This week, some of our staff traveled to the 2015 BlackBoard World conference in Washington D.C. Even though I’m still at home in Wichita, I’ve been streaming presentations from keynote speakers while sitting at my desk. After listening to a panel speak about how to re-involve students in the learning process, Adora Svitak took the stage. Unaware that she was speaking at the event, my jaw dropped when I heard her name. Svitak is a speaker in one of my favorite TED Talks and a powerful, intelligent advocate for female, minority, and student rights. And get this: she spoke on TED Talks at the age of 12! And even before that, she wrote the book Flying Fingers, which encourages children to explore vocabulary and creativity through writing.
Her speech this year at Blackboard World was just as impressive. Titled “Students Re-Imagining Education,” Svitak discussed the disappearing student voice in education. In the world schools and educators, many of us share big dreams of democracy, equality, and student self-empowerment that frequently don’t come to fruition. Too often, we are willing to accept the status quo and consent that the current practices in education are just “the way things are.” Accepting that it’s just “the way things are,” Svitak argues, is the reason major changes in education are slow moving. Inaction is the easiest path.
Instead of just discussing the problems that exist in education, we need to begin enacting solutions. So, what are some solutions to problems in education? Svitak posed this same question to her audience this week and took to twitter to find answers. Some of the audience members tweeted solutions like “sharing” and “competency-based degrees,” to common problems such as “lack of support from people with the money,” “working with state mandates,” “knowing what technology is needed,” “having time to do more with less.” But perhaps the most important solution posed by audience member during Svitak’s talk was communication.
The communication of ideas lays the groundwork for education, but students are no longer participating in meaningful conversations with their schools. According to Svitak, this happens for one of two reasons. First, students are not allowed to communicate. The student voice has been eliminated because it is not respected. This is a problem Svitak has been addressing since her TED Talk. At the age of 12, she understood that “learning is reciprocal.” Both children and adults, students and teachers should be having conversations about what they want, expect, and deserve from their educational experience. The second reason students do not communicate with their schools is a learned sense of apathy: “It’s hard to advocate for yourself before you understand the extent to which you are being neglected.” While the word neglect may feel harsh, Svitak explains that this neglect comes from education’s failure to maintain high expectations for students. Students view their education as just “another step” toward getting a job or starting their career. Education is no longer “a hard won gift.”
In order to enact much needed changes in education, schools need to reintegrate students into the conversation. Rather than treating students like “adversaries” or “a problem that must be dealt with,” Svitak argues that students “are our greatest resource” when improving education. To end her talk, Svitak posed the final question, “what are some plans you have for listening to students”? Audience members posed ideas like forming roundtables, Google hangouts, and committees to let students know that schools were listening. Reinstating student communication with schools and universities “is not just about that one person…it is about giving hope to hundreds and thousands of other students that they have an idea worth sharing.”
So now I’d like to take Svitak’s questions to you, what are some problems that you see in education? What are some plans you have for listening to students?