a crowd (and yet again it proved insanely popular) so people lined the walls, literally sitting in every open space on the floor to watch us talk about the apps. While there was a little overlap from the previous year’s presentation there were so many new apps that made use of the tablet’s larger space to make it really interesting.
In 2012 I didn’t present any formal sessions because in the meantime I had joined the VSTE Board of Directors and also joined the conference committee for VSTE so I had a lot more responsibility within the organization and a lot more formal duties at the conference. I was working under the “Marketing” area of the conference committee and had an idea for a separate sort of “unconference” within the formal VSTE conference where anyone could propose sessions and we could just have a lot of nice discussions without all the formality. We ended up calling it the Digital Sandbox and it was a lot of fun. It didn’t hurt that we had a great comfortable location in the bottom of the Hotel Roanoke close to food and drinks and with plenty of comfortable seating options and power outlets galore. It was a great place to hang out and I ended up spending most of my time facilitating the sessions in that space.
This year is a bit different because while I’m still on the Board I’m also the Marketing lead for the conference (we decided to break off the Digital Sandbox as it’s own committee section and Laura Briggs is rocking that this year). It’s my second year being responsible for the website design and mobile/web app. But I also decided I wanted to present again and at the last minute submitted a presentation to talk about Makerspaces and specifically how we built ours at UMW this year. Karen Richardson, the executive director of VSTE, floated the idea of building a 3D printer at the conference and since we had just put together a Printrbot Jr. a week or two prior to her asking I said we could absolutely do it so that’s on the schedule as well. I’ll facilitate building it on Sunday and then do a session in the Digital Sandbox to talk about it and 3D printing in general.
It’s been really exciting to be so involved with the organization over the past several years and see how it’s grown and evolved amidst budget cuts and general gloom and doom that persists in public education. VSTE has become a special community of people including folks like Tom Woodward, Tim Stahmer, Becky Fisher, Jen Orr, Chris O’neal, and so many more I interact with all the time and it constantly helps give me insight into what’s happening in K-12 and how that effects us in higher education. Jim Groom will have to share the honor of having “made me” alongside VSTE. I couldn’t be more excited to spend another year helping shape the zeitgeist of what’s happening with technology in education in the state of Virginia, which is in my mind one of the leaders in the country. And hey, if you’ve gotten this far in the post and you’re not a member you have no excuse, it costs absolutely nothing to join! Here’s to another great year.