Reviewing the issue of Internet access and connectivity. Prerequisites to envision the future of education.
Written on the eve of the FOE Conference. Some reflections after reading a mail from George Siemens:
"A quick look at our conference attendr map -while gratifyingly diverse - reveals that Africa, South America, Asia, and Middle East are not well represented. To bring in the importance of these regions this discussion of Africa in a business context is worth a listen -http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/127.
I would suggest many of the principles expressed during the talk transfer well to considerations of how to bet assist in these areas as educators."
Before checking on the link to the forum and losing my own thoughts, I'll jot down some ideas.
Some comments on the FOE attendr map
My first reaction after seeing the map I had joined a couple of days before was:
"Looks as if I were the blog lone ranger in Argentina". Let me hurry to inform you I am not the only one with a blog down here.
Clicking on the few pins of people in South America and Africa I notice they are not recognising anybody on the attendees list. They do not have connections. Probably they do not blog either.
Then I had a look at Africa and I found Hala in Sudan, another ELT blogger who had long joined my visitors Guest Map in my fceblog. Great to see the familiar face of Hala (wait, I'm trying to find her correct link. It is wrong in the attendr site. I copied and pasted the address. Good. Found her. Blogger profile? Not available. Ouch! Well, I mean this Hala).
The few people joining the FOE conference from the line of the equator down either:
a) teach English
b) speak English
First -and no doubt rushed- conclusions
If you want to take part in the debates that join a diverse (not widely diverse, but anyway) audience from around the world and say something where things are being thought out and shaped; therefore, even if you are not the expert, you want to be there and speak your mind, express yourself fully and enjoy the privilege of being a world citizen who contributes to shaping the future, teaching the machine a link ...and so on... you must speak English.
Mind you. I am a teacher of English in love with the language. Yet...
A language -foreign or not- is the tool to think and create new possible worlds. A language is the vehicle that makes it possible. There is no coincidence that the greatest philosophers have written in German. The German language enables thought like no other. Every word in German, every cog of a phrase is totally linked and connected to the rest by declinations. Want to think that way? Learn German.
English is a Web 2.0 language
English is the language where most new words are concepts are coined. A new application like Twitter appears and soon you will find its users engaged in creative ways of using "twitter" as a root that allows for unlimited suffix creation. (I have been favouriting some examples in my Twitter account). Even if you are not a native speaker, you can informally play with the English language.
English is open source
You can get the code, own it and modify it as you please. People may not share what you have created or regard it as standard. But meaning will carry through anyway. The connection can still be made.
I sometimes read a few blogs in French, Portuguese and Italian. I read a lot in the Spanish blogosphere too. You can easily find lots of links to English sites with people providing "free translations" to the content of those links. (Notice I say people, not bloggers. Why? Because those translations rarely carry the translator's view on them. Just the "free version" provided in a blog engine).
A note from the translator
As a translation student, I always wonder what blog powered people mean by a "free version" translation. Personally I think it means the author of the original text has no idea he has been translated -accurately or not- into another language. Worst of all, you may not learn that they translated your full post -which makes visiting the original a totally unnecessary thing. (?!) Free also means they conveniently interpret it the way they can -or want to.
Is Web 2.0 English enabled only?
Observe the links. Blogs in other languages -other than English- include lots of links to blogs written in English. How about the other way round?
Would the Wikipedia be the global success and collaboration model it is today if it had been written only in English?
Have you ever thought that some of the most interesting or fruitful conversations about the future of Education could be taking place in blogs written in a language you do not access?
When we discuss education in English only, we are looking at the tree, but missing the very forest we wish to transform into a better world.
Here is the wider picture (as of 19 March 2007)
Retrieved from www.internetworldstats.com on 1 June 2007.
Back to the main point
"How to best assist in these areas as educators."
Ask them how they prefer to connect
Most of ELT teachers and Webheads still connect via Yahoo! Groups.
In my opinion, a mail group is a Web 1.0 way of connecting. Yet, I discovered last January these groups are so lively, sharing ideas, emotion and feedback. I am mostly a lurker in those groups. The main reason: Mails do not always include a hyperlinked signature to the writers' post. When they do include links, they tend to be broken or not repeated whenever something outside the context of a given mail needs to be referred. I need to see the idea in the blog context to get to my own conclusions. To do that, you might have to read a few long mail threads to get a point/an idea illustrated in a blog post. You need scanning reading skills to quickly go through endless apologies for the previous mistakes and thank yous. And time. Precious time.
I prefer open contexts of communication such as blogs. I do not feel like writing extensive birthday cards or long warm mails when 140 characters can say so much and achieve the point of feeling closer, instantly connected to the bloggers you read.
Who would deny a blog is a much more powerful carrier of the future of education than a Yahoo! group? However, I found ELT teachers do not always make a real connection through their edublogs. They do not always answer blog comments.
My position to this has been not to ignore them simply because they do not use my preferred mode of connection.
Don't just "bring the importance of these regions", go to them!
By accessing their mails, I have been able to make a few meaningful connections with like-minded ELT professionals. You need the email; you need to get the message through in their private realm.
The talk in those ELT mail groups is mostly about tools. The ELT blogs I have found generally have a number of posts just to link to widgets. Not the education power or how productive you become with the widget in the blog. Just the widgets. I posted my reactions to the widget hype in the B4B workshop here. Oddly enough, I received positive comments from the organisers.
The point is this English speaking community of experienced as well as fledgeling edubloggers could definitely benefit from the FOE conference if only they had enrolled! Compare this map from the Blogging for Beginners workshop in January 2007 to the FOE attendr map.
Some light has been thrown on more risk-taking views of technology in the WiaC2007. As Mary Hillis accurately and succintly pointed out in her summary post,
"Whereas the Blogging for Begginners EVO session focused mainly on developing teachers' skills to set up and manage a blog, this session focused on how to create and implement collaborative cross-cultural projects."
It is a pity that such a large community of teachers of English does not blog about more ideas than tools. They could become informal translators of the conversations going on in the English-speaking blogosphere. Translators not just to copy&paste, but translation in its meaning of "transfer", going through language barriers. Then taking part in the conversations in their mother tongue and blog back into English what they have learnt. Cross-pollination posting. That would be some global conversation!
What to do?
Instructional design is not just about analysing where we want to go with the course. First you must assess the real needs, see where people are. Then you must build ways of carrying them from the current status to the desired status. Analogous steps can construct the future of education.
Get into their mail boxes and speak their language. Talk about the things they are using, even if they seem way back the educational dream. Then we can discuss the future of their education.
I was about to tag Hala... better let her know via email and make a connection.