SXSWedu 2016: Teachers and Policy
Often times when we think of teachers and policy, we think of them in isolation, one only affecting the other as an after thought. For us, teachers, it’s also much more comfortable to focus simply on teaching and stay away from policy because we all fear being too political. After all, it’s all about the kids, and politics and policy just get in the way of good teaching, right? Now, I’m not going to argue for educators to become activists or run for local office though it can’t hurt if some do, but as educators, we can’t shy away from policies that affect our students, and how we’re able or not able to teach them.
This past Wednesday, March 9, I was able to participate in a panel at SXSWedu and discuss policy. The panel was titled, “Straight Talk from Teachers on EdTech Policy”, moderated by former governor, Bev Perdue. I was accompanied by Kerry Gallagher and Matthew Worthington.
I arrived on Wednesday in Austin, and let me start by saying, that I should have gotten there on Monday. That was my bad, and am already planning for next year. I say this because going through the schedule I could see that I’d miss a lot of really cool sessions and workshops on virtual and augmented reality, EdTech, and Maker education. I did get to attend a panel titled: Can Hip Hop Save Us? I felt pleased that hip hop had been given a platform at the event. I actually appreciated the effort at diversity throughout the event.
I even saw Jose Vilson, author of This Is Not a Test, just hanging out. I had to approach him, and let him know I thought he was rock star. If you follows teachers on Twitter, you know Jose Vilson, especially if you follow #educolor. I didn’t say much because I didn’t want to interrupt his conversation, but walked away feeling like such a groupie/fanboy. To a certain degree, Vilson is one of my inspirations and role models for blogging and tweeting. Of course, I had to tweet about having seen him. I walked into the green room before my panel even more excited and pumped. I’d only even ever heard of green rooms from TV. I think I was expecting more snacks, but that’s just on TV, but it was nice to have somewhere to sit and wait.
The panel consisted of a Q&A session followed by a questions from the audience. Former governor, Bev Purdue, had a set of questions we had reviewed over the phone earlier to discuss throughout the session. Right away, I was impressed by my colleagues on the panel, and the ease with which they spoke about policy.
One of the issues we discussed was on access and equity. While I argued for the importance to provide access to equipment and technology within the schools, my colleagues added that not only should we be talking about access, but also equity. They brought up a good point about certain schools having state of the art technology that goes unused or underused because the staff hadn’t been trained properly or the technology was not rolled out adequately while there are schools doing a whole lot with the little technology they do have. This highlighted the importance of professional development for teachers and staff during the acquisition of new technology.
Another topic we looked at was data, and the growing concern in different districts with concern to data. We felt teachers were definitely concerned about privacy. I, however, feel that there are certain expectations to privacy that we automatically give up when we choose to participate in this modern society. In my community, many parents aren’t really that concerned about their children’s data. Perhaps, it’s because most of my school’s parents for better or worse have full trust in us, and what we are doing. Another reason is that being immigrants many of students’ parents just don’t feel they have any agency to push back or question anything the school does.
I have a love/hate relationship with data. As a math person, I love numbers and collecting data to find patterns. The problem is that some of the data teachers are asked to analyze is often times irrelevant and very abstract. In particular, having a score for an assessment where teachers are not aware of the question and how the student answered provides very little information. I also dislike data being used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Doing so hinders creativity and experimentation on the part of administrators and teachers, which in turn means the teachers allow the students less creativity and experimentation.
Currently, I’m loving using programs to create my own assessments and forms in particular when those programs and forms can graph the results, so that I’m really enjoying collecting data, but the thing is that it’s my data. Teachers have access to tons of data, and if we are strategic we can begin to collect “smart data”. “Smart data” that aligns to our curriculum, instruction, and students’ needs.
For too long, we have been given the data by our districts, and many times, the data is reflective of student’s learning the previous year, and not even of the whole year, but of that one day on that one subject. We still need some form of data, so that instead of fighting against data, we would do better to guide the discussion towards smarter, timely, and relevant data. Technology definitely has a roll in the collection of this data.
Another point, we made about the use of technology was about allowing students to use the tools of their times. Kerry mentioned how often times we look at school as preparation for the real world, forgetting that for our students, school is the real world. Matthew mentioned a student who was interested in film who sought out professionals to engage in the process of filmmaking, so that because of technology students can now seek out professionals in a given field for mentorship or collaboration.
This is what I feel is technology’s most important role. Our students need to be working with the tools and equipment that will be used once they are professionals. Also using these tools will give them an idea about whether or not it’ll be something that interests them as a career.
When I was in elementary school, I performed really well in Math, and competed. In eighth grade, I placed second in the whole city in the math portion of the city’s academic olympics, and teachers told me I should go into accounting, but why not computer science or programming. A lot of it had to do with the fact that my teachers weren’t teaching me with the tools of my time. Our computer lab was hardly ever used, and when it was, there was hardly any computer science happening.
The event ended, and I checked my Twitter account, @j053frau5t0, and retweeted all the awesome recaps from the panel. I headed back to my hotel, and to my surprise right after the panel, Jose Vilson tweets me back with “You should have said more tocayo,” which in Spanish is a term of endearment for someone with your same first name. Bonus. I replied that next time I would, which means I need to get on it, and look towards the next conference or the next panel. Geek heaven on Twitter for a moment.
I walked away from my panel very impressed and pleased with the whole process, and very excited to return, and maybe even hopefully stay for some of the music next time. Thank you to all involved in organizing the panel.
One last side note, everyone at the SXSWedu was quite aware that we were the nerd contingent of the whole SXSW madness, and as we, the nerds, departed all the real cool kids were beginning to arrive. I was surprised by the amount of roadies, and that even McDonalds was setting up a stage.