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MEC 2010: Celebrating 30 Years of Sharing Learning Technology Experience and Expertise
by Theo Lynn, Neil Bruton and Kieran Linehan


This year was the 30th anniversary of the Microcomputers in Education (MEC) conference, organised by Arizona State University (ASU). Aimed at educators, administrators, technology coordinators and buyers in America’s Southwest, MEC2010 provided a rich and diverse learning experience to 1,200+ delegates over three days through workshops, hands-on presentations, and trade exhibits on learning technologies. ASU’s Tempe campus provided an idyllic backdrop with near-perfect climate and facilities.

Angel Jannasch-Pennell, Steve Dembo (Discovery Education) and Sam DiGangi

Figure 1: Angel Jannasch-Pennell, Steve Dembo (Discovery Education) and Sam DiGangi

The conference was opened by Steve Dembo from Discovery Education who excited the audience with a whirlwind tour of his career and why learning technology excites him (while avoiding a sales pitch for Discovery Education!).  Steve highlighted some anecdotal observations on the differences between technology usage and needs and the differences between educators and learners. Specifically, a new understanding of appropriate data privacy (which may indeed be less rigid) and differentiating involvement vs. engagement may be key for understanding how people will learn in the future. Steve finished his presentation with a walk through of some exciting new real-time broadcasting (ustream, qik and livestream); location-aware (foursquare and almost.at); and augmented reality applications (Mindspace Solutions’s Imaginality). The key take away message was that if digital immigrant educators really want to reach digital natives, then they will have to change and to paraphrase a certain sports company, Just do it! The presentation materials are available on the MEC website.

The remainder of the conference was organised in to four tracks:

  1. Learning and Technology - all aspects of technology use in the learning environment.
  1. Current Issues, Emerging Trends and Solutions
  1. Leadership and Accountability - the role of technology in school improvement including leadership training, technology infrastructure, curriculum guidelines, and equity issues.
  1. Multimedia to Enhance Learning - innovative hardware, software, and technological strategies to enhance learning in today’s world.

With nearly 130 presentations starting from 8am and finishing at 5pm, there were on average 4 presentations that one could attend at any given time. Breakfast networking events, workshops and mixers were also organised around presentations. Some of the sell-out sessions included Finding open content, Using Twitter and Creating content using Blender. Unfortunately, a by-product of so many sessions is that many interesting speakers presented to small audiences. 

Figure 2: Guy Mullins and Laura Brewer 'mixing' with Neil Bruton (DCU LINK) and Kieran Linehan (DCU LINK)

Figure 2: Guy Mullins and Laura Brewer 'mixing' with Neil Bruton (DCU LINK) and Kieran Linehan (DCU LINK)

 

The scope and scale of the sessions made it nearly impossible to report on the scope of the event in full; however areas worthy of mention include robotics and social gaming.  Arizona’s education system has benefitted from a commitment in schools to developing robotics and mechatronics projects. Often these are based on engagement in regional and national competitions such as FIRST.  Teachers and students at MEC2010 highlighted how these competitions brought fun into education but also emphasised the diverse range of learning benefits, including management skills, mechanical skills and interpersonal skills as well as improvements overall education attainment and progression. Yet again, there was an opportunity to hear about the Carl Hayden High School ROV team, who triumphed over MIT in the National Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Championships – an inspirational story for all educators. 

Robobull

Figure 3: Robobull

There were several presentations on social gaming, social media and indeed virtual worlds and other multi-user virtual environments. The extent of users playing games on Facebook and other social networks is easy to underestimate; over 80 million people play Farmville and nearly 30 million play Café World (www.appdata.com, 2010). With the right learning scaffolds and narratives around the existing game constructs, these games can be used to teach and learn multiple concepts such as principles of supply and demand, arithmetic, teambuilding, decision-making etc. The MEC organisers brought these two themes together in ‘mixer‘ to allow us to interact with researchers and companies developing educational games and robotics to teach topics from spelling to molecular biology.

Learning through playing games

Figure 4: Learning through playing games

As well as the main body of presentations, there were a number of featured presenters including Carl Bereiter (Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and Co-founder of the Institute for Knowledge Innovation & Technology (IKIT)),  Dr. Helen Padgett (President, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)) and Betsy Fera (Director of Professional Advancement, University Public Schools). Professor Bereiter’s presentation was an interview-style discussion on a variety of educational technology topics. Dr. Padgett presented on educational technology standards for the digital-age and Ms. Fera on the Teacher Advancement Program TAP for teacher and student achievement.

 

Dr. Carl Bereiter being interviewed at MEC2010

 Figure 5: Dr. Carl Bereiter being interviewed at MEC2010

MEC2010 is a great way to get a snapshot of what’s happening from a technology perspective in the US. But as with all such events, we are influenced most by the people we meet. Significant effort was invested into contextualising MEC over thirty years with posters, presentations and events. This not only provided interesting insights in to the evolution of learning technology but also provided a unique backdrop for the conference: how many of our students even know what a ‘microcomputer’ is! MEC has a diverse audience with wide-ranging interests and this combined with a relatively laidback atmosphere provides a perfect setting for connecting, contributing and learning.

The MEC2010 website is at http://mec.asu.edu. There is also an extensive twitterfeed - #mec2010.

Theo Lynn
Neil Bruton
Kieran Linehan
Learning, Innovation and Knowledge Research Centre, Dublin City University
theo.lynn@dcu.ie

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