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9 Things We Learned at Our Fall Conferences

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) attended several conferences this fall to make presentations and sit on panels and roundtables; to disseminate information about our grant work at exhibit hall booths, to recruit new member schools to our Convergence College Network (CCN) community of practice, and – when time permits – to attend breakout sessions to learn best practices from others.  In the span of just 16 days, we flew to Washington DC for the ATE Principal Investigators conference, spent a couple of days in downtown Dallas for the National Career Pathways Network conference, then visited Phoenix for the STEMtech conference.

Here are some of the more interesting nuggets…

  1. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to find the right filament for his light bulb invention.  Perseverance pays off.
  2. Consider putting yourself in the shoes of an employer looking to hire new workers.  If he or she went to your school’s website or called your school’s main number and made a request for a certain kind of IT graduate, would they find the help they’re looking for?  Would the website take them to the right page?  Would the person answering the phone connect them to the right department?  Are you doing enough to help employers?
  3. The word “can’t” often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Ban it from the classroom.
  4. The practice of “backchanneling” allows for an informal, secondary commentary channel to exist during a formal presentation, typically in the form of some kind of social media-style feed (like Edmodo) projected on a wall behind the presenter.  Backchanneling provides notes and/or minutes on the talk for either the presenter or the audience, encourages discussion and feedback, allows a way for introverted people to voice questions or comments, and fosters peer learning by sharing different perspectives and opinions.  But it’s important to stress the backchannel ground rules in advance: no snarky comments, just kind and constructive feedback.
  5. Adding game content to your classroom assignments can improve student engagement.  One schools found that the game (which featured, in a trendy nod to pop culture, a zombie apocalypse) led to fewer late homework assignments, better retention of the curriculum, stronger bonds among classmates, and higher degree of self-organization.  For more information, that school recommends James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us.
  6. To add animation to your PowerPoint-style slides, consider using
  7. Amara may be a better, easier-to-use subtitle editor for instruction videos than Camtasia.
  8. Adding a writing element to STEM classes can not only improve student writing skills, but also strengthen student understanding of STEM concepts and contexts.  To write is to understand, after all.  One school created special “writing-intensive” sections to select STEM classes.  Those students were given both informal (one-minute essays) and formal writing assignments (longer, more traditional papers) in addition to the usual STEM math and science work.  Some of the paper topics: “describe to a friend how to do something you learned today,” “what was hard today and why?,” “explain the differences between these two things.”  At the end, students were assigned “reflection” papers with some variation of “how was the class?” and “did your thinking change?”
  9. If you host STEM summer camps for middle school and high school students, ask them to make a PowerPoint to share their camp experiences with the class.  A few years ago, you may have had to show students how to make a PowerPoint, but not anymore.  Kids already know.


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