GREAT17: Leading the Way

As part of the Michigan State MAET program in Galway, Ireland, second year students are in charge of planning and presenting at an international conference.  Going into this summer and finishing my third year of teaching, my experiences with educational conferences was limited.  I could count the number of conferences I have been to on one hand and none were related to technology.  With that said, after 13 crazy work days of planning, I have a new appreciation for all of the work that goes into organizing a conference.  The GREAT17 (Global Resources in Education and Technology) was one of the most memorable and significant components of my Masters education.


Image Credit: GREAT17 Marketing Team

My MAET year two cohort of 23 educators researched various topics of interest in educational technology, designed learning experiences, practiced presentations, created a website, divided into teams, and promoted the international GREAT17 conference on social media platforms. Our cohort communicated well and worked together with no detail left unnoticed.

I was responsible for being a contributing member of the logistics team.  I assisted in coordinating and communicating decisions that our team made to other planning teams.  I designed the feedback form for the conference specifically as well as the name tags that the participants wore at the conference.  On each name-tag were the numbers of the three rooms that participants were to visit during the three sessions.  I double checked the work of my team member to be sure participants were not only getting to see a topic of their interest based on our survey, but that each session had fairly even numbers.  On the day of the conference I was the “key master” in charge of unlocking all of the doors in the morning and locking them afterwards.

I stayed informed with overall progress of our conference planning and spoke up when I felt things needed to be tweaked or changed.  In one of our whole group planning discussions I suggested the change of an activity planned for the afternoon of the conference.  I thought of having everyone in the conference choose an educational app or technology that they are passionate about and participate in a Speed Dating App activity.  After taking a vote, my colleagues agreed and it was very successful at GREAT17.  Sometimes I get nervous to speak up in a large group of peers, however I am proud of myself for stepping up and voicing my opinion. lead

As I look back on the planning of this experience, I have a greater appreciation for event planners.  With 23 people weighing in on conversations, sometimes it felt as if there were “too many cooks in the kitchen”.  With that said, we respected each other’s ideas and our team made sure that every detail was taken care of before the big day.  I had specific responsibilities within my logistics team, but it took all of my colleague’s contributions for a successful conference.

Adaptive and Assistive Technology

As a special education teacher, I am very intrigued by assistive technologies that are out there for students with disabilities to utilize in their education.  My presentation partner, Kristen, and I struggled to find common ground of a topic as we both had different ideas that related to adaptive technology.  She was thinking more along the lines of adaptive programs and how to implement them into your classroom seamlessly.  After researching and having many conversations of going back and forth with different ideas, we chose to move forward with adaptive and assistive technology.

File_001My partner and I designed our presentation into more that just a lecture of research and information related to our topic. We wanted to clear up confusions about adaptive and assistive and ultimately foster an experience where participants could walk away with a deeper understanding of adaptive technology and the implications for their classroom. We set up an experience where our participants explored an assistive technology tool, Google Read and Write, applied their own thinking to analyze the tool, and shared out their information to the group in a one minute challenge.  We wanted to break the stigma of a formal conference presentation.

Finalizing this design did not come easy to us.  Planning a conference session for teacher may seem the same as planning a lesson for students, but it was much more stressful. We revised our ideas numerous times, met with colleagues, professors, and ran through practice sessions to ensure that this was the best design.  We were even making some tweaks the day before the conference after receiving more feedback from our instructors.  Our final presentation was developed in Google Slides and contains all parts of our learning experience.


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I was very excited to present and share our information with the participants at the GREAT 17 conference.  Overall, I am very proud of how our presentation turned out.  We only had a few technological difficulties that my partner and I solved on the spot.  I spoke with enthusiasm, energy, and felt comfortable with the information that I presented.  Looking back on the video of our presentation, I found a few ares that I need to improve on before presenting professionally again.

Our conference theme, Lead the Way, will continue to impact the way I think about technology in education.  I have gained new ideas for my classroom, learned from my participants and colleagues, and plan to utilize this experience to help me lead the way back at my school.  I feel confident and inspired to return with amazing resources for assistive technologies for my students, teachers, and parents, as well as a multitude of different professional development ideas.

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Photo Credit: Chris Sloan

This conference experience has taught me that leadership comes from within your team.  It comes from collaboration, communication, and teamwork.  It comes from flexibility and making the best out of what you have.  It comes from sharing a common goal and organization.  Most importantly, it comes from each team member contributing and utilizing their talents to be creative and revolutionary.

When I return back to Michigan, I will leave Galway with a new understanding of leadership.  Next year I plan to make small changes within my school to help Lead the Way.  Through teaching and coaching I can create an environment where others can join me in Leading the Way.  I am grateful for this experience and will never forget the lessons that I have learned.


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