Mapping a Nation of Global Connections

Is the U.S. ready for a global future?

Answers to that question may be found in a fascinating new free online resource that was introduced yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education as part of International Education Week celebrations. “Mapping the Nation: Linking Local to Global,” is the new state-by-state, country-by-county visual resource from Asia Society, the Longview Foundation for Education in World Affairs and International Understanding, and analytics leader SAS. Created with “nearly 1 million data points,” that “tell a cautionary tale,” the mapping project has set out to “prove what parents, businesspeople, and policymakers already know: American students must be globally competent to succeed in the interconnected 21st century.”

A quick click on the “California” link resulted in an infographic that gives a quick snapshot of the state’s global connections, including a rather surprising (and dismal) fact about the number of California students who take part in study abroad programs:

The “Global Competency” section concludes with a clear and urgent message:

Learning about and with the world occurs within and outside of school, and it is the work of a lifetime. Globally competent students are life long learners. They are able to adapt and contribute knowledge and understanding to a world that is constantly, rapidly evolving.

Global competence is a crucial shift in our understanding of the purpose of education in a changing world. Students everywhere deserve the opportunity to succeed in the global economy and contribute as global citizens. We must fashion a more creative and visionary educational response to the interconnected world of the 21st century, starting now.

The entire site is worth exploring, especially for educators, parents, and students seeking information, tools, and visuals about why we should connect all US schools to schools worldwide, starting now.

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Education’s Connected Moment

Digital Promise’s Karen Cator concludes her thoughtful LinkedIn post, “Education is Having Its Internet Moment,” with the question, “Are we ready?”  The fair answer for education systems worldwide is, “no, but we are working on it,” and that is one of the purposes of this October’s Connected Educators Month.  Since the publication of the National Educational Technology Plan by Cator’s team at the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, connected education has gained prominence and advocates across all levels of education. In the past few months, the practice of “anytime, anywhere” teaching and learning has accelerated. More than just having its Internet moment, education is having its “connected moment.”

As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — expanding upon Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech — made clear in August at the USAID Education Summit, “If we want both justice and peace, then we must work for education.”  Secretary Duncan’s speech, arguably the best speech of his term in office, laid out an inspiring vision of what education can accomplish. A few days later, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision to connect everyone to the Internet. These visions recognize connected teaching and learning as a powerful and effective development strategy, especially for marginalized urban and rural youth, youth with special needs, and women and girls.

Our country is not ready for Secretary Duncan’s or Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, but the Connect All Schools Consortium and others are working toward the goal of meaningful connected education for youth worldwide. New platforms and social media channels are connecting teachers and students worldwide in creative ways at increasingly huge numbers. We still need much more investment in our country’s international exchange programs, global awareness curriculum developers, and cross-cultural professional development providers. Disappointingly, Federal funding for international training and education has been cut by 41% in the past four years. While private sector investment in education’s connected moment is crucial, this investment is much more effective when leveraged with local, state, and Federal government investment. If we want justice and peace, we need connected education to be funded as a top national security issue.

Connected education also needs to be represented in the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core have no mention of learning about the world (global competencies), interacting with the world (global collaboration), or working with peers to address justice and peace (global citizenship). While the Common Core are not curricula, the Standards do reflect what we think are important for our next generation to learn; In short, our values. As standards, the Common Core are adequate, but as a roadmap for what American education can contribute to justice and peace, the Common Core come up short.

The good news is that 9 out of 10 students want more world affairs, foreign language, and international education in their classrooms. These students know future employment and tackling global issues like climate change, require global competencies, language skills, and connections with peers abroad. These students want to make the world a safer, more prosperous, and more hopeful place. Let’s follow their lead, connect, and embrace this transformational moment in education together.

The Diplomatic Core of US Education

This month, the International Affairs Office of the US Department of Education released its new strategy document, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, which: 

… outlines the U.S. Department of Education’s International Strategy for 2012-16 and affirms the Department’s commitment to preparing today’s youth, and our country more broadly, for a globalized world, and to engaging with the international community to improve education. It is fully integrated with the Department’s domestic agenda and designed to simultaneously attain two strategic goals: strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

The strategy document lists four objectives:

Objective 1: Increase the global competencies of all U.S. students, including those from traditionally disadvantaged groups;

Objective 2: Enhance federal, state and local education policy and practice applying lessons learned from other countries to drive excellence and innovation in the U.S. and abroad;

Objective 3: Advance U.S. international priorities in strategically important countries through active education diplomacy; and

Objective 4: Develop, monitor and continuously improve ED’s international activities in an integrated and coordinated manner.

The concept of “education diplomacy” is one that the Connect All Schools consortium has championed at the classroom level. So, too, the idea that internationalizing US classrooms advances our national security, while strengthening our overall education system. The strategy document, however, does not mention the role that technology can play in attaining the Department’s two strategic goals. It’s a conspicuous oversight considering that US Department of Education’s 2010 National Educational Technology Plan highlighted that teaching and learning was becoming increasingly global, networked, personalized and mobile, and called for more investment in preparing administrators, teachers, students and parents for globally networked, personalized “anytime, anywhere” learning. The Department also highlighted the role of technology in internationalizing education in August during Connected Educators Month. In fact, the US Department of Education launched International Education Week in 2000 with the US Department of State specifically to promote “the wise use of technology internationally.”

It is difficult to conceive of how the US Department of Education will effectively support education diplomacy—which it calls a “core element” of its work—without using modern technologies or supporting educators to use modern technologies effectively in their classrooms. For example, the strategy document calls for increasing international exchanges, but it makes no mention of virtual exchanges, which are increasingly seen as a powerful new tool to scale diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding, especially for traditionally disadvantaged groups and children too young to travel abroad.

Still, the strategic document is another step forward from the US government in advancing the idea that ALL young people should experience international collaboration as part of their education. And, the commitment by the US Department of Education to “walk the talk” and collaborate closely with their peers globally is important. Why is both classroom and government-level education diplomacy critical? Simply,

… so that we have a nation, and a world, that is informed, engaged, and prepared to deal effectively with the global challenges that will face us.

Optimizing for Professional Generosity

This August, the US Department of Education is sponsoring Connected Educators Month to highlight “online communities of practice in education.” The Connected Educators site now features more than 80 online education communities to peruse, a blog, a draft report to comment on, and a no-doubt-depressing-for-many K-12 Internet Broadband Speed Test to try. Kudos to the US Department of Education for walking the walk with this online community of online communities: building these communities is not easy. A good way to understand promising models and practices in the field is real-time, hands-on engagement.

Another person trying to understand promising models in ed-tech is Audrey Watters, who has a timely Hack Education post about GitHub. Setting aside for the moment the fact that the $100 million investment by Andreessen Horowitz model is, indeed, a fine model for ed-tech start-ups; there is an informative quote by investor Peter Levine in the press release: “GitHub organizes projects around people rather than code.”

Audrey explains further why GitHub worth a look and its “people-centric” structure is more than token ed-tech talk:

I heard GitHub co-founder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner speak at Y Combinator’s Startup School back in 2010, and the message he delivered was profoundly different than that of many of the speakers at the event who told tales of seed funding and “super angels.” While I refuse to believe that everyone in the tech industry “does it for the money,” it’s sometimes hard to see otherwise in the exuberance and the mythology that Silicon Valley perpetuates.

In lieu of what he identified as the pressures on startups to “optimize for money,” Preston-Werner’s talk — and his philosophy for running GitHub — focused on “optimizing for happiness.”

Audrey sees two cultures needing to come into better alignment:

I do wonder how VCs’ demand for that “quick success or quick failure” works (or doesn’t work) for education startups. It isn’t simply that educational institutions are slow to adopt new products and/or slow to change; it’s that the education of each and every one of us is a slow process too – a lifetime of learning.

And I fear if we choose to “optimize for money” – something that the latest flurry of interest in ed-tech startups is starting to look an awful lot like – we will neglect to optimize both for happiness and for learning.

There is a parallel lesson to be learned between those building tools and platforms to connect educators and students, and those in the international education and exchange community. Our shorthand for the place where new technologies can enhance, deepen and expand world history, geography, current events, world music and dance programs, study abroad and language programs, among others, is “Exchange 2.0.”

A model Exchange 2.0 community that may be a promising model for ed-tech start-ups is the Global Education Conference, which Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon launched in November 2010. It’s now 11,000 strong and is featured on the Connected Educators site. Like GitHub, the Global Education Conference community is organized around people rather than tech or content. Although happiness is definitely part of the community, the better description might be that the community is focused on “optimizing for professional generosity.”

Lucy describes professional generosity in her TEDx talk, but mostly she and Steve just live it. Professional generosity drives Twitter chats, from #edchat to #kinderchat, as well as community like Steve’s Classroom 2.0, Edmodo, and most online educator communities. It acts as the antithesis of the outcompete-the-world, zero-sum message US educational system promotes at all levels. Also like GitHub, Steve and Lucy have a bootstrapped community built for an “infinite runway” for teaching and learning, rather than quick success or quick failure. Although it may not seem like a community that will garner much attention from super angels, Lucy and Steve’s 365/24/7 “anytime, anywhere” global teaching and learning community is the right model—scalable, sustainable, impactful, and with a killer ROI, if you want to wait a generation to measure it.

Audrey is correct to refuse to believe that everyone in the tech industry “does it for the money.” There is much professional generosity in the industry and many who would love to work more closely with NGOs, universities, foundations, and state and federal partners to build tools to support teachers and students connecting with their peers around the world. The professional generosity DNA that entrepreneurs and coders share with connected educators worldwide might be the hub though which to optimize education and technology collaboration going forward.