Though innovation was the theme of this year's Educon conference in Philly, for me the conference is about inspiration. Educon is a conference hosted at the Science Leadership Academy , produced for educators by educators–ranging from primary school teachers to university faculty. I sought and gained new perspectives on teaching and learning in today's hyper-connected, always-on, digital world. Why should higher education folks be interested in K-12? As Jeffery McClurken explained in his Educon summary on the Chronicle, our educational missions overlap.
The axioms of this student-centered conference provide the intellectual framework for the recap of the free flowing conversations that follow:
- Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
- Our schools must be about co-creating – together with our students – the 21st Century Citizen
- Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
- Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
- Learning can – and must – be networked
As the Director of Distance Learning at NYU, I'm always interesting in new experiments in online learning. I've watched with great interest about the experiments at Stanford and MIT. Though I'd read about these courses I hadn't spoken to anyone who had taken one–until Friday, when I ran into Jeff Elkner, a colleague from past Educons past . His take? He learned quite a bit from the course–the materials were of a high quality, but the format may be too self directed to be useful for everyone. Chris Walsh, the Director of Innovation for the non-profit New Tech Network , peppered Julie Cunningham, Chris Fancher, and I with questions–from what a second dream career might be, to how to invent the ideal, free-to-student school. These interactions reminded me about why I come to Educon–though the sessions are amazing, the conversations between the sessions are just as inspiring and informative.
Paul Alison, founder of the YouthVoices project walked us though a writing activity where we read and commented on student work. These students are learning to write in public and get an authentic understanding of how to connect with an audience. The theme of learning in public –which Alec Courous and Dean Shareski discussed. We discussed his experiment on how he wound up with a global youth band of guitar tutors –and how making oneself vulnerable as an educator makes you a better educator. The idea is that teachers are modeling how to be learners for students in a world where the tools we use to learn are always changing.
Jonathan D. Becker , Meredith Stewart , and Bud Hunt asked us what teacher research is. Every session had it's own content, but also modeled different instructional approaches. This session had a guest co-presenter, bud the teacher, joining us from Colorado. At approximately 50 participants, when we all went to collaboratively edit a google doc, we managed to break it–but that spirit of experimentation, collaboration and a willingness to fail and learn is a model in itself.
I have had the privilege of helping co-design the online section of a Critical Thinking and Writing Course for NYU AD's Summer Academy The lead instructor, Lisa Springer and I led a conversation about the approaches we are using to teach these students online. Will Richardson joined the conversation and asked provoking questions about our approach. He wondered if the learning experience would be more compelling if the students wrote in public. Other participants suggested letting students pick their own texts. We're thinking on how we might introduce these ideas. Paul Alison offered that our students would find an audience for their writing on YouthVoices. The perception was universal that there's an audience for what our kids have to say.
Kristen Swanson, a newly minted PhD from Widener, lead a 5 minute presentation how to make better online courses –she echoed the kinds of themes that we stress in our faculty development program–an instructor being present, offering lots of feedback, and seeking out course guests. Though I've come across Carol Dweck's research on mindset, Liz Davis' 5 minute presentation made me want to revisit it.
Were you at Educon? What conversation most inspired you? Have you made any changes to your teaching practice as a result? I tinkered with providing video feedback in discussion forums instead of text to reinforce my presence in the classroom.
I'm grateful for an inspiring, idea filled weekend.