A Report from EduCon 2.4

EduCon 2012 Opening Panel

As I wrote in a post two years ago, K-12 education matters to those of us in higher education for many reasons, but especially because our missions are at core the same, and because we are reliant on K-12 teachers sending us students prepared for our classes.  This past weekend I attended EduCon 2.4, the fifth iteration of this conference that is put on by the students, parents, and teachers of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a magnet high school in Philadelphia that is partnered with the Franklin Institute.

EduCon’s guiding “axioms” and the approach they represent explain why as a teacher of undergraduates I find this K-12 education conference so useful:

  • 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.

Though not an unconference like THATCamp, EduCon’s sessions (called “conversations”) would be familiar to those who had attended those gatherings.  Most sessions were discussions, not presentations; panels were free-flowing conversations among the panelists, but also between the panelists and the people in the audience; audiences were both in the room and online; interaction among discussion leaders and the audience was extremely active through Twitter, surveys conducted and presented on the fly, even silent group writing.

The overarching focus of this high-energy conference is on students: student learning, student engagement, student participation, and student research.  [In fact, if the topics of sessions didn’t convey that to attendees, the fact that SLA students were everywhere--from programming your  phone/tablet/laptop with an electronic version of the program to introducing the panelists to numerous and valuable active contributions to sessions to presenting themselves--made that clear.] And despite the public attention to standardized achievement tests in K-12, the conversations here were about how to enable students to engage in meaningful learning at all levels around, beside, and in spite of those tests.

Though innovative teaching and the future of education are consistent topics for this conference, this year there was particular attention to challenges and opportunities in creating and sustaining change.  The opening panel in the theater of the Franklin Institute, composed of a roboticist, a photographer, a Google engineer, a digital media consultant, and a designer of youth leadership programs, was charged with attempting to answer the question, “How do you sustain innovation?” Though the discussion among the panelists was interesting, even enlightening at times, there was some push back from the audience on the need for both play and failure in successful change, as well as concern that systematizing innovation on a large scale might be difficult, if not impossible.  The last notion was picked up by the educators asked to speak on the panel on the last day on “How do schools sustain innovation?”  One common response was that innovation is made possible in the short and long-term when there is a educational environment that encourages creativity and exploration and risk-taking for students and teachers (an argument clearly articulated in this post-Educon piece by David Warlick). Creating and sustaining innovation was a common theme in the sessions as well, whether it was a workshop on shifting the language used to instigate change within institutional frameworks or practical discussions on how not to burnout from the many demands placed on educators.

In 2010 I wrote that one of my takeaways from this conference was the growing gap between K-12 and Higher Ed.  Well this time several sessions touched on the question, including the opening panel, and there were at least two conversations directly on the topic. One addressed a specific NSF-funded program allowing Drexel University to work with schools in Philadelphia on STEM-related courses; the other one, for which I was a co-organizer, discussed ways we might bridge that gap through Communities of Practice.  [The need for better conversations between K-12 and higher education about pedagogy was highlighted by the presentation given by an SLA student who talked about the disconnect between the inquiry-driven, project-based classes he was taking in high school and the four largely passive, test-focused classes he had already taken at various universities.]

Many of the sessions introduced useful tools and pedagogical approaches for teachers at every level of education.  One of the most popular sessions was Google Engineer Dan Barcay’s discussion of Google Earth and Latitude, while sessions entitled Hacking School and Free Range Media emphasized the importance of creative exploration and play (with new and old media). Particularly impressive were the student-run session, Media Literacy and Production in schools, and a conversation about the key relationship between student engagement and architectural design.

If you’re interested in following up on EduCon, videos of all the sessions are archived on the session pages and collected here.  Twitter was used by many of the attendees as an active back channel and tweets have continued afterwards (the hashtag #educon has been used well over 30,000 times).   Finally, many of the attendees are bloggers as well, and their reflections on the conference are collected here.

Were you at EduCon or have you watched any of the sessions online?  How have you explored the issues the conference discussed?  How can we encourage further conversations between K-12 educators and those in higher ed?

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Kevin Jarrett]

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