140edu Post-Conference Report
Earlier this month, two RPS students and I participated as panelists at the “140edu” conference in NYC. This conference was the brainchild of Jeff Pulver, an internet communications entrepeneur with a passion for connecting people and ideas, and Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the inquiry-based Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.
The conference was a two-day event hosted at the 92nd Street Y, and the call for proposals included the following statement:
“The changes in the way we live our lives must create change in the way we teach and learn. The real-time web should create profound changes in the way we think about what, how and why students and teachers can do, create and communicate. The very nature of what we consider “school” should be radically different given the powerful reach of the communication tools our students have at their disposal. #140edu is dedicated to exploring and expanding that change.”
The best way to get a quick feel for the conference might be to take a look at the list of speakers. All sessions were designed to be introductory, and each clocked in at 15 minutes, max. I was pleased that my proposal to bring two students and talk about ways in which the internet and its affordances have enabled us to “change our default settings” as learners was accepted, and on Tuesday, August 2nd, I met Niki Kakarla and Mike Fedorochko in NYC after one brief in person planning conversation earlier. (John Miller attended the conference as well; it was so nice to connect with you there, John!)
Here’s the video from our session:
(I’ve put in a request to get my second “e” back.)
We DID get some good questions and comments, so I was a little disappointed that those didn’t make it into the video. Of the questions I remember, my favorite was, “Would you consider these students typical?”
To which I responded something like, “I absolutely consider these students typical in their passion and in their desire to do meaningful work. I think we all want to see ourselves as capable of making relevant contributions to our communities. But I think that Niki and Mike are probably ATYPICAL in the opportunities that have been given to them, and in the opportunities which they have created for themselves.”
I asked Niki and Mike if they would take a few minutes to share their thoughts as well…
“Being a speaker at the 140edu conference as a student was an extraordinary experience for me. As an audience member, I was surrounded by a room full of brilliant people who were all open to each other’s ideas. As a speaker onstage, there were so many enthusiastic people waiting to hear what I had to say. After the conference I realized just how many people wanted to talk about our ideas and how to move forward with them. This was probably one of the coolest things I could have been a part of. I was able to network, learn about new ideas, and meet people from different backgrounds with different perspectives.”
“Our group spoke at Jeff Pulver’s 140edu conference a few weeks ago to a crowd of wonderfully open-minded educators. Being one of the only real students at the conference was both refreshing and disappointing. On the one hand, I was given the opportunity to meet and pay thanks to the hundreds of extremely intelligent and committed individuals working to make the necessary changes in the way we approach education. On the other hand, the utter lack of student input and participation, even amongst such progressive and open-minded educators, was disappointing to say the least. As a rising senior, it’s tough for me to come back to Rutgers Prep for my final year and not be envious of the students who have been given the opportunity to learn organically in an environment like that of the much-lauded Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. It is my firm belief that our schools are forcing students to become risk averse, training students to theorize instead of apply, and disenfranchising creativity instead of empowering it. The reality of the situation is that schools, parents, governments, and many colleges are trying to quantify something that is sometimes extremely difficult to quantify. As teachers, I urge you to keep an open mind, experiment with newer and better methods, and recognize and work to mitigate as much as possible the frustration many students feel with their education. I have been extremely lucky to attend a school whose faculty are so incredibly committed, and I simply would not be in my current position without the dedication and influence of Rutgers Prep faculty members. Thank you.”
(Back to Shelley again.) I am grateful to have been able to attend and speak at this conference. Committing to presenting helped sharpen my thinking as I tried to figure out how to pull together something that the students and I could be proud to have shared. I’ve been exploring different conference structures over the past few years (I’m interested in the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of “containers” for learning), and it was a treat to be a part of this intense, engaging, and multi-layered experience and conversation. I’ve put in a proposal to facilitate a conversation at another edu-themed conference this fall, and if I get the nod, based on the positive feedback we received at 140edu, I’ll try to once again include students.
(The recordings of the other talks from the 140edu conference are here.)