Where is the Computer Science at Education Technology Conferences?

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Where is the Computer Science at Education Technology Conferences?

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I’ve been attending educational technology (EdTech) conferences for years now. Some of them are really big like ISTE, TCEA and FETC. Some are smaller like the New Hampshire (NHSTE) Christa McAuliffe conference. There are a lot of great things at these events. There are large numbers of sessions on using technology in education. There are many many teachers doing innovative things and sharing what they know. The problem for me and for a lot of computer science teachers is that there just isn’t that much for them.

There are usually some computer science sessions at the large conferences (ISTE, TCEA and FETC) but not a lot of them. ISTE and TCEA both have special interest groups who have meetings but the smaller conferences seldom have large group meetings. At TCEA last week the TA/CT SIG meeting had about 50 people which the conference as a whole had over 12,000 attendees. This seems like a small percentage to me. And there was a small group in a session I saw part of on using Dr Seuss  books in teaching java.  We had about 70 in a session we did on XNA and the XNA curriculum that we have out now. SO Computer Science is still alive at TCEA but I talk to CS teachers in Florida and CS seems dead to them at FETC. I hear talk that there will be 10 or fewer CS sessions at ISTE this year. Could that be true? Scary that this is even a remote possibility.

But to me it is even more of a problem that small regional conferences don’t have much in the way of real CS sessions. After all most teachers do not have the funds to attend the very large conferences.

On one hand this is all a function of technology integration becoming a much bigger thing across the curriculum. That’s clearly a positive thing in my opinion. But at the same time this should be opening more doors to teaching the science behind the technology and that isn’t happening. That is where the problem is. I think that the people who run these conferences need to do more to create some outreach to bring CS teachers back – as presenters as well as attendees. Sure you can say that CS teachers need to be more pro-active about submitting to conferences and presenting and there is some truth to that. But if they don’t feel welcome, if they don’t feel like their sessions will be accepted they are not going to submit.

For computer science teachers there are starting to be some alternative venues for professional development and presentations. There is SIGCSE (see CSTA blog for a post on K12 day and events at SIGCSE) and there is the CS & IT Symposium which is amazing. And CSTA is developing local CSTA chapters and they are running some wonderful local events. These separate events may be the best future for professional development for computer science teachers in the near term. But I think that as a computer science education community we need to get back into the “main stream” ed tech conferences. We need to reach out to the technology integration people and help them to see that they need to find ways to bring more computer science education into the schools. I’m not sure how to make that happen but I think we as a community need to find a way. Or several ways.

What do you think? Is creating more separate events the way or should be be worming our way back into edtech conferences? Am I overstating the problem?

  • It's generous of you to think that you see this because of more technology integration across the curriculum. In my curmudgeonly opinion, the real reason is computer science teachers tend to already use and understand technology at a level where attending a conference and seeing our colleagues who know far less being sold crap products with flashy graphics and shoddy pedagogy is just plain disheartening. In my opinion most of "ed tech" is pure opportunism on the part of publishers, gizmo makers, and consultants. Why should we compete for people's attention with salesmen? Serious conferences about education do not look like they're taking place inside a Best Buy. So the folks who are more interested in shopping than curriculum and instruction have a place to go, and I'd say it's a credit to our field that you don't see a lot of CS teachers there.

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