Yesterday, as a speaker and panelist at various education related conferences, I had a wonderful experience. I was asked to participate on a panel at a gathering of education technology industry leaders. The group was assembled by The Software and Information Industry Association, SIIA. It took place in the plush setting of a prestigious law firm office in the heart of New York City. The Panel discussion was to address connected educators and the effect on education. The other panelists included my friend and connected colleague, Lisa Nielsen, @innovativeEdu and Andrew Gardner, @Agardnahh, whom I met for the first time.
The setting was incredible. It was on the 9th floor of a building that we needed to sign into. The receiving area had food and drinks set up with couches and tables set up to comfortably gather the group as it assembled and pinned on their nametags. The room quickly filled with clusters of conversations positioned about.
Lisa and I went off to check out the room where we were to conduct the “roundtable discussion”. We wanted to get comfortable with the setting before we had to begin. Again, it was a large, elegant room with leather top tables and microphones for the panel at the front of the room. There were very comfortable chairs for the audience arranged in ROWS. It was the idea of rows that got to me immediately. This was not a roundtable discussion setting. It was a historic classroom setting with the teacher at the front and students in rows. It screamed we are the experts and you are the students. For me this was not going to work.
As the 20 to 30 participants entered the room I made an announcement that we would be re-arranging the seats so they would be in a circle for the presentation. The immediate reaction was confusion. The host of the event, I believe he was a partner of the law firm, said quietly to me, “We have never done this before.” I knew then that I was going to be thought of as an out of the box thinker, or an idiot by the end of this session. Actually, it is a teaching method we teach student teachers. Consider the goal, and the setting you need to accomplish it. If it requires rearranging the room, do it.
Once the audience realized that there was no escape from rash decision of the mustachioed, short guy standing in the front of the room (an obvious position of power), they helped form the circle of very expensive chairs. I was committed at this point, so I had to make it work, but I was confident that it would. I was fortunate that the other panelists were aware of the benefits of the new configuration, and they supported the decision. In retrospect I might have been a bit arrogant, but in this instance it worked to my benefit.
The discussion started with quick introductions from Lisa Schmucki, the moderator, followed by a general question about what is a connected educator, and what is connected learning. We, as panelists, carried the opening of the discussion, but soon that shifted as the audience members, who were not separated in rows, but connected in a circle that positioned each listener to face each speaker, committed to the discussion. Success was almost assured as long as the panel, now part of the circle, kept the conversation going with facts and opinions from an educator’s point of view. This was in fact connected learning face to face. Titles were dropped and ideas were considered on their own merit. The panelists, lawyers and business people all became equal participants in the discussion.
The goal of this roundtable was to explore what business people could do to get involved with connected educators. The big idea was to listen to what educators had to say. Pitching products to connected educators will not work. A big take away was that these industry people had access to researchers and experts not available to teachers. They could provide free webinars with these experts to address and inform on issues as professionals and not salespeople selling products.
I can’t help to think that, if we as educators had these types of discussions earlier, maybe the discussion on education would not have been hijacked by business people, politicians, and profiteers. Instead of experts in the front of the room telling us what needs to be done, we could develop solutions through dialogue with the people really involved. The idea that well-intentioned endeavors, like Education Nation could continue with such little, or contrived participation from educators to balance the discussion could gain popular attention is more than upsetting.