Technology Outreach: Access Leadership Conference

Google presentation Link to presentation in Google Slides

What a week! Last weekend I was in Sydney presenting at and enjoying the Google Apps for Education Summit. I learned from edtech rock stars who are using Google Apps and other tools in brilliant and innovative ways to inspire teachers and students.

This weekend I find myself in Pokhara, Nepal, speaking at a leadership conference for 160 Nepali Youth. I was invited by NELTA to address these English Access Microscholarship Program students. My topic, “Creativity and Innovation: Leveraging Technology to Change YOUR World” was inspired by the three keynotes I heard at GAFE by Suan Yeo, Jim Sill, and Chris Bell. Thanks, guys!

I’ve worked with the Access students before, told countless stories of my experiences with them, presented in the Global Education Conference about them, and even had a feature article published about my efforts with them. They are dear to my heart, even though my time is limited and I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like.

These students have come for a 5-day conference from their various locations to be taught and inspired by educational leaders. For most of them, this is the first time they have left their home town/village, stayed in a hotel with friends, and met their counterparts. They are vibrant, happy, and having a great time, even though their days are long and packed full of activities.

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I brought my two oldest children along with me, and the students were so warm and accepting. I didn’t really see my 8-year-old daughter much, as she was adopted by several of the girls. These are such great kids, full of life, hope, and energy, despite coming from very limited circumstances. Through their efforts in learning not only English, but Western ideals and culture, and gaining the skills that come from true collaboration and hard work, they have an opportunity to change their lives and make a difference in their communities.

My goal of this presentation was to show how technology – when leveraged for good – can be a powerful tool to help them change their world. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change our own world. I showed several inspiring examples of people who have made a difference. I showed them some tools for learning (Khan Academy, YouTube EDU, MOOCs, Google Drive, Google art project, etc.) and encouraged them to use the Internet at their local cyber for learning. The Internet is an incredible leveler – anyone in the world has access to the same information as anyone else. True, not everyone has fancy tools or a personal computer or tablet. But anyone that can get online can tap into the wealth of knowledge out there. Knowledge is power – the question is, what will they (we) do with that power.

I wanted to open their minds  – to show that the Internet is for more than Facebook and YouTube, that social media can be a tremendous tool for good. They really don’t know what they’re missing.

I think my message got through. It’s truly a privelege to work with them and I am always the one who comes away humbled, honored, and inspired. I came away wanting to make a small difference in my own world. Hopefully, this weekend I have done that in some small way.

Oh, and at the last minute I decided to give away a nearly new Dell Streak 7 that my dad donated. I didn’t want to draw random names out of a hat: I wanted it to go to someone who would really appreciate it and use it for good. So, I had anyone interested write an essay. Here are a few quotes from the 22 responses:

How I Can Use Social Media to be a Global Citizen

  • “Social media are those media which not only helps to connect with one individual, society, or country but it includes or connects to whole world”
  • “I can search or explore new inventions about science and technology”
  • “Today our world is becoming narrower as it is a village because of social media”
  • “We can use Facebook for making new friends from different sides and corners of the world”
  • “The coolest thing about social media is its global nature for me. It’s great to go to bed and know people are communicating, opinions are being debated, and news is being created and shared.”
  • “Knowing that the world is full of decent, intelligent, caring people and being able to tap into this, the biggest pool of all, gives positive outlook indeed. We are moving from consumption to communication and co-creation.”
  • “We can upload our problems”
  • “When we share about our idea that idea will reads one/two person then after it will pass one to another and another to another. So, it will be provide everywhere. Then everybody knows our idea.”
  • “Social media helps us to know the world’s culture. For e.g. we Nepali don’t know about the Christmas Day. But the use of social media we know about Christmas. And it’s wonderful when we develop a vision of globalization of the human race.”
  • “We know the world’s culture by the help of social media”
  • “Someone say that every things have good or bad things, so as well as social media have both things. We have to follow good things and recognize bad things. So I want to say always use good part of social media and never use that bad things.”
  • “Through social media we can give information to others who are away from us”
  • “Through the Internet we can learn others cultures, religions, and we can be together.”

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The winner was a very appreciative and humble young man from Ghorka. Read his full essay here.

So, yes, it’s been a spectrum of a week – but a great one!

Internet 101

I had an opportunity this week that very few people ever get, especially if you live in America. For an hour and a half, for two separate sessions, I taught 40 teenagers Internet basics. What’s so unique about this? Well, many of them have never used a computer or the Internet. At all. Ever. Now that’s cool. I’m not even a teacher by profession, but my setup with these classes would make any middle school teacher jealous.

Let me tell you why.

Partly because of their culture, and partly because they are the recipients of a unique opportunity to learn English, these students are ultra-respectful and gracious. Each one greeted me as they came in the room with, “Good afternoon, ma’am.” Each one looked me in the eye as they left and said, “Good evening, ma’am.” They started their class with singing. I’m not talking barely moving their lips, self-conscious singing. These students were singing to their heart’s content. Every one of them, boy and girl. They sang “Oh Susanna”, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, and a moving song about overcoming and being strong. I was moved.

These students are part of the Nepal ACCESS program that provides them with the opportunity to learn English and other parts of American culture. For two years, these students meet together after their normal school (which in Nepal they attend 6 days a week for long hours). They even meet on Saturday, which is normally the only day off students have. They come from underprivileged, difficult backgrounds, but you would never know it. Their eyes shine, full of light, and they WANT to be there. At the beginning of the program in February they spoke little to no English. Now they are flourishing.

So, I volunteered to teach them roughly once a month about technology. This is what I love and what I’m passionate about. Fortunately, this is a topic that teenagers anywhere are interested in, so I didn’t have to pull teeth to get their attention. In fact, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. All eyes were on me, and I had their complete attention. No texting or talking in the background. No murmurings or whisperings. Nothing but a ready and willing audience.

Yes, these are teenagers.

So, I taught them! I am still waiting for a projector that will allow me to use my iPad for instruction, so I did the logical next-best choice: I packed up my entire 27-inch iMac into our small car, drove it through insane traffic and bumpy roads, carried it up 3 flights of stairs in the monsoon rain, and put it on the table.

It definitely piqued their interest.

How could I talk about technology without letting them see, hear, and experience it? I was in my element, teaching about something I really enjoy, and we had a lot of fun. I showed them a movie trailer I made using iMovie and footage I took of them during their Teej festival. They loved it. These are kids who probably don’t even own a single photo of themselves. They oohed and awed over the screen as they watched themselves sing and dance and recite poetry. I gave them a quiz on Internet basics and we went over all the answers. My assumptions were correct in that they don’t know very much at all.

I really feel, which is why I am doing this, that teaching someone about how to access available tools is empowering. For them, the Internet provides knowledge about the world. It levels the playing field a little, giving someone in Nepal access to the same information that anyone else in the world has. It’s about opportunity, providing them with skills that will open doors and change lives. It’s also about confidence, as their skills and knowledge increase, they become more confident in their ability to help others.

I’m not sure what I’ll talk about next time. They want to know how to use Facebook, Skype, and email. I’ll teach them about Google Docs, because it is such a great resource, especially for someone who doesn’t have a computer and software of their own. I’ll help them use various search engines to access information, talk about netiquette and staying safe online. We’ll take and edit photos and videos.

In the end, though, I think they will be the ones teaching me.