Reflecting on a non-Ed Tech Conference


I have talked about the power of networking and sharing remote events synchronously around my house a lot. So much so that, while I was back in D.C. my husband “booked” me to set up live blogging for an event his workplace was helping to sponsor. This meant I had the unique experience of going from NECC, to a conference that was not about education technology. It was illuminating.

Background: My husband works for a community organization called WalkSacramento on making streets safer for walking an bicycling, and to encourage public transit. This is part of a larger movement of folks around a concept called “complete streets,” which are streets that work for everybody, and not just cars. It was a small conference, a symposium, but had a much better turnout (+250) than they were anticipating. At the same time, furloughs for state workers, budget cuts at cities and counties, made it difficult for many stakeholders from the government part of this unable to come. Terry (my husband) talked them into having me set up a live blog and video feed of the event so folks could watch at home or the office, and it would be archived for later viewing. I used some simple tools, CoverItLive, and Ustream, and worked with a team of folks from a local regional agency to do the blog (they are more knowledgeable about the policy and terms, so it made sense to have them blog while I did the video feed).

Complete Streets; Context Sensitive Streets; Walkability Bikability Education Technology
We all agree that the traditional way that roads are built and are used does not work for everyone.

  • 30 percent of the population does not drive, either due to age (too young, too old), poverty, handicap, or for some other reason. Roads do not work for them.
  • We need to reduce our carbon footprint, and become less car-centric for our own health and the health of the planet.
  • The traditional metric for roads, LOS (Level of Service) is car-centric, leading to roads built for cars and that are hostile to peds, bikes, and others.
We all agree that traditional education is not working

  • Schools are the last places to incorporate new technology, even though it is ubiquitous in the rest of our lives and students lives.
  • We need to prepare students for the future, which is a collaborative workplace AND live, not a factory. This makes them better citizens and workers.
  • The traditional metric for schools, standardized tests, are pushing teaching towards a narrow band of skills
We need to put aside assumptions, and realize…

  • Fewer lanes make roads safer
  • Traditional “safe” roads (wide and fast) when they have accidents have higher fatality levels because cars are traveling faster. Removing traffic lights lowers fatalities, and accidents are simple fender benders.
  • We need to measure people served on roads (whether by foot, car, bike, wheelchair, scooter, etc.) NOT by counting only cars.
We need to put aside assumptions, and realize…

  • Giving kids calculators doesn’t make them stupid or lazy.
  • Just because they do it on a test doesn’t mean they can do it in real life; AND vice-versa.
  • Work can be play, and play can be work

You’ll notice only one acronym up there on the left, LOS, or Level of Service. This is their bête noire. Level of service is how many cars a road handles in it’s busiest time, and is viewed the same way progressive educators look at NCLB, as the wrong metric for the wrong reasons.

The difference between the two movements how they address the “change” part of this equation.

What’s the goal in a few sentences?

  • Streets that work for more than just cars
  • Lower fatality rates from accidents;
  • Some folks feel this makes for more livable cities/towns
  • Some want to improve walking and biking to improve the overall health of our society and lower our carbon footprint
What’s the goal in a few sentences?

  • More shiny crap for schools
  • Improved test scores
  • More constructivist/constructionist/progressive education
  • More social construction in education
  • More workforce readiness for graduates
Who are the founders, and leaders of the movement?

  • Users and community/interest group organizers
  • Policy makers who know the issue
  • People living in neighborhoods with “car” problems
  • A few enlightened traffic engineers
  • Vendors who want to sell bright shiny new stuff
    (btw, I learned you can do a lot on roads with “just paint”)
Who are the leaders of this movement?

  • A small group of progressive educators
  • Vendors who want to sell bright shiny new stuff
  • Educators who want bright shiny new stuff
  • Business leaders who want employment ready graduates
  • Policy makers who want to prepare students for employment
Who is “not on board” or gets in the way of this movement?

  • An entire generation of traffic engineers who love to count cars and build models and roads around them.
  • Drivers who drive through those neighborhoods and want to get through as quickly as possible
  • Policy makers who still live in a cave of ignorance and misunderstanding
  • Lots of folks, including natural allies like senior advocates, who feel that roads requiring less decision making by drivers makes them “safer” when the opposite can be true.
Who is “not on board” or gets in the way with this movement?

  • Educators who like to do things the old way
  • Educators who have seen one too many “fads” in education
  • Educators who prefer preparing students to be citizens rather than just providing “raw” labor material for employers
  • Business leaders, policy makers, educators and others who love test scores more than intelligence
  • ANYONE who attended school and thinks that if that was good enough for them….
  • ANYONE who attended school and things they got the shaft and we just need to…
  • Administrators and school boards who fear something “bad” will happen (like it isn’t already!)

You can begin to see the differences right away between the two “movements” I would say the the you can’t even call the push for education technology a full movement yet. There are too many inherently contradictory goals within the “supporters” to gain much traction, and look at that “enemies” list! It makes Nixon’s look like a Larry Lessig PowerPoint slide.

How did the Complete Streets movement jell? They agree on common principles, what’s going on is not working, and they have some solutions and a common goal. We do not have a common goal. Look at those goals and supporters up there under education technology. Some of them clearly conflict with each other.  Some of the “enemies” can be friends of education technology, depending on the context of the tech integration (educators weary of fads, those who want to prepare students for citizenship, not just work). Some of the “friends” can be enemies of progressive education, a solid pro-ed tech constituency.

Until we have a common goal, it’s not a movement. In fact if we are working on a progressive vision, and others are working towards another version of of technology in education (like tech for test prep), then they are “muddying” our message, further complicating our goals. How do we get on the same page?

If you’re interested in learning more about Complete Streets, here are links to the event:

Live Blog wiki

UStream video of the event

If you are interested in getting grant money for your school to improve walkability and bikability, I strongly urge you to look into Safe Routes to School. This is for ALL schools, not just K-12 and not just public. If you have questions, drop a comment, and I’ll try to hook you up with my husband or people working on this in your area.

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