The real digital divide: time zones kill truly global thinking
I've returned from an exhilarating week in South Africa with Microsoft's Innovative Education Forum showcasing hundreds of fascinating teachers and schools from across the world. The passion of the township kids in the video above sums up the passion and hospitality we were shown, and the hardest work their educators put in to bring joy and learning to them every day.
But most of those teaching in the Western world won't know or care about students cracking cancer cells through vector diagrams in India, the five Arab states that pooled their learning to create a new understanding (and scooped the main award) or the inspirational learning happening in a country where 40% of people live below the poverty line, despite it being one of the world's principal diamond exporters.
I say this based on a personal, unscientific and flawed set of stats gleaned from this site, but one I feel compelled to share. And it was in discussion with Vicki Davis, also with me in South Africa, that we both felt the impact of something outside the control of most classroom teachers and young people: time zones.
Both of us realised quickly that no-one was reading the posts we had started to share from South Africa (my South Africa insights and videos have started here with more to follow; Vicki's thoughts and videos are here).
We were posting the minute we had discovered a new tale, at anything between 10am and 5pm South African time, or 8am-3pm GMT. It was only after one day of seeing no-one was reading her posts, compared to normal, that Vicki started to repost and set new blog entries to post around midnight, to catch the US East Coast's sweet spot. The result? People started to read and watch the videos there, and the viewing spread across to the US West Coast. The same effect was visible on my own blog (and is visible whenever I post too early in the day here in Scotland).
Vicki, I hope she won't mind me saying, was perturbed by such a "rookie error" of posting outside her normal time zones, but I don't think it's that rookie at all. When we're working with young people and they publish their work there is a definite thrill in pressing that publish button and seeing it hit the web now. There is much less thrill in pressing the "Pubish on..." button and seeing it published six hours later so that an American audience can catch it and, with their retweet button, decide whether a thought from outside their timezone is spreadable or not.
And in that, you have the main reason for which I, at least, feel conversations in education have become more parochial than global in the past two years. The subject matter is often the same, but the information and experiences feeding into the conversations feel remarkably segmented by time zone. The loudest conversations at the moment are those about a documentary most of the world don't care about on a local level (and which isn't showing in most of the world's cinemas):
Why is this so? My stats would suggest it's the Twitterification of thought-creation and thought-leading.
Twitterfication - the fast food of education thinking
Twitter has, for most folk, become their aggregator of choice. No longer do blog posts have a half-life of 24 hours, happily resting in your Google Reader until you launch it in the morning (your morning). Instead, your blog post has to hit a sweet spot where the maximum number of connectors and spreaders are awake, at their machine and ready to press "Retweet". That means hitting "Publish" at a time convenient to the mass of educators on the East Coast US, with a half-life of minutes before it is lost in the stream of other thoughts, resources and locker-room banter about baseball.
The conversations have also disappeared from most of the blogs that I, at least, read from outside the US and Canada. They're maybe happening on Twitter, but are now dislocated from their origins, impossible to trace back, and even more impregnable to those coming in 24 hours late.
So, is the media literacy lesson here that we need to teach children the world over that, to make their point they have to make it at East Coast time? Or is the media literacy point here that educators and decision-makers Stateside mustn't down all their slow-food style aggregators just yet, and make a point of reading things published outside the hours of 9am-8pm East Coast?
(And, yes, I've written a provocative post at 10:39am GMT - let's see who can prove me wrong ;-) See video of the kids dancing over on my Flickr page, or below. Catch up on all my videos from schools in South Africa by subscribing to my YouTube channel)