LA Confidential: Reporting from EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit

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Southern California was scorching this past weekend. But not even the 100-degree weather and Los Angeles’ infamous freeways stopped hundreds of dedicated administrators, teachers, and educators representing more than 140 districts, from descending onto the University of Southern California campus and the Rossier School of Education for our  Los Angeles Tech for Schools Summit. Many hailed from as far as Riverside and San Diego counties; one even flew from the SF Bay Area!

An ‘A’ for Admin


Our Friday Administrator Workshop provided an opportunity to try new ideas designed to spur meaningful discussion between high-level decision-makers and companies about issues related to integrating technologies in schools.

Intimate conversations at our Friday administrator workshop

After a warm welcome from Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education, BrightBytes senior researcher Kristen Swanson walked administrators through her company’s  CASE (Classroom, Access, Skills, Environment) Technology Framework, a series of questions to help schools better understand their needs and priorities. One area that many schools struggle with, her team has found, is how to better equip students with critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills. “There just aren’t any questions you can’t Google,” Swanson remarked.

EdSurge product manager, Leonard Medlock followed up with a game of “Telephone.” Company reps and administrators were asked to craft a short marketing message related to their work and pitch it to the person next to them. As the pitch made its way through several people, it was clear that the original message had been tweaked--or completely lost. What both sides found was that many of the “shared” language in their interactions actually had very different meanings, depending on what side of the table one sat on.

“It helped me find out my own gaps in communicating initiatives, and how others could misconstrue the message,” said Edgar Salamingo Jr., Associate Principal for La Salle High School in Pasadena, CA.

Passing the pitch!

Administrators then participated in two breakout sessions where they discussed their pain points with company representatives. The focus on problem solving--and not selling--was a rare treat for many educators. “I have been to a couple conferences similar to this one, and this was the only one that allowed for intimate conversations to get needs addressed and provide quality feedback to the companies,” said Salmingo Jr.

Drive Your Own Learning

The staple of our Saturday event (dubbed “Educator Day”) has always been about doing things differently. That means trimming as much “fat” from the typical education roadshows and encouraging teachers to drive their own learning and discovery.

Karen Holst, the California Department of Education’s edtech guru and keynote speaker for the day, echoed this message in her opening speech, which encouraged educators to help students move from passive users of technology to creators and innovators. “The time for edtech is now," she shared. “Letting students play with technology allows them to engineer their own educations."

And play they did. Discussions and questions took the place of toys and trinkets at each of the 36 company tables. Teachers tested products and peppered companies with questions, after which they offered feedback on implementation and improvements. Over the course of the day, we received over 1,400 pieces of feedback--which we’ll be sharing in the company product pages in our Edtech Index over the next week!

Companies also switched up their usual pitches as well during their brief onstage presentations. A number of participants, including ClassDojo, Globaloria, Doceri and ThinkCERCA, asked teachers to take the stage to speak on behalf of their tools. Mathbreakers co-founder, Charlie Van Norman, topped it all by bringing a student to rave about his 3-D math game.

Mathbreakers busting expectations when it comes to product presentations

No Kidding

The one thing that never fails to draw smiles and applause across all four Summits (so far) is the Kids’ Panel, where local students take the spotlight to share what they really feel about tech in the classroom.

Teachers should have a “reasonable workload” in mind when it comes to technology, urged Victoria, a tenth-grade student. At times, she says, teachers give out more assignments under the assumption that technology makes it easier for students to complete them. Eleventh grader, Gema, advised teachers to “keep it consistent” when it comes to choosing tech. Often, teachers get too excited about technology and end up assigning materials from many different sources that students have difficulty organizing.

Can you spot the "adult"?

Surprising as it may sound, sometimes kids don’t want technology at all. Fifth grader, Nathan, scored the loudest round of applause and cheers when he explained why he shuns digital textbooks in favor of paying a visit to the local library to check out physical ones. He bluntly added, “I don’t like reading on tablets. Give me a book.” Next to him, sixth grader Angel wished that more teachers would simply “ask your students whether the tech products you use will work. We know best about what works and what doesn't.”

Volunteer Nation

The embodiment of service with a smile

We couldn’t have pulled off the Summit--in fact, any of them--without our dedicated and passionate local volunteers. Over 20 volunteers from local businesses, school districts and universities masterfully handled everything from check-in and helping educators find the right companies, to answering questions and, at one point, helping attendees access the USC wireless network when the bandwidth was acting frisky. CUE CEO, Mike Lawrence, even donned a green shirt and helped out! (CUE was a partner for the Summit.)

Their incredible spirit embodied that holy mantra: Smart service with a smile. “It was a great volunteer experience since everyone was enjoying themselves, which was very apparent. The level of energy never wavered,” said volunteer Linda Swank.

Meaningful Discussions are Sweeter than Candy

More praises and those a-ha epiphanies from the attendees had to say about the event:

This reaction from Lane Merrifield and Steve Wandler at FreshGrade speaks for itself.

Fresh fun

“We go to the Summits to have meaningful discussions with educators, and to form partnerships that are mutually beneficial for us and for the attendees,” wrote Jill Lubow, Director of Marketing and Educational Partnerships at TeachBoost. “We’ll take that over handing out fun-size candy any day.”

For more highlights, reactions and photos, check out the #edsurge Storify!

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