Sunday, March 9, 2014

SXSWedu Reflections: Finding "Ed" in "EdTech"

In an effort to write a somewhat cohesive and organized reflection on my SXSWedu experience, I decided to give myself a couple of days to just let the whole experience sink in and marinate in my brain.  I also had to catch up on a ridiculous amount of grading on Friday, so there's that, too. Over the past few days, I've read several other critiques and reflections on the conference, mostly written by teachers and instructional technologists, and the general critique seems to be pretty consistent; if you're going to call it an education conference, it should be more about education and less about the edtech business. 

In some respects, I agree with this assessment.  I definitely felt like, as a classroom teacher, I was in the minority at this conference.  I think there are probably several different reasons for that.  For one thing, SXSWedu is not designed to be a "teacher conference."  The sessions and panels aren't meant to provide you with a lesson or set of information that you can take back to your classroom and immediately put into practice.  Instead, they focus on policy and development.  These sessions, panels, and forums are meant to make you think.  And to be totally fair, not every teacher feels like they have time for that.  I actually loved that the focus was more on the conversation about where education is and where it is going and less on what I'm doing in my classroom tomorrow.  I found it refreshing.

Everybody has an opinion about education because most people have kids in the education system, and we are all products of the education system.  What I liked about SXSWedu was that they brought into focus the large variety of opinions regarding education.  Having the opportunity to hear Diane Ravitch speak and compare her views to those of Wendy Kopp, the CEO of Teach for America, and then go listen to Vivienne and Norma Ming talk about how the edtech industry is steamrolling education instead of supporting it was such a unique experience.  Instead of filtering the conversation to push a particular agenda, the conference just put all the opinions out there.  Personally, it was really eye-opening for me to hear so many different perspectives.  You only grow if you get out of your comfort zone, and I was definitely pushed to do that last week.

Even though, as I said, this conference was more about thinking and less about applying specific strategies to my teaching, I did set some solid goals for myself and my practice after this week...

  1. I want to redefine my practice.  I am so fortunate to have technology at my disposal everyday in my classroom.  I want to look at my current assignments and redefine them, so that I'm doing things I couldn't do without the technology.  On Friday, I took my first baby steps toward this goal by having my students screencast their Book Talks using Educreations. I'll post the best Book Talks on YouTube, so we have an authentic audience.  Be on the lookout for that!
  2. I want to create my own textbook.  I went to an awesome session about iBooks Author led by two Apple Distinguished Educators.  I've had this program on my Mac for about a year, but I haven't played around with it very much.  This summer, I plan to get serious about creating my own grammar textbook.
  3. I want to make my classroom an "incubator of creativity, imagination, and joy." This was my favorite thing that Diane Ravitch said in her talk.  This is what all our schools should be.  I know Benchmark is coming up and lots of people are stressed about how all the snow days might affect our students' scores, but I'm sticking with Diane on this one.  She said, "The trump card of American society is not the ability to fill in the right bubble. It's the ability to think outside the box." Man, do I agree!
  4. I want to make time to "unplug." It's probably weird that this was one of my takeaways from a tech conference, but I went to an awesome session with Carl Hooker, and it inspired me to take a timeout from technology on a more regular basis.  Even though technology has made our lives easier in a million different ways, it's also made it harder for us to connect with others on a deep, personal level.  I want to make sure I don't become a digital zombie, and I want to make sure my students can find that balance, too. 
Overall, I would say my first SXSWedu experience was a very positive one. It forced me to think a lot, and it made me want to strive to be innovative in my practice every single day.  I heard such a variety of opinions and ideas; some of them were frustrating, some were eye-opening, and some were affirming, but all of them made we want to be a better teacher, both for my students and for my fellow teachers.  We have to take risks if we want to keep making our profession look good. 

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