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Blogging, Challenges of POC in Edtech and #EdtechBOC 

Blogging, Challenges of POC in Edtech and #EdtechBOC 

Earlier this week, I shared a post centered on lack of diversity of online Edtech spaces and in the days since, many conversations were had amongst my POC in Edtech peers about our own experiences and contributions. 

Theses kinds of conversations, the difficult ones meant for private POC spaces,  are necessary in order to push and support growth amongst each other.

When I started to look for Edtech blogs written by techs of color, it was alarming to learn how many weren’t writing and sharing our  work. There were some, but not many.  It made the argument about our missing voices almost null and void because..how can we diversify contributions when people aren’t sharing?
As we discussed further, the realities of the lack of such sharing were obvious and real. 

Being an educator of color in many schools across the country can be difficult, especially when you are the only one. Being a technologist of color gets even trickier…especially when your reality of being a classroom teacher was one filled with moments that made you question your contributions and worth.

You know…because you’re joining a field that has historically been notorious for silencing people like you.

You can be technically strong, supporting thousands of students and teachers but still question your own voice and contributions because this is the result of not only years and years of living the same cycle of silencing but also often a continued reality when working in schools with peers and administrators who seem to live to “bring the expertise down a few notches.”

Like my mom used to say, “They don’t want you to be smart.”

The beauty of having these conversations behind closed doors and devices is that in that same spirit, we can build each other up. Those of us with experiences and open pathways help steer our sisters and brothers on the intricacies of building and developing an online portfolio of work.

Like a few of my peers, I am lucky to be in a space and career where I don’t experience negativity or forced silencing. This is my privilege and also our collective duty to be the voice, ears and support for those who are not so fortunate.

After much discussion, @EdtechBOC was born. Right now, I’m developing EdtechBloggersofColor.com (Still under development) to be a informational site serving to both amplify work and continue to build community for those of us who tweet, blog and podcast or want to do any of those things.

This week, we’ve have brand new domains purchased and new blogs started because we finally had to have THE TALK about what we needed to do for ourselves to progress the work being done for our kids…work that has been traditionally done in silence. 

Waiting for someone to “invite your voice” isn’t an option because we can amplify and advocate while still being active collaborators in all other spaces. Being in all spaces is key.

For those of you wondering why we are pushing for more techs of color to be content creators, aside from the fact that we should…there are real implications of not doing it in this field.

Many of my Edtech peers of color are also goal setting for future growth in technology education. Before even getting an invite to interview, there’s a great chance that you are being searched for what you contribute and your greater academic impact.

This is where the online portfolio, blog or profile becomes even more important. For those wishing to consult, you better believe that it matters.

As my mom says…Give them no reason to deny your worth, aside from their own bias.

Now, I won’t pretend that creating a hashtag and a Twitter account solves the deeper issues that exist but the more that we challenge ourselves in our safe spaces to step out of the safety zone, the stronger our collective becomes.

None of this means that there aren’t contributors of color now. There are so many so please don’t let this blog post permit you to create an excuse for more exclusivity.

Instead, lets be proud of the fact that this medium of online communication and collaboration has created a means of people who share many of the same filtered realities to find each other and change it for ourselves and our students.

CSforALL Through The Eyes of a Former Student, Current Computer Science Major

CSforALL Through The Eyes of a Former Student, Current Computer Science Major

A few months ago, one of my former students, Saul C., added me on facebook. He is now at a University here in Texas and after a few exchanges back and forth…more or less, him learning about my current work versus my former math teacher life, he told me that he was majoring in computer science. Our reconnection happened at a time when he was applying for a scholarship for future hispanic engineers. He didn’t even need to ask. Of course, I wrote it.

Just to provide a little background, Saul was in my geometry class. He sat quietly to himself most days as an observer and deep thinking problem solver. He was, and I am sure still is, one of those young men who had great reasons to question so many of our daily norms…replacing them with much more fluid ways of working. I can literally close my eyes and see his “thinking” face now, which usually led to some conversation full of “whys?” That’s who he was….and still is…I’m sure.

In our school, we did not have a real computer science program. I know this because a couple of our Upward Bound Math/Science kids were in our interpretation of those courses and let’s just say that the Saturday road trips to UT Arlington for class were quite humorous.

Saul’s high school choices, outside of core learning, were literally band, choir, auto mechanics, woodshop, cosmetology, art, FFA and sports.

When Saul got to college, at some point, he found computer science and fell in love with it.

There is a great deal of chatter happening around CS right now. How will we teach it? Who teaches it? Who trains them? Who pays for that training?

I went to Saul for his opinion. Below is our exchange…shared with his permission. I’m going to say that if you read this and do not understand why EVERY kid deserves this opportunity…and what it means, I can’t help you beyond this.

Why did you choose CS?

Saul: I feel the future holds many opportunities for CS majors. I can apply my skills to help any industry with their problems. I just need a basic understanding of the problem and I can make a program to help them. The things I can make are also limitless. (sidebar: I’ve never heard these words from him…ever. I feel empowered right now)

If your High school offered an extensive CS program, would you have taken advantage of the opportunity?

Saul: I would have tried a couple of programing classes if my school offered them. I possibly could have started on my future a lot earlier.

Do you think having that experience would have helped you now?

Saul: You best believe they would have helped me a lot when I first started programming in college! It was the first time I ever saw a computer language. Furthermore, I struggle a lot in that class because I didn’t have any basic knowledge of programming. I feel like I’m not on the same level as the other CS majors because they’ve been at it since they were in high school. I keep trying and I seek help when I need it. So I’ll be good or better as them some day.

A couple of things…

While there is a massive push for accessible computer science for kids, I agree with Pernille Ripp, in a sense that not every kid wants to code and that kids need access to a plethora of creative pathways. At the same token, we haven’t even considered computer science as a necessary discussion…until now.

And…That’s just not okay

I look at Saul, who found his way into a program at his university and wonder how many kids could have a real interest but have zero awareness? How many kids could be empowered to develop future technologies while solving current problems if they were able to explore early?

How many Sauls have we failed along the way by not creating this pathway…no different than learning math, science, history or reading.

Of course, the same can be said for the arts. Believe me, I am definitely an Arts Ed advocate and perhaps we should consider the new language of ESSA in this case and think of our students as whole people. What are they missing because we haven’t yet gotten the vision to provide it?

Dear Saul, I hope that you get that scholarship and I hope that you never give up on your dreams…even and especially when they are hard. I’m even prouder that you found what you were looking for…finally. Thankful for the moment at Texas Tech when this door became a possibility.

Let’s Stop Celebrating Non Racial or Cultural Diversity In Edtech

Let’s Stop Celebrating Non Racial or Cultural Diversity In Edtech

It’s odd to me that some view the questioning of our ceremonial norms, like non-diverse “best of” lists, “all male” or “all white” panels, as a slap in the face to those being lauded as the “go to” voices of Edtech. Why do we have such a problem with understanding the need to have a wider lens on the messages being circulated in this educational space? Do people really not understand the power structures of how this Edtech world works? Really??

I hate that I needed to write this blog and to be honest, I tried to ignore this very idea the moment that I saw Edtech Magazine’s 2016 Honor Roll of Must Read IT Blogs. I clicked the link, looked over the list, rolled my eyes and went about my business because listing isn’t something that I generally care about…especially one that is super “same white techs as always” because this happens weekly and in the big scheme of things, this one blog doesn’t matter…except it does.

This line…

“EdTech is proud to spotlight some of the education industry’s most influential thought-leaders in our latest crop of the top K-12 IT bloggers.” 

…Pauses for a second to envision the numbers of speaker bios updated because of lines like this. There’s a bigger picture here (like it or not), the business of educational technology…consulting, speaking, writing, blog advertisements and in that sense, lists like these play a role…a major one at that…sadly. 

Why Does She Always Have to Make it About Race? 

Can We Not Just Focus on the Great Work that People Do for Kids Regardless of Race?  

It’s Not About Race…It’s the Learning

 

When I see lists such as these, I imagine these very people in a room at my favorite conference. They’re all simultaneously on a panel, talking about edtech and the work that they do as thought leaders. I’m in the audience, sitting with my fellow POC in edtech community…giving side eyes and shaking our heads at the lack of perspectives that relate to us, our world or communities. We’re also counting the numbers of people who consult outside of school and don’t actually work in a school district, even though they’re on the “school leader” panel…lol

prince side eye

Since ISTE, I’ve been contacted by countless conferences, organizations and schools to give talks on diversity in edtech. It bothered me to see the very people who have asked for such “necessary” conversations to be applauding this list or any list that lacks the highly influential work of techs of color…not because they are of color but because their work is brilliant and should be recognized too!

If you don’t know any people of color who do this work, you must widen your lens. Here’s a start…Have you seen Patricia Brown’s website or blog? (She was just named to NSBA’s 20 To Watch along with a couple of people on this list)

This blatant “black/brown out” of techs of color, doesn’t just limit itself to this list or the countless others like it. It also extends itself to the very learning spaces that we inhabit especially those like Tech & Learning’s CIO Summit and even the upcoming Edsurge Summits where “entrance is determined by school/tech leadership title”…but that’s an issue for school districts, isn’t it? Clearly, we need more techs of color in school technology leadership but creating a conference that starts from a place of racial bias…doing nothing to influence change within it, doesn’t do anything but put more white tech leaders in a room inviting more social media backlash once those non-progressive images are published.

A little insight into the selection process for being an EdTechMagazine Influecer…

  1. This list was created from “veterans of year’s past”, the editorial staff and a nomination process through “Listly” (which didn’t garner a lot of nominations) and even fewer that made the cut from that process so it’s basically all about editorial staff here.
    1. Listly makes users connect their social media accounts to “log votes”. As a rule of thumb, I don’t connect tools like this to my twitter or facebook…because data/information matters.
  2. Isn’t this supposed to be about Informational Technology? Or is this about shares and badges?
  3. There’s a diversity of women and men…that’s it.

I mentioned earlier that people have something to say when one questions diversity. That’s simply not the case. We stand in disgust when the list is “all men” but when it comes to race, we don’t always fight on the same team…or at all.

A few months ago, someone that I used to respect greatly in this space made the comment that he remains quiet on issues of social justice because people treated him differently for speaking up.

Imagine if we all remained silent…or had the privilege to do so.

One more thing…I was asked on twitter how we should “honor” those on this list while also being inclusive.

Therein lies the problem.

Suggested reading (Cross out hiring and replace it with “suggesting leaders/voices in educational technology”):

What You’re Really Saying When You Talk About Lowering the Bar in Hiring

 

Thoughts On Listening, Voice and Empowerment

Thoughts On Listening, Voice and Empowerment

When I started working in Lufkin, one of the first things that I did, before any decision was made, was getting to campuses to listen and talk to teachers. I remember feeling so nervous but I also knew, from being a voiceless classroom teacher, that this step was an important one. It was during a meeting with our high school teachers that I learned about some of our digital infrastructure issues. They could tell you exactly where in the building one could connect and the places where connectivity was weakest. These statements are what drove more in depth research and action into changing that.

Our teachers were also quite open about how they wished to learn professionally or even be acknowledged for the learning that they were already doing…learning that is often ignored in districts because of its non-traditional means. It was in those moments that my plan for our “district PD plan” was affirmed. Whatever we did, it needed to be driven by our teachers as there is honest truth to the fact that if we want our students to have the agency to think and have a voice in their learning, our teachers need this for themselves.

Our teachers also needed to know that their ideas were framing what we do. This was critical.

A few months ago, during a conversation at Educon, Zac Chase tweeted a statement that has been with me since the day that it flew across my feed.

There are so many realities of school that teachers have no choice or voice in and I often wonder how much people really get that. It’s easy to talk about what we want to see in classrooms and how schools should function differently but it’s an entirely different idea to be at the forefront of those decisions…to have a voice in the fundamental work that we do…work that is not just absent of teacher ideas but also students.

The fact is, that somehow our traditions of who gets a seat at the table are limited to those with the titles to do so and not enough to those who are impacted most.

While we are far from perfect in my district, there is effort given through student leadership meetings, cross-cultural parent cohorts and teacher collaboratives like our digital ambassadors. It’s a start, but ideally I hope that we can get to the point where one doesn’t need to be in a special cohort to question the norm…to add their ideas to the pot and to be central in decision making. This is my greatest hope and why I found great comfort in reading books like Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need because it illustrated through the eyes of SLA that is certainly possible.

I will admit to struggling at one point with which decisions needed to be mine and when they needed to be community driven. Ultimately, my own clarity came from thinking of times when I wanted to have a voice and didn’t. I remembered what it felt like to have everything from the curriculum that we used to language in which we expressed it and the “common style” from which we had to teach designated by someone else and it sucked.

I also remember what it felt like to be a student in classrooms with teachers who were so “programmed” by the traditionalism of school that they often did not see me as a person beyond the scribble in the gradebook.

Opening the door to teachers and their ideas changes the trajectory of the decisions being made. The same applies when including students…especially when they realize that the world is different outside of their walls and zip codes.

Information is power. As my friend Zac Chase said, power can be empowering.

This is what changes schools. It isn’t a brand new curriculum, new technology or hiring that person you admired from social media EDU. It is about creating a culture of openness that embraces our differences, realities, passions and curiosities. It’s a community of learners with voices, not defined by job titles but by the common desire to help students create the world through their own curiosities.

I’m often accused of being too idealistic…much like a teacher brand new to how “school” works.

Please…let that always be the case.

Marketing or Growth: What Does It Mean to Be An Innovative Educator?

Marketing or Growth: What Does It Mean to Be An Innovative Educator?

If you want to see corporate marketing at its best and worst, look no further than edtech created “educator honors”.

These technology based programs that label and badge teachers as “ambassador”, “innovative”, “distinguished” or “certified” are considered “honors” within the education field as entry into these “elite” programs often represents a teacher who is not only doing brilliant work for kids and communities but also contributing to education both nationally and even globally through the sharing of that work. (As expressed in documentation created to promote the program)

In addition, with professional development opportunities often incredibly lacking in districts, these programs often provide extensive PD and even financial support for conferences in exchange for teachers presenting, when districts can’t or won’t provide it.

There is no denying that what these programs provide for teachers has some great impact and quite a few of them get it right and remain focused on the growth of the teacher…as defined by the teacher or program goals. Discovery Education does this like no other with the DEN Stars program!

However, just as there exists a group of corporate designations that are honestly great, there also exists a group of programs that are not.

Hiding behind the badge or a “branded educator” t-shirt, is often a marketing machine where teachers are literally used as social sharing pawns with the sole purpose of evangelizing the product and promoting its use both online and face to face. It’s the #1 edtech marketing attempt at spreading the message through community, while ironically proving that they have no idea what community truly means.

Unfortunately, we as educators often don’t make the distinction. We congratulate and applaud the badge as if it has greater meaning than the pixels from which it was created. We view the “direct email to the company” as a sign of collaboration, never quite connecting the fact that they often need YOU much more than YOU need them…especially if it is a brand new product on the market.

Hey teachers, your network of educators, conference voice and reach is like the edtech version of bitcoin…literally measurable in such a way that it can be connected to potential growth…for the company anyway. Remember, in this model, your growth doesn’t really count.

That’s a reality for programs connected to sales or usage impact. If you’re lucky enough to be on a “feedback pathway”, you’re likely testing product and providing input on your own time.

We, the same ones who are looked upon in “tech spaces” as JUST TEACHERS, are giving our time and ideas to help frame someone else’s “innovation” because that’s who we are especially when it just might have greater impact in our classrooms. (It’s also really fun to put in a twittter bio or on a conference slide)

I am not knocking these programs, badges or people’s desire to fill their CV with every honor imaginable. Believe me, many of them provide ample opportunity for teachers to share all over the world. I too hold a few “corporate” distinctions but this is not done so blindly. This is done only after reading the fine print and understanding what each program will mean for my own growth, work and community.

Sometimes, I miss the fine print or even the bold print…especially when the program carries a name that means a great deal to me personally and it’s disappointing when you realize that something that you care about might be nothing more than a ploy to build a platform on the backs of teachers…through the lens of the fundamental work that we do.

Hidden behind the words…ambassador, innovator, certified, distinguished…

For the record, being an educator is just as thought provoking, creative and important as being a neurologist, engineer or any career path of esteemed importance where creative ideas are validated. We do not need to be “fixed”. The system itself does. We do not need to have our roles defined through the creation of more programs that capitalize on our work.

If you want to empower and applaud teachers…do it. Don’t hide agendas behind specialized buzz words. Instead, treat us as such. None of us would define an innovator as someone who follows a pre-conceived plan or rules so don’t use that word when the expectations underneath are anything but that.

With that said, as teachers…we should always read the fine print before signing up for programs that may not be in the best interest of the profession. At the end of the day, we hold the cards and respect won’t happen until we demand it.

Seeing all sides of the equation is a start…even if the endgame is the impact on students.

At some point, we also have to care about the impact on ourselves…our ideas and voices in our schools, communities and global networks.

By the way…a single branded program isn’t what makes the greatest difference for kids. YOU do.

And that matters.

Much more than being labeled…ambassador, innovator, certified, distinguished

 

 

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Learning New Technology, A Necessary Evil

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Learning New Technology, A Necessary Evil

Daily, many of us in these roles expect teachers to be open to learning new technology…new ways of doing things. I’ll admit that it’s sometimes frustrating when learning something new becomes so much of a hassle that it’s completely unreal.  At the same token, I also have to admit that our version of “this is… Continue Reading

Opening Dialogues for CSed, MakerSpaces and Innovative Experiences

Opening Dialogues for CSed, MakerSpaces and Innovative Experiences

Six days per week our Lufkin HS Robotics team meets to design, build, program and learn for their FIRST robotics competition in April. Many of these kids, first time members of the team, are learning in ways that they probably could not have envisioned without this experience. Over the last few weeks, I’ve met countless… Continue Reading

Thoughts On Minecraft Education Edition

  Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the string of interviews for the release of the new Minecraft Education Edition and I’ve been eagerly anticipating how others would respond at the today’s news of its summer 2016 release. By now, attendees at the BETT conference in London have experienced a sneak peek into the… Continue Reading