There’s a group abuzz and making an impact in Rhode Island--a growing group called the EdUnderground, a progressive gathering of educators seeking to help teachers find and employ innovative technology in the classroom. Founded in the summer of 2011 as a small professional learning group that met at night to tinker with new apps for the iPad, the group expanded its scope and reach this past summer after receiving a $15,000 Professional Learning Community grant from the Rhode Island Department of Education.
The group was formed by Highlander Institute’s Shawn Rubin and Stephanie Castilla, co-directors of the Institute’s professional development arm, which helps teachers and schools across southern New England leverage education technology and master blended learning. Last school year Rubin and Castilla worked with over 600 teachers, several of whom showed a desire to go further than their schools were allowing them to go. Rubin described these teachers as “wild horses looking for their herd.”
The Highlander Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to level the playing field for all learners. In addition to its focus on edtech integration, the Institute provides quality non-tech related professional development and outreach to teachers and admins in data-driven literacy and math instruction as well as expanded learning. However, its edtech trainings have been the driving force behind the formation of the EdUnderground.
In the spring of 2012 Rubin met Chris Flanagan, who was also eager to get a group of high-flying Rhode Island teachers off the ground. As director of the student experience lab at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI, Flanagan was able to offer the group a space to meet at the BIF, a center for innovation and entrepreneurship that supports local teams seeking to make a difference in the state’s economy, along with much needed design thinking expertise.
Today, EdUnderground consists of a cohort of high-energy educators using edtech, maker innovations, and design thinking to create new products and practices with the intention of bringing these innovations to education as a whole. Although the group started small, it has been gaining momentum due to the outreach and tech training provided by the Highlander Institute to schools throughout the state. EdUnderground educators span across all types of schools--public, private, and charters--across all grades. There are also teachers representing technical and alternative schools.
The group began creating even more ripples thanks in part to its activity in Twitter chats and its organization of activities, meetups, educational outreach programs, and professional development opportunities for schools. The group recently hosted its first #EdTechRI twitter chat, following the popular #edchatri. The #EdTechRI chat focuses solely on the EdUnderground’s technology mission, and the first one held on December 2nd was a rousing success. As such, future chats will be hosted every other Sunday at 9PM. (The next one is scheduled for Sunday, December 16th.)
Past EdUnderground meetings at the BIF have been dedicated to discussing case studies where technology could better enhance the lives of students. But the long-term focus of the group is in converting those ideas to reality and improving the use of 21st Century technology in the classroom. As part of this big picture, the EdUnderground is also busy developing connections with innovators and entrepreneurs. In developing these relationships, entrepreneurs get better insight into how their startups could best serve teachers and students. They also gain an avenue for receiving feedback to improve features on their programs.
The group has also sponsored several events throughout the state in addition to these monthly meetings.
On November 13th, EdUnderground sponsored its first educator-entrepreneur meetup held at Tazza in Downcity Providence. Educators and entrepreneurs spent the evening relaxing and discussing edtech, with some entrepreneurs showcasing their products. EdUnderground co-founder Shawn Rubin, a former Kindergarten teacher at Highlander Charter School, showcased his startup, Metryx, a formative assessment tool that tracks student data in real time, allowing the teacher to collect information and easily adjust instruction. New York entrepreneur Harsh Patel represented his company, Portfoliyo. Patel’s platform is designed to increase parent-teacher contact through a streamlined system of tweets and texts and make it simple for a classroom teacher to send out multiple messages in one sitting.
The most recent EdUnderground meeting, held on November 28th, continued the theme of bringing educators and innovators together, as Damien Ewans and Kerri Lemoie shared their startup web development company, Codery, which works with Mozilla's Open Badges. Ewans and Lemoie showed the group how to use tools like Mozilla’s Hackasaurus website and Thimble games to teach middle and high school students this all important “fourth literacy in coding.”
The next educator-entrepreneur meetup on December 11 will be a continuation of the theme of introducing educators and entrpreneurs in order to brainstorm innovations for educational success.
In addition to the meetups, outreach, and monthly gatherings, EdUnderground was instrumental in organizing the first EdCampRI held on November 3rd at Rhode Island College, Providence. This drew over 80 educators, as well as local and regional entrepreneurs and ed tech innovators.
The EdUnderground movement is quickly gathering momentum around the critical issues in educational technology--how do we get technology in the hands of the schools and educators who need it most? How do we make people comfortable with these technologies? How do we streamline the flow of technology so that it is effective for students? How do we measure that effectiveness using assessments and metrics to focus student growth? These are just a few of the questions that the EdUnderground is seeking to answer.
The EdUnderground’s goal is simple. A ton of teachers in Rhode Island have caught the edtech bug, and the bug is spreading. By connecting these stakeholders, education will improve for us all. EdUnderground wants Rhode Island to be the place where this movement starts.