ISTE 2010 conference keynote: The gloves are off!

Interesting conversations are occurring, well-known edubloggers are advocating for their topic suggestions (see, e.g., Vicki Davis and Brian Crosby), and, perhaps most importantly for ISTE, there seems to be a fair amount of interest in its 'choose your conference keynote' project.


After just a few days, my suggestion is duking it out with Kevin Honeycutt's for the top position:

I think Kevin is a great guy, but I don't think his topic should be a keynote over mine. It seems to me that 95%+ of the ISTE conference every year is the same thing: tools, teachers, and classrooms. These are important, but as I said in one of my comments under my topic suggestion:

We've been relying on teachers & teacher leaders & tech integrationists & tech coordinators for decades now. Where's it gotten us in terms of systemic reform? It's gotten us isolated pockets of excellence in a few classrooms. When a principal "gets it," nearly the entire school changes (minus the few resisters). When a superintendent "gets it," nearly the entire district changes (minus the few resisters).

I'll repeat... It is the formal leaders (administrators, policymakers), not informal leaders, that have control over ALL of the important variables: money; time; personnel hiring, evaluation, and assignment; organizational vision and direction; professional development; etc. All you have to do is look at a school like the Science Leadership Academy to understand the importance and power of a formal leader that "gets it."

Why such pushback on a leadership keynote? It's not like we have one every year. In fact, we'd be hard pressed to remember more than a small few in the history of NECC/ISTE. ISTE has five keynotes and I'm a big fan of Kevin Honeycutt. But one of the keynotes should pertain to effective FORMAL leadership. Otherwise we'll just keep talking about tools and teachers like we always do...

So the gloves are off, Kevin! I don't know if I can pull this off, but I'm not going down without a fight.

Thanks to everyone who already has voted for my topic and/or participated in the conversation. Any assistance that you can continue to lend me would be most appreciated; I need more people to vote for my suggestion and to spread the word about the contest. I've got an uphill battle and am going to need all of the help I can get!

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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

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As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

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Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

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The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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