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In Conversation: Black Female Tech CEOs on Leveling the Playing Field for Youth of Color

At a time when the women’s movement is making headlines across the country, females remain vastly underrepresented in the industry that shapes our future: technology. This underrepresentation is especially prevalent for women of color. For example, African-American women hold only three percent of computing occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. This isn’t a pipeline problem. Girls Who Code reports that 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. Many organizations, including Black Girls CODE and DreamBox Learning, work to ensure that girls of color have ample opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology so they will become lifelong learners who are equipped to reshape their skills as the workforce evolves. These two organizations share a bold vision of a future where girls of color are not simply “surviving” the information-driven globalized world, but are thriving and will become principal drivers of technological innovation through the next century. Two African-American, female CEOs at the helm of technology companies—Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning, and Kimberly Bryant, CEO of Black Girls CODE—recently sat down with each other to discuss how technology and innovation will level the playing field to increase opportunity for youth of color. Jessie Woolley-Wilson: It’s wonderful to talk with you about how important it is to grow opportunities for young girls in the area of technology. Tell me about your own educational background and what inspired you to learn how to code. We absolutely must look at how current processes and systems disenfranchise women of color all along the STEM pipeline from kindergarten and beyond. Kimberly BryantKimberly Bryant: I’m actually an engineer (electrical) by trade and not a computer scientist. I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.E. in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Math and Computer Science. My first introduction to computer programming was during my college years and was heavily focused on machine language due to my major concentration in electrical engineering. But it was my first class in Fortran and spending many long nights in the computer lab that introduced me to the sometimes brutal and yet rewarding path of a computer scientist. JWW: Your story will no doubt inspire a lot of young women in computer science to believe in the value of hard work and perseverance. One of the things I’m passionate about is the belief that all children can excel at learning, no matter where they start, where they live, or who they are. In what ways do you believe educational experiences have changed, and how do you see them continuing to evolve? KB: When I graduated from college, the worldwide web was still a relatively new phenomenon with which not many non-academic or government folks were familiar. In most cases, learning a new skill, tool, et cetera, was not as accessible as it is today now that the internet has narrowed the boundaries for accessing information and democratized learning—to a certain extent. Students today have broader opportunities for learning in non-traditional environments than those that were available to...

What Service-Learning and Global Goals Taught Us About Promoting the Greater Good

Service-learning PD, Image Credit: Weaver Elementary SchoolLast April, the entire faculty at Bettie Weaver Elementary School spent an afternoon making rice heating pads for local elderly residents, capes for foster children to help endure long hospital stays and jump ropes braided out of plastic bags that were later given to schools in Haiti by three of our teachers. We spent three hours working together toward a common goal: serving others. On this county-wide professional development day, while teachers at many schools around Chesterfield watched the clock, thinking about papers that needed to be graded and plans that needed to be written, the staff at Weaver Elementary spent the day immersed in service and learning together. Concerns about how to manage to-do lists faded and compliance was no longer the reason for showing up. Teachers were engaged with one another and felt empowered to make a difference. One Word PD Reflections,Image Credit: Weaver Elementary SchoolWhen three hours had passed, we had a hard time getting the staff to leave. As an exit ticket, teachers filled out a one-word reflection on the day. “Uplifting,” “rewarding,” “inspiring” and “joyful” are not typically words you hear after a 3-hour PD session. That’s when we realized what we had learned at the service-learning conference we’d attended just a month earlier could make change in our community. As we glanced around the room at stations filled with piles of heating pads, capes and jump ropes, we knew something special had happened. We wondered if the power of serving others could bring our school from good to great and from compliant to engaged. A New Priority Weaver Elementary, located outside Richmond, VA, in Chesterfield County, is named after long-time Chesterfield educator and historian, Mrs. Bettie Weaver. She was committed to authentic learning and connecting to the community and the environment. With a devotion to embracing the ideals of its namesake, our school has had a history of academic excellence through community relationships and involvement. In fall of 2016, when Chesterfield County Public Schools began reworking its strategic plans, the district challenged principals to “imagine tomorrow,” rethink what a school experience should be and determine what each school stood for. Our transition to project-based learning environments in 2013 allowed us to elevate student voice and choice and when students reflected on which projects resonated most, we learned that they cared most deeply about projects involving service toward others. Recognizing the profound effect of that work, we determined that a commitment to service-learning would be a key component to continuing our success. Getting Schooled At the beginning of our quest to reimagine our school, we thought of service-learning as a curricular approach in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address community needs. But as we later learned, curriculum was only one piece of the puzzle; if we wanted to prioritize service-learning, we’d need to connect with our community, get buy-in and take action. After attending the National Service-Learning Conference in March 2017, which was sponsored by the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), we realized there was much...

For Some Students, #DeleteFacebook Is Not Really an Option

I entered my junior year of high school without a Facebook account. But a few months later, that changed. My AP English Language teacher had been using a Facebook group for our class to answer students’ questions after hours. She never told anyone in my class they had to create a Facebook account, but I felt like by not having one, I was missing out on valuable information and conversations. In light of the recent uproar over Facebook’s snafu with Cambridge Analytica, a number of people have pledged to #DeleteFacebook. But for some students whose class assignments and discussions are tied to the social network, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Once upon a time, educators like Sarah Jackson—the aforementioned teacher—found Facebook to be a handy tool for class. Years later, she explains to me that one reason she found it convenient was that it was more efficient than email. Over email, she was limited to answering a student’s question individually, when there was a chance that there were other students with the same question. The Facebook group let students with the same question see the question and answer at the same time. She also liked posting links to articles, and enjoyed seeing students do so too. Jackson now teaches at Zurich International in Switzerland. She stayed with her Facebook group method her first two years of teaching there, but stopped once the school started using Google Classroom. She felt like having both would be redudant. She says if she was still using Facebook groups, she doesn’t think the recent news about the company would bother her. She explains that the quizzes that can gather someone’s data usually show up on personal feeds, not on group pages. Even before the latest Facebook controversy, students like AnnaLee Barclay had plenty of reasons to get off the platform. She says when she was a junior at the University of San Diego, she left Facebook because she wanted a mental health break. Someone she went to high school with had passed away, and she was seeing sad content on her newsfeed. At the same time, she says the political climate was starting to be frustrating. “I was trying to be more aware of what I was allowing into my brain,” says Barclay, who graduated in 2016. However, her absence from Facebook only lasted about two to three months. It was difficult for her to stay in the loop about fundraisers and meetings that her university would hold. She was in the school’s outdoor adventures club that used Facebook to keep members posted. Then there were academic reasons. She had small classes, and while a lot of people knew each other by name, she didn’t necessarily have their phone numbers. Facebook ultimately provided the most convenient way for her to get in touch. If she missed a class or wanted clarity on an assignment, she was used to going on Facebook, searching a classmate’s name and then mesaging them. Leslie Adame, a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, says she’s...

Can a New Approach to Information Literacy Reduce Digital Polarization?

The internet doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but it should—to give users the skills to separate truth from falsehood so they can distinguish between propaganda and the indisputable and confirmable. And colleges should be the place leading students through this reference book. That’s the argument of Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, and it isn’t just some “hot take” designed to be provocative. He actually wrote the manual. And he has already convinced more than a dozen colleges to adopt it (and more than 100 college libraries to prominently link to it). Recently, he’s started research in an effort to prove that it works (and can help preserve American democracy). Plenty of people are talking about the importance of information literacy these days, and many educational institutions see it as part of their mission. And yet it’s more complicated than it seems. Earlier this month researcher danah boyd gave a provocative keynote speech at SXSW EDU arguing that media-literacy efforts at colleges are “backfiring,” turning out graduates that are good at questioning everything, and selectively believing what their gut tells them is true. In fact, boyd worries that this feeling of not knowing what to believe can draw students into extremist websites, which promise clear answers. Caulfield has noticed some of the same issues among students he’s worked with. “A lot of people are worried that students are just these gullible rubes believing everything,” he said, but that’s not what he typically sees. In a recent blog post, he described a student who dismissed the right-leaning Breitbart News because it is funded by the Mercers hoping to use it to influence political debate, and was equally dismissive of The Washington Post because it is owned by Jeff Bezos, who has given money to Democrats. Those situations are hardly equivalent, he says, but can make it easy for information consumers to simply throw up their hands. “Without feeling empowered to sort fiction on the web a lot of students are merely cynical and believe they can’t trust anything,” said Caulfield in an interview with EdSurge. “Our hope is by giving students the tools to evaluate this stuff quickly that we’ll take a chunk out of some of the cynicism.” “You can get focused so much on the agenda and the supposed agenda of people telling you things,” he adds, “that you lose a lot of the gradations of true and false.” That’s where Caulfield’s manual comes in. Its purpose is to instill in students “a habit of fact checking, and get people to build more complex models of the world than they currently have.” He stresses that the goal is not to just establish that some experts are always right and others wrong, but to give students the tools to judge information on a case-by-case basis. Infotrap Ahead It’s easier than ever to for a misleading lie to spread online. It happened to me just a few weeks ago. There it was in my social media feed, an article from Sports...

Looking for Lasting Change? Start Talking to Other Departments.

In many K-12 districts, the IT department establishes the technology, the curriculum department develops the instructional methodologies and most of the physical classroom components are either leftover from the 1970s or purchased and implemented without a plan of deployment with the instructional teams that will use them. It’s true that some schools have successfully broken down the dividing walls separating these departments, but the phrase “never the twain shall meet” still holds true for many school districts where the IT, curriculum and facilities departments struggle to act in an integrated way. As a result, teachers have been asked to engage many new initiatives or make changes to their current practices, which are sometimes misaligned with other ongoing directives. The regularity of new initiative churn that teachers face every year leads to increasing resistance to each new idea. Schools that don’t break out of this stalemate face significant challenges in their quest to innovate they way they educate today’s learners. Here are three obstacles that your own district has probably grappled with—or is currently trying to overcome: The competition is heating up while student engagement is waning. Take a peek in your rearview mirror and you might fondly remember a time when all public schools enjoyed a steady stream of new students (and the funding to fully support those pupils). Today, the number of competitive options competing for students expands every year—from charter schools to online classes to homeschooling. We’re seeing more of a “consumerized” mentality on the part of parents, who expect an engaging, productive educational experience for their children. Unfortunately, the levels of student engagement begin to drop significantly at the middle-school level and trend downward throughout high school. Our physical schools are old and only getting older. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about one-fourth (28 percent) of all public schools were built before 1950, and 45 percent of all public schools were built between 1950 and 1969. Seventeen percent of public schools were built between 1970 and 1984, and 10 percent were built after 1985. “The increase in the construction of schools between 1950 and 1969 corresponds to the years during which the Baby Boomer generation was going to school.” Technology and choice are enabling a more “humanized” learning experience for students. Instead of just attending classes at a single school on a daily basis, high school students may visit one campus for their STEM classes in the morning and then learn to play the violin at a fine arts academy the same afternoon. Successfully tailoring the educational experience for that student who loves both science and the arts isn’t always easy, but it’s very necessary in today’s educational environment. Needless to say, each of these challenges does not exist in isolation, and finding solutions requires involvement from a broad swath of educators and support staff. How One District Connected the Dots Several years ago, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation (GCCF) in Sarasota approached Florida’s Sarasota County Schools, wanting to help the district think differently than it had in the past. Namely, the...

How Should Colleges Approach Student Success When Different Definitions Abound?

At the most recent convening of Achieving the Dream, a non-profit focused on community college student success, president and CEO Karen Stout asked eight of the organization’s student scholars what completion means to them. Completion. It’s a word that’s used a lot when people discuss student success, Stout says. Andstudents view the word in a different way than administrators. But first, a primer on student success: it’s a phrase that usually encompasses the departments, advisors, programs, tools, approaches, apps and software a school offers students to help them thrive as they work towards their educational goals. Students aren’t thinking about completion “based on a simulation of degrees or credentials,” Stout claims. Instead, they’re thinking about getting the skills and competencies they’ll need for their next step, be it starting a career or continuing their education. Colleges in Achieving the Dream’s network track students from fall to fall and spring to spring, but for students retention is often about tomorrow. “Every student is coming and defining success differently,” says Stout. For one of the students Stout spoke to at the event, success may be as straightforward as “being able to make sure that she has the ability to get to class every day.” Take Amanda Rodriguez, a senior accounting major at the University of Houston. She thinks what defines student success is being able to build the foundation to accomplish a life goal. That life goal doesn’t necessarily have to be related to work. For instance, someone’s can be to travel the world—- but a career can help her achieve it. Ben Alemu , a senior studying biochemistry and cell biology with a minor in education studies at the University of California San Diego (and a former EdSurge Independent Contributor), also doesn’t define student success as fully academic. He views it as setting a personal goal that’s more actionable, such as for one’s career. Because these different definitions of student success abound, Stout says conversations with an academic advisor that “span beyond just building a schedule” are important. As for advising technology tools, she believes that if they’re well-designed, they give students a real-time picture of how they’re progressing against their stated goals. This article is part of an upcoming EdSurge Guide exploring innovations in student success, publishing March 26. The guide is sponsored by Salesforce.org, which had no influence on this story. Career resources also important, Stout says. She referenced her time as president of Montgomery County Community College, which uses Career Coach—a tool that lets the school’s students see job demands and salaries in Montgomery County and nearby localities. “That type of information was really important for students to have at the front end of their experience at the college,” Stout explains. She says that too many students, especially those in community college who haven’t picked their majors, are taking classes that may not transfer or count toward their degree. And in the process, they’re using up their financial aid. She believes that all higher education institutions, particularly community colleges, have an obligation to make sure first semester...

Sir Ken Robinson’s Next Act: You Are the System and You Can Change Education

Sir Ken Robinson’s views on creativity are abundantly well documented. In his 2006 TED Talk—still the most-watched of all time—he claimed that “we are educating people out of their creative capacities” and charged the current education system with being too rigid in adhering to traditional academic subjects. Kids, he argued, need time to dance, draw, create and find what they’re good at. But he hasn’t given up on schools or education—far from it, in fact. For his follow-up act, Robinson is releasing a new book for parents on how to raise capable children who thrive in school. Make no mistake, though, he’s still shaking up the system (and redefining what that actually means). In a wide-ranging interview, Robinson recently spoke with us about collaboration versus competition, the all-important parent-teacher relationship and what every parent and educator can do to improve education. EdSurge: Your new book, “You, Your Child and School,” seems like it’s intended as a playbook for parents. But I wanted to ask you about the other side of the coin, about educators. How can they deal with parents to create productive and healthy relationships? Sir Ken: I wrote a book a few years ago called “Creative Schools,” which was directed primarily to educators, and there was a chapter in there for parents. So it seemed reasonable to try and offer some thoughts and guidance in a more extensive way to parents because they are a vital part of the partnership. And that’s the point really. It is an attempt to engage parents more positively in the conversation. They do, after all, have an enormous vested interest in how their kids are educated, and they bear a lot of the brunt of the shifts in policy that seem to come along on an almost monthly basis in education. This partnership obviously involves, by definition, different groups, and parents sometimes can be part of the problem that schools face. There’s the perception there about how sometimes parents can get overprotective and overreach. There’s a fine line in all relationships to strike between satisfying the interests of the various parties and working together to meet them all. So, the partnership is a very important part of it and it requires, of course, that teachers also reciprocate. EdSurge:It reminds me of a book was popular a few years ago, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which talked a lot about how the parent-teacher relationship in China is different from that in the United States. How should both groups work together? Sir Ken: You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been compared to a Tiger Mum. I don’t know how to feel about it. There are big cultural differences. It’s interesting of course that at some levels the issues that educators face are global in character. There’s the fuller point here about the fact that we have to think globally but act locally. There are also changes over time. And it is true that in some Asian cultures there is a much greater level of deference to teachers...

Collaborative Higher Ed Partnerships Are the Key to Student Success

As the labor market becomes increasingly dependent on skilled workers who have at least some education beyond high school—whether that means an associate or bachelor’s degree, or a professional credential—student success in college is as important as it has ever been. Regrettably, though, large numbers of students in the United States do not have access to higher education opportunities. Many cannot afford the high cost of college; others do not know how to apply for college or what their educational opportunities are post-high school. Still others do not even consider college an option in the first place. Large numbers of students in the United States do not have access to higher education opportunities. The education community’s ability to help more students succeed in college depends on partnerships—among the K-12 school system, higher education institutions, policymakers, and philanthropic and education-focused organizations—that develop collaborative, systematic solutions to the perennial challenges students face.It is also true that the obstacles to achieve success do not disappear once students apply, are accepted, and then enroll in higher education. The fact is that for as many as half of college-going students—especially those who are the first in their families to go to college and those who come from low-income families—the prospect of success and graduating with a credential is fragile. Any seemingly minor set-back, like a flat tire or brief illness, can shatter a student’s ability to persist in college. This fragility is not a result of a lack of effort or desire. Instead, when students are already stressed—whether it be financially or by the lack of a support system that can help them navigate the challenging journey of higher education—certain obstacles become difficult to overcome. This article is part of an upcoming EdSurge Guide exploring innovations in student success, publishing March 26. The guide is sponsored by Salesforce.org, which had no influence on this story. Affordable College The high cost of college is arguably the largest barrier to college success. This is compounded by the lack of awareness about financial aid options and how to access them. In fact, increasing students’ and families’ understanding of the financial aid universe is key to helping them know what kinds of aid exist, what they are eligible for, and how to access it—particularly for applicants whose families have little to no experience with higher education. A family at graduation. Photo Credit: College Success ArizonaHigher education institutions, for example, can work with middle and high school advisers to explain the various options available from federal and state aid programs, individual institutions, and other sources. They can also work with advisers to explain cost-effective pathways to a certificate or degree completion to include an associate degree from a community college and credit transfers to four-year institutions. Partnerships can involve a variety of organizations with a stake in higher education and student success. My own organization, College Success Arizona, partners with other groups across the state—like Helios Education Foundation, College Depot and Arizona GEAR UP—to provide scholarships, intensive advisory services, and real-time interventions to students who might not...

Y Combinator’s Newest Batch of Education Technology Startups

There were all the usual trappings of a startup demo day. Caffeinated founders paced the lobby in colorful T-shirts splattered with their company logos, polishing their pitches for their on-stage presentation and meetings with potential investors. But Y Combinator’s event this week also came with heavy machinery and special snacks. Outside the Computer History Museum, where its 26th demo day was held, an autonomous tractor drove in circles next to a massive 3D printer assembling an office pod. Inside, an industrial-grade drone sat nearby tables offering instant coffee and cannabis sodas. Then there’s Nectome, a “100 percent fatal” startup that boasts the ability to upload your brain for future use. Back to life and reality, the latest graduating class of 141 will be putting their best foot forward in an effort to woo investors at Demo Day. Eight education startups are among them, and all but one are focused on helping learners develop chops in programming and artificial intelligence technology. “Interactive curriculum is the next wave” of opportunities in the education market, says Tim Brady, a partner at Y Combinator, in an interview with EdSurge. Brady has now overseen 11 cohorts of education technology startups over the past seven years. He co-founded and help run Imagine K12, a startup accelerator dedicated to the education sector, before the group merged with Y Combinator. Don’t expect coding and AI tools to be in vogue for long—at least in education. Eventually there comes a point where the market becomes saturated with one class of products. Today, from Brady’s perspective, “the space for teacher productivity tools is pretty crowded,” he shares. These were the kinds of tools that used to make up a sizable portion of Imagine K12 cohorts. What he has yet to find—but which he says Y Combinator would be willing to invest in—are companies that can help support and run new school models. He’s also on the lookout for tools that “unlock the black box of a child’s learning” for parents. You won’t find those companies in this batch. Here’s what we saw instead. Source: Y Combinator Delphia is developing AI tools that aim to help people make complex life decisions—such as which college to attend and which major to choose. A high-school student can take a 40-question survey and see results about the schools and programs that may be the best “fit” for him or her. Andrew Peek, the Canadian company’s chief operating officer, says Delphia’s system has been trained to make these recommendations based on survey data from recent university graduates. And if users doesn’t like the suggestions, they can let Delphia know, and the system will recalibrate its recommendation system. Education is only one of several industry verticals that Delphia provides its services for. It’s licensed its surveying tools to media companies like Vox for stories where this data comes in handy. (Here’s an example of a story about the 2016 election that used a tool built by Delphia.) Peek envisions that a similar kind of partnership could happen with universities or an education group that may be...

Free Platform Lets Teachers Find and Share Their Favorite Resources

It was a bittersweet moment for Ashley Lamb-Sinclair as she walked away from her middle-school classroom for the final time last year, flicked the light switch off and locked the door behind her. On one hand, she was sad to leave the classroom, where she’d spent years 12 years working as an English teacher. But on the other, she was excited at the prospects of taking that experience and using it in her new venture, Curio Learning. The reason PD sucks so much is because teachers are already working really, really hard to become better. Then we have to hit 'pause,' go back to school, jump through some hoop or sit through some workshop to prove it. And with that, Lamb-Sinclair donned her entrepreneurial hat and started an online space where educators can go to discover, curate and collaborate. “I’m still in school as an instructional coach, but I do miss working with the kids,” says Lamb-Sinclair, CEO and founder, who landed on her business idea after receiving an email concerning a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opportunity. Coined a “Redesign Challenge,” it invited teachers to submit proposals for solutions to educational problems. In this case, the challenge centered on professional development. “I had zero interest and deleted the email,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who had a “spark” that night as she pondered the low points of current PD approaches in K-12. “The reason PD sucks so much is because teachers are already working really, really hard to become better,” she says, “and many times that additional work takes place at 11 p.m. when we’re sitting on our living room couches. Then we have to hit ‘pause,’ go back to school, jump through some hoop, or sit though some workshop to prove it.” That got Lamb-Sinclair thinking about an online space where the best PD resources were compiled on one platform where multiple teachers could come to collaborate, share and learn. In her mind, that platform would not only be a place for instructors to discover new ideas, but also keep those ideas there. “As a teacher, when I found something cool online I’d put it in a Dropbox file or on Google Drive, but that happened in isolation,” says Lamb-Sinclair. “It was all very piecemeal, and kind of like DIY hacking your way through professional development.” Ready for Prime Time By 2016, Lamb-Sinclair’s idea of a central repository for online PD for teachers—and compiled by teachers—was ready for prime time. After submitting her idea to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she participated in an “Innovator’s Weekend,” in D.C., where she and about a dozen other educators walked through the design-thinking process with a group of technology, nonprofit and design professionals from various industries. It was a pivotal moment in Lamb-Sinclair’s career. “That was the first time in a decade of teaching where I felt like I was the expert in the room. It just changed everything for me,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who during the same year was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year and received an Education First...

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