Baloo, our 75-pound dog, tirelessly guards the back yard from any and all wildlife. Squirrels, groundhogs, opossums, cats, and birds are not welcome, and he makes sure they know it. He’d keep the rabbits away, too, if Mom would let him. His rule is that anything that moves is not allowed in HIS yard unless one of his people says it’s okay. Wild animals are little. And while they’re difficult to catch, they’re easy to chase.
This arrangement has worked well, and he has enforced the eviction of various critters over the years. But one day, he came around the corner of the shed and found himself face to face with a deer. He stopped. He had never seen a deer before. He had never seen ANY animal that big, except humans. So he froze. And the deer froze, with that “deer in dog-lights” look. Baloo had to figure out if he was supposed to be the predator or the prey. After a moment, the deer turned and ran. The dog pursued it, barking furiously, until he reached the end of his leash. He had his answer. Deer fall into the “animals” category, and they’re not allowed in his yard.
That’s learning. We make rules — generalizations — about the world based on our experiences. When something new comes into the picture, we have to find a way to make it fit what we already “know.” We adjust our thinking to fit the new information. If we do that enough, we end up with a pretty good understanding of our world.
But my world is pretty small. I’ve lived in Ohio my whole life. I was born here. I went to school here. All my jobs have been here. My wife has always lived in Ohio too. It’s the best place in the world. Really. We have seasons. It’s really warm in the summer, yet we get our fair share of snow, too. The cultural and performing arts scene is unparalleled. We have access to outstanding medical care. And some of the best institutions of higher learning are right down the street. I can’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
My understanding, everything I know about the world, comes from my experiences in this tiny little corner of this moderately-sized country which holds a minority of space on one of seven continents on this planet. I don’t have what one might call broad horizons.
Up to this point, all of the problems, solutions, goals, and priorities in my life have been very focused on my world. Over the last couple years, though, I have developed a personal learning network that has included a wider circle of people. I’m regularly communicating with people in other parts of the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. I share a lot in common with these people. It’s a self-selecting group, and people tend to gravitate toward others who are like them. And while there are geographically diverse, they’re still culturally similar.
As we move into the new age — the post-information age of flat worlds, globalization, 21st century skills, and interactive web technologies — this isolation is no longer appropriate. Yes, I’m an Ohioan. And I’m an American. But I’m also a citizen of the world, and I have a certain responsibility to the global community as well.
I don’t know if “responsibility” is the right way to put it. I don’t see this as an obligation to embrace the global community, or to try to do something ambitious and worthwhile like solve the world’s problems. But it’s an opportunity — an invitation to participate.
I have recently accepted that invitation by joining a team of seven educators from Canada and the United States working with Teachers Without Borders – Canada. This summer, we will travel to Africa for six weeks to provide technology training to teachers and school leaders in South Africa and Kenya. We’ll also be working with local non-governmental organizations to implement sustainable models for technology use in African classrooms. We hope to improve their ability to collaborate with online learning tools, facilitate access to Internet resources despite limited bandwidth, help them develop customized learning objects for instructional use, incorporate technology in teaching and learning across the curricular spectrum, and develop models for sustaining technology use and growth after our departure.
This is a new set of challenges for me. While I hope to apply much of what I know about running school technology programs, this is a fantastic opportunity to step outside my usual set of assumptions about what is practical. I can look at educational technology from a completely different perspective. Hopefully, I will have resources and ideas to share. Undoubtedly, I will learn a lot from this experience that can be applied to my own schools upon my return.
At the very least, this experience is certainly going to change what I “know.” I feel grateful for this opportunity, and hope I can make a small difference for a few students in a handful of schools in a tiny corners of small countries on a very large continent on the other side of this relatively small planet.