I watched Hector Ruiz’s moving TedTalk “The power to connect the world” at lunch today.

I resonate with his passion for the 50×15 project, which seeks:

…to enable affordable, accessible Internet connectivity and computing capabilities for 50 percent of the world’s population by the year 2015.

Yesterday at our monthly Oklahoma Creativity Project education committee meeting, we discussed the role which rural electric cooperatives (RECs) could potentially play in bringing high speed connectivity (via fiber) to every part of our largely rural state using power line communication (PLC) or broadband over Power Line (BPL) technologies. These possibilities are very exciting as well as practical.

What I found most compelling in Hector’s talk, however, was the story he told about his father reminding him of his generational responsibility to do better. To be a better student and scholar than his parents had been or been able to be. (Hector was the first person in his family to graduate from college. All his sisters followed his example.) To be a better father than his own dad. To leave the world a better place each day, because of the actions he made, the conversations he had, and the people’s lives he influenced. What a fantastic challenge, and a great reminder of the perspective we should all not only have but also pass on to our own children and students.

Our focus must not JUST be on connectivity as we advocate for the thoughtful uses of digital technologies to support learning. What we choose to DO with the connectivity we have is also critical. In our committee discussions yesterday, I was reminded of Dr. Larry Cuban’s studies of schools in Silicon Valley about 10 years ago. You would think those schools, with the latest in connectivity and computer technologies, would have been doing (at the time of his studies in the late 1990s and early 2000s) just amazing, transformational things with the technologies at their fingertips. Not so. On pages 178-179 of “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom,” Cuban wrote:

As for enhanced efficiency in learning and teaching, there have been no advances (measured by higher academic achievement of urban, suburban, or rural students) over the last decade that can be confidently attributed to broader access to computers. No surprise here, as the debate over whether new technologies have increased overall American economic productivity also has had no clear answers. The link between test score improvements and computer availability and use is even more contested.

Nor has a technological revolution in teaching and learning occurred in the vast majority of American classrooms. Teachers have been infrequent and limited users of the new technologies for classroom instruction. If anything, in the midst of the swift spread of computers and the Internet to all facets of American life, “e-learning” in public schools has turned out to be word processing and Internet searches. As important supplements as these have become to many teachers’ repertoires, they are far from the project-based teaching and learning that some techno-promoters have sought. Teachers at all levels of schooling have used the new technology basically to continue what they have always done: communciate with parents and administrators, prepare syllabi and lectures, record grades, assign research papers. These unintended effects must be disappointing to those who advocate more computers in schools.

I would add to Hector Ruiz’ impassioned call to connect the world together and specifically the students of the world together with connectivity an equally passionate plea to seek TRANSFORMATIONAL uses of digital technologies rather than simply accommodating uses. Transformational changes to our predominant paradigm of teaching and learning are needed, shifting our focus away from instruction and instead on learning. Accommodating uses of technologies to replicate traditional practices with newer, perhaps fancier gadgets are a waste of money and time. We don’t need more digital bells and whistles in our classrooms. What we need are passionate educators, focused on inspiring students to be creative and curious. We need school administrators who understand that EVERY DAY, students should be creating, communicating, and collaborating. Digital technologies wedded to the high speed connectivity available to us today can only transform education and our world if we choose to use these tools in constructive, transformative ways. In this process, our personal learning journeys are critical. To change the world, I must first change myself.

This is the learning revolution. We are not merely the soldiers, we are the strategists as well as the tacticians. Our tools are far more powerful than weapons designed to injure and kill. Our tools are our ideas, and their power to transform far outstrips the abilities of our limited minds to imagine and predict. Marx was wrong, historical progress is not inevitable. Change requires leadership, not just the kind occupying formal positions of power and authority.

Never before in the course of human history have we had the tools we have today to connect us and focus us. To connect to each other, and to bring our ideas together. At the speed of light, with the tap of a finger, to send one-to-many (broadcast) messages to a global audience. To send specific, targeted messages to single individuals or smaller groups. To be inspired by the thoughts and actions of others to think bigger at a global scale, yet continue to act locally in our unique contexts were we live and work. To organize and conduct a free, two week conference about web 2.0 tools and learning strategies, and invite the world to participate. To keep in touch with microblogging tools like Twitter and Facebook. To videoconference with others across town or across the planet. These are just some of the tools and capabilities on “this side” of the digital divide.

We are living amidst titanic changes in communication and information. Our prospects for meeting the challenge shared by Hector Ruiz’ father: to make the world a better place, have never been brighter than they are today. We have more possibilities and potential before us than ever before. But who can open these doors of opportunity for our students? Teachers. Mentors. Parents. Co-learners. We all have a role to play, but our part has not yet been written. As my friend Miguel Guhlin likes to say, ours is the responsibility, challenge, and opportunity to “write the future.”

You and I change the world one conversation at a time.

If you haven’t already, take 20 minutes and listen to Hector’s message. Be inspired. Then go share your inspiration with someone else.

And have a marvelous weekend, wherever you happen to reside on our blue planet. 🙂

Planet Earth (III)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aaron Escobar

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