SXSWedu – Day 2

Day 2 was long. This post is short.*

Short talks called “Future15s”, a couple of panels about STEAM, an augmented reality session with a standing-room only audience, an industry talk about #edtech and educational equity, and a few turns through the exhibit halls.

In nearly every session in which education was being discussed (by and large) by non-educators, the tropes being discursively flung about were simplistic, relied on stereotypes, and very often just plain wrong. A sampling:

  • “Boys don’t like to write.”
  • “Teachers don’t have time to tinker, they need curriculum.”
  • “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds need technologies that expect less from them so that they can participate more.”
  • This toy/game/tool/experience/app/platform is going to change EVERYthing.

How, with all of the thousands of researchers who are actively putting into the ether rich, nuanced, carefully rendered and ethically composed portraits of teaching, learning, children, youth, teachers, schools, and education beyond the school walls, do these simplistic, laugh-line type concepts remain so sedimented in the popular lexicon about “Education”? (At one point, I had to stop myself from leaping up and sharing ample examples of adolescent boys as writers and composers. I held it together.)

Perhaps that’s the point: these portraits are placed, however carefully, into the ether of academic publishing that is largely inaccessible – because of journal and higher ed firewalls – or uninteresting to the general public.

And while I’m not an advocate of turning over the entire academic enterprise into a public scholarship-only approach, what participating in SXSWedu has taught me is that the low hanging fruit of correlations, causal relationships, and definitive answers is what sells (literally).

Not all of the sessions were this cynical or lacking in nuance, of course. Two of the Future15 talks I observed shared important insights into the complex set of relational factors that influence crowd-sourced participation, and the need to (and suggestions for how to) actively engage teachers in the design of educational technology, respectively. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the former was a talk given by my colleague Ioana Literat, assistant professor in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College. And the latter was a talk given by a doctoral student in our program, Candace (Johnson) Bratton.

And two of the best conversations I had with people I didn’t already know were with high school students who had been invited to share the results of their high science fair research with the SXSWedu crowd. One young man, Sakhit, had partnered with a scientist at UT Austin and conducted a series of experiments to test the comparable effectiveness of antibacterial soap, a manufactured product, and neem soap, a naturally occurring element. His results: the natural substance was more effective, more consistent, and more reliable in its ability to create a resistance to bacteria. The second young man was named Travis and he had decided to study the relationship between fatigue and the use of cochlear implants. His younger sister, it turns out, has had an implant since she was a toddler and he noticed that she was becoming increasingly tired earlier and earlier. He wondered why and so set out to survey and analyze the results of respondents answers to questions about fatigue. His results: that the use of FM frequency while using an implant may play a role in degree of fatigue, as could age of initial implantation. Both young scientists-in-training agreed that additional research was needed to better understand the phenomena they had started to examine.

In other words, even high school students understood that simplistic causal relationships need further examination, confirmation, even rebuttal. But then again, they are not primarily concerned with the bottom (dollar) line.

So, where does that leave us in the patience–urgency scale? I would argue for both/and. That is, designers, educators, and researchers need to form alliances and authentic partnerships if the goals of reimagining education as a more meaningful set of experiences in the image of play, increased participation, joy, and a pedagogy that embodies a recognition about the creative capacities of both youth and teachers is to be realized. However, I suspect I may need a better answer for the efficiency-disguised-as-urgency rhetoric that the #edtech industry is peddling.

If ever there was a rallying cry for higher ed to reimagine its approach to corporate partnerships, this is it. Rather than hoping companies approach us, we need to interfere in their domination of the #edtech discourses that are overly focused on infiltrating educational markets. Getting kids, teachers, parents, and communities on board is part of the plan.

It’s the morning of Day 3 as I finish writing this, however my time at SXSWedu is over. But, I’ll be back… [rubs hands, prepares to board plane]

*Short doesn’t only mean length.