A Summer of Student Voices

Opinion | Digital Learning

A Summer of Student Voices

By Andrew Rikard     Aug 17, 2016

A Summer of Student Voices
Just a piece of the eclectic community that gathered to debate accreditation

“But adaptive-learning technologies are bullsh*t, c’mon,” one of us would say. “You can’t mix AltSchool and Freire.”

“I see your perspective, but think about it this way,” another might respond, “Your dystopian visions of tech mean less when you think about the millions of students who aren’t learning now. Today. Adaptive technologies aren’t ideal, but they’re a stepping stone.”

Our student-run, student-organized video calls sounded like this every week. We came from community colleges, a liberal arts college, large public universities and whatever Minerva is. Vinícius was blurry, live from São Paulo, Brazil. Rosie sat in the top left square, calling in from her home in Cheltenham, UK, while I sat in a coffee shop in San Francisco. Natalie had to mute her audio in an auditorium on the edge of Washington Square Park in New York. Mary’s feed came in and out: the house she was visiting in Prague didn’t have the fastest wifi. And Alejandra smiled from Northern California, next door to me.

I just finished a summer dedicated to student voices in higher education as an intern at EdSurge. I, a student, was tasked with running the whole ordeal. We called it EdSurge Independent: a Medium publication, a Facebook community and a cohort of students meeting weekly. From Southwestern College to NYU, São Paulo to the Czech Republic, the cohort sat on a video call every week and talked about the future of education.

We built our own syllabus, decided what topics interested us and recruited experts to talk to us about those topics. We argued about adaptive-learning technologies or interviewed senior advisors in the Department of Education, and wrote essays asking, “ Do virtual environments hinder democratic participation?,” “Why adaptive learning?” and “Standardization in Testing: Necessary for Education?

We read each other's work and talked some more. What started as a reflection on the future of edtech became the model for the best experience I’ve had in edtech.

A Personal Genealogy of EdSurge Independent

EdSurge Independent came at the right time and right place for me. Two years ago, my second-year spring, I went to a student-run, student-organized conference and presented on Mina Loy. She’s a poet. I applied because a professor of mine forwarded me a single email with the subject line: “Call for Proposals.” I loved it. A year later, after a little more research, I went to the Modernist Studies Association conference in Boston, full of bespectacled profs with their tweed and pretension. I didn’t see a single undergraduate. I hated it.

The life-changing, radical act of teaching happened in the moment that my professor thought, “Andrew might like this undergraduate conference.” I wasn’t qualified or prepared, but did it because another person offered faith in my direction. Another person offered me a space to be curious without risk.

EdSurge Independent, as drawn from the minds of the Higher Ed team at EdSurge, aspired to be a place where students could be curious with minimal risk. This summer proved it was possible. All we needed was a series of people who said, “You might be interested in this.” Suddenly we had a mutually empowering virtual community.

Empowerment Begins When We Look Each Other In the Eye

I’d be loathe to praise Facebook and the video conference call as the great edtech innovations of our time, but a collection of video calls and Facebook chats made possible our small, student-driven community of dissimilar students.

Since every conversation was student-driven, our differences drove the conversation. It’s simple to talk in the abstract about badges and blockchains, software and scale, MOOCs and their manifest destiny. But it’s hard to discuss the ethics of online learning when one of our own can’t get wifi in Eastern Europe.

Though we learned a great deal about adaptive learning, we learned more about interpersonal interaction, pedagogy, privilege and instructional design. We learned because we had a space that welcomed us to be curious together.

Our self-assembled seminar now evolved inside jokes and latent debates. Two of our community will meet up in Berlin in the fall. Alejandra and Rosie will help to run the next cohort in the fall.

Which Is To Say

We’re going into our second iteration of EdSurge Independent. If this experience sounds interesting to you (or could be interesting to someone you know), please join us. There are two ways to participate:

Fellow in the Cohort

We’ll be running a cohort of fellows over the course of the fall. We’ll meet twice a month, invite speakers and reflect on innovation in higher education. If you’re an interested student, you can learn more and join here. Our application portal closes on September 2nd, so apply (or send this to a student who might).

Writer and Community Member

If you don’t have the time or simply want to contribute a piece to our publication, we’d love to read it! Once the piece is on our site, we’ll add you to our Facebook community, flush with impassioned students debating the future of education.

This EdSurge-organized space isn’t an attempt to offer you educational alternatives but rather an experiment in pursuing our curiosity together. As EdSurge Independent grows, we hope always to be a student-centered organization, providing spaces for students to contribute to the education innovation conversation. What is the future of teaching and learning? If students aren’t asking those questions together, then the future will be written for them and without them.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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