Reflections on FETC 2016

This was my fourth trip to Orlando to attend FETC, and there were some notable differences from previous years. Our group was significantly larger than in previous years, and included faculty, staff, masters students, a PhD student, and representatives from companies that work closely with us. We wrapped up FETC with a brief podcast. I will expand on my comments in that recording, and talk about a some other things I noticed at FETC 2016.

When talking about the conference itself, the layout and size were noticeably different. The exhibit hall stretched from north to south, with the keynote area at the "back" of the convention center. The exhibit area was definitely smaller than it had been in previous years, but still large enough to keep attendees busy exploring booths.

As noted by my colleagues in the podcast, there wasn't much that was particularly revolutionary or innovative to be found at FETC. This seems to be a reflection of the market in general. We all seem to be waiting for the next "big thing".

While not exactly new, this seemed to be the year of the robot and maker spaces. I was particularly intrigued by Ozobot. I believe this is a great way to introduce young children to basic coding skills. The Ozobot will follow a path drawn out by magic markers, and simple instructions can be given to the Ozobot by simply alternating the colours drawn along the path. While a great implementation, I believe there are two challenges. First, what is the next step after the Ozobot? Once a child has mastered the instructions and "played", the Ozobot itself cannot go beyond its very basic programming. Second, the price tag of $50 USD is quite steep for such a simple robot that likely won't see much classroom time. A class set of 18 is $1000, which is not really a deal at all. Some extras are thrown in, but you give up the value of 2 Ozobots to get the extras. If the Ozobot was $20 USD, with a 25-unit bundle (with extras) at $500, I would be more excited.

Sessions and conversations around maker spaces almost always include, or even focus on, the topic of 3D printing. There were a few booths showcasing 3D printers, but it is interesting that none were from the "big players" (Epson, Canon, HP, etc). It does lead to concern about acquiring a device from a company that might not be around next year.

One "throw back" at FETC was typing instruction. There were several booths focusing on teaching typing skills. I have been told that this is a response to poor results in online tests where students that know the content are still doing poorly because they cannot type quickly enough to finish on time. I imagine these skills are also valuable for collaborative work on Google Docs or Office 365.

I have still been considering the question about what I hope or expect to see in the future for educational technology. Other recent events, including CES, showcased quite a bit in the VR/AR (virtual reality/augmented reality) space. I only saw a little of this at FETC. I know the system requirements for Oculus Rift are fairly demanding, and it is also very expensive. If that was the only option, I would understand why it didn't make an appearance at FETC, but Google Cardboard seems a reasonable choice for VR in the classroom. Hopefully we see more immersive and interactive uses of Cardboard soon.

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