Saturday, January 25, 2014

Educon 2.6 Panel: More Questions Than Answers

Last night I attended Educon 2.6's panel discussion at the inspiring Franklin Institute. I left the conversation with many more questions than answers. The topic, "Openness: Should We Create a More Transparent World," was met with a myriad of responses that I would summarize as a collective "yes, but be aware" since openness and transparency are advantageous, however, we have to be cognizant of what openness and transparency mean for our personal lives, work, and future.

I must say I felt like a small fish in a big pond as multiple ideas were shared, ideas that move way beyond the school house to areas such as global citizenry/connection, open courseware use for all learners, the plusses and minuses of MOOCs, tech invention, scalability, and ownership, and the vast data collection systems connected to our everyday use of technology.

The take aways for me were varied, leaving me with more questions than answers for the students, school, and system I work for.

First, the words of Jaime Casap, Global Education Evangelist at Google, and Kin Lane, API Evangelist, led me to a renewed focus related to educating and empowering students and families about the digital footprint or portfolio they are creating from a young age. That would begin with educating parents and children at the early years and moving outward to greater ownership and education for older children.  I liked the way that Casap explained that we all now live in a "big, giant, small town" as he referred to the fact that we are known, and known well, through our digital share similar to the way we were known in the tight knit neighborhoods we grew up in. I also liked Casap's use of the phrase "control our digital portfolio," as he emphasized a sense of empowerment related to student use of tech rather than the focus on following rules. Lane pointed to the many ways that data is collected through our typical online use of multiple platforms. This discussion made me want to read more about this complex, world changing topic--a topic that affects all of us.

Homa Sabat Tavangar, author of the Global Toolkit for Elementary Learners and Growing Up Global: Raising Children to be at Home in the World pointed to the opportunities for global partnership and exchange that transparency and openness related to technology bring.  She noted that there is a whole world of ideas outside of our borders. I am keenly aware of this, and believe that we have to build our students' global understanding from a young age. I liked her emphasis on global/digital citizenship which is to teach children to think of themselves as "friends to the world."  I would like to read Tavangar's books, and include some of her ideas in my students' upcoming Friendship Week, the week that includes Valentine's Day.

David Wiley, Co-Founder of Lumen Learning, discussed the potential that moving towards open courseware brings for learners and educators.  He expressed his concern that MOOCs are not creative or innovative enough with respect to providing a rich, interactive education. I spoke more to him about this later and agreed that while MOOCs can serve some well, they are not the vehicle for educating others. As a busy educator, with little time, but terrific access, I find that a MOOC serves my learning needs well, but as he suggested, MOOCs may not serve the needs of less experienced learners or those with less access well.  I was very interested in his ideas about open courseware, and want to explore that topic more.  As a grade school teacher I often find myself caught in a web of public-private partnership.  While I benefit from both in my work, I do at times, worry about a move to greater privatization as I wonder about who will advocate for and protect the rights of all children, particularly children from the most challenged situations.

Sunny Lee, Project Lead from Mozilla Open Badges, discussed Mozilla's work with regard to credential systems.  She posed the questions and comments related to the question, How do we tell our professional story today? She further noted that many of our credential systems are outdated.  As far as openness and transparency, Lee highlighted the need for lots of conversation related to the topic since the notion of "open" is abstract with many different perspectives. That idea continued as the panelists discussed the relationship between accountability and vulnerability with regard to openness and transparency.

After the panel, I spoke to Marci Hull, the tech director from SLA, who mentioned to me that the intent of the panel was to broaden our perspective as educators by bringing in varied professionals from fields outside of education. In thinking about that focus, it's clear that the panel impacted me. My eyes were open to multiple new perspectives and topics, and while I felt like a small fish in a big sea, I'll attend more to these topics as blog posts, tweets, conversations, and books are posted and published.

Before, during and after the panel discussion, I spoke to a number of educators. I was inspired by a group of educators who are working for the Department of Education to build two new high schools in New York.  I was honored to meet Jose Vilson, a New York educator who inspires me daily with his blog posts, work, and advocacy for children and educators.  Similarly, I was impressed by the enthusiasm by the Franklin Institute leaders I spoke to as I learned about the Institute's mission and outreach. I also met the Tech Director, Gerald Crisci,  from the Scarsdale Public Schools who told me the wonderful story of his system's research and development efforts. He shared his system's wonderful iBook story which I look forward to reading.

Going to a conference by yourself offers learning challenge, excitement, and discomfort with regard to new people, new ideas, and new challenges. What seems like challenging goals and work in your own system become magnified when you hear the stories, issues, and foci of so many other systems and disciplines. Though uncomfortable, the learning is good and pushes me to see education with greater depth and breadth, thus allowing me to bring new ideas back to my students, school, and system.  The panel was only the start of this transformative weekend. I wonder what today's learning and share will bring.