World-leading educational innovation was rewarded at the 2016 Reimagine Education Conference, held in Philadelphia last month, but the scope of the event far exceeded that of the Awards ceremony with which it culminated. Over 400 delegates, 150 of whom were representing shortlisted entries to the annual competition that precedes the showpiece December event.
Day one was primarily occupied by shortlisted individuals showcasing their work. To ensure that attendees were able to view research that pertained to their own interests and/or area of expertise, showcases were divided into four distinct categories, across four different tracks. The presentation style, in which reseachers and entrepreneurs were given seven minutes to provide a detailed synopsis of their projects, led to an intense but invariably lively exchange of ideas. For many attendees, these showcase sessions provided a first opportunity to exhibit their work to a global audience – which, as post-Reimagine testimonials continue to illustrate, has in turn provided numerous Reimaginers with the extended networks and funding necessary to grow.
The introductory dinner, sponsored by Reimagine Education’s partners at Deakin University, featured two keynotes given by representatives of two insitutions that are taking extraordinary steps to reimagine education. William Confalonieri, award-winning CIO at Deakin University, was first; he was then followed by Brittany Bir, COO of revolutionary coding school 42 USA: a school eschewing teachers, lectures, and desks.
These talks were the precursor to one of the conference’s most-anticipated events: the distribution of the first prizes of 2016’s competition, in the form of the Regional Awards ceremony. Regional thought-leaders from sixteen countries were rewarded: a full Honours List can be found here.
The second day saw the focus shift from attendee presentations to the array of expert speakers selected to speak at Reimagine 2016. Pam Grossman, Dean of the Penn Graduate School of Education, began the morning with a wide-ranging, multifaceted keynote entitled ‘The Future of Education’.
The conference focus then shifted from the all-encompassing to the specific; participants filtered off into two tracks, one of which began the morning by circulating thought on how best to ensure that the world’s teachers are prepared to teach twenty-first century skills to students needing such competencies to survive in the modern employment market. The emphasis on nurturing employability continued in the following track, with QS CEO Nunzio Quacquarelli leading a panel on the twenty-first century skills gap – a panel attended by Fullbridge Inc’s CEO Roger Berry, Jerry Huang of iTutorGroup, and CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, Matt Sigelman.
The Discipline Awards which are given out by Reimagine Education every year are the organisers’ means of acknowledging that innovation is – and must – occur across the entire educational spectrum. The conference adopts the same ethos, and delegates at Reimagine 2016 were able to hear four passionate Humanities educators advocate for the value of a liberal arts education. Drawing on research indicating that employers typically lack graduates with writing and/or research skills, the panellists aimed to destroy the false dichotomy between learning the type of skills provided by a humanities education, and learning skills that lead to individual employability.
The afternoon of Day Two saw Professor Jerry Wind of The Wharton School join Harvard Innovation Labs alumnus Grace O’Shea, Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Kurshan of the Penn Graduate School of Education, and Jeff Stebar of Perkins+Will – an architectural firm specialising in the higher education space – in debating the future of the classroom. Among the observations circulated were the need to change the language we use – from ‘classroom’, with its connotations of a static space with a fixed learner-teacher dynamic – to ‘learning space’. The latter, it was argued, would be a space that encouraged students to construct their own knowledge, rather than have it transmitted to them.
After another set of high-profile keynotes – Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Rhode Island and Satya Nitta of IBM – all delegates were transferred to the National Constitution Center. This destination, one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious, was chosen by the Reimagine team as an apt setting to award what one delegate referred to on Twitter, during the conference, as ‘the Pulitzer Prize[s] of Education’. The ceremony took place during a gala dinner that featured two speakers of comparable standing to the venue in which they were speaking: Jonathan Rochelle of Google and Rob Curtin of Microsoft.
The Awards themselves were innovating this year: delegates at the conference joined a series of elite judges in voting for the 2016 Overall Winner. Using online voting platforms as a means to ensure that the winners were chosen through the consensus of global innovators, it was pleasing to note the concurrence between the voting patterns of the expert judges in attendance – including Satya Nitta, Nunzio Quacquarelli, and Brittany Bir – and the delegate audience.
All that was left, therefore, was to reward the winners of the 14 different award categories, and the two main prizes: the Overall Award, jointly taken by Labster and the London School of Economics, and the Overall Ed Tech Award, taken by BYJU’s, a revolutionary learning app achieving extensive usage and traction in India.