Sometimes it only takes a moment to change the way we view the world; at other times, it takes a little longer.
The talks that have been taped and posted on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) website often, in 18 minutes or less, are powerful enough to change our worldview. And in a reduced format through a “Six Minutes With” series of presentations that ran through the three-day New Media Consortium “Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat in Austin, Texas last month, there were plenty of transformative moments that can now be viewed via links on the Horizon Retreat wiki.
Since these were great thinkers rather than time-keepers, those “Six Minute” segments sometimes ran upwards of nine or twelve minutes, but I suspect none of the attendees was watching the clock. Our eyes and ears were focused on the speakers, and the messages were clear: We’re in an exciting and dynamic period of change in the world of education, technology, and creativity, and each of us involved in training-teaching-learning has a tremendous role to play.
Marsha Semmel, who oversees and coordinates Institute of Museum and Library Services partnerships with other federal agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organization, reminded us that “people go to museums and libraries…because they are places of curiosity, wonder, imagination. They are places that use different styles and promote different styles of learning, and they invite cross-generational learning…Learning is about passion. It’s about motivation. It’s about play. It’s about imagination.” Throughout her presentation, she outlined the educational and cultural roles museums are playing, and suggested that “we are in a period of lifelong, life-wide, life-deep learning, and every single organization and institution has to belly up to the bar and be part of the solution.”
Susan Metros, Associate Vice Provost and Associate Chief Information officer for Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Southern California, talked about how leadership lives within each of us. To give a framework to her presentation, she summarized three books that have influenced her as an leader within education: Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, Amos Rapoport’s House Form and Culture, and Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life.
John Weber, Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, opened his presentation on “Museums and the Digital Space” by suggesting that “we love our gadgets; we are addicted to them. We obsess over them. We compare them. We update them constantly.” In a focused discussion on how those gadgets fit into the museum experience and its educational offerings, Weber maintained that museums “are very beautiful spaces. They contain objects which are unique, which surprise us, which, generally speaking, exist only in one place and they foster intense, particular, irreplaceable experiences, flashes of recognition and flashes of surprise…We want now to bring our gadgets into museums…We want to photograph what we see in museums…We are photographically addicted, including me…At times, that can really get in the way of seeing it.” But, he concluded, “in the end, it’s all about looking at the art objects, and how can we empower that” so visitors will “linger longer and get more out of the time they spend with us in real space, in museum space.”
And then there was the final “Six Minutes” presentation—“Reflections: The Horizon Project at 10”—by NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson. Using “the language of image,” Johnson’s presentation was a magnificent and heartfelt combination of photography, philosophy, and call to action. Taking us through a brief history of networked technology at the personal level of how it has been used by his family, he recalled how radio was at the center of his father’s life; how television was the technology of choice as he was growing up; how computers have become “the network” for his son, and how mobile technology is what is at the center of his very young grandchildren’s lives. Furthermore, he said, his son corrects him when he suggests that “the network has been built out to help us in a myriad of ways.” For his son and his son’s contemporaries, “The network is us. It doesn’t help us. The network actually is us. We are the reason there is a network, and the network is here to serve us.”
His grandson and others growing up today, he continued, “will never ever live in the world where the network wasn’t anywhere he wanted to be. …What does that mean for what we do [as educators]?…We have to be careful that we don’t spend the money that we have on solutions that are not going to be used. We need to make sure that we’re not giving people this technology [radio] when, in fact, the world they live in has changed. The thing we need to focus on is how do we keep the magic in learning? …We need to make their jaws drop. We need to make them understand that the world is so cool that it’s worth their curiosity, and that’s the message I’m going to leave you with. This is the room to do it. We’ll do it together.”
And if all of us who serve as trainer-teacher-learners take that message to heart and become part of the group that helps to shape the world as it is changing all around us, we can help reshape the horizon we all spend time exploring.