One of the highest pieces of praise that Chris Stephenson has for professional development speakers is that she could “Listen to them read the phone book”.
I feel the same way about Chris. She’s one of the wisest people I know and I’ve known here in a number of different positions throughout her career from Holt Software to the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario to the Computer Science Teachers Association to Google and plenty of places in between.
It was an honour for me to have Chris be part of the class of 2018 recognized with Life Membership in ECOO. It’s a great chance to publish this interview with her about her time at ECOO.
Doug: Let’s put things into perspective – what years were you President of ECOO?
Doug: Do you recall who was on your Board and who was the ECOO Conference Chair?
Chris: I was on the Board for a number of years and so cannot recall exactly who served in my specific term. But I do remember lots of wonderful people who did great work during my years on the Board: just some of whom included Nancy Murray, Rickie Schieven, Joan Jones, Sandy Mitchell, Ron Millar, George Milbrandt, Tom Schick, and my VP Paul Ryan.
Doug: Some of those names sure bring back fond memories for me.
Where was the conference held during your term as President? Did it have a theme?
Chris: At the Constellation Hotel in Toronto. We used to call it the Jetson Hotel because of the strange looking tower.
Doug: Oh, that tower! And the astrological names for some of the session rooms.
What was your “day job” at the time?
Chris: Research Associate at the University of Toronto and and Vice President of Holt Software.
Doug: It was your role at Holt Software where we first met. You provided our Computer Science teachers with access to the Turing Programming language and backed it up for excellent, regular professional learning.
Do you recall your go-to computer from back then?
Chris: Power Macintosh
Doug: What initiatives did ECOO undertake under your leadership?
Chris: We redesigned and significantly grew the ECOO Output, increased our membership, and grew the conference. We reached out to educational technology teachers in other parts of the world and even hosted a group of teachers from Estonia. And we focussed a lot of attention on developing new resources that would directly help classroom teachers.
Doug: How many members strong was ECOO during your presidency?
Chris: I think it was about 2200 but I really cannot remember. I do know that we were growing.
Doug: Today’s hot button is Coding for all ages. What was the hot button for ECOO during your presidency?
Chris: Professional development for educational technology teachers. We didn’t have the luxury of a ready made community of experts, so we were scrappy and we grew our own.
Doug: What was the hot button in education in general during your presidency?
Chris: I wouldn’t say it was a hot button, but what really excited me about that time was that practitioner-led subject associations were coming into their own as key educational supporters and stakeholders. ECOO became an increasingly important voice in discussions about what and how Ontario students should be taught. At the same time, we were directly serving our members by fulfilling the need for classroom relevant professional development and practical resources.
Doug: What advice would you give to today’s computer using educators?
Chris: Be fearless, be inclusive, be sure it works. Don’t let fear about not knowing everything hold you back from trying something new. Engage your students, their parents, your administrators, and your communities in the discoveries you and your students are making together. And make sure the computing tools that you are using with your students really are producing the outcome/impact/learning you want.
Doug: How involved with computers and technology are you today?
Chris: I remain very involved in computer science education. As the Head of Computer Science Education Strategy at Google, my role is to work with internal teams and external partners globally to grow the entire CS field and to make it more diverse. This means making sure that everything we do in computer science education supports teachers and students and helps build capacity throughout the education ecosystem.
I did have the pleasure of nice conversations with Chris at the recently concluded Bring IT, Together Conference and was invited to be a fly on the wall as she met with a number of educators involved in a special project. It was like no time at all had passed since the last professional development session with her. For more information, just “Google” her!