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Think globally, act locally

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SmartBlog on Education guest contributor Steven W. Anderson is blogging from the 2012 World Innovation Summit for Education: Collaborating for Change in Doha, Qatar.

I had the privilege of spending the last three days in Doha, Qatar, at the World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) Conference. This has been an incredible learning experience for me. Reflection is a big part of my learning so I have many thoughts and ideas going through my mind.

Global thinking: While here, I have been exposed to so many different parts of the world and heard about how education works (or doesn’t) in all corners of the globe. This is the first truly international conference I have been to, and the conversations were different than any I have had before. While many attendees referenced their home country, their thoughts and ideas were more global in nature, especially when it came to discussing how to ensure every child everywhere has access to a high-quality education. We are all in this together. All of us have a moral obligation to educate all kids so we should jump at the chance to reach out and help kids in our countries and the world.

Scalability and adaptability: Part of WISE is recognizing and awarding projects that are truly innovative, life-changing and scalable. In the past, projects like MIT Open Courseware, a radio education project for farmers in rural Nigeria, floating, solar-powered schools in monsoon-prone areas of Bangladesh and many more have been highlighted. Any of these or other WISE award-winning projects could be scaled and adapted to work in any part of the world where access to a high-quality education is needed. But it wasn’t just the WISE projects that this could be done with. The philosophy and fundamentals of WISE can be applied anywhere. The idea of bringing together major players in education to talk, discuss and debate is already happening, just on a smaller scale, with events like #Edchat and Edcamps where teachers share what is working, what isn’t and how we can all be better for students.

Focus on now with an eye to the future: Moderators here often asked the panels (most of the time dealing with technology) where we will be down the road. Questions such as “Where are we going to be in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years with teaching/education/learning?” are easy to answer. Educators will be doing something different. The challenge is defining “different.” Instead of asking questions about the future, we have to question the present. Questioning the future is easy — if it doesn’t come true or something doesn’t happen, no big deal. Questioning the present is much harder. We have to examine what we are doing now and where we are going now, keeping an eye to the future. We have to constantly evaluate what we are doing now and asking how can we be better. In terms of technology, it doesn’t matter where we will be in 20 years: the devices, systems and processes that will be in place will be different. So instead, let’s think about technology like the tool it is. How will technology fit with pedagogy and learning — and how can we make those two things better using technology, regardless of how it changes.

Innovation comes from within, or does it?: There are some great things going on in education, especially in parts of the world where innovation is desperately needed. Many of the WISE projects grew out of a need that someone saw so one of the things I have been reflecting upon is how innovation happens within a system. Innovations are disruptions to the system, and systems don’t like disruption. A delegate here said that innovation rarely comes from those within the system. If that is the case, what about those in the classroom trying to innovate learning and making great strides? Does innovation and change have to come from outside the system or can we disrupt from within?

So what do we do next? One of things missing from the conversations here is action. What are we going to do now that we have had these conversations, and how will we hold each other accountable? I have met people from all over the world, had a number of highly-engaging conversations, and learned about life-changing projects impacting kids in some of the poorest parts of Africa and Asia — so what am I going to do? How can I do things differently locally, while still thinking globally?

It really was an amazing experience to spend time halfway around the world, learning with people I might never had the opportunity to meet. I hope you will check out the WISE website, learn more about the conversations and follow more conversations through #WISE2012.

Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom) is the director of instructional technology for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. He also is an independent educational consultant. Check out his blog, Web 2.0 Connected Classroom.