Even before the opening keynote began, the talk at ISTE 2015 was about encouraging more participation by minorities in educational leadership. When Soledad O’Brien took the stage it was to talk about the desperate need to improve education and scale it to reach every corner of the country if not the world, and who technology offers the means to do that. She shared gut-wrenching videos; one of Ivan, a seven year old who could neither read a single word nor add two plus two, and another with Maria, a teenager whose her heart was set on attending Stanford, an impossible dream since her school did not offer the prerequisite math courses.
Technology can solve these problems. Online video courses like Khan Academy are one way. To demonstrate another way, O’Brien invited 10 volunteers up on stage. She gave each Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets, viewers that cost as little as $14.99, but offer full-immersion virtual reality. Cardboard turns your own smartphone into a virtual reality headset. The volunteers experienced veterinary surgery by virtual reality and were told about the opportunities in veterinary science by an expert in the field.
Motivating young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is still proving to be a challenge. O’Brien pointed out the discouraging statistic that fewer women are getting degrees in computer science than was the case 30 years ago. Research shows, according to O’Brien, that if STEM subjects can be connected to advancing a greater good, then young women are more likely to become involved with these subjects. O’Brien has also founded the Starfish Foundation to offer financial assistance, mentorship, and wraparound support to help young women succeed in college who otherwise would not be able to attend.
ISTE 2015 is taking place in Philadelphia near a giant paintbrush dripping paint onto the sidewalk and not far from a wayward vintage airplane embedded into the sidewalk.