DeVos draws controversy, others talk tech education gap at summit in SLC

Source: KSL

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos drew controversy for her appearance at the eighth annual ASU+GSV summit Tuesday, which welcomed tech and educational leaders from around the world to Salt Lake City.

The summit, organized by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley, is being hosted for the first time in Utah’s capital Monday through Wednesday and boasts appearances from a number of national and global leaders who have come to discuss the challenges and triumphs of technology and education.

DeVos shared her remarks during a brief keynote speech Tuesday afternoon as a small group of protesters gathered in front of the Grand America Hotel to protest her appearance. Some conference goers even seemed less-than-enthused with her remarks, calling them “weak” or suggesting she had just hired a good speechwriter.

DeVos focused the majority of her remarks on “burdensome government regulations” in education, advocating the need for an overhaul of the educational system.

“It’s time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government’s arcane approach to education,” DeVos said. “Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts. We’ll never be able to solve the problem unless we acknowledge it exists.”

DeVos noted that the U.S.’s current educational model has been around since the early 1800s, “courtesy of a country that no longer exists.” Children are assigned to schools based solely on where they live, causing students from lower socioeconomic areas to become trapped in a cyclical system of poor educational benefits, she said.

DeVos also mentioned the need for more technology in education, a main focus of the summit also highlighted by several other speakers there.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing how technology has been used in a variety of settings to date, but I’m pretty confident we have not yet realized the full range of technology’s power and ability to help students learn,” DeVos said. “I only have to look at my own grandchildren to see how powerful technology is and to note that there are more and more ways that they are learning through technology than I would have ever dreamt possible even a handful of years ago.”

While technology has become a powerful weapon in education, many of the speakers at ASU+GSV acknowledged a growing tech education gap that has become a problem, not just nationwide, but especially here in Utah where the tech scene continues to grow faster than schools are able to prepare students to enter a booming tech hub.

Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight (a Utah tech unicorn that offers online trainings for professionals), spoke at the summit, along with fellow tech unicorn leaders Domo’s Josh James and Qualtrics’ Ryan Smith. Skonnard emphasized the growing tech education gap in Utah and offered a few suggestive solutions.

“There’re thousands of tech-related and especially computer science-related jobs that can’t be filled,” Skonnard said in an exclusive interview with KSL. “The number of new jobs that need to be filled are outpacing the number of new people universities are producing with those skills. So fundamentally, the issue is grounded in the fact that the technology landscape and the demand to learn new things is moving faster than our ability to learn them.”

This gap in tech education is one of the top two or three issues for every corporate boardroom across the country, according to Skonnard, and leaders of Utah tech companies especially are concerned about where they will find workers skilled enough to carry their company in the direction they see it going.

“What we need to be doing is using technology to fundamentally disrupt and evolve the way we learn these things and the way we learn technology skills, so it’s a bit circular,” Skonnard said. “Pluralsight is fundamentally focused on using technology to change the way we learn technology by creating a platform that’s accessible, that allows people to learn at their own pace, that assesses where their skills are today … and then builds individualized learning paths for them.”

Chicago resident Phyllis Lockett, CEO of Leap Innovations and speaker at ASU+GSV, also emphasized the importance of individualized learning paths, explaining her own organization’s efforts to offer those opportunities to students throughout schools in inner-city Chicago.

Leap Innovations, a non-profit organization based in Chicago, offers schools the opportunity to implement certain technologies in the classroom, allowing teachers to work more efficiently with students and understand their individual needs better.

“There’s one school … that basically had about 100 suspensions the year before we came in. After our program … there were about six. … I know these are not the same kids as before,” Lockett said in an interview with KSL.

Though Lockett agreed that the classroom needs technology to keep up with a changing world, she also acknowledged the importance of correct implementation.

“Just putting technology in a classroom is not sufficient. You really need a tailored learning approach for students in order for the technology to do what it’s going to do.”

Read KSL article here.

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