Mirrors to Windows, and Youth Innovation
Tech education and the power of opportunity—a report from the Social Innovation Summit.
“Maturity is when all of your mirrors turn into windows.” Kristen Titus from Girls Who Code (GWC) quoted Henry David Thoreau during her talk at the Social Innovation Summit in Mountain View, Calif., last week—an event that convenes social change leaders to discuss their work and exchange ideas. Titus’s presentation and many others throughout the day made it clear that, when it comes to encouraging and supporting growth in youth innovation, those “mirrors turned into windows” look a lot like TV, mobile phone, and PC screens. What’s more, the view is good.
Video technology is continuing to feed education in a big way. Microsoft’s Tony Bates demonstrated how Skype in the Classroom, a platform created for educators, is allowing its 45,000 registered teachers to share lesson plans, co-teach, and organize virtual field trips online via Skype technology. This means that a lesson on bee keeping can include a real-time interview and demonstration from an actual beekeeper, and that students in Texas can see, talk to, and directly interact with students in Kenya. Skype is now working with NASA Digital Learning Network, Penguin, and other partners to create new resources for the classroom.
Meanwhile, 20,000 public schools are using Khan Academy’s free video lessons and knowledge assessment digital tools in some way. Founder Sal Khan talked about the need for educational systems to evolve—from the one-size-fits-all, lecture-style format developed during the Industrial Revolution to more personalized learning experiences. With digital lessons, each student’s progress can be tracked in detail, allowing teachers to diagnose the student’s progress and focus tutoring on her weak spots. Khan also suggested that the components of traditional education—developing core skills, credentialing, and socialization—should not be bundled together, but instead operated separately, thereby allowing us to optimize each part and allowing people to acquire skills in different ways.
YouTube’s Hunter Walk described YouTube as a global living room, classroom, and town square—a “bidirectional” space where people are interacting through video in new ways. (Interestingly, the controversial Kony 2012 video actually received 40,000 response videos.) Filmmaker Nirvan Mullick’s presentation highlighted his wildly viral Caine’s Arcade YouTube video. What started as a short film about 9-year-old Caine Monroy’s cardboard arcade ultimately led to the establishment of the Imagination Foundation, which aims to foster children’s creativity (see its Cardboard Challenge videos).
Kids are inspiring and learning from other kids, teachers are learning from experts and other teachers—more than ever, technology is changing our ideas about who and what an educator is, and how people teach and learn.
“Looking out the window” is also yielding many new innovations from young tech entrepreneurs like the winners of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup. Representing Germany, Australia, Uganda, Egypt, and the Ukraine, the winners’ inventions included several mobile devices and applications for improving health care, gloves that translate sign language to voice, and a program that calculates better transportation routes to reduce fuel consumption and pollution. Winning the competition means they have money and new resources—what they are looking for now is mentorship. Nour El-Dien Hussein, creator of HealthBuzz, asked the audience to “lend courage to young people.”
Mentorship is out there. Though none of the Imagine Cup winners were young women, GWC believes that high-touch mentorship works. Titus said that only a tiny fraction—0.3 percent—of high school girls express an interest in computer science jobs. After completing a GWC program, 100 percent of participants (all girls) say they are interested in pursuing computer science work further. Founders of PeaceJam also presented at the summit and have managed to sign on various Nobel Peace Prize winners to work with youth.
During a panel on education, millennials, and the current opportunity divide, Year Up’s Jay Banfield said, “We need to set high expectations for young people.” So we do. But it is also true that many young people set incredibly high expectations of themselves and the world—the dynamic Barbara Bush and Adanna Chukwuma duo from Global Health Corps are among them. The idea of these young innovators sharing information and ideas with more people, in more countries, and in a more engaging and interactive way than ever—opening up windows of opportunity for themselves—is rather exciting.