There are very few moments in life when you know you are a part of greatness. I recently returned from a trip to the Youth Education & Technology Integration (Y.E.T.I.) conference and let me tell you, this was true greatness manifest in a conference. The event itself is kind of like burning man for educational technology (only with out all the fire and naked people). To keep mass-media and the twitteratti on their toes, event organizers actually keep the location secret until mere days before the event. Both the speakers and attendees are selected completely at random using a complex algorithm of Twitter followers multiplied by latest eBook ISBN number downloaded. I was lucky enough to be picked as both an attendee and panelist for this year’s event. An while I signed an agreement not to share what I saw (they have a Vegas-like motto of “what happens at YETI doesn’t get tweeted”) I can’t help myself. This event is too powerful not to share with others. So here goes my recap, I’ll leave it posted as long as I can:
This year’s event took place at the gorgeous [omitted] over a mild, partly cloudy weekend. Due to the natural terrain and the landscape of the area, no rooms were needed. Many of the natural grottoes acted as small meeting rooms and the larger caves served as auditoriums. The acoustics were incredible and because of the location being near the equator, cell carriers signals were amplified along the walls giving attendees incredible 5G WiFi connections.
Speakers & Sessions
One of the most incredible parts of this event are the absolutely ridiculous variety of speakers and educators they have on hand. I attended a session that was an actual a hologram of Bill Gates speaking to Jaime Escalante. Some sessions lasted only for only a few minutes and others, like Bill Nye’s lengthy monologue, lasted several hours.
There were no start or stop times for sessions too which was a little disconcerting at first. Sessions were declared over when an organizer or attendee elected to bang a giant ceremonial gong. To announce the beginning of a new session, a giant alphorn (you know, like the ones from those Ricola commercials?) would blow signifying a new session and new gathering of folks.
Another thing that sets this conference apart are the sponsors. With the terrain being what it was at YETI, sponsors got creative. Most of their “booths” were actually giant floating platforms, controlled by drones. I was excited to see that both Google and Apple were working in partnership with Facebook as sponsors for the event, even handing out free “Privacy Jackets” (a jacket that apparently blocks all outward internet traffic and data tracking from your devices).
I was asked to be on a panel discussing the legitimacy behind this new wearable idea called a “thoughtband.” The concept is simple. Wearing a piece of technology on their foreheads like a Bill Walton headband, students’ thoughts are displayed in scrolling LED fashion. Before we were even able to get into the discussion about data-mining or mind-mining for that matter, someone (who looked like a famous politician) got up and banged the gong, thus ending our session. I wish I knew what he was thinking…
Nothing is normal at YETI, including the keynote. This year’s closing keynote session started at midnight and lasted until the sun began to rise. The closing keynote was delivered by noted scholar and thespian Jon Lovitz. His message of prosperity, educational equality and the need for more 80’s rap music in education rang true with the crowd of thousands. Following his talk, he asked the crowd to initiate in an awkward flash-mob edu-rave of sorts. With the 80’s band Baltimora playing their one-hit wonder “Tarzan Boy” in the background, the attendees went into a sort of strange crowd-surfing/internet-surfing mosh pit of sorts. Culminating in one of the strangest multi-tasking activities I’ve ever witnessed as attendees danced and texted on their smartphones, responding digitally to YETI’s essential question for 2015: Will the wearable flip-flop change the foot of education?
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, my violation of one of YETI’s 7 tenets of attendance (though shalt not video-record) caused my immediate removal before the end of the event. Organizers wiped the video off my phone, but I was able to sneak back over a hill and capture about 11 seconds of the closing coronation where they named one attendee the Patron Saint of YETI15.
While I may risk prosecution or worse yet, not be invited back, I’m making this video public in the hopes that the rest of the world will have a chance to experience just a little taste of what I got to experience. Enjoy:
Happy April 1st everybody.