Getting a 140-Character Education

(cross-posted from the Publicyte blog)

Andrea Genevieve Michnik (Austin, TX) —

In my opinion, education in America right now looks a lot like the housing market did in 2009 — in other words, slipping down a slope on its way to a crash. Now, that’s not to say that all areas of academia are headed for disaster; there are plenty of dedicated educators who return to the classoom each fall despite never-ending budget cuts and other issues with their schools. Among these educators are the rock stars, filled with pasion, vigor, and determination, and who are embracing technology, collaboration, and non-traditional teaching methods. In that vein, I recently attended the tech-savvy “#140edu Conference” held in New York, NY, which highlighted what an education of the future might look like.

Educators explore the ‘State of Now’ at #140edu

Hosted at the 92nd Street YMCA in NYC from August 2-3, 2011, the #140edu conference gave voice to those educators making waves around the world. The first event of its kind, the #140edu Conference marked a milestone for innovative educators. Jeff Pulver, the man behind the #140 Character Conference series, put together this special two-day event dedicated specifically to educators using technology to improve teaching and learning. Hosted by Jeff and Chris Lehmann of the animated Principle of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, #140edu brought together parents, students, administrators, teachers, consultants, corporations and organizations attempting to to make positive change in the field of education.

Twitter (where the “140″ reference comes from, due to the character limit) is all about brevity, and so are the talks at Pulver’s #140 conferences. Over the course of two days, more than 70 people spoke in 48 different plenary sessions. Each session was about 15-20 minutes, allowing attendees time to ask questions and converse with speakers following the presentations. Attendees used the hashtag #140edu to tweet information from and comments about the sessions, so those who couldn’t physically make it to the conference could follow along and join in the conversation. The #140edu conference was also broadcast live on Ustream to ensure maximum exposure of the content. You can watch all of the presentations on the #140conf on archives — and the #140edu hashtag is still being used by the larger community today, in true social media style.

Some #140edu speaker highlights

Day one featured a myriad of professionals, including Christian Long of Canon Design; #edchat co-founders Steven Anderson and Tom Whitby; students from the Science Leadership Academy; fashion maven Mark Ecko; Adam Bellow, founder of the eduTeacher community; Perry Hewitt Director of Digital at Harvard University; Dale J. Stephens, Thiel Fellow and… myself.

Day two was another eclectic group of innovators examining topics such as:

  • Is College worth it?
  • How school districts can engage their communities using technology
  • Global collaborations for elementary age children
  • Protecting Kids’ Privacy Online
  • School Improvement One Character at a Time
  • YouTube, MyTube
  • Using Games to Deliver Motivation for Learning
  • Educators Taking Control of their Own Professional Development: The Edcamp Model

As we all shared projects, theories, initiatives, challenges and ideas I couldn’t help but feel empowered. With so many people in attendance who I have met and gotten to know over the years through social media, it was exciting to finally meet these inspirational leaders in real life. Many #140edu attendees are part of what I’d call my “personal learning network” and one thing that occured to me is how much technology, especially very new technology, is changing how people in fields like education are networking with and learning from each other, and moreever, the greatly accelerated rate at which this is now possible.

Thought-provoking quotations from #140edu

It’s hard to capture all the great moments from a “firehose” conference like this, with so many great speakers and ideas in so short a time span. But one thing I did do was write down some of my favorite quotations from the two-day period. Here are some of the more thought-provoking things I heard presenters say:

“Parents are a huge resource; they should be tapped into but respected for their time.” — David A. Singer, School Board Trustee, Harrison School District and Louis N. Wool, Superintendent of Schools of the Harrison Central School District. (Wool was also 2010 NYS Superintendent of the Year.)

“No matter what you teach, we can help you find or start a Twitter chat.” — #Edchat Co-Creators Steven W. Anderson and Tom Whitby.

“We should be customizing education based on personal success plans. Elect passion, not bubble tests.” — Lisa Nielson, Educational Innovator.

“Students today are experiencing word poverty.” — Patrick Higgins, Supervisor of Humanities, Verona Public Schools.

“The secret to creativity is asking the right questions.” — Mel Rosenberg scientist, inventor and YouTube star.

“Passionate learning starts with passionate teachers.” — Kim Sivick, Coordinator of Lower School Technology, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

“Learning is not a 7-hour process, it’s a 24-hour process.” — John Mikulski, Middle School English Language Arts Teacher, Host of the Tightwad Teacher podcast,

Since the conference, there has been much more buzz about technology and education. It’s amazing to see these conversations continue to take shape and I’m sure it will only continue to grow by the time the next #140edu rolls around in 2012. Will I see you there?

Andrea Genevieve Michnik the founder of BrandKit, a personal branding and career consulting agency for young professionals in Austin, TX. She last wrote “Gen Y: Socially Responsible For Survival” for her Quarterlife Crisis column at Publicyte. You can follow her on Twitter at @AndreaGenevieve.

Art credits: Phillip Capper, Wesley Fryer

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