Plugging Edtech into Schools

TeacherSquare partnered with Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) to bring November’s SF Edtech meetup to the San Jose. True to form, it was a fabulous gathering of teachers, technologists, education enthusiasts and supporters. I was particularly excited to support this event, not only because I’m a South Bay resident and am so pleased to see this meetup expanding to other regions of the Bay Area, but more so because I’m passionate about expanding the conversation in the edtech space beyond tools and entrepreneurs, to really focus on teachers and school leaders, who are at the heart of education change.

Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of SVEF, moderated a really thoughtful conversation between our panelists of local school representatives to highlight the challenges at the core of making this edtech movement a real revolution. The panelists were:

  • Chin Song: Director of Technology at Milpitas Unified School District
  • Bruce Neff: Technology Curriculum Specialist at Oak Grove School District
  • Mariana Garcia: Science Teacher, AdVENTURE STEM Program at Herman Intermediate School (Oak Grove School District)
  • Randy Phelps: Director of Information Technology Services at East Side Union High School District

I storified some tweets for anyone who wants to see quick highlights and some of the questions that came from the audience.
The core of the conversation was framed around  connectivity challenges, mainly around these 3 aspects: 1) infrastructure 2) devices and 3) tools and support.

Bruce Neff from Oak Grove shared that their “goal is to have a wireless access point in each classroom,” which is still a ways off. All the talk of connectivity made me think of efforts like the Education Superhighway, which is trying to bring national awareness to the lack of broadband in schools and how that is an essential element for creating the classrooms of the future that we all fantasize about.

Beyond connectivity, the audience was very interested in hearing more about the complex procurement process in districts and if there are any strategies to navigate that system, especially for smaller startups with shorter runways. The panel shared that for the most part, hardware decisions are made at the district level to enable discounts for buying in bulk while software decisions are made at the school level, and school boards only get involved when it’s a much larger purchase. Chin Song from Milpitas Unified shared his basic rubric for evaluating educational software; does it does it fundamentally change the teaching and learning environment, impact student learning and offer easy access to the data. In response to assessing free tools he also added that-

“We look at it as a VC… is this built to last? Would we recommend this to other districts?”
This is particularly interesting when you consider the growing number of consumer-oriented edtech startups offering their tools for free and exploring freemium business models.The conversation also addressed the anticipation around common core and how everyone is hopeful it will lead to better forms of ongoing assessment as well as the buzz vs. reality of flipped vs. blended learning, to which Randy Phelps replied, “it’s all still pretty much buzz.”

In closing, the panel was asked to share their dream app or what they most want to see from the edtech community. The common response was to remember that the student is the ultimate client, and technology approaches should be appealing for students and engage them in their own learning process. I appreciated Chin’s addition that even as we explore getting more/better technology in schools, “we want to minimize the time that kids are online, in front of a screen, at school” and must focus on character development and social/emotional learning. His comment that “I don’t want (kids) hooked on badges, creating a token economy” reminded me of a LearnBoost blog post from last year on 3 reasons not to gamify education.

It is so refreshing to attend an edtech event where school leaders are at the heart of the discussion, sharing their perspective on the realities of utilizing technology to improve education for all students. Muhammed closed the night with a thoughtful Bay Area based request for this growing community to not just think about students who live off 280, but to also remember the kids and communities off 101.

TeacherSquare plans to continue this effort to host future SF Edtech Meetups in San Jose in the coming year and we are already identifying teachers to serve as panelists and share their insights on how they are bringing edtech tools to their schools. If you know a teacher who would like to participate or you would like to get involved, please contact me (jessie (at) TeacherSquare.org.)