What is Hip? Portland Education is Now Defining the Education Experience
“Maybe hipper than hip, but what’s hip today might become passé” – Emilio Castillo,John David Garibaldi and Stephen M Kupka, Tower of Power
Portland Oregon is arguably one of America’s hippest cities. Its quality of life, including a thriving music scene, great museums, strong public transportation and thousands of acres of public parks, make it an excellent place to teach and raise children. The Portland area is also one of America’s great education crucibles, where bright ideas are poured from even brighter thinkers. Its leaders are strongly progressive in their approach to technology, with a sharp eye towards equity for all learners.
At a recent Digital Transition Discussion event in Portland, the Learning Counsel featured a Leadership Panel with some of the Portland area’s best education minds. The result was a thoughtful and richly applicative conversation that every district in the U.S. should utilize.
Lisa Riggs is the Assistant Superintendent at the Gresham-Barlow School District in Gresham Oregon. When asked about the process of education’s transformation with technology into an experience-based environment for learning, she advised a holistic approach. “I would answer the question around academics more than the technical side, although it has to have a convergence of the two. There are so many tools and so many necessary things for teachers to pull together. We just went through the game of all the things that you need to manage in a day. Not only is it 1:1 technology for your students, it’s that platform of the one place to go. And I mean that for our teachers as well, because the most important thing about learning is the caring strong teacher with the right tools. And if we are bombarding them with different passwords and all of these things, if we don’t start working with our technology team to say, ‘let’s make it in one handy, easy spot,’ we’ll continue to get them looking outside of the vetted and really strong materials that we want them to use. It’s very crucial to work together.”
Zach Desjarlais, Director of Instructional Technology at Vancouver (WA) Public Schools, addressing the same question said, “I think for us it’s been the partnership between teaching and learning and tech. We really set out to not only bring ourselves and our work closer together, but also to help the districts that we serve work more closely in alignment. What we were noticing was we had tech departments that were strong in tech and teaching, and learning departments that were strong in pedagogy, but they weren’t talking to each other. And that’s a hard trend to break overnight. So that’s been a very important emphasis for us here.”
When the panel was asked what interests them the most about the tech transition in schools, Stuart Long, the Chief Information Officer at Clackamas Education Service District in Portland said, “I think from a technology perspective, the most exciting thing for me has been the adoption of technology within the true core operation of schools and school practice. It was always a function of operations and how to store data and how to get people paid, but now we’re seeing it move down into actual student learning in a way that we’ve talked about for 20 years. And it’s really making a difference in the lives of kids; and teachers are now adopting it in a way we’ve always talked about because these sessions have been going on for a decade or more. We’ve always had this passion about it. But now we’re seeing the passion actually start to spread beyond just the technologists or the passionate, or teachers who were always into tech. It’s now becoming part of the everyday and that’s really exciting to see.”
Carla Wade, the Digital Innovations Lead at the Oregon Department of Education, also addressed the question of the tech transition in schools. “Right now, our data is only as good as the algorithms and questions we’ve put to that data. Think about putting all the data that we have in a pool and having the artificial intelligence pull out trends that we’re not even asking about. We don’t even know to look for. Wow. The power of that in education moving forward to me is exciting.”
Ewan Brawley, the Assistant Superintendent at Clackamas Education Service District said, “The information and the analytics that we can learn about our students, in a way that can inform instruction and planning in ways that simply are not possible without those kinds of tools and that kind of technology, is really interesting.”
Watch the video
At this point, the discussion was just getting started. The panel shared ideas and very practical applications about a variety of subjects, including the most important work each agency is doing right now and why, and the very important question of technical standards in education. In typical Portland fashion, the discussion was hip, comfortable, and just a little bit edgy. You’ll want to watch the video. It’s an opportunity to absorb and use some of the leading ideas in education – ideas that can be applied to your own school or district tomorrow.