Why Student Voice is Essential at Edtech Conferences

Why Student Voice is Essential at Edtech Conferences

Kerry Gallagher

When making big decisions about how learning will happen in my classroom I always consult my students. They are the reason I arrive at school before the sun rises and leave after it sets. They are the most important stakeholders in education, and their voice should be at the forefront of all decisions.

In that same vein, edtech conferences that focus on the vendors or the policy-makers are not truly providing attendees with the global picture of the edtech landscape. When student voice is missing, the conference is incomplete.

Over the past year, I have co-presented with my 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students at four separate conferences.The following are the reasons those first-hand experiences have helped shape my student-centered mindset, expressed in their own words.

Learning with Experts

Megan Catalano, a sophomore involved in our Rockets Help Desk program, was struck by meeting and learning from Reshan Richards, the creator of Explain Everything, a creation app that is quite popular in schools. She felt like the learning was a two-way experience and got the chance to follow up with a Google Hangout on Air with Mr. Richards recently.

“There are so many apps that I have used in school. But at the MassCUE conference, I had the pleasure to learn about an app from the creator himself. At the conference I met Reshan Richards, the inventor of Explain Everything. Learning about the app from him was amazing, but meeting him after his presentation was the most beneficial part. Though our chat was brief, we explained to him what we do with Rockets Help Desk at our school and asked him if he would do a Google Hangout with us. He loved the idea and seemed just as interested to talk to and learn from us as we were interested to talk to and learn from him. Mr. Richards is excited to hear our thoughts about how we use the Explain Everything app. Attending MassCUE allowed me to meet someone like Mr. Richards, an opportunity I wouldn't otherwise have.”

Student-Teacher Collaboration

Tessa Senders, a junior, is our resident expert on Educreations. She hosted the popular breakout workshop on using it with students in the classroom, and found herself having more meaningful conversations than she expected.

“In school, teachers try to emphasize the importance of collaboration with people who have different perspectives, yet we only ever collaborate with our peers. Teachers as well usually only collaborate with other teachers. Allowing us as students to attend the MassCUE technology conference, however gave us a chance to work with adults. I felt that we were able to gain valuable insights about each others' perspectives and challenges when integrating technology into the classroom. As students, we shared what we find valuable and difficult about using iPads and other apps. Teachers likewise shared with us their perspective on the difficulties of integrating technology such as using it in math, science, and young children's classrooms. Together, however we were able to brainstorm creative solutions to these real problems that students and teachers face.”

Sharing on the Backchannel

Melanie La, a junior, helps bring our varied personalities together during the planning phases. The teachers who attended our session got a taste of how she connects people when they chatted with her on the backchannel. Melanie found those more subtle conversations between educators and students during the formal presentation had the most impact.

“Sharing information is always encouraged, and I believe that it applies to everyone. Being able to answer questions and share new ideas and apps with each other at both the Cambridge and MassCUE conferences made me truly appreciate the opportunities to attend these events. The backchannel, TodaysMeet, proved to be extremely useful during our presentation. Thanks to that, many attendees got their questions answered and we also got out more information to more people than we put on our presentation. For example, many asked about Mrs. Gallagher’s paperless classroom at school, and while she shared her experiences at the front of the room, others asked questions about how to go about starting a paperless class. In turn, other teachers who were also successful in their own classes gave advice to others. What is even better is that we, the students, could share our opinions on it, too. Attendees asked us how we felt about certain apps, methods, and even activities in order to understand students better. This made me feel like I contributed a lot since these teachers will take our opinions and use them to mold their own curriculums and teaching styles.”

Building Professional Skills and Experience

Kyle Mungenast, a sophomore, has tons of curiosity and is driven to learn in his own way. Kyle reflected on the real world professional preparation and networking he did as part of his participation in the conferences.

“Not only do students presenting at edtech conferences contribute to what the teachers take from the presentation, but it also benefits the students themselves. We spoke with teachers, representatives of edtech companies, and other students from different towns who wanted to spread similar messages about technology in the classroom. The presentation itself was another part of the edtech conference that benefitted the students. Presenting in a professional setting was a unique experience and it prepared us for similar events in our future. Preparing for the presentation was a great way to explore and expand team building skills. As we progressed through our different presentations at various conferences, our group became closer to each other, creating a bond which then led to successful results. We each learned skills that taught us how to work as a team to produce the presentation, and these team building skills are helpful to students as they grow and learn to work cooperatively through school projects, and eventually to the workplace.”

While my students were able to learn by engaging with educators and entrepreneurs, I learned a lot just from watching them. For example, when we attended conference sessions together, my instinct was to sit in the front so I would have the clearest view of the presenter and would be able to maintain attention. Their instinct was to sit in the back so they could tinker with the ideas and tools being presented and whisper back and forth about their reactions and plans. They don’t “sit and get”, they “try and apply”. As I watched them do this I saw the obvious value in their method. I’ve taken this idea back to my classroom and as I design lessons I’m trying to ensure more time for tinkering.

Student presence at edtech conferences is starting to become more prevalent, but it should be the norm. I’m not suggesting the teachers bring classes full of teenagers on field trips to professional conferences. But small groups of students who are well prepared and willing participants, just like the adults in attendance, can play a crucial role in the learning and networking that happens there.

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