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ISTE 2016 – Keynote – Ruha Benjamin

June 28, 2016


ISTE 2016 – Keynote – Ruha Benjamin

These are my notes from the ISTE 2016 conference in Denver. May be lots of opinions and crazy comments, but that’s how we roll! – Todd

This morning’s keynote certainly started out a whole lot less busy than Sunday evening. 40 minutes before the keynote and the hall is pretty close to empty! 30 minutes ahead and there are people starting to trickle in. If you wanted good seats for a keynote presentation, this is the one to be at!

Big City All Star Band is once again providing the pre-keynote music and entertainment. They are spectacular! Lots of great covers, incredible stage presence, awesome musical talent. Must have been an early morning for them, but you would never know listening to them. This group is an excellent way to start a session! It was a good decision by ISTE to bring them in last year, and invite them back again this year.

View from the front looking back.

View from the front looking back.

Before the Keynote

Before the Keynote

Before the Keynote

Before the Keynote

Big City All Star Band

Big City All Star Band

Brian and Kecia

Brian and Kecia

Brian and Kecia (both wearing incredibly colourful outfits – it is kind of entertaining seeing the crazy colours and different outfits), welcomed the group, and welcomed a Making IT Happen award winner: Cathy Cavanaugh. Congratulations everyone! Then we watched a video recognizing 2016 ISTE Award recipients. Used pencil drawings of the recipients – which was kind of cool, but might have been better to have a real picture so we could recognize them when we bumped into them, and perhaps a voice over with some of their accomplishments.

Next up: it’s like a football game – a couple of ISTE Board Members tossed t-shirts out into the crowd for a few moments. For once, sitting in the front section did not work out well to get a free t-shirt…:)

Ben Smith  The culture and climate of a STEM classroom (from his Ignite Session)

IMG_1134His STEM team built a device that fits under the car and measures where potholes are. Students were asked who their mentor was, and what they did for them, and they said “this guy, and he did nothing.” Ben thought this was outstanding. He tries to be as vague as possible, and finds that students find much more creative ways to answer his questions. When he loses control of his classroom, he gets fantastic results from his students. His classroom is known as the toughest in the school, but it is always packed.

There are two layers in his classroom: Who is asking the questions, and which questions are important?

UCC – User Created Content – students should be developing all of their own material, so they can take the credit for it, and build interdependence among their fellow students.

Buy In they get is because of the culture of the classroom. They will sit in the hallway if they have to, they want to be in the classroom that much.

Ben believes he just has to arm the students with the tools they need. When you have this type of classroom, students want access – to him, all the time.

When is done done – never. Always revising, often submitting early so they have more opportunity for revisions.

Well done Ben! Fantastic presentation!

Hadi Partovi – CEO and Founder


Hadi Partovi

Every student shouldn’t need to learn to code, but every school should teach computer science. We should be able to teach computer science in High School without making any changes. If there was even only 1 teacher who taught 1 hour of code a week, it would make a difference. In middle school, this is a natural place to update technology courses. What’s next? It’s great that the President says that this isn’t an optional skill anymore, but is required. Brian asked how hard it was for kids to learn. Hadi says you won’t learn it in an hour, but you’ll learn that you CAN do this. Your eight year old daughter can become a Computer Scientist. Hadi did a quick demonstration showing a tutorial featuring Star Wars and programming steps and codes. Another example had R2D2 moving around and collecting stormtroopers. He brought R2D2 onstage.

IMG_1138 IMG_1139

Tutorials are being expanded and bringing Frozen characters and Star Wars characters to the larger scale courses. CS Fundamentals

Levar Burton – co-founder of reading rainbow app, and of course Star Trek: TNG and MANY other things.

IMG_1140 IMG_1145

What inspired Levar to become a reader? His Mom was an English teacher, and was a story telling mentor. Television was the technology back in the day to access kids. But if you want to reach kids today you need to be in the digital realm, on the devices they use. So it made sense to move Reading Rainbow into that space. Sky Library is a digital library, carefully curated, built into Reading Rainbow software. We want to encourage kids that they can go anywhere and be anything.

Over the years they have had the opportunity to inspire and activate a passion in the lives of kids. Going forward we need to give our children literacy in more than reading or writing, but prepare them for a world of technology – empowering students to be in charge of their learning life. Literacy will be needed at many many levels.

Dr. Ruha Benjamin
Princeton University

Ruha Benjamin

Ruha Benjamin

Set Phasers to Love Me

What do we think is realistic?

There should be little doubt that we’re living in a time of social crisis. Where most people in the world can’t look to hospitals, police, government, or schools for help and knowledge. We see a world at war with itself, not just literal battles, but all manner of social struggles over material and symbolic resources. We also observe that the view of an idea of a society where we care about one another, is undermined or deemed unrealistic.

How do we make our schools laboratories of democratic institutions for social change? Where we experiment with technologies of love, reciprocity, and justice?

Our role as educators is to incubate a better world in the minds and hearts of our students.

Teachers, if unified and empowered, can change the direction of history. It’s not just the technology, but the awakening of the potential of people. But we need to value arts and humanities as much as economical benefits.

Adopting technology without wrestling with parallel reality, ensures that the gap in educational opportunity outcomes will be even wider than it is today. But this is lifelong work, and not easy.



Proponents of biology, don’t always limit themselves to what is possible, but imagine what would be amazing. Scientific inquiry is situated as much in the realm of imagination as it is in reason. Why can’t we imagine empathy for other human beings? We imagine growing a heart cell, but not getting along with everyone else. Our collective imaginations shrink when confronted with inequality in our social reality.

Star Trek impacted the lives of many who use these examples to predict the future, and encourage creative thinking. Imagination is critical in the design of technology.

Ruha talked about the Marshall Islands, site of nuclear testing, and the difference between those who live on the military base, with every service they could ever need, to those who live in the shanty towns were the levels of TB are 23 times the national average, and they are dealing with the after affects of nuclear fallout.

The battle over real power tomorrow begins with the struggle over who gets to dream today – Alex Rivera

We recall the student who brought a home-made clock to school, who was arrested mostly because his name was not “Adam”.

The social & political milieu can foster or stifle innovation

For many schools in the US, the technology they see is the metal detectors and metal detecting wands.

Ruha talked about how the google search for “three black teenagers” brings back much different, and problematic results than “three white teenagers”


We need to move beyond questions about access, and think carefully about “design.” Ruha talked about how some park benches are designed to prevent / deter so-called loiters in public areas. Benches with armrests that you can’t lay on. Benches that are so small you can’t lay down. Benches that are in a cage, and benches that are metered, and make it very uncomfortable to sit on when the meter runs out.

participatory design – What values are we building into our schools & students? Whose voices are missing when decisions are made about technology in education. Otherwise inequality will be built-into our plans?


What role should technology have in the process of re-coding our lives. We often have material technologies in mind, but what about “default settings”? The social codes we use – class, race, gender.

The inventor of MP3 “Science tells us men & women are biologically different including their brains and skills” – Michael Robertson

Britney Muller “Don’t be nervous. You’re hot! No one expects you to do well!” – was tweeted to her prior to a presentation.

Ruha suggests that these are not aberrations, rather sexism, and race domination are encoded into our society, adn therefore we will need to work much harder to fix it.

We need to help to setup new social technologies to get better.

Competing metaphors – gaming vs. hacking. Gaming is characterized by recreation, competition, and consumption. Whereas Hacking is characterized by mastery, collaboration, creativity.

Fair Play


Virtual Worlds represent and shape our imagination. We need to be proactive about dealing with racist actions and thoughts in order to change the world


How do we imagine improvements to the system?

Ahistorical Fallacy

Tendency to project forward in time without careful reflection on historical continuities. Most students don’t know that before there were machines, there were people. We must resist the urge to assume that the passage of time equals social progress.

Legalistic Fallacy

We assume that reforming policies and laws is sufficient. Official policy change must go hand in hand with much deeper transformation of social

Individualistic Fallacy

Those in power, may implicitly discriminate.

Fixed Fallacy

The assumption that issues from the past will continue in the same way or be improved automatically. Instead they can morph and mutate into updated ways of discrimination and injustice.

Tokenistic Fallacy

Assumption that having individuals in high profile positions is demonstrating social change. This is not the case. We must give all of those who are routinely coded as less proficient, the chance to become the technological masters of their world.

In summary:

Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess.. They bear the seeds of the character of future society… They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. …. or leave them entirely to their own devices. .. they belong to the community and share in it’s purpose

Thank you Ruha for an excellent and thought provoking presentation.




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