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What We Learned At HI-TEC

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) had a large presence at the recent High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. CTC grant partners disseminated best practices and shared resources through two pre-conference workshops (“Big Data Visualization and Analytics” and “New, Free, Virtual Labs in IT/Security”) and four breakout sessions (“Using Business Feedback to Align Curriculum and Stay on the Cutting Edge,” “Take the BAIT: Completing a Bachelor’s IT Degree at Your Community College,” “Integrating Data Visualization and Communication Tools in the Curriculum,” and “Teaching the Internet of Things Just Became Far More Interesting”). You can find the four breakout presentations here. Across these six events, close to 150 seats were filled. And that’s not even counting the people who stopped by our CTC exhibit hall booth to ask questions and collect material.

Below are a few highlights of what we learned at HI-TEC, both at our own CTC-led sessions as well as others we were able to attend:

  • One program reported success with a number of STEM camps that focused on under-served populations and, as expected, followed a familiar model to engage high school-age attendees, employ hands-on activities to get students out of their chairs, feed attendees lunch, use “student peers” (i.e. female community college students to better connect with female high schoolers, bilingual presenters to engage Latino high schoolers) to make keynotes and mentor attendees, use personal invitations (this program leveraged high school ESL teachers who had existing relationships with students) to attract attendees rather than impersonal mass mailings, provide an activity or presentation for parents to get them involved, and include a campus tour to further connect attendees with your school and program. These strategies work.
  • A small NSF-funded research project reported that contrary to popular knowledge, content and presentation are more important than frequency when it comes to social media engagement.   If you want to use Facebook or Twitter (the two most commonly used platforms) to market your program, keep in mind you also need to monitor social media analytics to adjust the messaging.
  • provides a sleek alternative to clunky asynchronous LMS message boards or email strings. This cloud-based collaboration messaging tool – accessible on smartphones – offers a free version suitable for classroom use. The presenter (CTC’s Bruce Caraway from Lone Star College) uses Slack in the classroom and notes that it’s promoted a sort of spontaneous conversation among students he rarely sees in LMS “drive by posts.” As for the format, what Slack calls “teams” are what he uses to separate the classes; similarly, Slack “members” are students and Slack “channels” are specific topics.
  • One presenter (CTC’s Rajiv Malkan from Lone Star College) cited a McKinsey survey: 60% of employers believe new graduates are not adequately prepared for the world of work and 40% claim that applicants lack of skills is the main reason entry-level jobs remain vacant. Teach students the skills that employers want. One way to do this is to employ the CTC’s Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) model.
  • “Hackathons” encourage problem solving, and 89% of attendees that participate in Major League Hacking events believe they’re gaining skills they’re not getting in the classroom. Specifically, hackatons use project-based learning, offer professional mentoring by event leaders, foster peer instruction, and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. Hackathon leaders believe these elements, all, mirror real-world careers. If you’re interested in hackathons, don’t start one from scratch – join an existing hackathon community.
  • To encourage classroom punctuality and better prepare students for the work force, one program’s 8:00am class gives quizzes at 8:03am. That same program also limits specific step-by-step directions in lab assignments to encourage criticial thinking.
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