If you are a tech director and were looking for a place where everyone knows your name, CoSN18 in Washington, DC, was that place. It was a gathering of more than 1,000 chief technology officers (CTOs), and the theme was Designing Learning in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
This was my first time attending a COSN conference. So not only did I look like a CoSN conference newbie but my badge ribbon “First Timer” gave me away. However, I promise it won’t be my last! How often do edtech leaders have the opportunity to spend four days sharing and discussing the great work going on in our districts? This conference was about showcasing how our districts envision, develop, and implement technology initiatives that support our students and educators.
My eight favorite things about CoSN 2018
1. The conference app. Who doesn’t love a good app? The CoSN conference app was straightforward to navigate and had a visually appealing interface. Everywhere you looked, CTOs were walking around with their eyes on their phones, looking for the session room locations and lunch schedules. My favorite features of the app were the Social Media, What’s on Next, and Activity Feeds options.
2. Innovation Central. Unlike other exhibit halls with large spaces, walls, and furniture, the kiosk-style format at CoSN18 provided an informal and casual layout that the attendees seemed to enjoy. As it was located in the main ballroom, CTOs had the opportunity to meet with the vendors before and after lunch or after spotlight sessions.
3. The Spotlight Feature sessions. Centered in the main ballroom, these sessions included authors such as Tom Vander Ark, Ted Dintersmith, and Neil Pasricha, who focused on the great work that lies ahead of us as edtech leaders. Milton Chen from Edutopia highlighted how national parks could be our best outdoor classrooms. The Deep Learning (machines) + Deeper Learning (humans) session by Charles Fadel talked about the what and whys of exponential learning for our students. Future Ready Schools continues to be the focus as Thomas Murray talked about student-centered learning.
4. How the sessions were categorized. The general sessions were broken up by tracks focusing on district type: international, large districts, and small districts. I found these tracks invaluable as I built my schedule. I attended sessions where I had rich discussions and shared information with colleagues who had similar challenges and opportunities. While these tracks identified district types, there were a few common themes throughout the conference, including connectivity, data security, and student privacy.
5. The events. In addition to the extensive general and spotlight sessions, there were other opportunities. I had the honor to attend the CoSN State Leaders Day on Sunday. I, along with my fellow Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrators board members, collaborated with other state CoSN affiliate leaders in roundtable discussions. We focused on relevant topics such as engaging rural districts, advocacy, increasing CoSN affiliate memberships, and partnerships with local businesses. We all left the event energized with resources and strategies to bring back to our states and districts.
6. Unconferencing. This increasingly popular format offers educators the opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate around topics of educational interest. How cool was it for CoSN18 to take this format and set up a CoSN Camp? Campfire settings around the main ballroom floor were complete with s’mores, lanterns, and fireside seating. Topics included Making Classroom Materials Accessible for All Students, Leading Mindfully, and Global Lessons from the Interconnected World of Edtech. Featured speakers such as Ted Dintersmith, Tom Vander Ark, and Darryl Adams spent time at the CoSN Camp, talking with attendees about innovation and the future of education.
7. The ability to laugh at ourselves. During FailFest 2018, three brave technology directors (who will not be identified to protect their reputations) stood up in front of their colleagues and humbly talked about a major fail in their district. The audience voted on the biggest failure by shouting and blowing noisemakers. We could all relate to their experiences and look forward to being crowned FailFest Champion in 2019.
8. The consistent focus on education for technology leaders. We are all in the edtech business because we believe in the development of teacher leaders and our students’ challenge to exceed even their highest expectations. CoSN exemplifies and supports these beliefs through two programs: the NextGen Leaders program, which recognizes and mentors up-and-coming edtech leaders who are leveraging technology to create and grow engaging learning environments; and the Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program, in which CoSN supported the high standards outlined in the K-12 Frameworks of Essential Skills for K-12 CTOs by providing certification training and onsite testing at the event. New CETLs were honored at breakfast and recognized at the opening plenary.
If you missed CoSN18, fear not! You’ll have to go to CoSN19 in Portland, Oregon, on April 1-4, 2019. See you there!