Using Technology for Social Change: Who’s Working to Change the Future?

The university where I pursue a doctorate degree, Walden University, provides a Mission for its distance learners, who are for the most part, working in professional careers: To provide the “opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so they can effect positive social change” (Walden, 2016). So, social change is woven into each course.

And, the research priorities of Walden University also orbit around social change. As part of a 2013 Social Change Impact Report, researched and provided by Walden in partnership with the research firm, Harris Interactive ,  a quiz entitled “What kind of a social change agent are you?” was developed to help any individual understand the world view, habits and outlook which govern use of personal time for social change projects. Take the quiz! You can pinpoint your own contributions and attitudes toward social change!

Six categories classify social change agents:

  • Ultracommitted Change-Maker
  • Faith-inspired Givers
  • Socially Conscious Consumer
  • Purposeful Participants
  • Casual Contributors
  • Social Change Spectators

After reading the descriptions of change agents, I saw myself as an Ultracommitted Change-Maker because I dedicate my life to leading a positive change in early childhood education with my unique family child care program, Poplarhaven Children’s House (PCH). I want the foundation of early childhood experience and education, contributed to by PCH’s program, to be strong and supportive of emotional and cognitive success for children, and to contribute to each child’s reaching her full human potential. I also believe, in the words of David Cavallo (Laureate, 2012), that “a sound education for everybody is the basis for a just, equitable, and democratic society.” My feelings of commitment to social change motivated me to provide a program for the care and educational of young children, while Dr. Cavallo’s commitment motivated him to create an organization,  One Laptop Per Child, which provides rugged, and world opening laptop computers, designed by Cavallo’s gathered experts, to 2.4 million (so far) of the world’s most impoverished children. We each contribute at our level, and in our own way, but I consider myself to be ultacommitted.

However, the quiz on social change categorized me as a Faith-Inspired Giver. My frequent church attendance, and the fact that at the heart of my social change drive is my agreement with my religion’s commitment to education and belief in the high potential of each precious human being, have put me into this category. According to statistics from the 2013 Social Change Impact Report, only 23% of faith-based respondents were motivated by websites in their social change initiatives. My faith,  however, has made use of innovative technology for its service initiatives, producing the longest continuously running network broadcast (1929 until now) in the world, Music and the Spoken Word, and the inventor of television himself, Philo T. Farnsworth was a Church member. Also, the electric guitar, the traffic light, artificial heart transplant surgery, digital sound and movie technology, the hearing aid, and the odometer were all invented by members of my faith. So Faith Inspired Givers from my religion just might look more like Ultracommitted Change-Makers in our technology use for social change!

Educational technology’s impact on the way learning is negotiated by teachers and learners will, of course, increase. Naturally, younger people who do most of their learning on topics of interest through the internet will grow a little older and become teachers. Then, for sure, technology use will increase. However, even now, innovations are overtaking teaching methods and priorities practiced historically. David Thornberg (Laureate, 2012)made the obvious point that it is not logical to memorize facts (about birds for example) which can be looked up online in five seconds. Also, according to the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, several technology tools, or innovative ways of using existing tools, have entered or will in a few short years be ready to enter students’ learning environments. Workplaces and schools have implemented policies of encouraging employees and students to BYOD – Bring Your Own Device, realizing that the applications on a personal electronic device help the owner to be more efficient, and productive. Combining the tools on each person’s personal device with the resources of a school or workplace increases positive, productive output. The makerspace provides physical and electronic tools for physical creation of the “objects” (robots, computer games, cooling fans etc.) people envision, and at least one California middle school library has been transformed into a makerspace. Also, Adaptive Learning Technologies which use artificial intelligence technology to track and adjust to students preferences and current abilities for one-on-one adaptive instruction and learning; 3-D PrintingDigital Badges (taking Behaviorism digital);  and Wearable Technology included in eye-wear, jewelry, or even shoes for tracking the activities of daily life, are all technological innovations now in use or soon to be used in schools.

So, with different types of social change agents, and technological innovations as tools, who do I feel would be the best type of change agent in implementing wonderful technological innovations into my early childhood program? Ultracommitted Change-Makers are already “plugged into technology” and also have an online network of other social changers who share their lifelong passions for helping others. They are the obvious first choice for helping implement communication or other innovative technologies, appropriate to the early childhood environment, into PCH’s program. Social Change Spectators, uncommitted to social change, and not seeing their actions as making any impact for good, would be the least useful change agents, no matter what change is undergoing implementation.

As a Faith-Inspired Giver, with a good attitude toward technological intervention (which is shared by my religious organization), I have already entered a path to step up my innovation in all areas of my life by heavily pursuing a PhD in Instruction, Learning, and Innovation. If learning so much about innovation is my first step to adjusting my approach to bringing about social change in my early childhood program, graduating with my PhD is the second step. When I graduate, I will have so much more freedom to implement the innovative ideas which flood my mind, but have not yet been carried forward due to lack of time. Time to move away from the computer, in use for PhD study only, is the adjustment that will bring real innovation to my early childhood program. I can’t wait!


An Innovation – Not Electronic – Supporting Flexibility and Children’s Rich Language

Some technological innovations harness the power of electricity to connect people energetically to other human beings and their wisdom. Some technological innovations support people physically so they can move successfully and smoothly through their mental and physical responsibilities. The order yet flexibility created by the innovative adhesives invented by the 114 year old Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (renamed modernly The 3M Company) help make my home, and my early childhood environment accommodate the dynamic changes  happening each day with young children.

3M’s Richard Gurley Drew thought beyond the usual uses for glue when he combined it with other materials to invent masking tape, which could cover the woodwork of a wall to protect it from wet paint and be removed with no residue or damage to the wall; and cellophane or Scotch tape, which was clear, and could be used to keep a taped package looking pretty.  Creating tape using adhesives which maintain their stickiness even when stored outside of a closed container was very innovative.  Post-it notes are also a most convenient way to leave someone a paper note, since their adhesive sticks to surfaces, releases without damage when pulled off, and re-sticks to another surface.

However, what has really worked are 3M’s Command Products, where a sticky tab can be used to mount objects to a wall, and then the tab pulled to remove them with no damage to the wall. Likewise, objects can also be stuck to other surfaces, such as a cup of pencils to a desk to keep it from sliding. These tabs can be used to hang pictures everywhere, unlike in the previous generation when someone might have been afraid to pound nails into the wall for fear of ruining the wall. And, working in conjunction with 3M’s tabs are a large variety of wall hooks, and even containers which can be used for storage, which are mounted to a wall in a bathroom or other room.  Something up to five pounds can be hung, held to a wall or other surface by the adhesive on these tabs, removed anytime without damage, and re-affixed to another surface

The freedom to hang pictures and containers on any wall at any time without fear of making a mistake, or changing one’s mind, or putting something up “crooked” allows for a very changeable early childhood environment. Containers affixed to walls and tables store children’s art or writing materials. Within the last few years, 3M has applied its Post-it Note adhesive to a bulletin board, where items can be hung and removed from the bulletin board covered in Post-it adhesive multiple times, and children’s art or announcements to parents can be changed every day, easily.  My early childhood environment has four of these 3’ by 4’ bulletin boards. These materials support the language rich, print rich environment provided for the young children in my early childhood program, as the children’s language expressions provide a “window into human nature” (Pinker, 2011). “Human beings communicate in countless ways, making use of all of their senses, touch, taste, smell, and especially sight as well as hearing” (Ong, 1982, p. 46). These rich experiences facilitated in the flexible, dynamic classroom, which children can use and negotiate independently, while communicating in some of their “hundred languages”(Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998) stimulate their natural ability to acquire rich thoughts and language (Levinson, 2003).

Innovators rise above the crowd because of their willingness to not only see problems which need to be solved, but to see failures as potential successes. The story behind the Post-it Note illustrates this:

In 1968, a scientist at 3M in the United States, Dr. Spencer Silver, was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive. Instead he accidentally created a “low-tack”, reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive. For five years, Silver promoted his “solution without a problem” within 3M both informally and through seminars but failed to gain acceptance. In 1974 a colleague who had attended one of his seminars, Arthur Fry, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook.

Innovative offerings for a variety of adhesive products allow more innovation in my classroom and life!

15 Brilliant Things You Can Do With Command Hooks

My 3M Command Hook Fix

The Hanan Center: Helping You Help Children Communicate

Playing with Words 365: Educating, Inspiring, Empowering

Offering the Gift of Another Language

As a teacher of young children, I am always aware that everything I do has some kind of impact on the future of each child. Maria Montessori, in her book The Absorbent Mind (1949), captured a young child’s propensity for assimilating and accommodating (to use Jean Piaget’s (1928) description of the phenomenon ) all of the information she is exposed to. As a young child learns about being a human being, her brain attends to the most relevant skills needed to gather information about what to do from people who are already succeeding — doing some things right because they are still alive! Communication is the key to understanding these living people’s secrets, and so a young child’s brain focuses much energy on learning their language. Mi Song Kim (2014, p. 154) referred to the New Literacy Studies of the 2000’s which describe language learning by young children as “a process by which individuals participate in specific literate communities and, in turn, co-construct the social practices of these communities.” It seems that emulating these social practices is one of the big reasons the human brain is so keen on capturing the key to social interaction – language, according to classic theorist on language acquisition and brain development, Lev Vygotski (1933).  The fact is, according to both Vygotski (1933) and Kim (2014) a young child can learn two or even three languages with the same relative ease with which she learns one. The early years are the golden years for language learning.

So, how can a parent or teacher introduce their children to second languages, exposing them to natural conversation, if the parent/teacher is only fluent in his or her native language? An innovative online and iPhone application called italki, a leading social network for language learning, is helping people of all ages learn, and deepen learning of one or more additional languages by matching teachers, who are native speakers of languages all over the world, with language learners, who benefit from live and regular conversations with native speakers.

I learned about the italki app recently from my brother-in-law, Jean Michel, a French business consultant already additionally fluent in Spanish, Italian, and English, who needed to learn German to communicate with new clients. I have been trying to learn French in preparation for visiting France for a family reunion in the next year, and because my time is very limited, I have been using another language learning app, Pimsleur , while driving in the car, to listen to phrases, and repeat them. (While I’m driving is the only time I have to learn a new language.) When I mentioned this, Jean Michel said he used italki and is having learning conversations every week with a native German speaker. I have been amazed over the last 20 years by Jean Michel’s ability to learn new languages, so I respect his recommendation. However, the following blogs also review italki’s usefulness as a tool in bringing new languages into the lives of children, where they can have a really powerful effect on a person’s future gifts with languages:

Homeschooling French with an Online Tutor

Italki Language Learning Review

Learning a Language: It Takes a Village

Italki Teaching Tips: How do I teach kids with italki?

How Do I Use Italki To Help My Child/Children Learn A Foreign Language?

I am excited, once study for a doctorate degree in education (which currently uses all of my spare time) is complete, to personally learn and improve my ability to communicate in languages other than English, using italki. However, I intend to immediately begin to incorporate it into my work with young children. It’s free!