Thursday, March 29, 2012

EdTech Link

by Shelly Blake-Plock

This year has been one of transition for me as I shifted from working full time in the secondary classroom to working online virtually with kids and on the ground throughout the country with educators and technologists.

This last November I had a long conversation with Andrew Coy, a public school teacher here in Baltimore. We talked a lot about the variety of ways that the traditional school format was having trouble keeping up with the changes going on culturally and socio-economically with regards to digital literacy and tech access.

We came to a fundamental conclusion that one of the hurdles urban youth face is having the opportunity and support to actually see themselves as engaged content creators and tech-space makers and doers. It has to do with identity, access, and having a network that will support you. It's a cruel irony that so many of our kids are natural innovators and entrepreneurs but so little of our curricula encourage new thinking and new ways of doing things.

And so, we decided that we would do something about this.

This evening, Andrew and I are holding a fundraiser for a program that will connect students, teachers, and technologists in ways that encourage collaboration, the spread of digital literacy, innovative and creative thinking, and the development of new open source technologies driven by real digital age classroom experience.

Andrew and I have accepted positions as co executive directors of the Digital Harbor Foundation, a recently formed nonprofit based in Baltimore. In our role, we are designing and rolling out a new program called EdTech Link.

Converting an under-used city rec center into a nonprofit community tech center, we will develop digital capacity in students and teachers while offering outreach in innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship designed to empower communities long under-served.

Students will be enrolled in an afterschool program defined by their passions in life. Our curriculum is designed to teach digital literacy and tech workforce skills while kids learn and develop new understandings about the things that motivate them. Students then have the opportunity to "get paid to think" in the evening as they take on the role of reverse-mentors teaching digital literacy and tech workforce development skills to their parents and adults in the community -- all this with the support and guidance of teachers and volunteer technologists.

A select group of city public school teachers, meanwhile, will be chosen as EdTech Link Fellows. They will receive a stipend and tech support as they take part in intensive edtech professional development and run afterschool tech and innovation programs in their schools across the city.

Additionally, in the summer time, teacher-fellows will work directly in collaboration with technologists in our local tech incubators to develop new open source education technologies based directly on their experiences and needs in the classroom. For generations, teachers have had few "ladders" available in their career: one either stayed in the classroom or became an administrator. Now, with the rise of professional online technologies, networks, and communities of practice, we have more ladders available to us; our task then is to help teachers develop into teacherpreneurs whose sense of practical innovation and open social entrepreneurship changes the face of both education and technology.

Just two weekends ago we had two brilliant teachers in from Cleveland. And in the course of 72 hours we built a new model open source technology for collecting and coding qualitative data. That's the skill of the social entrepreneur in education.

And so I'm entering into uncharted waters. I'll be spending my time working directly with students and teachers on the ground while also working with technologists to bring the work we are doing in Baltimore to the online space where learners everywhere can be part of our community.

New thinking means new thinking. And I've found myself in the position of actually being able to put to the test all of the ideas that have percolated in my mind and on this blog for years. And I'm going to make the most of this.

I want to take just a moment to thank the educators, technologists, and organizers who have accepted positions on our Advisory Board -- Alec Couros, Chris Lehmann, Mary Beth Hertz, Steven W. Anderson, Rodney Foxworth, Dean Groom, Christine Johnson, Tom Murdock, Susan Malone, and Christopher Sessums. They are the folks who will keep us focused like a laser on making something relevant to the lives of kids and their teachers. I also would like to thank the folks whose sense of innovation, technology, and education make up the sustainable heart of our Board of Trustees -- Sean Lane, Chris Hoyt, Craig Cummings, Rachel Charlesworth, Guy Filippelli, and David Stone.

Andrew and I are pretty darned excited about where things are headed, and we want to thank all of you for making up the network that makes this all possible.

From Baltimore,

ps -- Here's some more info about EdTech Link...

An article on Mind/Shift describing the program.
Info on MarketWatch about EdTech Link.
And, of course, a link to our website and our @DHFBaltimore twitter feed.


  1. It's exciting to see the new places you are going and the new trails you are blazing. My favorite part of this is that you are not just going for something new. You are, in fact, repurposing what's there. You are going for transformation.

  2. What a great thing for the youth of Baltimore, it would be great to see other communities give this a go. I'm going to have to make an extended stay next time I'm in DC.

  3. I am so excited for you, Shelly. You are getting to live the dream!

  4. That sounds great - your comment about teachers and "ladders" sounds interesting, as I'm trying to extend a "ladder" for teachers to become involved in my endeavor, Artsology. Since the arts are always an early target for budget cuts, we're trying to provide fun and creative arts education through our games and investigations, and I'm going to need some people with teaching backgrounds to help me get this to the next level.


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