Tag Archives: SXSWedu

SXSWedu: LAUNCHedu Educator Insights

The next session I’m attending is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, LAUNCHedu: Educator Insights. The panelists are Anya Kamentz, Bob Metcalfe, Ph.D., Jennie Magiera, and Mark Edwards. The focus of this panel is to distinguish between the “must haves” and “nice to haves” of innovative educational tools. It’s the teachers’ reaction panel to the LAUNCHedu competition. The broader discussion is how can startups do a better job of connecting tot heir target audience and consumers? You can see the list of LAUNCHedu competitors here.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Anya is moderating and asks each of the panelists to go down the line and discuss the top companies as well as concepts that they say at the LAUNCHedu event. The top start ups per the teachers was UnlockYourBrain (which puts brain teasers on your smart phone), Robots Lab, NBA Math Hoops (making math accessible and engaging) and Proctor io.

Anya asks what would the panelists have liked to have seen? Bob says he would have liked to have seen more personalization and individualized feedback. He also feels that collaboration should be part of the design. He also highlights that price-point is key and we must always ask how will this enhance teaching and the quality of student work. Jennie wants to see more start-ups disrupting the educational space. She felt that most of the start ups were taking innovative approaches to long established pedagogy. Jennie argues that they need to bring active, classroom teachers onto your board as they will be the ones using it. Better yet, bring students on board! Start ups must shake up the individual learning space. They need to change the way teachers teach and students learn! Also, rebrand blended-learning so that it’s not about replacing teachers. She wants to see students have more power and authority of their creative content. Mark steps off of Jennie’s words and says that he thinks they are not wanting to get in front of education as they want to survive – they have to match what is present, not develop for the platform of the future. However, the platform of the future is coming! He also wants to see start ups focusing more on big data and analysis. He also would like to see more cognitive computing.

Jennie believes that these Ed Tech startups have the opportunity in their positions of being new companies of shifting their focus and emphasis on changing up the educational environment. This is the time they should come up with creative and innovative solutions for problems we didn’t even know existed! Bob argues that overall cost is vital here – that it must be cost effective for adoption, training, and application. He also believes that schools and districts should be open to serving as beta testers. Mark believes that most educational technological innovation will take place outside of the realm of schools, teachers, and even buildings. Right now, schools have the largest impact on student learning in conjunction with their peer interaction as well as screen time. However, Jennie jumps in and points out that most of her students (in inner-city public schools) do not have access to interactive tools outside of school. Unless they’re in the classroom, they won’t be able to use them.

Anya asks what role does current educational practice bare on educational technology start-ups? Bob believes that when there is engagement with the end user, it keeps a ‘reality check’ with the start-ups. Practitioners are necessary to understand their needs and ease of use. This is especially true for him when it comes to price-point. If they price themselves out of the market. Bob argues that just because something has been done before doesn’t mean that it can’t be done better (remember Alta Vista?). He also says we should keep in mind who is going to be learning? Will it just be individuals between 5-25 or can older learners participate? The participants are key – who will be using it and navigating your tools. Data is also vital (protected data).

The focus of ed tech startups is interesting. There is a lot of money in this realm that is for sure, but as Jennie states it’s a great opportunity to disrupt the world of education. At the same time, there are needs now that aren’t being addressed, not just the future world. If nothing else, maybe they will keep the big dogs from getting complacent.

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SXSWedu – Can the Liberal Arts Survive in an Age of Innovation?

The next session I am attending is a topic near and dear to my heart as a liberal arts major, “Can the Liberal Arts Survive in an Age of Innovation?” The speakers are David Maxwell, President of Drake University, Liz Willen,

The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century); Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century); Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Editor of the Hechinger Report, Michelle Weise, a Senior Research Fellow at the Clayton Christendon Institute, and Scott Kinney, President of the Capella Education Company.

Quite famously, the President dissed the Liberal Arts not long ago with a sleight directed at Art History. Although he then followed up with a letter of apology to an upset professor. At the same time, he highlighted an issue in higher education. How do we resolve Liberal Arts with workforce readiness in higher education? Many educators, administrators, and law-makers are focusing on changes in education with a greater emphasis on STEM, leaving the Liberal Arts behind.

David begins by reaffirming his belief in and support of the Liberal Arts and Sciences in higher education. They have a long tradition in education. They are narrative tools that describe the world around us – help us to understand who we are, why we are, our place in the order of things, and our record in the human condition. They are proof of the fact that we were here. They are also how we try to answer the “big questions” in the world. However, he does acknowledge that the Liberal Arts alone are not sufficient in preparing students for the broader world. Preparation for a professional workforce is a necessary but not sufficient outcome of higher education.  We must ensure that our graduates can fulfill their personal and professional aspirations and needs. Sadly, we cannot get away from addressing the financial model of college – especially as costs for higher education is increasing at such an exponential rate. David also expresses his concern that the discussion about higher education and jobs seems to only be “about jobs.” Our objective is not simply job training – but to prepare students for meaningful personal lives, professional accomplishments, and global citizenship.

Michelle next steps in to discuss her concerns about the “myths” of Liberal Arts – namely that the Liberal Arts are the antithesis of workforce/vocational training and that increased technology means the need of the Liberal Arts. This is the result of the division in this country between colleges and technical schools – that technical schools are where we learned how to do “mechanical thinking/acting” and that higher education was where we “learned to know.” Of course, college is no longer a luxury good, it’s a necessity. Additionally, college costs are becoming more prohibitive. Also, in a knowledge economy or learning society, learning is becoming work and work is becoming learning. A college degree is not enough for the learning economy of our time. We cannot let students assume that a liberal arts degree will “sort itself out” due to buzzwords like “critical thinking” and “creative problem solving.” The pursuit of passions has become a privilege, even a luxury good. Academics has never been good at proving its relevance to industry. As the cost of academics continues to rise, the onus will be put on higher education institutions to prove their relevance and return. Whoever can link non traditional pathways and preparation for the workforce, will fill a great need.

Scott Kinney of Capella University, a for-profit online institution, feels that his institution (and similar) have a role in addressing this issue. You can still receive the benefits of a liberal arts education and come out prepared for the workforce. Scott argues that no matter what happens in Liberal Arts Education, we need to do a much better job of serving non-traditional students who are looking to be job-ready immediately upon graduation. Scott states that 75% of currently enrolled students are “non-traditional” (I guess that makes them “traditional”?). Embracing a non-traditional student needs to be a focus and can be the solution for the issue of resolving Liberal Arts with Industry. Scott argues that we determine outcomes/competencies and then build curriculum around that. He also argues that we have to focus on lowering the price and raising completion rates.  Additionally, we must connect that with job readiness – that they enter the workforce with the necessary skills and competencies. Scott argues that we need to navigate job competencies in conjunction with employers.

Liz (our moderator) asks David if the for-profit model by Scott’s institution is in conflict with the traditional model at Drake. David is surprisingly in agreement with the other members of the panel. He feels that colleges must do a better job at preparing students for careers, we must fit the needs of all of our students, and that we need to work with employers to ensure that they get from their students what they need. Michelle also highlights the challenge of enacting change from within an institution – especially at Colleges and Universities where tradition is so valued. Additionally, Scott highlights that job preparation does not undermine Liberal Arts objectives – you can still hold discussions on novels and works of art. David states that the real issue is “How does learning take place? What is assessed and how is it assessed?”

Ultimately, Liberal Arts is vital to the human experience, but we must find a way to effectively merge it with our modern needs. However, I would argue that it’s dangerous to make education solely about training for jobs. Education is about developing sophisticated thinking and learning skills.

SXSWedu: At the Helm, Women’s Impact in EdTech

The next session I’m attending is one near and dear to my heart, “At the Helm: Women’s Impact in EdTech.” Hosted by the women of EdTechWomen.

“EdTechWomen was inspired by women’s influence in the field of education. Several great platforms exist for women in technology, however we noticed that they did not attract many women in education, particularly educators. EdTechWomen brings together women and their supporters across the vast education ecosystem and gives them a place to connect.” – EdTechWomen “Our Story”

I’m excited to be in a room with such impressive, thoughtful, and forward thinking women in a field that is often dominated by men. This panel hosts several women from across the country.

Amy Burvall and I had the opportunity to meet at the last iPad Summit. You can check out a lot of what Amy does on YouTube. Amy uses video parodies to help promote her history teaching. Additionally, she encourages her students to play with video and social media. Amy highlights that the key and joy in making something is sharing it. You must learn forward, produce, and participate. This is not only for her own work, but also for her students. She used this opportunity to teach students how to cultivate their positive digital presence – how can you be “googled well?” This way, she could move students from being knowledge builders to knowledge creators. This way students aren’t just cataloguing their knowledge, they’re “contributing to knowledge.” This allows not only Amy, but her students to share their passions online. Amy challenges us all to “embrace transparency” and to know that we don’t have to be perfect, we must “let go of our fears.”

Our next speaker is Luz Rivas from DIYgirls. Luz highlights the fact that there is a prevailing attitude that “girls aren’t interested in STEM.” However Luz, as many of us, have an interest in technology but find ourselves outside of the comfort levels of our peers, parents, an teachers. As such, she created DIYgirls to encourage young women in the STEM fields. She has also been inspired by the maker movement and the role it plays in encouraging young people to employ engineering tools in their “real life.” Going back to her old elementary school, she created a maker space and started an after school program for fifth grade girls who were able to use real tools and make things like video games and other hardware tools.

Our next speaker Joan Hughes, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her focus is on how mentorship puts the “Ed” in “EdTech.” She argues that mentorship is the key catalyst for student success. Any of us that have had an effective mentor understand the truth behind this statement! Joan highlights the success of several of her students and the role that mentorship has played in their own success. They all mention that mentorship was key to their continued success in their education as well as career. Dr. Hughes argues that mentorship is key in ensuring student success, especially for those who are underrepresented in their fields.

I wish I could stay longer at this panel, but there are so many activities at SXSWedu that I must head off to a demonstration! I highly encourage you to check out EdTechWomen as well as the presenters that I have highlighted here.