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Friday, April 20, 2018

Reflecting on my first #SXSWEdu

This year I had the opportunity to attend my first SXSWEdu event in Austin, Texas. It was an experience unlike any other conference I've attended, bringing together educators and school administrators with industry professionals, scientists and engineers, researchers, media and policy change-makers to talk about issues and innovations in education.

"South by" sessions and panels went beyond traditional Ed Tech conference sessions on new tech tools and lesson ideas, to pushing education stakeholders to consider innovative models of learning; future technologies impacting education and the world of work; equity in education and access to information; and global issues in education. Below are snippets of my biggest take-aways from this year's event:

Artificial Intelligence & the Future of Work

One of the most impactful sessions that I attended was a  panel on artificial intelligence and it's impact on the future of work. The panel was made up of professionals from the artificial intelligence and machine learning field, as well as educators from both K-12 and higher ed. One of my biggest take-aways from this session had to do with children's and educator's understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the implications in education and society at large. While many think of artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of Westworld-like androids, really we are already surrounded by AI technologies and many of us use them on a daily basis-- think Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Siri. Recently I heard a talk at another EdTech conference about a 6-year old who used her Amazon Echo to help her do her math homework ("Alexa, what's 6 + 5?") and while it was a powerful talk on how education needs to shift, what wasn't addressed was the fact that in using an AI device to do her homework, some of that 6-year old's data is being shared with Amazon.

And then there's machine learning. Our computers, phones and televisions already use machine learning to track our clicks and web history and use that information to suggest shows, songs, websites and ads that might be of interest to us. But if all we're seeing online is information that we're already interested in (based on Google's or Facebook's opinion, that is), what are we missing?  And how do we ensure that we're seeing or hearing a well-rounded account of stories?

While listening to the panel, I started wondering whether teachers and parents are having deeper conversations with children about AI and machine learning and how those things work. Likely, not, as the biggest barrier to having these conversations is our (educators and parents) own understanding of AI and machine learning.

Reflecting on Cultural Inclusion in the Classroom

Dr. Melissa Crum pushed us to question our "blind spots" and think about our life experiences and how they inform what we see. I was struck by her comment that " is important to think about what we don't think about..." when reflecting on cultural inclusion practices in our classrooms. I may more naturally think about the situations that relate directly to me when designing a culturally inclusive classroom, but do I remember to think about the situations that I don't relate to on a day to day basis? For example, in taking personal inventory of my identities, I may think of myself as a white, middle class female pretty naturally and therefore remember to take inventory of my students' races, genders and socio-economic situations and develop an inclusive environment around those needs. But rarely do I also think of myself as able-bodied (even though I am) and so I need to be more intentional in designing an inclusive environment for those that may not be able-bodied.

Crum commented that "...[someone else's] truth and my truth may not be the same, but they both still live here," and so both need to be considered in our interactions with each other. Our different truths will also impact the different stories we hold about people and our implicit bias. She reminded us that it is sometimes challenging to determine where some of our implicit biases come from, but that working through that process is the first step in ensuring that our implicit biases do not have a negative impact on our students.

The Question of Media Literacy

danah boyd's keynote on the question of media literacy left me feeling, well, uneasy... but also inspired, and was by far one of my favorite SXSWEdu experiences. Boyd commented that we are currently "in a culture war" in which "everyone thinks they are a part of the resistance", and questioned whether, in a society in which the right to free speech also means the right to amplified speech, should we really all have the right to be amplified?
She challenged educators to think about the way we are currently teaching media literacy and suggested that we're doing it all wrong, by dangerously creating a general distrust in students of the media and Internet sources. If we distrust all media, where will we find information that we can trust? Boyd suggested that the conversation shouldn't necessarily be about "fake news" as it's not fake to the people writing the story; the writers of "fake news" and propaganda know what they're doing. Perhaps media literacy instruction needs to focus on identifying our own "fault lines", understanding how media can be manipulated, and being able to critically analyze the information that we read and see in the media. It's not about "fact checking" (as there isn't just one truth or else who gets to decide that truth?) so much as it is about understanding various viewpoints and interpreting the facts.

Further reading/watching:

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