In the spring of 2006, I had a trans-oceanic, international conversation with other educators which fundamentally changed my perceptions about communication and learning. Using the free software program Skype, I joined Canadian educator Darren Kuropatwa (in Winnipeg, Manitoba), Scottish educator Ewan McIntosh (in Edinburgh, Scotland), and U.S. educator Miguel Guhlin (in San Antonio, Texas) in a live conversation over the Internet about the ways new technologies are reshaping the landscape of education in the twenty-first century. I connected from Manhattan, Kansas, where I was visiting my parents at the time. The idea for our live, synchronous conversation started with a blog post a few weeks earlier, and together the four of us built a wiki we called, “Over the Pond and Through the Fiber” where we outlined our planned discussion. During our call, which took place in the evening for me in US Central time, we were joined by several other educators in different locations, including Jeff Allen and Mark Ahlness in Seattle, Washington. While international phone calling has been possible for decades, this type of FREE, Internet-based conferencing was very new to me.

Epiphany 5-8:365
Creative Commons License photo credit: MyNameIsSQ

When my Skype conversation with Darren, Ewan, Miguel, Jeff and Mark ended on that spring evening in 2006, I had an “a-ha” moment which was an epiphany. New Internet-based technologies now permit us to not only access information from afar, but also access PEOPLE. While the cost of Internet-based calls like ours was not inconsequential (we each had our own computer and high speed Internet access) the MARGINAL (or additional) cost for the call was zero. I experienced joy as well as exhilaration being able to communicate “live” like this over the Internet for FREE. This experience led me to marvel with new wonder at my good fortune living in our current era of communication history.

Our access to other digitally connected people today is not limited to only synchronous, “live” access (which can be comparatively much more difficult to schedule and coordinate) but also asynchronous access. Email is an asynchronous communication technology which became mainstream for many computer users in the mid to late 1990s. Email remains, however, a “one to one” or a “one to a defined many” communications technology, and as such has inherent limits. Asynchronous communication tools like blogs and wikis (both of which can be considered “information portals” online) empower people to flexibly contribute to discussions at the time and place of their choosing, to “an undefined many.” While I was no stranger to computer-based technologies in 2006, I had not had as powerful and personal an experience with blended learning as I did during the “Over the Pond and Through the Fiber” Skype conference call. Since that time, I have wanted to better understand for myself the learning power and potential which now exists literally at our fingertips as we interact with digital screens, and also effectively share these ideas and skills with others.


Prior to this Skype conference call in March 2006 (incidentally still available as a recorded podcast) I had used Skype but never talked to anyone internationally with it. I had known Miguel Guhlin for years, going back to my first years of writing for TCEA’s TechEdge in 1996-1997, but did not know Darren. I had read blog posts by Ewan, but had never spoken with him either. This experience was transformative because it not only led to a great synchronous conversation, but it also led to a LOT of subsequent reading and learning as I subscribed to and read both Darren and Ewan’s blogs. Later in 2006 I was invited to become a co-convener of the K-12 Online Conference, and those experiences have proven to be exceptionally transformative for me as well. Prior to these experiences, I had not connected at a national or international level with other teachers. I had been blogging since 2003, but in 2005 I had moved my blog to and had started a regular podcast. There were lots of other digital learning activities going on at this time which certainly contributed to the “a-ha moment” of this skypecast being so impactful, but this remains a specific event to which I can point as being very personally transformative.

I was able to meet Ewan in person for the first time at NECC in San Antonio in 2007, and finally met Darren in person at METC in St Louis in February 2010. I met Jeff Allen and Mark Ahlness in person in Seattle in February 2009. The fact that my connections to these individuals led to personal, face-to-face meetings has a lot to do with the impact of this learning experience on me. This skypecast created within me a desire to learn more and make additional connections, to these educators and to others. Perhaps it was most impactful because of these effects it had on my personal motivation as a learner.

[end of #aha-moment reflection]

I’m convinced as educators, we need to document and share what our individual “a-ha” moments have been with digitally connected learning. My experiences are different from yours, but as we share these types of “epiphany” moments when we make new connections or make connections more powerfully than we have before as digitally-empowered learners, I suspect we can identify some patterns as well as similarities. Perhaps like you, I want to help more people experience the transformative potentials of PLNs (professional learning networks) as well as interactive publishing environments which can enable us to learn in transformative ways. We can hear voices we wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to encounter. We can read about the ideas, struggles, and successes of others who we may have never met face-to-face, but can none-the-less be deeply touched by. With these goals in mind, I’m proposing a new meme with the tag, “#aha-moment.” This week (as I’m largely offline and taking a break from my normal diet of digital reading and writing to work on a larger writing project) I’m inviting several folks to guest-blog here on this meme. I invite you to post on your own blog or to an openly accessible learning community to which you belong on this meme as well. Just remember to “tag” your post:


What has been one of your most meaningful “a-ha” moments of learning with digital technologies? Please share the circumstances of your epiphany and elaborate on why you found that experience to be personally transformative.

If we do this, I’m betting we’ll find new ideas we can share with others to encourage further “a-ha moments” with learning technologies and digital connections! The ingredients of an “a-ha” moment for each of us will vary, but I’m sure there are some identifiable similarities. I have a few hypotheses about what those might be, but I’m very interested to see if they are accurate for others’ #aha-moments!

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One Response to Over the Pond and Through The Fiber #aha-moment

  1. Mark Ahlness says:

    Oh Wes, I remember that Skype call well. It was indeed an ah-ha moment for me too. I remember thinking for some time after – that anybody experiencing that conversation would have felt the same.

    The only aha moment that would compare, for me, was this…

    In the summer of 1994, I experimented with learning html (no books out yet), and created a web site for my school. It would be the 9th elementary school in the world with a site. I was using Mosaic as a browser – there was no IE, Firefox, or even Netscape. After I created the web page, with links and an image(!), I asked my principal to come over to my house and look at it to see if it was ok to go public. The computer was a 386 with 4 MB RAM, 340 MB HD, on a dial up speed that would put a turtle to sleep. When my principal sat down in my basement and saw that school web page appear (slowly), image and all (with his name on it), it was absolutely amazing, and I will never forget his reaction and our exhilaration. Here’s what he looked at:

    You kind of had to be there, and it was certainly just an asynchronous moment, but I know together we shared a sense that things were going to change forever, because of what we saw. – Mark

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