ISTE Conference 2018 – What are the Hot Topics?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Ed Tech – the annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference is almost here!  We’d like to provide you with an overview of what some of the hot topics are in Educational Technology, as well as a preview of themes we see emerging in the sessions listed at the conference.  As an organization, ISTE inspires the creation of solutions and connections that improve opportunities for all learners, by delivering practical guidance, evidence-based professional learning, virtual networks, thought-provoking events, and the ISTE Standards.

Considered the “Epicenter of Ed Tech”, the ISTE conference is June 24th-27th in Chicago, and features hundreds of presenters and exhibitors, and over a thousand sessions pertaining to every facet of the educational technology industry. ISTE recently published an article about hot educational technology topics, and that list, along with some of our research, should give you a clear picture of the status of Ed Tech today, and what to expect at ISTE.  Some of these hot topics and notes about their presence at ISTE include:

Computational Thinking

Educators are finding that computational thinking is a cross-disciplinary skill that enables teachers to unlock creative problem solving, and is just as relevant in language arts and math classes as it is in computer science. In fact, one of the key note speakers, David Eagleman, will be discussing the brain and unlocking its learning potential, which teachers and product developers can consider when using a computational thinking approach. Educators are becoming skilled at incorporating CT components like decomposition, generalizing, algorithmic thinking, evaluation and abstraction – no matter the subject area. Furthermore, ISTE features a number of sessions about this concept as it relates to a variety of subjects, as well as computer programming.


The conference has no shortage of sessions relating to all things Coding and computer science. Learning programming is a 21st century skill that encourages systems thinking and problem solving. Included in the ever-popular STEM category, also featured heavily at ISTE, there are many ways teachers and faculty can incorporate this skill into the curriculum. Coding can be included in the creation of other educational projects and activities – like robotics, web applications, and other software – if not taught as a standalone topic.

STEM teachers are at the forefront of utilizing emerging technology like coding, and according to our latest research, 39% of computer science teachers reported that they “couldn’t live without” emerging technology, compared with 15% overall from the 4,400 teachers MDR surveyed in November of 2017. You can find more research like this in our latest state of the market report for 2018 – Teachers Talk Technology – to be released in July.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in schools has evolved from a fiction to a reality for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum today. Students are harnessing their creativity to develop artifacts of their learning in all curricular areas using these tools.

AR and VR technology will be the focus of a number of sessions at ISTE. These technologies are primed to make heavy infiltration into the classroom in the coming years, due to their lower barriers to entry, and the lower cost of materials. All you need is a cardboard headset and a smartphone with tools and apps created by Google or Nearpod– and you’re all set! Without leaving the library or classroom, students using VR can take “field trips” across the world and throughout time. One teacher reported that she used the WWI Trench Experience app as part of her history lesson. Other teachers have used the technology to explain alternative energy sources.

But because VR is young, and school budgets are stretched thin, some educators are waiting to adopt it until more content is available. In fact, Extreme Networks found that 47% of educators consider a lack of content to be their biggest barrier to adoption — more than any other factor. The survey also found, however, that 55 percent of them hope to use it in the future.

Student-Centered Learning

According to ISTE, student-centered learning moves students from passive receivers of information to active participants in their own discovery process. What students learn, how they learn it and how their learning is assessed are all driven by each individual student’s needs and abilities. At the system level, this requires implementing curriculum planning practices, pedagogy and assessment methods that support a student-centric approach. In the classroom, teachers craft instruction and apply technology in a way that best serves each student’s learning journey. Technology use is always guided by two primary criteria:

  1. What’s appropriate for the task at hand?
  2. How can activities be designed to develop higher-order thinking skills?

Maker Spaces

Some of those activities should take the form of hands on activities and explorations both in the classroom, and in collaborative learning spaces. At ISTE, expect to see a big focus on how bringing maker spaces on campus is great for 21st century learning as well. The library is a trending location to include a maker space into the school facility.  The library is a trending location to include a MakerSpace into the school facility. One of the ways libraries are evolving past rows of books, is that students may venture to the library less for researching, but more for making, trying, and collaborating in a common space.  Less about checking out books, more about potentially checking out experiences, robotics kits, crafting tools, and being in a maker space.MDR’s Third market report happens to be about Space and Pedagogy in schools – to be published in September – as this has been a hot topic for some time now – and more research will definitely help in the market.

Social Emotional Learning

Another way to address student needs is through social emotional learning (SEL). A number of ISTE sessions feature topics on empathy and SEL, and how to teach these intangible skills. Based on a growing body of research, as well as demand across many districts, teachers and administrators want SEL. They aren’t sure how to incorporate it into the curriculum, however, and a number of sessions at ISTE will discuss this topic. Some great objectives of SEL curriculum that you can expect to hear about include:

  • Engaging students by using relevant scenarios and plot points in situational learning experiences.
  • Using virtual reality, or other immersive learning technology, with relevant media that allows students to learn through “direct” experience.

Because of mounting research and rising demand, teachers and administrators see value in social and emotional learning programs. VR is the perfect vehicle to help students put themselves in others’ shoes. Kids of all ages could benefit from experiences that require them to work in teams or that show them what it’s like to be discriminated against.

Have questions about ISTE? Feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to us at