Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with the internet (I wrote another post about unplugging a few months ago), especially on our cell phones. We love that there is so much information at our fingertips, and the way we can stay connected to people who are not in our immediate vicinity. But we also resent our reliance on these same devices, and recognize that they can make us feel more alienated than connected to each other. I admire Louis C.K for shutting off the internet on his phone, and I love that he had his 10-year old daughter set up the restriction for him (watch the video where he talks about it here).
In education, digital tools are increasing in importance, and one of the most important access issues in global education has become narrowing the digital divide. Schools like the Global Online Academy, the Online School for Girls, and the Stanford Online High School develop courses that allow people around the world to connect and learn together. Students who do not have the financial means to travel, or deem the risks too high, or are concerned about carbon footprint can develop global citizenship through engagement with people across the globe. Although online learning has been around some years now, schools are still working to figure out the best ways to enhance education using available tools. I am encouraged by the efforts of schools like High Tech High, Big Picture Learning, and Mysa School, which are experimenting with a blended learning approach: part of the day in project-based, student-driven group projects, and part of the day using technology to address individual needs.
I have been exposed to a number of tools designed to help us connect online and I’ve found that none of them offer quite what I’m looking for. The technology is still evolving, and so is the Internet connection in different parts of the world. I have participated in webinars for professional development, some of which are highly interactive and allow for connections that continue after the class. Others have been somewhat stilted and not conducive to innovation. Platforms like Webex, Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts seem to work sometimes but not always. I recently had the opportunity to try a relatively new online platform for all kinds of asynchronous connecting called Bundle that was quite promising. Using social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and subscribing to blogs of interest are other ways to stay informed and connect, but only if the people with whom you want to connect use the same platforms.
Mobile technology that bypasses the Internet and works off cell towers is another promising option, and many communities in the developing world are finding great success in joining the digital revolution in this way. Programs like TabLab and One Laptop Per Child are working to develop programs in rural villages to close the gap.
I am visiting Austin, Texas for the first time this week, and as I stroll around unfamiliar neighborhoods, I am both grateful for and aware of the downside of smartphone technology. I love that I can find coffee shops, yoga studios, live music venues and the most efficient way to get somewhere. I also miss when I used to go to a new city and relished getting lost so I could enjoy the adventure of finding my way back. Of course, I can still do that, I reminded myself today. I put away the phone and aimlessly wandered. Before I knew it, I had struck up great conversations with people: I discovered new ways to get around, places to visit that only locals know about, and even found two people who had moved here from Seattle to share some love for our home town. So today, I appreciate technology, and I vow to remember to shut it off more often so I can better connect with others and with my surroundings.