ISTE | Q & A

Steve Hargadon Wants Tech — and Individuals — to Revolutionize Education

The creator of Classroom 2.0 and ed tech enthusiast will lead three sessions at the ISTE conference in San Antonio.

Steve Hargadon wants a revolution in education. He is the founder and director of the Learning Revolution Project, a social networking website for educators, as well as a vehicle for online and in-person educational conferences.

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Steve Hargadon

The North Carolina ed tech enthusiast started the first modern social network for educators, called Classroom 2.0, which preceded Facebook and Twitter by several years.

During the ISTE conference in San Antonio, TX, Hargadon will present at “Hack Education: The Unconference” from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 24; “Global Education Day,” 2-5 p.m. Sunday, June 25; and the poster session “The Global Education Conference” from 7-8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 25.

THE Journal spoke with Hargadon about social networking for educators, “unconferences” and hacking education.

THE Journal: What is the Learning Revolution Project? 

Steve Hargadon: I started the first modern social network for educators called Classroom 2.0. Ning was a project for people to start their own social network.

When I started Classroom 2.0, I worked for Ning as a consultant. We started with tens of thousands of teachers in the network, and there was great value for teachers connecting with other teachers, students connecting with other students. It was a highly participative, collaborative work.

We started the Global Education Conference, which was over five days, 24 hours a day, with over 60 keynotes. Rather than having small select groups and speakers, you could have lots of people participate with Classroom 2.0 and those online conferences.

This was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, with one of largest audiences of educators.
With my library audience, with museum curators and professionals, with homeschoolers, we created a space to talk about learning.

Intriguingly, one aspect of Facebook and Twitter today is people are withdrawing from those, because they reduce the ability to connect deeply. Two out of four of my kids have stopped using Facebook.

The Learning Revolution is an attempt to bridge the conversations on learning. I’m surprised at how we lost the ability to have those deep conversations.

THE Journal: What is an unconference?

Hargadon: An unconference is several dozen alternate meeting cafés. We put up posters around. People write topics, vote on the topics that are of interest to you.
If the popular ones conflict — you put all of those into a grid.

It’s conversations. Somebody says I want to talk about mobile devices and learning, or blogging for students. People go to the ones they want to go to, holding an hour of conversation. People who created the Ed Camp movement were going to EduBloggerCon.

People would gather in the morning and come up with ideas. That was the early EduBloggerCon [which has since become ISTE Unplugged]. It was a day of hacking — intellectual hacking.

We talked about agency and education. At the time, “agency” was not a word we used often when talking about education.

There were unconferences, open space technologies meetings. BarCamps came out of Silicon Valley — they’re essentially the same idea.

THE Journal: Describe the early days of Classroom 2.0 and your social network for teachers.

Hargadon: I literally got booed. I got a very negative reaction from an audience in Australia for suggesting that social networks could be of value to education. It was like I was sharing nude photos. People did not think social networks had redeeming value in education.

With the continuing advance of technology, I knew people were likely to see the things we were talking about. All these elements — photo, video, text — you take all of these features, and actually think about them in an academic way, they make social networks even more meaningful.

THE Journal: What is hack education?

That’s what EduBloggerCon became. Hack education is the chance to get together and talk about education in the unconference format. It’s also about doing something creative with limited resources, and you figure out a solution.

Like MacGyver, it’s more about doing something with existing resources that you didn’t do before. Hack education is the chance to come talk with other educators, education topics that are of interest to you, and you come away with new ideas.

THE Journal: What can you tell us about ISTE?

Hargadon: ISTE is the pre-eminent conference for educational technology in North America, possibly the world. It’s a large, very diverse event.

During the Web 2.0 social media movement, ISTE was great. They gave us the room space, and let us do some really creative things. We brought an audience to ISTE that was excited to be there, that otherwise might not have been there.

THE Journal: What do you see are some trends in education and education technology?

Hargadon: The whole concept of shifting from command and control to agency. Going from a read/write medium to user-produced content. We take those things for granted now.

We’re not under the control of books by monolithic organizations. There’s the ability for individuals to contribute, and re-shape at a grassroots level. Social media plays a part in that. [Teachers] could get their professional development from other teachers. They have access to other teachers all over the country and the world.

The free flow of information on the web — the ability to take control of their own learning. Khan Academy is a good example.

THE Journal: So do you think one of the goals in education is to be able to make your own intellectual decisions, so later you can make decisions in life?

Hargadon: Absolutely. In my mind, that’s never in question as the ultimate goal. That’s the goal — to design your own life education. That’s a whole other conversation — at some level, we have a tension in our society. Do most students leave high school believing they’re competent? Many actually leave believing that they’re not good learners. They never had a real conversation with a teacher.

It’s a really interesting larger cultural question: Do we go to school to learn to buy products, be in debt? We should be teaching [young people] how to manage their own learning, and make their own choices. That’s not actually a universally accepted goal.

THE Journal will be exhibiting at ISTE, June 25-28, in booth 754.

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