Many conferences and events have had to reduce in size or be postponed due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, the Constellations Virtual Computer Science Professional Development Summit was able to expand well beyond its original audience and be held at its scheduled time.
Created by the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing at Georgia Tech (Constellations), the Georgia Department of Education, CS4GA, and Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), the summit was planned to be an in-person event on Georgia Tech’s campus for computer science teachers in Georgia and the surrounding states.
When the event moved online, conference organizers were able to expand the program to include more sessions from more speakers and reach teachers worldwide. The conference took place June 15-17 and had 730 attendees, 265% more than their original attendance goal.
Most attendees were Georgia educators, but the conference also had participants from Oregon to Italy, and even a presenter from Scotland.
“We provide professional development opportunities throughout the year for teachers in our program, but we wanted to provide a platform for teachers across Georgia to come together as a community, get resources and support, and have authentic, real conversations. We are astounded and grateful that educators from across the U.S. and even around the world were able to attend,” said Lien Diaz, director of innovation and educational leadership at Constellations.
Attendees were treated to a mix of panel discussions, keynote addresses, fireside chats, interactive content sessions, and networking opportunities. They also enjoyed speakers from industry giants like Microsoft, Google, and Tynker, along with fellow K-12 educators – including three Constellations teachers – and faculty members from colleges such as Georgia State University and the University of Michigan.
Constellations regularly offers professional development and support for teachers who are a part of its Computing Equity Project, but plans to expand its offerings to teachers outside of Atlanta, especially those in rural schools. This inaugural summit was another step by the center to fulfill its mission of ensuring equitable access to quality computer science education, regardless of a student’s race, gender, or financial situation.
“For a lot of teachers out there, attending a professional development summit is not feasible due to budgets, travel, or other reasons. By making this a free, virtual event, we wanted to welcome anyone who needed or wanted some support in their computer science education journey,” said Bryan Cox, computer science program specialist at the Georgia Department of Education.
Outside of increasing teachers pedagogy and providing resources to use in the classroom, the conference encouraged speakers and attendees to engage in difficult conversations about today’s climate in regards to race, LGBTQ students, and other issues that teachers and students face.
“I’m so thankful for the tremendous efforts of Lien Diaz, Bryan Cox, and their colleagues for a conference filled with inspiring speakers and conversations around anti-racist computer science education. Their equity-drive statewide approach is a model for us at CS for Oregon,” said Joanna Goode, professor at the University of Oregon.
In an effort to continue these difficult but necessary conversations, the summit also served as a soft launch for a new program from Constellations called VOICES for Social Justice Alliance. The program will continue shining a spotlight on the negligence of lifting our poor communities, and the lack of equitable access to upward mobility and quality education and healthcare and how computer science education can positively impact these communities.
All sessions were recorded and are available on the Constellations YouTube channel.