I find myself a hiding spot and just hang out. Same as at age 16.

Let me be unfair. I’ve been at Florida’s “Future of Educational Technology Conference” #FETC for just a few hours on a quiet first morning. And last year I spoke at the “FETC Summit” which precedes the main event and is, I think, about “leadership.” Anyway, I spoke then headed back north as fast as I could, so my experience with FETC is clearly limited, so I suppose it’s unfair to use the “failure” label. And yet, it is a failure.

It is. Because if this is about the future, it’s a pretty grim future.

I know, I know. “Future” just got plugged in to replace “Florida” to attract a bigger crowd to Orlando in January. Now I might’ve picked another F word and gone for the student audience, but…

Anyway, let’s face it, nothing is ever going to change in schools until we stop meeting like this.


FETC, like ISTE, like so many, are “Cells and Bells” events, with the bells replaced by facilitators who rush things along. Most sessions take place in rooms set up to create the worst possible instructional method — lecture plus redundant PowerPoint — and time limited to prevent serious conversation.

Students, oops, I mean educators, rush from class to class, getting fragmentary and often undoubted content until they collapse late in the day. You find them sitting forlornly on the floor looking like crushed high school freshmen.

Then they go back to their own schools and despite best intentions, nothing in the true student experience changes.


Add in the kind of enormous size that guarantees depersonalization, a location that challenges anyone with a disability, an over reliance on paper, a repetitive hierarchy of participants, and, of course, gross commercialization, and you have, at best, a very dystopian future.

A failure.

The hectic #FETC bloggers’ room

Now I know there’s good stuff going on. I have two colleagues doing things as I write this (though not in the Blogger’s Room, according to FETC I am not a blogger). We’ll, one may be, the other just announced how embarrassing Microsoft’s Minecraft session is — and he knows better.

But there’s good stuff going on in even the worst schools — yet, let’s face it — even our best schools still often suck for kids.

We need to do different. Not EdCamps, though they’re fine, but really different. Immersive, fully involved professional learning that mimics what we need for our kids.

We need to be constant learners with constant peer review, and yes, critique. We need to take time and converse over long evenings or weeks, and the knowledge tgat nothing is real professional development unless there is a product at the end that changes the classroom or the school fundamentally for the kids.

We need to never mimic the schools and classrooms of the past in our adult learning spaces, because, to quote and old professor of mine, “the hidden curriculum is the curriculum.” What we do is what we learn.

And so, FETC is a failure. And maybe I’m not being unfair.

  • Ira Socol

Author, Dreamer, Educator: A life in service - NYPD, EMS, disabilities/UDL specialist, tech and innovation leader for education. Co-author of Timeless Learning

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