We almost decided not to go to Qatar. 20 hours of sitting on a plane + going to a summit bringing together people from all corners of the world + a fresh COVID variant floating around? The situation gave us pause. It gave us looonng pause.
But Unrulr joined the WISE EdTech Accelerator program last fall, and for the past year the WISE team has supported us in a dynamic and challenging environment. They’ve connected us with advisors on branding and product market fit, and helped us run experiments. So not only was the 2021 WISE Summit an opportunity for us to attend and learn, but it was also an opportunity for us to show our support for the WISE program.
So we went. We made the journey. I just got home a few nights ago, after 30 hours of travel, and while I’m still processing all that happened, I’m sure of at least one conclusion: it was awesome.
I expected to pick up new lessons from the sessions they put together for our accelerator cohort – both big picture lessons like the landscape in edtech funding and specific lessons like building personal relationships with public agencies. And to some extent, I hoped to find community within our cohort in the shared challenges we face – sure enough, it was cathartic to hang out with a group of folks who experience roadblocks similar to the ones that we deal with every day. But while I had concrete expectations for the accelerator program, when we set out for Doha, I had not grasped, at all, the scope of the actual WISE summit, which ran after our cohort sessions finished.
The summit, especially for education nerds like Fred and myself, was inspiring. We’ve done local conferences and national conferences, but this was different. The breadth of challenges discussed ranged from zero-connectivity PBL in rural India, to using AI to generate just-in-time learning modules from mixed media. And while topic-specific conferences are great for really getting into the details of implementation, the wide range of contexts at WISE provided a fantastic perspective of what’s happening out there in the broader world.
Throughout the sessions, I was impressed by the ingenuity of the solutions I saw: No internet connectivity – what about radio? Radio is expensive and ephemeral – what about distributing 500,000 tiny mp3 players with pre-loaded lessons?
And I was also impressed with the open reflection and self-awareness that people showed. I didn’t hear anybody touting the Next Big Thing or generally throwing Hype around. People were aware that their solutions were context-dependent, and that some combination of geography, economy, and culture (or any one of a myriad of other factors) allowed it to work for them.
But I was most impressed by what wasn’t said. For all the talk of challenges and obstacles, there was no grumbling. Education underwent unprecedented upheaval (UUU) when COVID hit – I think a reasonable argument could be made that the closing of schools was the most disruptive change to our regularly scheduled society. And while almost every presenter I saw acknowledged the changes driven by COVID in some form, it was always in a practical:
Sure, this was definitely a biased sample of educators – the ones who are doing work noteworthy enough to present at WISE – but I still think it’s astounding how driven everyone was to figure out solutions as opposed to dwelling on the problem. Whether through community networks, public-private partnerships or technology (lo-tech or hi-tech), people got things done, no matter the context.
So we traveled across 200 degrees of latitude for some inspiration? Well, yeah. I’m inspired. I’m pretty sure Fred is inspired as well. It’s too easy to feel like we’re out there on our own, struggling to make it work. Especially during pandemic years, while we’re all working from home and doing the zoom.
But we’re not on our own. We have the fantastic support of the educators and organizations who believe in us. And we’re on a journey with a community which includes not only like-minded edtech folks, but also the educators who live impact and innovation every day. That’s some good company to be keeping.
Many thanks to Victoria Basma and the WISE EdTech team