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A Math Educator Perspective: Course Hero Education Summit ’19

Rebecca Streett, MS, a senior instructor of mathematics and statistics, shares how the workshops, sessions, speakers, and attendees spoke to her soul.


Rebecca Streett, MS

Senior Instructor, Coordinator, Developmental Math Program, University of Arkansas, Little Rock

BS and MS in Applied Mathematics

Like most educators, I suffer from initiative fatigue, often finding myself feeling jaded when presented with the “next big thing” in higher education. While I always enjoy the camaraderie and sharing of ideas that conferences offer, too often I leave them feeling as inadequate as I do inspired. So it was with some trepidation that I headed to the Bay Area to attend the 2019 Course Hero Education Summit.

Colleague connections, a supportive setting

I spotted my first indication that this was no ordinary conference as soon as I joined other educators as we made our way from the Pullman Hotel to the Course Hero headquarters in Redwood City, California. There was an air of excitement mixed with bafflement, as if we had all discovered golden tickets in bars of chocolate that none of us had purchased. Many of us seemed almost apologetic during introductions, as if we were all suffering from impostor syndrome. Some version of my own worries—“I don’t know why I was invited, I’m nothing special”—was echoed by almost everyone I met. What this said about the experience we were about to share, I had no idea.

Entering the Course Hero headquarters was my next clue that things were going to be different. The antithesis of a hotel conference room reeking of stale coffee and carpet cleaner, this Silicon Valley version of a chocolate factory bore the scent of new school supplies and a buffet breakfast—and seemed to be designed for the mass production of educational creativity and innovation. The headquarters were buzzing with excitement, with the Course Hero crew inviting us in and listening to our ideas. A Lego board, conference rooms named after specific disciplines (Zoology, Journalism, Literature, and more), huge posters inviting us to share our thoughts, and even ping-pong tables seduced us into the space. I found the experience intoxicating, as if some subtle alchemy was at play here, transforming us from disjointed individuals into a team of warriors dedicated to charting a new course for education together.

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Top-notch speakers, real-world tips

The four sessions I attended were both inspiring and practical. They were thought-provoking as well. I walked away from each of them with ideas that I can implement immediately in my classes. Neelesh Tiruviluamala, from the University of Southern California, blew me away with his session entitled “Math for Earthling Ambassadors to Outer Space.” Putting on a talent show and crocheting in a math class—what?! I immediately sent out an email to my coworkers back home, trying not to leave out a single word that Neel said about course design.

In a mathematics teaching workshop, Dr. Michael Starbird from the University of Texas reminded us to keep an eye on the big picture—and to really think about what skills we can give our students now that will be useful to them 20 years later. He encouraged us to model learning rather than knowing, and to take the time to truly nurture our students. Dr. Starbird suggested letting students observe their instructors learning something themselves during class. He emphasized the importance of fostering curiosity and discovery, helping students “understand a few simple things deeply” rather than learning many things superficially. I left the sessions believing more than ever that fighting the good fight requires innovation, experimentation, and collaboration.

Keynote speeches, educator panels

From the beginning of the introductions to the end of the keynote speeches given by higher-ed Jedi masters Dr. Cathy Davidson and Dr. Michio Kaku, I found myself feeling more and more like a full-fledged member of this magical community. In a time of budget cuts, low enrollment, and declining completion rates, it is gratifying to be reminded of why we all do what we do, and to discover that we are not in this alone.

Probably my favorite moment of the entire summit occurred during the evening panel discussion: “Not on the Syllabus: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Our Toughest Teaching Challenges.” Here, five rock-star educators answered questions crowdsourced and curated from attendees like me during each day’s opening remarks. (This was a genius idea—voting on the questions helped me bond with my neighbors and feel that my voice mattered.) UCLA’s Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson expressed the importance of acknowledging the worthiness of everyone we teach. She reminded us that the act of raising a hand in class is akin to saying, “I am here, and I deserve to be heard.” This really resonated with me, seamlessly reinforcing what I had been discovering about myself throughout the day. I am not an impostor after all. I am worthy, too.

Fresh ideas, renewed purpose

While my adventure, regrettably, did not end with the inimitable host organization CEO Andrew Grauer handing me the keys to his educational candy store, I still left feeling like a hero. I headed back to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a proud member of the Course Hero community—with a renewed sense of purpose, a bunch of great ideas, and some new colleagues whom I consider to be friends. (A big shout-out to the amazing Aletheia Zambesi from the University of West Florida, Janice Marsaglia from the University of Illinois at Springfield, Audrey Agnello from Niagara Community College, Angelita Howard from Morehouse School of Medicine, and Ayesha Maliwal from University of Maine, who all inspire me and with whom I have so much in common).