Sometimes, events just seem to unfold as if scripted by an invisible hand. The below story is just such a thing.
From previous posts, you might remember that the Web 2.0 class I teach at my high school is structured around the idea of helping students see what amazing power they have to invoke social change by using Web 2.0 tools. Students have chosen to create blogs on child slavery, on racism, on deforestation, on AIDS orphans in Africa, on alternative fuel issues and more. In just days students will be walking in to learn about a side of the Internet they really don't know much about. To some extent it will create an unsettling disequilibrium in them because the class won't focus on how the Internet can add more entertainment value to their lives. Instead it will revolve around how it can help this generation tackle some of the toughest problems staring down humanity.
In this class, I've replaced what used to be only learning MicroSoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint (which now many learn on the middle school level). They now learn to use webware and "always-available online apps" to be producers of information, not just mere passive consumers. They no longer turn in just a piece of paper to the teacher to demonstrate their knowledge of a skill. Now they use RSS aggregators to help them research a chosen social issue. Their resulting information helps them craft blogs, online surveys, podcasts, slideshows and videos that then become avenues of meaningful, authentic conversation with the world about topics that really matter. My mission is to share the new power they have at their fingertips, but to use the power carefully.
Because I am involved with an organization that hand delivers medical and educational supplies to AIDS orphanages in Malawi, Africa, the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin, recently caught my eye. Last night I finished it and wished I could have all my students read it. The book shares the incredible power that one man has (Greg Mortenson) to bring about change. Nearly a decade ago, after attempting but failing to scale K2, the world's second highest peak, Mortenson feebly wandered into a Pakastani town where the villagers nursed him back to health. Before leaving, Mortenson vowed to come back and build a school for the children who have none. To date, he, and the CAI organization he founded, have built 55 schools in very same geographical area that has spawned the Taliban. And get this, the schooling is just as much for girls and for boys. It is a wonderful testament of one person informing others and then acting to bring about change. And to this day, he may well have done more on the war on terrorism delivering books than our military has with delivering high tech bombs.
Because of all the above, three days ago I had to stop and take notice of an article connected to this ever evolving theme. In it I learned there are others out there thinking in a similar way. Seems that last year Tim O'Reilly made a keynote address to the 2007 Web 2.0 Expo encouraging us to start using the idea of Web 2.0 and all that it embodied to tackle "big, hard problems". My jaw dropped with excitement! As I read on, the article asked for auction ideas to benefit specific charities at the upcoming Web 2.0 Summit conference (5-7 Nov). I scanned the article comments and saw many ideas already posted, some advocating for the first Tim Berners Lee web page, others for a day with Bill Gates and the likes. I almost didn't enter, but then shyly typed in...
I commented on another educator's blog that wouldn't it be radical if the suggestion won! Wouldn't it be radical to see one person's idea shared and take flight in such a way as to benefit so many others! Today, I received my email that I was one of two winners! I'm not so much excited about winning the conference pass (I'm not actually sure I can attend) as what changes the resulting web articles might make on the world. Can we use this medium to bring about change? From this tiny corner of the world, seems like I'm seeing a trend!
I'd bid to send three web celebrities on a week long trip to visit AIDS orphanages in Malawi, Africa, with the condition that they would write web articles about these two things upon their return.
A. Their experiences with the children and orphanage operators while there.
B. Their ideas on how "Web 2.0" can make a huge impact on really, really big problems like this.