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FETC and TCEA 2023: EdTech Must-Knows and Must-Try Tools

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

I spent the last two weeks of January at the FETC and TCEA EdTech conferences. It can be challenging to keep up with the fast-paced EdTech world, so I have summarized my key takeaways (and of course new tools and fun gadgets) from both conferences for you.


First of all, the energy at both conferences felt significantly higher than last year. Last year, it seemed many educators (including myself) were still in a pandemic slump. This year, I could feel education being reinvigorated! It was a breath of fresh air and gave me a renewed sense of purpose in my daily work. I can finally see through the fog that the pandemic created, and it is clear that education will be changed for the better. This was my favorite takeaway from both events, together with the new connections made with like-minded educators.

Lindy in the FETC exhibit hall. "For every student, every day."
The Pear Deck booth in the FETC exhibit hall.

EdTech Must-Knows

These EdTech must-knows were the hot topics that were the focus of conference sessions, conversations, and exhibit halls.


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) dominated the conversation at both conferences. This shouldn't be much of a surprise. With the November 2022 release of ChatGPT, schools are having to respond quickly to the AI revolution. Is it fair to say that COVID-induced anxiety in schools has been replaced by anxiety around the effects of ChatGPT? Or maybe ChatGPT hasn’t replaced COVID-panic, but added another level of panic? Regardless, ChatGPT seems to have created a bit of fear of the unknown in both K–12 and higher education.


I have been exploring the use of AI for a while. Before ChatGPT was released, I purchased a subscription to Quickwrite. I was interested in how it could save me time by crafting emails and providing writing inspiration. Quickwrite was in beta and was a paid service. Therefore, when ChapGPT was released as a free AI that does more than write (produces code, responds to dialog, etc.), everyone seemed to jump on the AI bandwagon. Of course this included students too!


This has left educators with many questions. Some questions I heard at both conferences:

  • Is using AI cheating?

  • Is using AI to assist the writing process acceptable?

  • Where is the line of intellectual copyright?

  • Is using AI plagiarism?

  • How is this going to affect my curriculum?

This is a normal response. New technologies are always met with skepticism and a fear of the unknown. It is human nature. A few historical examples:

  • Socrates argued against writing. He felt face-to-face communication was the only way knowledge could be transmitted from one person to another, and that writing would prompt forgetfulness. His student, Plato, agreed, famously stating (in writing!), “Writing is a step backward for truth.”

  • When the first printing press was released, some thought that the printed word would never replace the handwritten word.

  • There was also major pushback to printed books in general. The arguments against books ranged from promoting barbarism to ignorance.

  • When Alexander Graham Bell debuted the telephone, there was a feeling that the new technology would empty concert halls.

Remember when spell check was first released? There was a feeling from educators that using spell check was cheating. There was concern that relying on spell check would create students who didn’t know how to spell on their own. Now, I, for one, couldn’t imagine not having spell check, and educators have found that the immediate feedback spell check provides students actually creates better spellers! What was once considered cheating is now a powerful tool to help the learning process. What was once an unknown tool is now a seamless part of daily life.


Guess what? According to Techopedia, the creation of spell checkers was under the umbrella of artificial intelligence research. In fact, many spelling and grammar checkers today use AI to further enhance the functionality. Grammarly is an example. The “Smart Compose” word prediction feature in Google Docs and Gmail wouldn't be considered a full AI but uses machine learning. (Machine learning is one method for creating AI).


Spell check isn’t the only AI-based tool that you have most likely been using in your classroom already. Below are a few examples of forms of AI in current EdTech tools.


If you are a Google for Education user:

  • Google Form predictions: If you use Google Forms, you may have noticed it predicts what type of question you are asking and even what potential answers you may want for that question. For example, if I start typing, “What is your first name,” Forms automatically changes the question type to a short answer question. This is powered by machine learning and has been around since at least 2018.

  • Google practice sets: Last year, Google for Education announced practice sets as an adaptive learning solution. (Tip: if you see “adaptive learning,” that technology is most likely powered by AI in some form).

  • Google Read Along: Powered by AI, young readers are provided immediate corrections and feedback on word pronunciation and more.

If you are a Microsoft 365 Education user:

  • Microsoft Reading Progress: Built into Microsoft Teams, Reading Progress helps students with reading fluency and tracks data for teachers.

  • Microsoft Speaker Coach: Speaker Coach evaluates pacing, pitch, and more to provide immediate public speaking feedback.

Other examples of AI in education:

  • ChatBots: Perhaps you have used the chat feature on a website to get assistance with a tool you use in your classroom. Most likely that chat was powered by an AI-powered ChatBot. In fact, schools are beginning to use ChatBots themselves to minimize the number of calls and inquiries and free up staff time.

  • Osmo: Yes, that fun iPad game that kids love uses AI.

  • ALEKS or the like: Does your school use an adaptive learning tool, such as ALEKS? You guessed it. These platforms use AI to provide immediate, personalized tasks and feedback to students and teachers.

  • Hāpara Filter: Does your school use an AI-powered filter, such as Hāpara Filter? If not, this is the new generation of content filter that your school should seriously consider.

We have to think of AI technologies in the same way we now think of spell check and these other EdTech tools: a powerful tool to aid the learning process.


Think of all the powerful learning tools that were once met with skepticism from educators . . . the calculator, the computer, the internet, and the eraser. Yes, when erasers were first added to pencils, many teachers felt it would encourage students to be careless. There is currently a similar sentiment towards AI. For example, there is concern among educators that if students use AI to assist the writing process, they will never learn how to write themselves. What if, instead, we taught students how to use AI to make their writing even better? What if AI could assist when we hit writer’s block? Or help students who aren’t linear thinkers better organize their writing? ELA teachers will still be teaching writing in five, ten, and twenty years, but I have no doubt that AI will change how writing is taught.


What if we viewed ChatGPT as a free personal tutor for every student? It certainly is a form of personal tutor! Some may argue that ChatGPT sometimes gives wrong answers. I know as a teacher I have given wrong answers. As a learner, I know I have received wrong information from teachers and tutors alike. This prompts conversations among students about human error, AI error, and the importance of fact checking everything and everyone–a critical skill in today’s internet-based world. Also, AI is built to act like humans. What is more human than learning from your mistakes? The more people use AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, the more accurate these AIs will become.


I can’t write about AI in education without discussing equity. What does AI have to do with equity? Everything when it comes to the future world your students will live and work in. The new digital divide may very well become those who leverage AI vs those who do not leverage AI. What if the deciding factor of who is on which side of the divide comes down to access? Students with means are going to have access to AI-based technologies outside of school. What if the only access a student has to AI-based technologies is at school? If your school is blocking access to AI-based technologies, you have now removed the possibility of a personal tutor for certain students (but not all students!). You have now removed the ability of certain students to use AI to help create a new invention. You have now removed the ability of certain students to learn how to use AI to save time and spend more time on critical thinking.


AI is the current innovation wave, and there is no doubt that it will change education at its core.


The current solution for most schools is to block access to tools such as ChatGPT. If the equity argument isn’t enough for your school to reconsider the decision to block AI-based technologies, I will present one more argument for the affirmative:


ChatGPT is only the tip of the iceberg. Your school can only play whack-a-mole for so long.

This article from the New York Times, “Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Schools. Teach With It.” explains why blocking won’t work. AI-powered tools will become more and more pervasive. In fact, OpenAI (the company that created ChatGPT) has announced the upcoming release of GPT-4; it is rumored that GPT-4 will be a significant advance that will prompt even more innovations in AI-based technologies. These technologies will soon affect every facet of life. We can’t pretend that schools are silos from the outside world. If students are using these technologies in their life outside of school, the technology must be embraced inside the walls of the classroom.


When it comes to AI, how can you and your school move from a block mindset to an embrace mindset?


The exhibit halls at both FETC and TCEA were filled with new AI-based EdTech tools. Hopefully I have prompted you to dip your toes into the AI in education pool, and if so, here are a few more AI-based education tools to explore:

  • Merlyn Mind: Using AI to save teachers time is the motto of Merlyn Mind, who develops AI-powered digital assistants. I have a Symphony Classroom and use it to verbally search my Google Drive, open websites, set timers, and more.

  • Conker from Mote: One of my favorite EdTech tools, Mote, recently released the beta version of a new AI-based formative assessment tool, Conker.

  • New from Microsoft Education - Microsoft is a leader in AI in education. Check out some of their current and upcoming adaptive learning tools.

  • Prof Jim - I met the founder of this company at FETC. The product isn’t officially released yet, but looks promising!

eSports

It was hard to miss the topic of eSports at both conferences.


FETC had an eSports theater in the exhibit hall, and an hour of roundtable discussions focused entirely on eSports. I was able to lead a roundtable on “Using Minecraft Education for eSports.” Kudos to Jen Womble and the FETC conference committee for bringing eSports front and center!


At TCEA, CDW had an eSports lounge in the exhibit hall where you could experience different games, and there were many eSports-themed sessions.


A major theme was how eSports is helping schools reach and engage a different demographic of student. If your school has yet to embrace eSports, it is coming sooner rather than later. If you are wondering what eSports is or how to get started, reach out to me. I know people who know people!


Minecraft parrot at TCEA eSports workshop
The winner of the coveted Minecraft parrot at my TCEA eSports workshop!

Most eSports games require a gaming-quality computer. I had several conversations with educators about how to fund eSports programs and what device options are out there. I shared the zSpace Inspire as a great solution for eSports. The Inspire has the specs needed for eSports while being portable (a laptop) and also providing a 3D experience for classroom use. If your school has a cart of Inspires, the devices can be used for eSports, 3D zSpace apps, running programs such as CAD, and more. The Inspire gives your school a lot of bang for your buck.


Minecraft Education

The Minecraft team announced a new name and logo right before FETC. Minecraft: Education Edition is now Minecraft Education!

New Minecraft Education logo.

I had a great time connecting with others about the power of Minecraft Education, both as an instructional tool and for eSports. I am more resolute than ever in my mission to bring Minecraft Education to as many educators as possible. It really is a powerful learning tool to reach our gen Z and Alpha learners.


I led a three-hour hands-on workshop at TCEA on “Using Minecraft Education for eSports.” We were lucky to have Mr. Minecraft Education himself, Stephen Reid, crash the workshop! Stephen created the Minecraft Education eSports worlds. Participants were able to participate in a build battle just like students would in an actual eSports competition.


Stephen Reid and Lindy Hockenbary at TCEA.
Stephen Reid and I at my Minecraft Education workshop at TCEA.

At TCEA, I attended a session by the North America Scholastic eSports Federation (NASEF) where they shared how they are supporting Minecraft Education for eSports. Through all of this, I connected with Julie Mavrogeorge. She leads the eSports efforts for Fresno Unified School District. It happened to be that they were having their Minecraft Education tournament finals that weekend, so I was able to tune in live via Twitch. It was amazing to see what the middle school students built in Minecraft in only twenty minutes. They used redstone and everything! Here is a picture of part of one team’s build:

Example of a team build at the Minecraft eSports tournament.
A team build at the Minecraft eSports tournament.

To get started using Minecraft in your classroom and/or for eSports, visit the Minecraft Education website or reach out to me. It’s my jam!


The Revitalization of Online Learning

You read that right. Online learning is here to stay in K–12. At TCEA, I heard many stories from online learning advocates. I met an online teacher from Gulfport Virtual Academy in Mississippi who shared stories of students who have anxiety or are aspiring Olympians who are thriving in virtual school. I also attended a virtual learning panel and was reminded:


Not every student is an online learner, and not every teacher is an online teacher!


I learned that Texas currently has an online learning-related bill in the state legislature. Every county in Tennessee has a virtual program of some sort. I met someone from the Indiana Department of Education who supports local online learning programs.


At FETC, my session Five Strategies to Improve Engagement in K–12 Virtual Learning was packed, and I even had virtual students in attendance! I was able to talk to these students after the session; they shared that they appreciated the views and research I discussed in the session about the importance of the teacher-student relationship.


I also debuted a new virtual learning resource at FETC: “Guide: Strategic Planning for Virtual Learning Initiatives.” This is a template that identifies eight specific foundational elements that are critical to the success of virtual learning, yet are often neglected in the planning and implementation of virtual learning initiatives. The guide accompanies A Teacher’s Guide to Online Learning perfectly.

One of the winners of "A Teacher's Guide to Online Learning," an online learning EdTech-focused book.
One of the winners of "A Teacher's Guide to Online Learning."

There were also lots of new products in the expo halls built to address online learning in K–12:

  • Class: For synchronous online learning specifically, Class adds teaching and learning tools to Zoom, such as enhanced breakout room functionality, LMS integration, and more.

  • Itopia: Solves some technical and equity challenges of remote learning environments by allowing access to programs that require high-performance computing, such as CAD programs and eSports games.

The Metaverse

The metaverse has dominated news headlines the past year, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies were a large part of the conversations at FETC and TCEA.


New VR and AR solutions for education seem to be popping up every time I turn around. In fact, I took part in announcing Lenovo’s new Lenovo VR Classroom 3 solution at FETC. You can watch the live launch webinar recording here. I think this solution is going to be a game changer for VR in K–12. The solution comes with the Immersive Learning Hub where educators will be able to create VR playlists and easily add content via files or links.


Blockchain

Although I did see some blockchain and NFT-related sessions on the conference agendas, I wouldn’t say this was a common topic. However, I am selfishly adding it to my EdTech must-knows list, because I feel it should be on the radar of educators.


What are the effects of blockchain on education? There are schools currently exploring how blockchain technology could be used to create verifiable student portfolios, therefore setting students up for post-secondary and career success.


Rightfully so, the use of open badges is becoming more common in education. I predict that in the future teacher certification renewal will be based on open badging. It just makes sense!


Put these two concepts together and you now have blockchain-verified open badges!


EdTech Must-Try Tools

If you are an EdTech fiend like me, you love a new tool or gadget to explore. Here are some tools that are on my “must-try” list.


Canva Live

I am not a new Canva user. In fact, I did an entire workshop at TCEA focused on using Canva to create memes, Snaps, social media graphics, and more: Using Canva to Create Assessments to Engage the Modern Learner. However, at TCEA I learned about Canva Live, which allows participants to interact with your presentations by answering questions, adding reactions, asking questions, and more.


Also, Canva Presentations has all sorts of great features:

  • Magic shortcuts: press the D key for a drum roll animation, C to release confetti, and my favorite, M for a mic drop!

  • You can also use your phone to control Canva presentations.

Genially

This wasn’t brand new to me. I have tried Genially but haven’t had the time to really dive in. After speaking with the team at TCEA, I am diving in head first! Genially is all about creating interactive, multimedia-packed learning materials.


Visme

I am currently testing a trial of Visme. So far it seems similar to Genially but also has the ability to create data visualizations and videos. The founder describes it as “Powerpoint marrying a design tool (such as Canva).” So slideshows + Canva + Genially = Visme?


EdZipp

EdZipp is as new as new gets. The product was literally launched at TCEA. I happened to stumble across their booth in the expo hall. Their tagline “create video lessons” caught my eye. I am all about video lessons and any tool that makes this quick and easy for teachers.


Classroomscreen

Classroomscreen is exactly what it sounds like. It is one screen where you can add a timer, random name picker, sound meter, whiteboard, traffic light, and more with a simple click. It includes all the classroom tools in one handy location.


WeVideo + PlayPosit

WeVideo, a web-based video creation tool, has acquired PlayPosit, an interactive video tool similar to EdPuzzle. I am excited to see where the merger of these two great EdTech tools takes us!


Stream Deck

I was told at FETC that if I taught virtually in any form, I had to try Stream Deck. This is a hardware solution that you have to purchase. I ordered one immediately and it is currently sitting on my desk awaiting setup.


Stream Deck allows you to program keys to perform specific tasks quickly. Imagine being able to click a button and play specific music or sound effects, give shoutouts, or launch a specific program.


Stream Deck: new EdTech tool for online learning.
My Stream Deck patiently awaiting setup.

Phew! That was quite a ride.


✅ FETC

✅ TCEA

🔜 NCCE


It is an exciting time to be in the world of EdTech. Share your thoughts on my EdTech must-knows and must-try tools on your favorite social media channels and make sure to tag me: @lindyhockenbary. If any of the EdTech must-knows make you scratch your head in wonder, reach out. I love to have these conversations!

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