seven positive trends in this year's PIE conference

I had my reservations the first time we went to the Pencil Integrated Education (PIE) Conference.  First, people seemed to be more impressed with the technology itself than with learning.  "Hey, it's cutting edge.  It's a set of colored pencils.  It will forever revolutionize education."  Socrates revolutionized education.  The Gutenberg Press revolutionized education.  A tablet instead of a notebook?  Nice upgrade, but not revolutionary.

Then there was the issue of those who mistook PIE to be all about baking.  We did our best to accommodate them, but the questions always felt odd (i.e. "How many recipes will college-ruled paper hold?") We had the other segment of mathematicians who mistook it for a pi conference and wanted to talk about developing theorems and setting up new algorithms. Actually, I think they kept us grounded a bit, preventing us from groupthink.

It never felt like a waste of time, because the true benefit had nothing to do with what I learned.  It was the human connection that mattered.  It was the chance to get to know people who also used pencils rather than slates.  Sometimes when I was on my own, I'd feel so lonely.  I needed the PIE Conference to remind me that I'm not crazy - or that if I'm crazy, it's not because I am insane, but because the system is insane and things like critical thinking come across as insanity in a factory education.

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I've noticed something different now.  People seem more interested in learning.  Yes, we have our fair share of people obsessing over just how light a paper tablet is (even if you can't multitasking), but in general I've noticed a few positive paradigm shifts:

  1. A focus on the way people learn.  In my first PIE Conference, a presenter would show us how to use a pencil (it's not that difficult, really) and only at the end would we get ideas.  Now, we're planning, connecting, using multiple media all with student learning as the goal. 
  2. Connecting to other disciplines - in other words, not seeing Pencil Tech as its own entity, but instead getting into brain research (though I'm still not sure what to think of phrenology), motivation, assessment practices, etc.
  3. Openness to some of the criticisms about how technology (from pencils to the telegraph) are changing technology in both positive and negative ways. We're moving from "pencil citizenship" to citizenship.
  4. From a "we'll use this in the new industries" mentality to a mindset that embraces life-long learning and progressive education.  Pencils can be used not just to manage a factory, but to create art, poetry, tell stories, advocate for social causes, etc. 
  5. A better understanding of the social, political and economic pressures that prevent students from accessing tools.
  6. A more philosophical bent.  We're now asking questions like, "Is hard work as important as deep thinking?" or "Should assessment be based upon a product or a cognitive process?"  (or, in the case of the phrenologists, bumpy heads) 
  7. A chance to extend beyond the conference.  With the whole PLN concept and the pen pal networks, there is a sense that I get a human side to the people I will interact with through shorthand notes and perhaps via telegraph.  

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