Some big ideas start small. This year's Big Ideas Fest focused on "Education Innovation for a Small Planet," and it was a little different from previous years. Located here in Half Moon Bay, the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education deserves praise, not just for embracing change, but for embodying it. Many changes were small, but they went a long way toward improving what is already one of the most enlightened education conferences in the country (right here in Half Moon Bay!).
One feature of this year's event was "BIF Local.” It was predicated on the notion that we bring our experience back to our organizations and communities. Part of that spirit was manifested in the selection of speakers. Again, they were amazing people doing important things, but their examples seemed more tangible, more doable, more local.
Two were students setting great examples (Logan Kahle, a "custom schooler," and Ming Horn, "Khoding" in Cambodia). Several were from nonprofits rolling up their sleeves in particular communities (Ashanti Branch moving minority males "Ever Forward," Steve Good giving more than "Five Keys" to incarcerated students, Angela Jackson spreading languages globally, and Tess Posner and Farnaz Ronaghi making online opportunities more accessible).
Of course there were a number of luminaries making big changes on our small planet. Dr. Jill Hagenkord of 23andme, Missy Sherburne of Donors Choose, and Emily Church of the XPrize described the scaling and spreading of their organizations.
Two years ago I had made a connection with Steve Ritz, of the Bronx Green Machine, and this year he was back with even more energy and enthusiasm for educating kids about healthy food. This year, I made a connection with Jackie Barrow, one of the "Grannies" who work for Sugata Mitra's "School in the Cloud." (Dr. Mitra was a BIF speaker a few years back.) This humble woman from northern England volunteers to teach children in India via Skype, and she is a supreme example of ordinary, local people doing extraordinary, global work.
In addition to the speakers, the "Action Collab" process was somewhat changed. Instead of applying design thinking to a hypothetical innovation, it was applied to the particular concerns of the participants. Over the course of two days, our group worked first on a model "design challenge," and then on three generated from the group. Again, the process and the synthesis of thinking resulted in truly useful and doable innovations, but this time the relevance made the process and the products more meaningful. Turning the challenge into change is turning ideas into reality.
Change, however, can be threatening. Teachers have been under attack from politicians, legal decisions, and the corporatization of education. Many of the notions presented at the Big Ideas Fest represent a challenge to the status quo. Definitions of teaching, school and education are evolving rapidly. One catalyst for this is the Open Educational Resources Commons, another creation of ISKME. OERs are lesson plans, curricula and source materials that anyone can use for teaching and learning. While I have questioned why one should give away his best ideas for free, or even for the commercial benefit of others, I realize that it is all an exchange, a give and take, a conversation. The more you give, the more you receive.
So, in addition to being inspired by prominent knowledge workers on this small planet, I was able to engage in several illuminating conversations — didactic dialectics — and once again I am inspired, renewed and recommitted to paying that forward to students. I encourage you to take your burning yearning for learning to OER Commons, or take the small step to the Big Ideas Fest when it comes back next year!
Randy Vail teaches social studies, English, and physical education at Pescadero Middle/High School and lives in La Honda.