On February 11, 2012, about 300 school leaders, teachers, legislators, field experts, parents, and students gathered in Providence for a day-long conference devoted to digital learning in Rhode Island. Teachers left the conference, titled “Innovation Powered by Technology,” with a sense of what they could begin to do in their own classrooms to further blended learning; principals had a chance to think about whole-school transformation; and superintendents heard about district-wide opportunities for change. Feedback from attendees was effusive. As a principal from Newport, R.I. said:
“Within five minutes, my eyes were opened completely to the future of education in this country. The presenters were excellent and incredibly informative. Perhaps more importantly, they were practical and concrete in their messages and advice. The day was very productive from start to end, and I left feeling rejuvenated. Members of my staff who attended have echoed the same sentiments. The conference really forced us to start thinking about the future.”
The idea for the conference took root when Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist expressed an interest in an event that would educate the entire community about opportunities in digital learning. In October 2011, Commissioner Gist assigned an internal team to begin the planning and logistics for the event. The team, consisting of her chief of staff, her legislative liaison, her communications officer, and a digital-learning specialist, began meeting weekly. It first selected a date for the conference. The team decided to hold the conference on a Saturday so that educators would not have to take a day away from the classroom in order to participate.