On January 25-27, 2013 I attended my first Educon. These are my immediate reflections, kind of as they happened.
Some Background: Educon is the annual conference, held in Philadelphia, that bills itself as “ both a conversation and a conference”. The focus is squarely on discussion, debate (the sessions are called “conversations”) and innovation in education.
In the October of 2012 my friend and partner in Beautiful Learning Spaces Jennifer Chan suggested we submit a proposal to present at Educon. I’m trying to be more spontaneous, so I said “Sure” and we worked on it and sent it off. Privately I never expected it would be accepted, but on November 11th we heard the good news that we’d been accepted. Oh no! Now I was committed 🙂 We began preparing.
Friday January 25th– Arrived in Philadelphia. Transportation into the city centre was easy and cheap ($7). Settle into the hotel, grab some eats and then off to the Friday night panel.
- Hacking Entrepreneurship– This was held at the beautiful Franklin Institute which was impressive. Unfortunately, no wi-fi in the room. The panel was four entrepreneurs discussing entrepreneurship. I was confused by the decision to start an education conference with no educators on the panel. I was also uncomfortable by the connections between education and commerce. I came away wondering if in US education entrepreneurship is a synonym for what in Canada we’d call innovation.
- After the panel there was social held in the old planetarium, the roof of which was painted to look like a night sky. Very beautiful. Met some cool people, ate a little, drank a little and stared at the fake sky.
Saturday January 26th–
- Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of Schools, School District of Philadelphia opened the conference. Very engaging. He spoke about some of the challenges facing educators and the Philadelphia education system. Told an interesting story about a 1:1 edtech program in Virginia that failed because they put the technology first and forgot about changing the teaching and learning. An important lesson for all.
- Developing The Design Mind: This was an opportunity to see Christian Long up close. Jennifer and I both admire his work on The Third Teacher so we were excited to meet him face to face. After a short introduction and explanation about design thinking we worked in groups to solve some sample problems and then shared our work. The task was not to jump to solutions but to keep generating questions, which is very hard when faced with a problem. Some of my takeaways:
- Take time to sit with the question, don’t jump to solutions
- The questions are often more important than the answers
- Learn to see obstacles as constraints that you must work within (wu-wei?)
- “We need to build a greater capacity for joyful curiosity”
- Disruptive Innovation: This session used Clayton Christensen‘s definition of a disruptive innovation and applied it to education. Under this definition a technology is disruptive if displaces an existing technology by offering an advantage in both convenience and cost. The iPad was not ‘disruptive’ because there is little cost difference, but replacing word processing software with Google docs is. My takeaways:
- Whether a technology is disruptive often depends on the context and what you are comparing it to.
- Many schools are ditching expensive word processing licenses and replacing them with Google apps.
- I want to read “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and learn more.
- It’s probably time for schools to invest in bandwidth, not text books.
- Why School? Will Richardson changed the session an hour before and tasked us with helping him match Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” and come up with 95 Theses for Contemporary Learning. We divided into groups to focus on different areas. I worked with a group focussing on schools, while others looked at students, teachers, community, etc. Here are the results after the session which Will is still massaging. My thoughts:
- Great question: “If students don’t need to go to school for content anymore, why should they go to school? What’s it’s purpose?”
- School is bound by time, but learning no longer is. What are the implications of that?
- After answering the question “Why School?” we then need to answer “Why Teacher?”.
That was the end of the first day. We passed on the classic Philly dinner and opted for a quiet night and a chance to reflect and try to sort through everything.
Next: Day 2 and overall conferences reflections.