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EduCon 2.2 — A ProfHacker Perspective

Though ProfHacker is focused on higher education, we recognize the vital importance of K-12 education (both in the sense of shared endeavor and in terms of the reality that we need K-12 teachers if we have any chance of succeeding in our own educational mission).  In that spirit, this post explores an increasingly important K-12 education conference, EduCon.  This conference, in its third iteration (version 2.2), is held every year at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia.*  [This post will also be the first in a series on ProfHacker looking at the important connections between the expectations and experiences of teachers and students in K-20 education.]

EduCon (aptly billed as “both a conversation and a conference”) has five guiding “axioms” that I suspect will resonate with many ProfHacker readers:

1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5) Learning can — and must — be networked.


The Conference Structure

The conference began Friday night at SLA’s partner, the Franklin Institute, with a diverse panel conversing on the question, “What is Smart?” The remaining two days included a keynote, two plenaries, and six individual session times (with roughly 13 “Scheduled Conversations” for each session slot).  The conversations, led by one to four facilitators, ranged in topics from the future of 21st-Century Elementary Education to encouraging student service-learning projects to basic educational applications of technology to copyright issues in a “Remix Generation” to an amazing series of demos (followed by educational use brainstorming sessions) with Jeff Han, inventor of the large multi-touch screen that you’ve seen the networks use for election coverage.

Ultimately all of the sessions I attended or followed built on the five axioms, and were suffused with an amazing energy of creativity and inspiration.  In tone and conversation, EduCon felt more like THATCamp than any higher education conferences I’ve attended (though it did not use THATCamp’s unconference format).  As with the best conferences, the content and format of the sessions supercharged the connections and conversations that happened during, around, and in between those sessions.  In addition to sessions that were light on presentation and heavy on interactive discussions, the whole conference was truly digitally enabled: hundreds of people used Twitter as a true conversational backchannel (#educon), a Flickr group was created and images appeared in it on the fly, links and various references were posted along the way to Twitter or to session wikis, and streaming video was made available to anyone who logged on, sometimes even to people in the room.  [One session even crowdsourced the creation of an online book in 90 minutes using Slideshare.]

Quickly grabbed meals and two receptions served as chances to talk further with the 500 attendees (who included education faculty, journalists, education consultants, technology specialists, administrators, and many, many K-12 classroom teachers.  These gatherings were just as information- and conversation-intensive as the sessions.  [In fact, Saturday's hour-long lunch included seven, rapid-fire, five-minute, twenty-slide presentations called Encienda EduCon.]  This conference has very little down time, but it was worth it.


Takeaways

1) It may seem obvious, but there is no mistaking at EduCon that students matter. SLA’s high school students ran much of the planning and operations of the event; there were also multiple panels with high school students participating in sessions (as facilitators and audience members).  [See here and here for examples.]  There are important lessons to be learned for higher education conferences and the role of undergraduates.

2) EduCon is a great place to engage in K-20 conversations that bridge the (growing?) gap between K-12 and higher education. I was reminded of the at-times vastly different daily experiences of teachers in K-12 schools when we were unable to access, via the Philly school district’s wireless, the website of the restaurant we wanted to go to for dinner, apparently because it served alcohol.  [Given the computer skills of SLA's students, I'm sure someone could have figured out proxy servers to get around it; these are smart kids.  Of course, that's not the point.]

At the same time, the issues facing those of us who are constantly engaged in becoming better teachers (via digital technology or not) transcends the K-12/13-20 barriers that we so often see as absolute.  [Session topics such as "subversive" ways of engaging reluctant teachers in tech-related professional development & the reasons that the addition of technology has NOT resulted in substantive change in education broach issues that resonate with many of us engaged in looking toward the future of colleges and universities.]

There is much to learn here, and higher ed and K-12 have much to offer each other.  Conferences like EduCon offer access to an energetic, open-minded community of educators, looking to explore and improve teaching and learning.

What now?

  • Watch the session videos for yourself when they’re posted. [I'll provided updated links here when it does.]
  • Subscribe to the feeds of this years’ participants and/or Twitter discussions (search #educon or the TwapperKeeper archive).
  • Consider attending next year (or at least commit to watching some online, as hundreds of people did).  If you do go, be sure to get there early enough on Friday to tour the school in session.  [And consider going with people from your school, or at least members of your PLN.]

Other Links
Many participants have already posted their thoughts about EduCon, but here are a few that give you a sense of some other perspectives:

  • Suzie Boss, journalist/blogger for Edutopia
  • Kevin Jarrett, K-4 Tech Facilitator, wrote summaries of each day  (Friday, Saturday, Sunday),
  • Philadelphia Inquirer’s take

* There is a whole separate post that could be written about SLA itself, as a school, and as an approach to education.  Thankfully that post has already been written by a UMW colleague of mine, Martha Burtis.

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