Tech & Learning Leadership Conference

Tech & Learning Leadership Conference

tech and learning attendees
Maria Tucker, Lisa Nielsen, Clay Smith

When do you get a chance to sit down and meet a bunch of strangers doing similar work? How often have you had a real conversation with a vendor that isn't a sales pitch? Have you been in a room with a variety of school district leadership representing various demographics along with vendors and had a meaningful conversation on the future of education? 

The Tech & Learning Leadership Summit gave me just the opportunity. Educational Leaders from various US districts gathered in New Orleans, LA the December 2019 to discuss current trends in education and share how each of us have been working to solve some critical problems. Vendors joined us to throw in their own thoughts. My fear was of getting a sales pitch for the two days of this conference. Instead I've gotten meaningful engagements from humans representing parents, educators, and citizens. Okay, there's a sales pitch but it's been more a shared conversation than being talked at. 
This unique conference provides a space to talk openly of some major topics in education. Some of us have ideas for solutions, some of us are seeking guidance, none of us have a magic wand. 
We began with an exploration of the National WWII National Museum here in New Orleans. My initial reaction to this idea? "Great an awesome museum I cannot reasonably bring NYC Students to on a field trip." But wait! The organizers knew what they were doing when they put this opening act together. The Museum has a fantastic distance learning program. Virtual live interactive field trips are a real thing brought to classrooms by a knowledgeable staff. I expected a show-and-tell curriculum but was pleasantly surprised when I learned it was problem based. 
"How would you get troops on a beach when there's a big coral reef in the way?" "If you were Eisenhower or Churchill and had the information they had what decisions would you make?" The mind is sparked by this content and the museum does wonderful work of bring it to life and into the classroom from an amazing onsite studio. 
green screen video production studio

While I didn't expect the twist to the opening of the summit it certainly set the stage for the conversations to come. We all shared an experience we could talk about. We are from various rural, suburban, urban and mixed districts. The opening "field trip" gave us a common field to meet and interact on. 
We began the next full day of the summit by entering various conversation groups. I began with Digital Citizenship. It was a round table discussion with no one person the expert in the room but everyone the expert in the room. When you put together all the experience and education in attendance it's just a vast pool of a resource. Why can't/shouldn't we guide and carry our own conversation. Every workshop was in this manner giving us equal playing field to talk about passionate topics. The result? Engaging actionable ideas with personal resources and contacts we can take back to our own district. 

The big takeaways from what I attended were:

Digital Citizenship

  • Parents need to partner with districts. 
  • Teachers need to be educated for their own sake.
  • Digital Citizenship is just Citizenship.
  • Parents are the models for usage. 
  • “I’m sending you into a world where no one will filter you, I need to know you can handle it” - Ellen McDonnell, Assistant Superintendent- Curriculum, Instruction, & Tech Tuckahoe UFSD Eastchester, NY
  • Our Children are Watching...What are They Seeing - Matthew Murphy, Ed. D. Superintendent of Ramsey Public Schools regarding the role models our student's parents represent.
  • Require students to complete an online course in digital citizenship if they violate policies.

Emerging Technology

  • AR and VR are being used to expose students to cultural experiences they may not have the means to on their own. 
  • Technology such as robots for tele-classroom experiences provides more Social Emotional learning than what we may have expected. 
  • eSports is growing and also means competition between districts on what is offered. 
  • Local Military are interested in recruiting eSports players to support drone operations.
  • Voice activated devices are a concern in regards to student privacy.
  • District owned fiber optics or even owned at the state level can provide more resources among schools systems. 
  • Data privacy is a concern around what we can do with data and ultimately need to do in order to help our students. 

Digital Equity

  • E-Rate is changing and can be calculated system wide as of 2021 providing greater equity where needed. 
  • Equipment transfer rules as of 2021 are eliminated
  • E-rate will be reset for category 2 usage. 
  • 1:1 device programs work best when there is an ownership of the device and they are sent home. 
  • There's no reason to collect devices over the summer, provide an appointment based repair system in off months. 
  • The loss and theft of devices even in transient populations is less than the damage caused when there is a lack of ownership. 
  • Access to the internet is an ongoing problem. Libraries can help but schools may be better to start a loaner hotspot service. Libraries require parents schools can have them checked out like books. 
  • Teachers need to be better educated on technology integration and classroom management on devices. Don't just lock it down. 
  • There are major equity gaps of race and gender still needing to be addressed in the education workforce.
Overall this summit has provided a space for educators to speak openly and passionately on topics. The best phrase uttered again and again was "Oh, I like that idea". By the end we have gotten to have meaningful conversations which we'll take back to our districts. I'll be connecting further with some in attendance regarding their lessons learned in various implementation efforts to support technology and our students in schools. 
The vendors provided further resources to help us in making effective change. No one was pushy and everyone wanted to help and have a real conversation. I'm not leaving with any contracts or promises from vendors. But I do know what they offer should the need arise and I'll remember that we had a meaningful conversation together about equity, digital citizenship, and about being a human supporting our students. 
Ultimately I'm very appreciative of everyone at Tech & Learning for organizing a space for these conversations and providing the framework for us to have these discussions. I've been inspired by so many and have ideas on what I want to work toward next in my district. Thanks Tech & Learning. I'm looking forward to the next one. 


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