ISTE Insights: SEL and Equity Take Center Stage

At Clarity, we attend and present at conferences throughout the year, to share our expertise, keep a pulse on trends in education, and commune with our fellow forward-thinkers! So with this in mind, our team was abuzz with excitement and curiosity about this year's annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

In past years when I’ve attended ISTE, I would return home with a suitcase full of swag, a handful of business cards, worn treads on my shoes from running across convention halls, and a plethora of new tech tools to explore. This year—no surprise—was drastically different. Despite this virtual format, ISTE still created a global ed-tech community: providing opportunities to network; assembling inspirational presenters; and promoting critical issues that impact all students and teachers. Many presentations transcended the typical “latest and greatest in emerging technologies” to focus on the greater purpose of technology integration (especially as it relates to equity), creating culturally-responsive pedagogy, and using technology as a catalyst for social change.

Education for the Greater Good

Equity was threaded throughout many sessions, from esports to social emotional learning (SEL). As a Learning Experience Designer, I often consider how our team at Clarity might best utilize technologies in service of culturally responsive pedagogy. So, I was pleased to note the prevalence of opportunities to further my learning in these areas.

Ibram X. Kendi, a featured speaker and author of How to Be an Antiracist, kicked off the first day by challenging attendees to ask themselves: “Is this new technology creating more equity or inequity? Is this new technology allowing me to build an antiracist learning environment?” Questions like these set the tone for thinking more deeply about how technology can improve not only our students’ educational experiences, but also their potential future outcomes. In another session, a teacher who shared her experiences of enduring significant disadvantages in her educational career, explained how she is now using an online platform to cultivate an authentic learning community that thrives on equity and the inclusion of all students.

Dr. Dena Simmons—in her inspirational mainstage session— underscored the importance of applying an anti-racism lens to SEL. The pandemic has brought attention to the importance of SEL, which has often been something of an afterthought in the classroom, with academic literacy superseding emotional literacy, and an emphasis on IQ versus EQ (Empathy Quotient).

Dr. Simmons also spoke of the computer science movement as a movement of equity—opening up the field for everyone and using technology to be a force for good by solving real-world problems. As one participant noted in the chat, “CS can be more powerful than sports in bringing equity to students of color.” And, esports might just be a winning combination for that reason! Clarity’s esports expert, Learning Experience Designer Kailey Rhodes, underscored the emerging theme of equity and inclusion through esports in her and Clarity Director of Strategy Steve Burt’s presentation The Rising Tide of Esports in Education: “Where else can we see a third grade boy playing on a team with a high-school non-binary student than in esports?”

I Attended ISTE 2020 and All I Got Was…

On the heels of a challenging year, it was heartening to commune with those as committed as we are to serving our learners. Clarity Learning Experience Designer Lisa Fisher was deeply moved by the commitment to ensure that technology is being leveraged for a greater purpose. As for me, I’ll be borrowing an analogy shared in a session on accessibility and UDL: “Designing for inclusion is like baking a blueberry muffin.” That is, it needs to be included from the beginning: it can’t be added at the end. Similarly, equity needs to be “baked” into all that we do—whether it’s designing curricula, selecting books for our library shelves, incorporating SEL practices, choosing technology tools, or addressing programmatic and systemic change.

Likewise, when we work with clients to manifest their visions, we will continue to be mindful when considering how our technology solutions can offer equitable opportunities for all students. So, while I missed the swag, the inspiration drawn from the 2020 Virtual ISTE conference was invaluable.

In June 2021, Stefanie Hausman joined our extended network of alumni.