Event Debrief: CONTEXT 2015

I only got to attend one day of the CONTEXT conference at Carnegie Mellon, but I managed to get a lot out of that one jam-packed day. You can check out my play-by-play adventures by checking out my Twitter feed from that day, parts of which I’ve excerpted below. Here, in far more than 140-character bursts, is a rundown of the things I loved most.

  • I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: there’s no place like CMU. I first heard of CMU when I was growing up in Texas. Aside from the funny name (which sounded to me like New York City Concert Venue – “Hall” + Breakfast Fruit I Don’t Like), I was surprised by the range of my friends who wanted to apply there. Just three include: my friend who majored in math and studio art and who is now getting his doctorate in education; my friend who is an opera singer; and my friend who is a brilliant mechanical engineer. My classmate who sang ended up going to school there, and I was struck by how special it was to find a school that was equally renowned in the arts and in the (very-practical) sciences. That marriage of the pensive humanities and actionable science was on full display at CONTEXT. Former CMU professor Indira Nair was the keynote speaker on the first day, and her talk was an inspiring talk on the nature of learning and education. It’s not the kind of thing you might expect from a physics professor, but it was essential CMU: this educator, like so many others, is committed to working at the intersection of what we know from the latest-greatest science and how our grounding in the humanities helps us make meaning.
  • Moreover, there’s no place like Pittsburgh. I can’t tell enough people: this place is a hub for educational innovation and excellence. Tons of people from all over the region were there, from teachers and students to college professors and nonprofit leaders to foundation program officers. People here are working together to remake learning for kids — and they weren’t exaggerating when they named the network of players who are working to do just that. I’m inspired and grateful to be here.
  • Analog and Digital, but maybe more less on the digital. There was a lot of discussion throughout the day about the interplay of the analog “real” world and the digital world and what that means for our practice as educators. I really appreciated that a conference that was subttitled “Tech Fluency for Teaching and Learning” focused less on how to become tech fluent and more on the implications of technology for education. I think I surprised my audience at EdRev later that week when I spent no time talking about particular tech tools and talked more about the big-picture philosophy of how and why you use technology and how to do it well. I loved the Wednesday keynote from former CMU professor Indira Nair, who focused most on our responsibilities as educators to invite students to conversation, hear their stories, and live into the questions that emerge in our classrooms.

Overall, my favorite take-home message of the day was a quote from artist and educator Jeremy Boyle, who said, “The digital world DOES NOT [emphasis mine] replace the analog world we live in.” This resonates so much with me, and I loved being in rooms full of people nodding enthusiastically at statements like this.

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