Spirits of Educon: Past, Present, and Future

I know that my title is ambiguous. This could be about the fellowship at the after hours party – but it is not. It could be about the positive vibe that permeates the hallways and classrooms at SLA – but it is not (at least not directly). It is about the ghosts of Educon, the ones that have followed me home. I fear that ghosts have a scary and negative connotation, and these ghosts are anything but negative, although sometimes a little scary in that they push me into the unknown.

Past: Last year was my first trip to Educon. I left with so many thoughts and ideas; I had no idea which ones would find their way into my teaching and which would fall by the wayside. There were some insights that have informed my outlook, such as the difference between transparency and openness. There were sessions that gave me a lot of great ideas, like the one on Gamification. There was the session on Design Thinking that has stuck with me and gained traction at this year’s conference. More about that in a bit. The one big ghost that has followed me around, quietly in the spring and summer and much more present this fall, was the Senior Honors Seminar presentation by Grace O’Keeffe and her students. A wholly student created curriculum was really exciting. Translating that concept back to my own situation led to the creation of History Seminar: Research Methods, which I have been blogging about. That course is one where the students decided what they would research, how they would share their research and how much time to allot for each project. I will continue to blog about that separately, as the students successfully lobbied to have it turned into a year-long course. Not a single student moved out into another elective.

Present: Last night I got back from my second trip to Educon. It was easier this year, as I knew the routine and didn’t have to spend any energy figuring out how to get from the hotel to SLA and other logistics. I also have the luxury of a snow day today to process my thoughts, reread my notes, and get to know the ghosts I brought back this year. Just as before I have one big idea and a number of smaller ones. This year, I attended a session on Creativity where the presenter, Basil Kolani, talked about an elective in Design Thinking that he teaches. I think an amazing complement to the Seminar would be a class in Design Thinking. I will be working on my pitch to my principal, academic dean and fellow department chairs. The course would be a series of problems identified by students, which they would then think through to try to solve. I am not sure which would come first, but I think they would make a great pair of courses to prepare students for college and beyond.

Other ideas are ones I could implement in my current curriculum. A panelist and presenter, Raghava KK, had a lot of things to say that got me thinking (I could write an entire post about it) but the curricular idea I got was from his children’s ebook. When you shake the iPad the set of parents changes from homosexual to heterosexual. He proposed the idea of a story about Indian independence that would be told from each perspective – Indian, Pakistani, and British. Each time you shake the iPad the perspective changes. I am not sure how to make that happen, but there is great potential for a technique like that in learning history. A presentation about how to document the learning process showed me how easy it would be to capture the development of student progress with screenshots, images, and short videos on my iPad. A visit to an American Government class at SLA gave me a chance to see kids working on writing Modern Day de Tocqueville chapters about Democracy in America today, a brilliant idea. I am sure there are other classic texts that could be treated the same way. In a session on Student Voices, one student talked about a project to write an Op-Ed piece where the culmination had the students go to a busy intersection as a class, taking turns standing on a milk crate to deliver their words to whoever would listen. Other sessions have me thinking about learning space – physical and digital, and authentic assignments and assessments. There are so many other tidbits of wisdom that I may have to write another post with my favorite statements. One session had me writing my Education Manifesto. I will publish that separately; it was a great exercise.

Future: I am planning to go back next year. This year there were too many sessions I wanted to attend, and too many things I did not get to work on. I look forward to seeing some of the same people and meeting new ones, who choose to spend their weekend between the NFL Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl in Philadelphia at a hive of learning known as SLA. I hope someone goes with me next year. Who doesn’t need some inspiration in late January?

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4 thoughts on “Spirits of Educon: Past, Present, and Future

  1. Two thoughts.

    First, our edtech leader is running a senior May Term project called something like “Start up.” It’s not exactly Design Thinking, but it bears some resemblance. If you’re looking for brains to pick, I’m sure he’d be happy to share ideas. His name is Reshan Ricards and his Twitter handle is @reshanrichards (he is/was at Educon)

    Second, jumping off your point about the varying perspectives on Indian independence: I read an old (1966) article today, called “The Burden of History,” by Hayden White. Among other things, he suggested that a traditional narrative is not the only way to approach history (in the same way that a 19th century novel is not the only way to write literature), and you could think about “impressionist history” or even “surrealist history” (though I really don’t know what that would look like. I’m still processing the piece (though I did find it interesting as a kind of support for thematic as opposed to narrative history), and in some ways it’s very much a product of its time, but it was suggestive, and I thought of it when I read your piece. So I thought I’d mention it.

    • I was thinking of you this weekend. I was in Reshan’s session. I saw he is from your school. I definitely took some good ideas away – referenced them in my post. He was excellent. I would love to know what he is planning. If I can pitch this successfully, having some models to glean from would be great.

      The article sounds interesting. Raghava KK kept emphasizing the importance of perspectives. He argued that how we react to someone with an opinion we disagree with or find offensive tells us a lot about ourselves. I know we look at different primary sources to get different perspectives. I am not sure how often I encourage students to construct entire narratives from different points of view. That does seem to be the heart of understanding history.

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