Event Debrief: Open Forum for Pittsburgh Education Technology

Last Monday, I attended the main education-related event of the week-long Thrival Festival. This edtech meetup was hosted at Thrill Mill, a startup incubator in the East Liberty neighborhood that served as one of the festival’s main sponsors. The idea was to bring together educator types and technology types to foster a conversation about “what’s next” in education and technology for Pittsburgh. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the event I co-hosted at the Sterne School in San Francisco last March, where we invited folks from both camps to engage in conversation. The best part of that spring event was that we made the focus be on listening: too often, tech folks will develop tools without anticipating the on-the-ground needs of teachers in the classroom, while teachers aren’t always aware of how tools can be used in the context of the many, many things they need to do every day with their students. This event had great intentions that addressed the same need to bring those groups together. I really enjoyed the conversations

The one drawback I observed was that I felt like the tech folks far outnumbered the educator types. In the small groups where we started the evening, I found myself seated in a group of five, where the other four folks were all part of tech startups. While it was interesting to hear about their products, I felt a little on-the-spot. Each of them were kind and friendly, and they seemed eager to tell me about their work and hear what I thought of it, but less in a we’re-having-a-pleasant-conversation way and more in a I’m hard-selling-you-my-product-right-now way. I was genuinely interested in what they each did, because I’m enthralled by the startup culture here. I guess I had hoped there’s be a little more give and take in the conversation: I’m interested in what they do, and I’d hoped the conversation would range more broadly about how tech and education types can connect and how their worlds intersect rather than a really specific conversation about the nuances among their products.

I think other groups were more successful than mine, and I ultimately had a lot of great conversations and met some terrific people. It was a great start for such partnerships here in Pittsburgh, and I’m glad I went.

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