FETC Conference Blog

Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC)

Conferences are necessary for growth. They allow us as practitioners and researchers to survey the current and emerging scenes of our profession. The experience also gives us an opportunity to make contacts from all over the world. As our networks grow so do our opportunities for transformation. Sometimes, we are lucky to find ourselves travelling with a group of peers whom we can engage in meaningful dialogue. Together we are given the time to critically assess our current professional landscapes which transform our professional lives when we return. More importantly, after reflecting on what we participate in at a conference, we can share and compare what we learned so that we can hope to benefit other professionals in our field.

On Wednesday, January 13th, I was lucky to attend the Future of Educational Technology conference with grad students, educators and start-ups from iHub Niagara and Brock University. FETC (The Future of Educational Technology) is held annually in Orlando, Florida. For those who have never heard of FETC: thousands of educational leaders, educators, researchers, companies and investors gather together to immerse themselves in the current and emerging EdTech scene.

The diverse group of attendees that I travelled with forced me to see things from different perspectives as opposed to the graduate student lens I have recently come accustomed to. I had the pleasure of travelling with Susan Kwiecien, co-founder of Cube for Teachers, and John DeLuca, President of Strategic Transitions, who both offered their insights and perspectives from what it takes to be an educational software start-up in today’s competitive market. Both John and Susan are former teachers and have recently made the jump to digitally supporting our students on a larger scale. I felt that John summed up this passion accurately when he said, “I loved teaching students in my class to write, but now through the WordQ software I am able to help thousands more.”

As I was zigzagging through the expo aisles of North America’s second largest EdTech conference, there was a feeling of something yet to come. Although there was not one singular innovative or groundbreaking technology that stood out at the conference, this overall experience has allowed me to make connections in my research and teaching practice that I would not have otherwise made. Below I share my day-by-day recap in which I discuss highlights, current trends, innovative practices and predictions concerning the exciting nexus of education and technology.

Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) Wednesday, Jan. 13th (Day) Orlando, Florida

I made it my mission to get an overall impression of the conference. After registering and orienting myself in the massive Orange County Convention Center , I hustled through the expo floor to survey the lay of the land in edTech, trying my hardest to resist the temptation to stop and chat with a new product vendor for too long.

Here were some of my first impressions:

Vendors, vendors, vendors - There are A LOT of vendors. Nothing has stuck out as particularly amazing yet. Most likely because I have only had time to skim the surface. There was no shortage of interactive display technologies on the expo floor which are a good tool to have in the class but nothing that is really new.

Poster presentations - After taking it all in, I had a chance to speak with some fine people at the poster presentations. The conference boasts hundreds of educators and academics sharing ideas in an old school science fair type set-up. The advantage to this is you can seek and destroy the topics that interest you. It can be in a one-to-one tutelage or a group discussion, depending on the popularity of the presenter. I was lucky to travel with three presenters allowing me to extend the conversation past the showroom floor. In various busses and taxis, they offered more insight about the cutting edge research that they have worked so hard to become experts on.

Highlights from the poster presentations I saw include:
Jason Ribeiro - Educational Technology Decision-Making: Strategic Acquisition. Twitter: @Jason_Ribeiro
Rochelle Tkach - A Method for App Selection. Twitter:@RochelleTkach
Kyle Tuck - The Device-Agnostic Classroom. Twitter: @kylejtuck
Elba Ocando - Use Technology to Enhance Students’ Foreign Language Learning. Twitter: @clubocando
Frances Snyder - Virtual Book Clubs. - Reading Across State Lines

After touring the poster presentations, I have come away with the feeling that people like what they know. Some educators are experimenting with mixing and matching technologies that fulfil different roles within one lesson. Although this is not groundbreaking or particularly new, it does show that currently there is a fluidity and ease with which some educators are using technology in the classroom. I was curious to see if these skills of switching quickly between multiple tools were transferrable to their students.

During one poster presentation, I learned that Mrs. Frances Snyder, combines edmodo and google hangouts to teach virtual literacy circles and book clubs. I was curious about if these skills of fluidity between tools were transferrable. Did this teacher instruct which tools to switch to and when in a more rigid traditional sense? Or did the students build a enough fluency that they were independent enough to decide when to switch technologies to fulfil their own learning needs? Mrs. Snyder assured me that at first she needed familiarize them with the environments within the tools but after a few classes she gave them freedom to play and collaborate with the students from the other class.

Current trends I noticed from Day 1 @ FETC:

Affordability: a large variance in price ranges of similar technologies that provide similar services.

Customization: Content curation websites and tools that allowed for content to be customized by either educators or learners were very popular

Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) Thursday, Jan. 14th (Day 2) Orlando, Florida

During my second day at the conference, I spent a lot of time exploring tools and technologies that differentiate and support foreign language learning. If you are teaching a second language and wish to get away from the dusty grammar lessons of the past--then this post is for you! However, a lot of the technologies and methodologies that were uncovered can support literacy for all learners when we call on our good friend, Mr. Universal Design.

As I explored the different posters and sessions, I've noticed some key similarities between the methods employed by educators from different teaching contexts, some teaching French, Spanish and of course English as a second language.

Session 1: Amped up: Digital Differentiation for the ESL Learner

Funnily enough, my first session of the day, Jennifer Boyle’s Amped up Digital Differentiation for the ESL learner began with a review of the TPACK. For some researchers, TPACK is a framework that helps educators make appropriate decisions about tool alignment in the classroom. I was particularly interested in how to find the sweet spot in the TPACK model for our learners of second languages. TPACK has been criticised for its overemphasis on the teachers’ role in the choice to use tech in the class. My question leaving the session: “Is there a better framework that puts more emphasis on the benefits of tech for the language learner?”

Jen Boyle was well informed and gave attendees a lot of additional readings about EdTech and ESL. In terms of differentiation, she gave us a tour of the Benchmark Universe which is like an LMS and eBook platform in one and can be (but is not primarily designed) for ELL instruction. The eBook platform allows the learner to annotate ebooks as well as connect to external content when needed.

As many teachers know, text to speech is very important for ELL as hearing the word often allows the reader to better understand its grammatical function within the sentence and also teaches the learner how to properly pronounce the word and read with expression. However, I felt the rate at which the vocabulary was read on Benchmark was too fast for some ESL learners and could not be adjusted to the learner’s preference.

Linking language differentiation to other contexts:

After try first session, I had a conversation with a Canadian FSL teacher who expressed a need for eBooks that cater to the middle ground. She lamented that there seems to be an abundance of content geared towards younger readers that are at beginner second language reading level however the content is too immature for the grade 4-6 range where their language skills are also still in the beginning stages. Unfortunately, this seems to be true for ESL learners as well.

Another trend I noticed was that language teachers love integrating video. This shows me that video in the ESL and foreign language classroom is not only powerful but essential. One teacher uses Simon's Cat videos to teach present continuous tense verbs and making in predictions in French. Jen Boyle similarly discuss the importance of video as she shared a tool called, edpuzzle that allows the educator to splice, annotate and enhance video content is edpuzzle. This is something I can't wait to use with my students when I return.

Hekademia - The Amazing Adaptive Learning loop

Jessica Bickell and Kimberly Loebach led an intriguing conversation about adaptive learning within their Hekademia environment. Adaptive learning seems to be the engine that drives Hekademia’s innovative eLearning solution. Their service boasts customisation for learning solutions that have been tried and tested in their founding Canadian partner, Virtual High School.

The infographic that they provided at FETC clearly explained how their software works adaptively. It also provided an excellent flowchart for how a teacher can bring adaptive learning into a one on one learning environment.

For more reading on how the adaptive learning model works within Hekademia:

Professional must haves:

Some tech tools that were not at the conference but mentioned:

Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) Friday, Jan. 15th (Day 3) Orlando, Florida

I made it a point to attend sessions that I have tried in the classroom but wanted to see if there were any new tips that I was not yet aware of. We mostly focussed on how telecommunications, filmmaking and smart content curation can differentiate for the learner and support 21st century skills.

Session 1: Making Learning Come Alive Through Global Connections

Today's first session was all about the different ways you can engage your class through different types of Skype lessons. You can engage them through virtual field trips, guest speakers and teachers, as well as a "Mystery Skype Game" where you try to guess the location of another class across the world. I was more interested in how the panel of educators integrated Skype into their lessons and what instructional practices did they use.

They provided us with some Skype tips on what to consider when trying this out to your class:

  1. Guest Speaker Links - Look for guest speakers who can support ongoing educational instruction in the class. One teacher talked about how she invited a publisher to speak to her class to show them the importance of revision in the writing process 
  2. Start with Skype - Open the lesson or unit with a guest speaker as a hook 
  3. Mute the mic - Turning off the mic when you are not talking helps minimize distractions for your students and the other Skype participants to hear you more clearly. 
  4. Plan your seating - Strategically place your students so that the ones who cannot be published can see the screen but are not on camera, allow for clear nightlines for all students by taking advantage of beanbag chairs and other flexible setting arrangements 
  5. Skype works when you work it - Most of the teachers seemed to agree that although these types of lessons take a little bit of extra preparation, Skype in the Classroom is better than a paper worksheet any day, so don’t go to hard on yourself if it doesn’t go according to plan.
Session 2: We are not a class, we are a production team!!

Roberta Ferraz inspires her high school students to do some pretty amazing things through Media Lab at ABA private school in Recife, Brazil. She teaches ELL learners how to make short films in a very tight 10-session time line. Most of her students are teenagers so the content seems to focus on character education within the context of teenagers’ lives and is aptly named +teenaid. Whatever the age or content, Roberta and her students are a reminder that 21st century skills are not only possible but essential with the English Language learners.

Roberta and Medialab have been so successful with +teenaid over the last four years she has seen her program grow in both enrolment and scope. She recalled her humble beginnings with just a few students and an old video camera in 2012. Today, the program has now been transformed into a “mean green screen teen moviemaking machine” (I couldn’t resist) where students celebrate their accomplishments at an awards gala in an iMax cinema in downtown Recife.

Roberta Ferraz uses the filmmaking process to support 21st century skills while scaffolding the needs of English Language Learners in a hands-on moviemaking experience. During the session we watched video clips of her passionately and unabashedly giving line readings while annotating their scripts so that the students who were acting in the short films would get the intonation of the lines right. Here is proof that as an ELL teacher you need to get over the rules of an art form and reinvent the wheel so you can reduce the cognitive load for the students. They are speaking a second language after all!

I spent a little while talking to Roberta after her session about why she left out certain steps of the filmmaking process but focussed on others and her answers were mostly due to the very tight time restraints. She said that after successfully completing teenaid+ with Medialab 4 years in a row, she has learned to revise the lessons so that she can maximize collaboration and student learning. The energy and passion this woman brings to educating teenagers is essential to making this seemingly impossible feat come to life on the big screen. Watching the students get excited as they received rewards and hugged family members at their mini-film festival is a touching reminder that foreign language learning can be something worth getting excited about.

Lunch break: Meet the Learning Birds!

Lunch with Learning Bird academic gurus Roxanne Desforges and Joelle Chemali provided us with a sneak peek into how this Canadian-based website works with teachers to provide the best possible digital educational content for our students. Teachers are able to create and upload digital content that allows other teachers to download and use in their classroom. Teachers can create accounts, browse by topic or aligned curriculum standards and conveniently save them to playlists for late use. The advantages to learning bird is that content is well-organized without the hassles of youtube and is created with learners in mind.

The other advantage is that Learning Bird is willing to compensate teachers who are exceptionally talented at creating digital content. If you are looking to submit some amazing learning videos to learning bird you can peruse the existing content to find gaps you are interested in teaching or watch some samples that you feel you can improve upon. It does require a little technical skill and both Joelle and Roxanne emphasised the importance of high quality sound.

There are some excellent Learning Bird celebrity content providers who apply the learning to real world instances, such as the man who teaches math with his chicken farm. Learning Bird is working on a way to move up few levels on Bloom's taxonomy by adding appropriately timed assessment pieces during the videos to gage the students learning. Roxanne and Joelle discussed how this student input might be able to help learning bird personalise the experience and suggest content to support further learning. I am excited and interested to continue my journey with learning bird as either a content provider or definitely use this amazing website in the classroom.

Schoology: Just another LMS?

I decided to approach the impressive black Schoology pagoda in the middle of the conference floor. I have read a bit about Schoology in the best apps of 2015 but I haven’t had a chance to actually see it in action. Having a representative from the company was nice because I could ask questions about how it might fulfil my particular learners needs in the classroom.

Currently with my online students I am not using an LMS but a google doc that we call an “agenda” to write reminders and link assignments. I am currently on the look out for a streamlined approach to encourage student collaboration and organise both myself and my students. The agenda is working well but is very much stuck in the modification level of the SAMR Model of edtech integration. I’m thinking of moving my students to an LMS to save time and organise ourselves a little better while supporting more student centred learning.

The pros:

Schoology is free - Teachers and students can use 80% of Schoology’s services to assign, promote collaboration and track student’s progress. The enterprise model is about $8.00 per student which includes professional development, training and deployment at a whole school level.

Schoology’s interface is user-friendly - it looks very user friendly and is modelled after social media so that students and educators who use social media

The cons:

Schoology and content integration - The LTI model and interface of content integration looks a little clunky and difficult to use.

Final thoughts and predictions from FETC 2016...

On our last night together we were able to sit around our hotel and record a podcast of what how we would have summed up our learning from the conference. A lot of us agreed that although there was nothing particularly groundbreaking in terms of technological innovation the conference allowed us to see gaps in current trends as well as predict what we may see more of in the future.

For our final thoughts and predictions for the future of edTech: Listen to our podcast here…

Although I don’t speak for the entire group, one thing I know we need more of is a union between research development and practice to inform future trends and benefit the most learners possible. I am grateful that I was able to participate in this conference so I can share with my colleagues in both research in teaching what is happening in the edTech world and hopefully work together to further excavate a particular need that I would have never thought of otherwise.

For more learning from FETC '16 check out my colleagues blogs below:





  1. There are more and more new tools, but I need to have the ability to think about which can really benefit my students and reach the teaching goals. Thanks for your sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading! :) We felt the same way. Read my colleagues work. They are looking at ways to assess which apps are actually beneficial for learning. http://www.integratingedutech.ca/category/integrating-edutech/