Three Education Conferences that Have Helped Me Grow

Higher Education April 17, 2016

Diana Al-Dajani, founder and CEO of the Arabic learning portal eduTechnoz, shares her takeaways from three conferences that have helped her grow, both professionally and personally.

EdTech Europe 2015

I remember I was very excited and apprehensive that I was the only one in the conference who was teaching Arabic – most of the EdTech projects were teaching either math or English. I was very anxious before my WISE session hoping that what I have to say would be relevant to the audience. However, I was very confident after my talk in the WISE panel, where we discussed challenges in starting eduTechnoz in the Middle East and scaling it up.

I felt I had something to offer to everyone in the conference; adding such value to attendances made me feel good. So I started talking and networking, looking for investment opportunities. I have initiated a couple of them – and I was proud. But I also remember that the day before EdTech, we had a WISE session where I had to face my doubts of being ready to invite investors or not. I was worried about the time it will consume and take away from eduTechnoz. Anyway, I pursued this mission of connecting with investors.

I also managed to establish many amazing connections. One of which was with Dr. Gernot, an astronaut involved in exploring and preparing for the challenges of a manned mission to Mars. I was subsequently able to arrange a successful live skyping session, called “Talk with an astronaut” in collaboration with Sirdab Lab in Kuwait. We had originally anticipated that ten kids would attend; however when it was time for the session, there were over 50 kids and parents attending the session. It was transformative for the kids, especially my boys – I wanted to bring this to their school so that they get the chance to talk with Dr. Gernot and get inspired by him; I always wanted to be an astronaut “when I grow up”.

Moreover, I also managed to start the process to collaborate with Ideas Box – a 2014 WISE Accelerator project, to bring eduTechnoz to Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. 

WISE 2015 

I had to repeat over and over to multiple people the pain areas in eduTechnoz and talk about the challenges from different perspectives. All that in a “safe” place, with no judgment, and all the help, mentorship and nurturing guidance that everyone can offer. However, the unsafe place was myself. I never really had thick skin. Hearing myself discussing the challenges and difficulties over and over, made me feel depressed when I came back from WISE. I was surprised with the amount of challenges I face every day. I guess at some level, I just dealt with them or numbed them to keep moving forward. So back to my depression state after I was back from WISE.  I could not function for a couple of days. I was in a real shock. How did I manage to neglect the fact that I have THAT many problems and how I am still going? So, I did something I hadn’t done for a long time, which was to take a day off, doing nothing related to eduTechnoz. But I still did not figure out the best way to implement the solutions we had discussed back at WISE. Consequently, I decided to dedicate more time for walking so I get more chance to reflect. I managed to strategize most of the next steps and implemented most of the strategized ones. Nonetheless, in the big picture, I found myself changing major structures and redirecting eduTechnoz in a different direction of what I thought it will be.

At the end, I finally learned how to acknowledge, and be conscious about the challenges I face everyday and how to strategize solutions. 

SXSWedu 2016

It was very hard for me to find my place in a conference that is dealing with English language, math and higher levels of education. There were no sessions related to Arabic language and the audience was not really interested in Arabic. So I asked myself: what is my angle? How am I going to benefit from this opportunity?

I go to the networking event and I meet a very nice person who turned out to be a speaker and mingled with couple of teachers and listened to their views about education in general. Then, I attended the keynote speaker session and I get inspired in different ways: eduTechnoz needs to have extra piece of intelligence to better serve the students and I need to figure out what kind of minds my boys have so that I can help them become successful and happy adults.

Then I went out to meet and network with everyone. I was scoring no meetings and no real business opportunities. Furthermore, it felt that Arabic was a stereotyped conversation. So I decided to go to sessions to learn as much as I can so that I can apply to my kids and add ideas to eduTechnoz. And this is what I did until I saw my fellow Accelerator colleague and she told me that I have to tackle Arabic as a foreign language. I remembered that someone mentioned in one of the sessions that there are 56 foreign languages taught in USA. BINGO! So I started networking again after I have pivoted my elevator pitch. This is where I realized that I should have connected the dots before but it always helps when we have outside perspective. Then I went on and learned more and more.

I have no doubt that eduTechnoz will be completely different in 1-2 years just because I had attended this amazing, stimulating conference. My personal confidence in eduTechnoz being global and scalable beyond Arabic speakers has been reassured. I then went to the expo and started initiating different partnerships to expand eduTechnoz offerings and portfolio. All the while getting ready for the next evolution.    

On the last day of SXSWedu, the three WISE Accelerator projects (GreenShoots, TeachPitch and eduTechnoz) were having breakfast, and we all talked about how these casual breakfast chatting actually added to our personal and professional growth; listening to each other’s stories and feeding off of each other’s different experiences and perspectives.