Technovation Kicks off Global Online Education Task Force

In late June, Technovation convened a Global Online Education Task Force to discuss how to make STEM education more accessible and equitable online. We invited educators, mentors, foundations, community partners, UN agencies and researchers from all around the world to join us. 70 people from 55 organizations gathered online to share and learn from each other’s expertise. 

Participants split into working groups to discuss best practices for online learning and teaching, supportingparents and teachers as partners in education, establishing strong mentorship connections, addressinginequalities in education, and best practices for measuring impact.

Guiding Questions

Within those working groups, we discussed the following questions.

  • How do we make online education more accessible and equitable? How do we use online education as a tool to help underserved and marginalized students develop their capacity to thrive in an increasingly uncertain, technology-based world?
  • How can we prepare and help parents and mentors to support students learning from home and help them become self-directed, lifelong learners? What is a reasonable amount of time that parents and mentors could devote towards supporting students? What might be some behavioral barriers to participation?
    • What are best practices in STEM education that address issues of systemic racism, social justice and gender-inequalities? How can we build an inclusive online community of learners using existing learning platforms?
  • How can we assess whether the intervention is truly increasing the capability of the participants (increasing access to resources, voice, influence, agency and achievements)? 

We discussed our experiences and ideas, asked additional questions and identified areas that we collectively felt worthy of follow-up.

A note on the scope of this post and the taskforce – although the focus of the taskforce is online learning, we did have thought-provoking conversations about the limitations of online learning for families and educators in areas with limited access to resources including the internet, adequate space, technology and time. We summarized our entire conversation, including those thoughtful comments, in our recap, but for the purpose of this summary will be focusing on recommendations for areas with sufficient internet bandwidth and technology access to support some degree of online learning.

Key Takeaways: Nurturing Kinder, Self-Aware, Self-Directed, Online Learners

Although each group focused on a different aspect of online education, at the root of each discussion was the question of how to better nurture students to become self-directed learners in an online environment. While circumstances and access to resources dramatically impact how effective online learning can be, we also discussed how critical it is to build strong distance learning partnerships between parents and teachers to create a network of support. 

Our teacher and parent and online learner groups both discussed ways to support parents and teachers in connecting with each other. This can include finding ways for teachers and parents to connect about children’s progress and concrete ways parents can reinforce learning at home.

  • Keep content brief, easy to digest, and as interactive as possible. Keep cameras on for interactive and non-verbal feedback. 
  • Providing advanced schedules of online offerings so that parents and learners can plan schedules ahead and have predictable learning opportunities.
  • Good planning is key. Tools like Slack or Trello can be easy for students and very useful to help them manage different projects, school, etc.
  • Provide a channel of communication between students and teachers. This could include online tools like those mentioned above, but offline examples include text/phone calls/flash drives of information between students and teachers. Some members of the group found phone calls and text messages particularly effective as a tool to check-in and build a sense of connection between families and educators.
  • Start by asking families what they need and regularly checking-in to see how lessons and resources are working for families.

To those last two points about channels of communication and asking families how the resources are working for them, one point that came up in several working groups was the importance of integrating psycho-social support for families into lesson plans.

  • Some members of the group reported success with building daily check-ins into lesson plans. A big barrier to learning can be parents and students not having space to process what’s happening in their lives. Building in that space and time to check-in and process has been beneficial to learning outcomes as well as students and caregivers.

Building a sense of community and collaboration is also vital – we discussed the potential power of establishing regional clusters that can offer blended online/offline support for students.

  • Offer support and community for educators as well – try online platforms for teachers to collaborate and share best practices on how to serve students through distance learning
  • Stay on top of new technology. Tools are evolving rapidly, new technologies can help to make the experience closer to face to face interaction
  • Teach students collaboration skills like ideating, providing appropriate critical feedback, and leaving motivational feedback on projects. These skills will make the online learning experience richer, and will be valuable as part of the future workforce as well.
  • Be aware of different student’s needs and comforts. Allow for multiple ways of participation and engagement for students who are shy, or less familiar with technology, or have less access.

We also discussed ways to incentivize learning and participating in online learning environments and communities for both parents and students. The first point that came up was straightforward and critical: don’t make assumptions about what kids and adults need as incentives – ask.

That being said, the group generated some ideas for incentives to explore with parents and families. Creating opportunities for young people to work on real world problems came up several times. Setting up long-term projects that allow students to focus on their local communities and step into leadership roles is an effective way to help students both direct their own learning as well as engage more directly with their work. The tangible aspect of working on a problem they face every day helps students develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills in a hands-on way. And at a time when so much is uncertain and we are adapting lessons to new formats and mediums, the potential to fully explore project-based learning and experiment with students directing their own projects is high.

The resilience built by troubleshooting problems as they arise, iterating on ideas in light of peer and community feedback, and the immediate, tangible connection to a problem students confront daily foster learning and connection to the learning process.

Supporting students through such projects might look different for each community, but the group discussed that support might be…

  • Focused on helping students overcome challenges that they can’t do alone.
  • Focused on providing questions, prompts, links to further resources rather than “providing the answer”.
  • Encouraging and constructive in tone.
  • Linked to tangible opportunities, not just “inspiration”.
  • Checking in with students regularly to reassure and bolster student confidence, but not to provide the ‘correct’ answer
  • Providing support outside of the “classroom” setting, putting learnings into context of the community or larger world

What’s Next?

In partnership with UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, Technovation ran a pilot program to test out some of the ideas and tools we discussed during the Taskforce meeting. The first pilot program was for girls aged 10-18 living in Brazil, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan. Participating girls learned what AI is, how it works, and made a plan for an AI invention that solves a problem they will have identified in their community. They also learned how to build their own AI model.

The goal of this pilot was to empower and support girls in self-directed technology entrepreneurship programs while also involving industry mentors to serve as role-models and further engage girls throughout the multi-week program. We will be sharing the findings of this pilot publicly and with the Global Education Taskforce.

The next Global Education Taskforce meeting will be September 24, 2020. If you are interested in joining, you can sign up here.


Additional Learning Resources

As part of our first Taskforce meeting, Technovation compiled pre-reading for each working group. This reading provided a common framework as a starting point for discussions – including theoretical background and a brief review of what work has been done in each area. Each working group’s pre-reading is linked below, if you would like to explore and learn more.

Online Learning & Teaching

Parents & Teachers



Impact Assessment