At Digital Promise, we build and convene powerful networks to connect creative minds and catalyze change. Our Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters) network connects local ecosystems around the country that bring together educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, funders, and other community stakeholders to support transformative teaching and learning. On September 26-28, we hosted the 4th Annual EdClusters Convening (#EdClusters17) at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, MO, in partnership with The Lean Lab.

The convening brought together more than 20 EdCluster regions, representing more than 50 organizations that shared best practices on how to support and scale these unique learning ecosystems. It also gave us the opportunity to consider the roles each active sector in an EdCluster can play. Through panels and breakout discussions, Educators talked about the ways in which they are reaching beyond the classroom. Researchers discussed their role as partners shaping the future of learning science. EdTech Entrepreneurs spoke of moving beyond testbeds to collaborations. And Funders examined what it means to invest in innovation ecosystems.

This year’s convening focused on connections — between sectors, across divides, within regions, throughout the EdClusters network — and what helps us build and understand them. You can review the full meeting agenda here.

MAKING AND STRENGTHENING CONNECTIONS

In order to build effective ecosystems, EdClusters need to leverage a range of partners and assets — through equitable, inclusive collaborations. Attendees workshopped two new tools for EdClusters — an Asset Mapping Guide and Equity Audit, each of which grew out of two working groups EdClusters network partners have participated in over the past several months.

As Sherman Whites, Director in Education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, put it in his remarks to the convening, “Innovation with whom? For whom? And to what end?” And Miles Sandler, Director of Engagement in Education at Kauffman, asked in her welcome: “Are we making enough room at the table?”

On Thursday, participants also worked through a “design sprint” using the Equity X Design framework, facilitated by Christine Ortiz of the Equity Design Collaborative. As part of the process, groups re-designed tools and initiatives from their work, informed by a series of “equity provocations” that asked participants to reflect on race, class, and privilege. (Learn more about how EdClusters are advancing equity here.)

ANALYZING CONNECTIONS: MOVING EDCLUSTER WORK FORWARD THROUGH RESEARCH

Research — in networks, on networks, by networks — also played a central role in #EdClusters17. We heard from Dr. Karen Stephenson about the KC Connector Project that conducted a “trust-based social network analysis” of the education and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kansas City.

Representatives from seven EdClusters also shared takeaways from the research design process they had worked through as part of a Kauffman-supported cohort. (Read more about the project here.)

Breakout sessions then gave participants an opportunity to dive deeper into both topics. Additional research breakout sessions look at “Networks and the Future of Learning Science” and “EdTech Efficacy Research, Pilots, and Rapid Cycle Evaluations.”

BROADENING CONNECTIONS: THE WORK WE DO

#EdClusters17 attendees also had numerous opportunities to hear and learn from each other — about the work they are doing and how they are doing. #EdClusters17 kicked off on Tuesday afternoon with site visits to Blue Valley CAPS, Crossroads Charter Academy, and the EduHub.

On Wednesday, Amy Gale (Kauffman Foundation) and Katie Boody (LeanLab) discussed the evolution of the Kansas City ed innovation ecosystem over the past couple years.

And throughout the convening Reports from the Field showcased updates from EdClusters in:

Breakout sessions for diving into the work EdClusters covered everything from “The Future of Personalized Learning” to “Workforce Development and Student Entrepreneurship.” EdCluster leaders showcased projects ranging from “Student-Led Virtual Reality and the Indigo Inventory” to “Researching Essential Questions through Teacher-EdTech Partnerships.” And they dove into topics such as “Maker Learning Across the Ecosystem” and “Digital Connections for Community: Leveraging Platforms to Build Networks.”

Victor Hwang, Vice President for Entrepreneurship, at the Kauffman Foundation encouraged us to see ourselves and our work as a movement. A movement that needs people, hearts and minds, and policy to scale impact, with the platforms and tools to do so efficiently.

Together, Education Innovation Clusters have the power to scale the evidence-rich tools, technologies, practices, and models that provide equitable learning opportunities for all. As Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise, shared to kick off the convening, there’s tremendous potential in brilliant minds and fresh ideas coming together in these kinds of collaborations.

#EdClusters17 left us with many new connections and ideas to grow this important work together. We are grateful to the Kauffman Foundation for supporting #EdClusters17 and to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which supports the EdClusters initiative at Digital Promise. And we are truly inspired by the amazing work that EdClusters around the country are doing to advance promising innovations and build vibrant, equitable, multi-sector ecosystems.

Learn about past Education Innovation Clusters convenings here.


About Cricket Fuller

Cricket Fuller is the Project Director for the Education Innovation Clusters initiative at Digital Promise. You can find her on Twitter at @CricketFuller.

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