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A Deeper Look at Education: Eric Brown, TIE'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Technology, Innovation, and Education reflects on his time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Eric Brown and family

"When preparing to apply to HGSE, I would listen on repeat to 'What is Your Life's Blueprint?' an inspirational speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a group of students at Barratt Junior High in Philadelphia fall of 1967. Once accepted into Harvard, my wife, Bria, threw me a surprise party and had my family and friends meet at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. This photo is significant because of the moment when it was taken, the location, and the family and friends who are in it. It reminds me of the mission to building the 'Beloved Community.'"

Photo: Courtesy of Eric Brown

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Eric Brown will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Senior Lecturer Joe Blatt, faculty director of TIE, comments on Brown's selection: “Eric has been a thought leader in TIE courses and in other classes throughout HGSE. His peers praise him for stretching their thinking and enriching their class and section discussions, while his academic performance has earned him the rare distinction of serving as a Teaching Fellow while still pursuing his degree.

“As usual, the students are more eloquent than I could be. Here is what one fellow student wrote about Eric: ‘Eric is a strong leader, critical thinker, and team player. Observing the grace and finesse in which he approached teamwork was a powerful learning experience. As a result of learning from Eric, I am a much better team player and effective team lead.’ 

“Excellent academic work, engaging fellow students in effective team experiences, and a generous attitude toward peers, are qualities we highly value in TIE — and Eric Brown has made exactly these outstanding contributions to his cohort and to the program.”

We spoke to Brown about his time at HGSE, his future plans, and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape.

What brought you to the Ed School and what were your goals — and have those goals changed?

When I took inventory of the moments when I came alive and leveraged my gifts and talents to create impact, students/learners were consistent in those scenarios. Coming to HGSE was an intentional pursuit of mastery to serve my community better and increase social impact. 

At the start, my goals were to find proven methods to produce positive transformation for individuals in transition. I also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of behavioral science, human-centered design, and entrepreneurship. Those goals haven't changed; however, I have gained more focus and clarity on the problems to solve and now look at challenges with a systemic lens.

What were your experiences with online learning and what do you think makes it effective? What are some of the creative or special ways you able to connect with your peers and instructors?

As a digital native with a background in the information technology industry, I came open to online learning. I discovered several factors that go into creating an effective virtual learning experience. First, managing attention and distractibility is key; instructors were intentional about having live agendas and making synchronous sessions interactive. Second, we had space and time to build community and collaborate when class was not in session via discussion boards or other interactive asynchronous mediums. Finally, switching it up with guest speakers or even connecting to a different virtual platform like VR. Having a class on the iLRN Virtual Campus (Powered by VirBELA) was a highlight for me.

"I will continue to use innovation to disrupt and advance equity and access for historically marginalized communities. I believe in the brilliance of our youth and creating safe spaces where their identities are affirmed and provided with multiple means of action and expression."

What is something that you learned this year that you will take with you throughout your career in education?

My time at HGSE taught me that “designing for the average is designing for no one.” I plan to leverage the Universal Design for Learning Framework that optimizes teaching and learning for all people. I will continue to focus on student-centered whole-person education and creating environments where learners appreciate differences in themselves and in their peers. When creating learning experiences, I will make them meaningful, engaging and give learners the power to act and make choices.  

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

The pandemic helped me to pause and take a deeper look at education. It gave me space to ask fundamental questions and reflect on my own educational journey. I watched families look at what their students were learning and question its effectiveness. Early in my educational journey, I had struggles both socially and academically. My mom decided to take me out of the public school system and homeschooled me for a season. Many parents have decided to take their children out of the traditional school system over the past two years. Parent involvement is a key indicator of student success. Preparing students to be college and career ready is a shared responsibility. Historically we have put a lot of focus on the public school system. If education is supposed to develop skills to succeed in this competitive world, I am shifting my focus to informal learning, home education, and homeschooling as tools to help our youth think effectively and critically. Coming full circle, I wouldn't be who or where I am today if my parents did not invest in me the way they did. 

What are your post-HGSE plans?

Initially, I plan to take some time to relax and reflect on this transformational journey. I have been moving at an incredible pace over the past two years. I intend to slow down, reevaluate priorities, adjust and optimize for increased impact. 

I am not the same person I was when starting the fall of 2020. "One's mind, once stretched, by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions". -Oliver Wendell Holmes  

I will continue to use innovation to disrupt and advance equity and access for historically marginalized communities. I believe in the brilliance of our youth and creating safe spaces where their identities are affirmed and provided with multiple means of action and expression. TIE has helped me to find clarity and focus on the problems to solve as it relates to education. The challenges are complex, and the change we seek takes a community effort. 21st-century skills development and entrepreneurship are two of the tools I plan to use while strengthening communities. If this resonates with you, let's connect. #themarathoncontinues