SXSWedu day 1
This week I am spending time at the SXSWedu conference. It’s described as a conference that “features four days of compelling presentations and informative sessions from education professionals, industry leaders, and policy practitioners committed to engaging all learners.”
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These are not my usual stomping grounds. Indeed, AECT, AERA, E-learn, SITE, EdMedia, ALT-C and all the other conferences I’ve been to feature groups of individuals committed to education and learning as well, but none of them feature the entrepreneurial atmosphere and the “disruption is imminent” aura that this conference is epitomizing.
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I had a great lunch with George Siemens today. I came across George’s work in 2007 and have chatted on and off with him over the past 5 years on various social media platforms but we hadn’t actually ever met face-to-face until today. I joked that I will be wearing my ethnographic hat during my time at the conference, trying to make sense of a culture different than my own. While my research aims to ultimately make a difference in education and people’s lives, and, a number of edtech startups and I are (seemingly) operating in the same area, I am not so sure I am in the “edtech space” (as it is affectionately called by the numerous entrepreneurs I met at the opening reception). And I don’t fully understand the different rounds of venture capital funding. But, that’s the language that’s dominating the conversations so far. But, I do believe this is something that more education researchers need to know about. After all, when individuals propose solutions for the problems of education, we need to listen. And to question. For more on this you should read this piece from Audrey Watters, (who is also at the conference and we got to spend some time chatting together today).
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Language is a strange thing. It’s strange because the same words might have different meaning to different people. Take the words “democratizing education” for example. What do you think of when you hear those words? I think of Paulo Freire, equity, education as a public good, the freedom from pedagogies of oppression. I wasn’t sure what these words meant when I heard them today. I believe they meant “freeing education from the control that educational institutions exert on it.” And even though it sounded good (who doesn’t want to “democratize education” anyway?!) I’m not sure that progressive educators’ visions of democratic and equitable educational systems align with the visions of democratic educational systems that were discussed today. And that’s another reason why more educators and researchers need to be here, and need to be in these conversations.
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Research was absent. Perhaps I was at the wrong sessions. Even at the sessions that I went to, any mention of evaluation (let alone research) was problematic. For example: “15% of our students told us that they [insert survey response here].” There was no mention of how many individuals were surveyed, what the return rate was, or whether the evaluation questions were created and validated by an independent party. I understand that educational research might not be on the radar of commercial entities and investors. But, it’s important. And, if we are truly dedicated to making change in education, however small or large it is, then we should be investigating whether the tools we create work, how they work, and in what contexts they work.