I returned from ATLIS 2017 last Wednesday invigorated and, to be honest, a little exhausted. It wasn’t just the time change (although that was a challenge in and of itself). Rather, it was from participating in so many robust and deep conversations with my peers, taking part in various presentations and workshops, and the depth and breadth of the conference in its entirety. I’ve taken a few days to reflect on the conference experience (one of the key tenants of the ATLIS mission). Here are some of the key take-aways I had as both a Tech Director and an Educator.
Coding & Computer Science are More Vital Than Ever
Coding and Computer Science have been primary topics in education for the past few decades. However, the significance of coding has become even more vital. Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, kicked off the conference with a humorous but compelling keynote where he highlighted the need for young people to learn both Computer Science and Coding. Computer Science jobs are still both high in demand and well paying. He was also sure to point out that children can often learn coding on their own (with the self-directed software today). However, we as educators must prioritize the role of Computer Science (and not just of the AP kind) in becoming central to our educational priorities. This concept was further driven home in various sessions.
Using some key techniques and incorporating games, they demonstrated how even non-coders (like myself) can incorporate coding into their curriculum.
Justin Curtis of the Bryn Mawr School discussed the challenges and rewards of building a robust K-12 Computer Science curriculum (still a rarity in the country that built the first home computers and developed the internet).
All of these hammered home to me that we need more computer science and coding in schools in the whole curriculum, not just a one off course in the Middle or High School.
Cyber-Security is More Important than Ever
With the rise of hacking and ransom-ware, institutions need to be more savvy about how they protect their systems and educate their community. Hospitals remain the number 1 target for attacks. However, schools (especially independent schools) are quickly catching up. As they are repositories of information (social security numbers, credit cards, names and address, etc), schools need to be especially vigilant about the security of their systems.
Denise Musselwhite of Trinity Preparatory School and Jamie Britto of Collegiate School led a deep dive into Cyber-security and Independent Schools. This was a robust look into security policies (like two factory authentication), training sessions, and phishing tests. It’s a precursor to their two day cyber-security workshop in Chicago this summer.
In addition to Denise and Jaime, other presenters led sessions on security, highlighting that cyber security and systems are a key element for Technology Directors around the country. Building systems and keeping them secure is an ongoing struggle as every upgrade brings new vulnerabilities and every day brings new potential attacks.
Equity in Education & Tech
Equity was a prominent topic this year. While equity is often on the forefront of public education, it is a concern for independent schools as well. What made this conversation unique, however, is that it was not just about equity for students, but for administrators as well.
Information Technology is a community within a school that can staffed entirely by men, even when many EdTech faculty are women. Disturbingly, the percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining since 1991, while women who do enter the profession quit at a rate double that for men. What can schools do to counter the message that IT jobs such as network and systems administration are nearly exclusively masculine?
When I popped into this overflowing session room, I walked into a robust discussion about the role of women in technology and leadership. As someone who has solely operated in co-educational institutions, it was especially striking how male-dominated technology departments are – even in all-girls schools. How does that impact the next generation of young women and men?
In addition to gender, there were several sessions about equity and access. For example, Margie Llines and Rurik Nackerud tackled Equity in BYOD. Many schools with even the most robust scholarship and needs programs still do not include technology and access as a part of those packages! This is especially concerning when a school has a mandated BYOD program. I touched on this issue in my own blog post “Growing Number of Poor Americans are Phone Only Internet Users – What does that Mean for Education?”
It is (or should be) About the Kids
The kind of Tech Directors you find at ATLIS are a little unique. We are the Tech Directors that don’t demand “lock it down” systems… in fact, we often rebel against them. ATLIS Tech Directors focus on what is ultimately best for the kids and education. It is always great and refreshing to see that be the focus once again. Whether it’s talking about coding and computer science, how to set up devices, equity and access, or how to support faculty, the center of the conversation was always “what is best for the kids and education?”
As an ATLIS Board Member, I am always excited to watch it grow and evolve. This year, the conference blew me away. I’m excited for the coming year as we develop more robust professional development opportunities, publish our first academic journal, and take technology at independent schools to the next level.