Alyssa Vigil is the Community Program Manager at Edmodo. She’s a passionate amplifier of the teacher voice in EdTech and motivated to improve global access to education by connecting educators, online and off.
In late January, educators from all over the country, and even the globe, met at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. A few of us from Edmodo were there, with the goal of taking stock of the latest Edtech innovations. We’ve been involved in Edtech since 2008 and we’re both proud and humbled to have had a hand in shaping it.
While there’s plenty of good news and fun things to report on (stay tuned for some awesome product updates!), I want to talk about the real impact of meeting in person with the influential folks behind the innovations. I want to talk about the importance of being there.
At a glance, the expo floor feels commercialized: giant banners dangle from a ceiling as expansive as an airplane hanger, screens flash buzzwords and juicy promises, recorded announcements of the next chance to be amazed at the latest new trend.
As a true-blue introvert out of her element, I had to do what I do best: seek the solace of one-to-one conversations. To my most pleasant surprise, this proved to be a great way to get so much out of the expo floor. Stopping to talk– and listen– to these folks is decidedly different than visiting their website.
When I visit a website, I learn about a tool. I do not create a personal connection.
Learning about a tool from the people who built it connects me to their motivations and the purpose of the tools they built. The people I spoke with are truly allies in improving education outcomes.
I help manage Edmodo’s advocate community. I believe in the power of online communities to connect folks from all corners of the Earth, and to scale the reach of conversation beyond anything imaginable before we had the Internet.
That said, there’s simply no substitute for meeting face-to-face. When we interact with people online, we take a great many interactions for granted. Not just tone, but body language and facial expressions. The time we spend with one another, while in person, is relationship shorthand. Because we can connect in so many ways when meeting in-person, coming together with other educators makes for fast friends!
Like so many of us that visited FETC for the week, I have piles of responsibilities in addition to my job, and planning to take a week and travel across the country is no easy task. That said, having gone and seen that my family survived (and even thrived!) in my absence, I know that the trip was absolutely worth the effort. First, it must be noted that Orlando is a fabulous host; it goes without saying that Florida in January can NOT be beat!
Creature comforts aside, there’s no substitute for the potential to learn from others of different perspectives in another environment. For example, a teacher living in the Bay Area may have a library of tried and true lessons plans, but work with a student population that experiences chronic absenteeism. It’s an invaluable opportunity for a teacher in this situation to see a new perspective and learn from educators that face a similar challenge, but of entirely different causes– like Florida hurricanes! The challenges these teachers have in common — both of them responsible for meeting school or district standards despite forces outside their control– are illuminated by their different approaches to the same issue. Diverse landscapes breed diverse tools and tactics. Getting out of our location and into someone else’s turf opens us up to how other people in our field tackle similar problems.
Even in the age of hyper-connectivity, there’s still a value to meeting in person that cannot be met online. It’s more important now than ever to make the effort, and the case, for being there.