Started a few years ago, the ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit is primarily an industry conference for entrepreneurs and investors in the global education market, from early childhood through corporate training and informal adult learning. Companies are there to pitch, and investors are looking for deal flow. But over the last couple of years the organizers have tried to include content that highlights important issues in US K-12 and higher education. Things like learning outcomes, gaps the market isn’t addressing, and educator participation in the conference. It’s why we were willing to sponsor the conference in 2012 and again this year.
As I wrote earlier this week, the conference took steps in the right direction this year, working with partners to include educators in the programming. Their presence and voice was much more visible this year, even though there is way more to do to integrate their insights and concerns into the investor/entrepreneur vibe.
The closing keynote was completely counter to the progress on that front. I’m not sure what the rationale was for inviting Andy Kessler to deliver the last speech of the conference. He’s known for being politically incorrect, for trying hard to be provocative. He chose to create a dichotomy between teachers and technology, with technology as a replacement for teachers. From a quick look at the twitter stream, attendees of all stripes ranged from derisive of to offended by his talk.
From my point of view, his speech was a bad finish, and a step in the wrong direction. Students need meaningful interactions with each other, with great content, and with their teachers and other caring adults. To claim that any kind of device (tablet, netbook, smart phone, etc) is a suitable replacement for teachers is simply ridiculous.
Think about medical technologies. An enormous amount of R&D and innovation goes into the breakthrough devices and instruments surgical teams use to increase the quality and performance of their work in operating rooms. These technologies are not intended to replace doctors; they are intended to improve their performance and extend their reach as professionals. This is a much better way of thinking about education technology — a way of supporting and extending the work of professionals, not a plot to replace them.