If you are not a reader of Tom Hemingway’s “Tryangulation” blog, I’d recommend checking out his thoughts. Tom has lived in Turkey for the past eight years, but has had a rich array of experiences living in working in many different countries. One of the best things about the blogosphere is the way it can permit us to “rub minds” with people whose perspectives and ideas are sometimes very different than our own. Several of Tom’s posts I read tonight challenged my own thinking about technology and “flat world” teaching. His July 3rd post “What’s an iPhone Worth” reminds us that the digital divide is more apparent than ever. The juxtaposition of news reports about OLPC laptop challenges in Nigeria (problems with basic electricity access to charge laptops) with blog posts reviewing the iPhone and lamenting (among other things) a lack of Flash support to play games virtually anywhere creates a stark contrast. There is some glaring cognitive dissonance here. I think this psychological condition can be good if it is made to serve a constructive purpose, like thinking about what we’re doing, valuing, and striving to do in our lives and then taking constructive ACTION based on those perceptions.This line of thinking reminds me of Dennis Harper’s words about the Liberian Renaissance Education Complex which I included in my second “Voices of NECC 2007″ podcast. (Incidentally that podcast has set an all-time new record for my channel, with over 3000 downloads to date.) Talk about something that can help us all get some perspective on our lives…. The challenges most of us reading and writing posts in the edublogosphere face today are insignificant compared to the daily struggles to just survive faced and endured by many others on our planet. Gary Stager was voicing a similar concern over the insignificant issues on which many in the edublogosophere seem focused in his post “Twittering While America Burns.” (I think Vicki Davis‘ response to that post was excellent, btw.)So how do we respond? If posts like Tom’s help us establish or re-establish some “perspective” on our lives and our work, how can we encourage others (especially our students) to have similar experiences themselves? I don’t have the complete answer, but I can offer two suggestions.1. Invite (and even require) students to read international blogs written by authors living in countries and contexts far different from that of your own students. The Global Voices Online blogging project is a great place to start.2. Engage your students in AT LEAST one Internet-based collaborative project per academic term. If your school administrator EXPECTED all teachers to do this, it would be reasonable to expect the educational culture as well as “life perspectives” of learners at your school to change– perhaps in dramatic ways. We crave connections to other human beings, and the stories we can share with each other can and do literally change lives. Want to make a tangible difference to constructively change the educational system where you live and work? Start small. Start with 1 collaborative project. As you and your students read the words and perspectives of others living in different contexts, you’ll think about and discuss the ideas those words bring to mind. In so doing, your lives will be changed. Perhaps not in dramatic ways, but you may be surprised… Children often DO surprise us.Zach Hunter’s 2007 book “Be The Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World” and his self-declared identity as an “abolitionist and activist” started with a school project about slavery and Harriet Tubman. In the opening paragraph, fifteen year old Zach writes:

If you’re like me, you want your life to count for something. When little boys and girls are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” no one says “a loser.” When kids are asked what they want to do with their lives, they never say, “I hope I’ll live a few years and no one remembers me.” Most kids dream of being superheroes, fighting villains, winning battles.

Some kids (as well as adults) may think the only way to live that dream of being a superhero is by playing videogames. While it is true many videogames do provide kids (of any age) with an opportunity to BE the hero, those virtual experiences do not change the “realities on the ground” anywhere else– Unless that person emerges from the virtual experience with a new or renewed dedication to apply themselves, their skills, and their passion toward a concrete goal in the F2F world.Many thanks to Tom for helping me refocus this evening on those things which ARE important and significant. The time I spend with my family, the opportunities I have to listen, share, and converse with others during the day– these are important ways to spend my limited heartbeats. Is having and using an iPhone helping make the world a better place? I doubt it. Should I, like many others, share more of my discretionary income (as Tom exhorts us) to support worthwhile efforts to improve the lives of others, at both local and international levels? Absolutely.What issues do the students in your classroom care about passionately? What makes them angry? What makes them want to take action? Have they heard of Zach Hunter? Here’s a link to his MySpace page. (Be sure to watch some of the videos he’s embedded there.) Why don’t you share that with your students, and ask them to report the following day (since in most cases here in the midwest of the U.S. students certainly wouldn’t be able to access MySpace at school) on what they have learned about Zach’s passion and “life mission.” Then introduce the students to other international blogging projects. Together, talk about an international collaborative project you could work on THIS TERM and then DO IT. Use websites like ePals or the CILC’s Collaboration Center, social networks like Global Education Collaborative, Classroom 2.0, or Tapped-In (which currently has over 20,000 educator members) to connect with another teacher you can team-up with for the project. Actively participate in the 2007 K-12 Online Conference in October, and you’ll have opportunities to connect with MANY other educators around the globe interested in effectively using web 2.0 tools to not transmit content to students, but rather to transform learning environments, authentically engage students, and help them develop their own senses of global citizenship and global responsibilties.Maintaining perspective is great. Taking thoughtful action which can make a positive, constructive difference in the lives of learners BASED on that perspective can be even better.


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  • http://tryangulation.typepad.com tom

    Wes,

    Thanks a million for your comments about my blog. I have to admit I had been holding onto those ideas for a long time but was a little nervous about expressing them, since “flat world” has become such a widely repeated phrase. I’ll bring those other posts off the back burner and we’ll see where the conversation goes. At the same time, I’m working up some activities for a small village school near us that just got a computer lab, so I’ll give my own ideas a workout. (You can watch & keep me honest!)

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