Writing here from a train between Bordeaux and Marseille, the French countryside is sweeping by and the sun is coming up on the horizon. I’m traveling with two of my closest friends from childhood, on a tour of a few European countries which will lead each of us to different places. One friend finished his MBA at USC the week prior to my finishing my MEd at the University of Hawaii. The other friend is working on his MS in Electrical Engineering at Cal Poly, but will be studying for the next six months at a school in Germany. We’ll be traveling together for the next two weeks before going our separate ways, my own journey leading to Finland for the Open Knowledge Festival (OKfest) during the third week of September. Just two weeks ago I didn’t know pull off attending OKfest. But here I go.
After hearing about it in late July, I was immediately interested in what could potentially be a major step in working with some amazing people on incredibly important ideas. The 5-day event happens to fall at the tail end of the tour I have had planned since early Spring, though extending my trip to fit OKfest into it seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago. Have I ever been to Finland? No. Do I know anyone else who’s going? Nope. Do I share common interests with those who are attending? Yes, and in a very big way.
The idea of openness and sharing in education is not new, but we are at a tipping point with new technologies allowing us to digitize, remix, and transmit information on a scale never before seen. Some may argue that we are already far along the path of being able to leverage technology to improve society, but many tools are still difficult to use for people who have less exposure to technology. Through the use of technology, we can create educational media that will allow people to learn technical skills at a rapid pace, then being able to study (and master) a broad set of additional skills and sets of knowledge. OKfest will focus on much more than education, but there are a handful of talks and workshops that I have a special interest in taking part in. Specifically, folks from Creative Commons, Peer to Peer University, and School of Open are scheduled to speak about how education is changing. These groups are quietly making things better for everyone, whether you’ve heard of them or not.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I believe everyone should be granted access to quality education. The privatisation of education, specifically in the United States, is a very scary thought. Having spent that last two years in Hawaii studying educational technology, I came to realize that the Hawaiian K-12 public school system as a whole is truly broken. Almost all parents with the financial means (or Hawaiian heritage) ends up placing their children in private schools. Competition for entry is steep at the top schools, and it’s common to spend between ten-and-eighteen thousand dollars per year for a child to attend grades K-12. Quality education…the kind that provides essential content, adapts to the needs of different learners, teaches students essential skills to extend their learning, and inspires them to go beyond the classroom. Everyone should have this. I’ve written many half-finished blog posts about how I think education in Hawaii can be improved, but they’ve never been published. Let’s just say that Hawaii is constantly on my mind when imagining education reform through technology, and my state of mind at OKfest will be no different.
OKfest is just a couple weeks away, and my trip through Spain and France has been life-changing. I’ve had the chance to speak with other young professionals and students who are the products of various school systems around the world (Germany, Poland, Spain, Canada, to name a few) and I’m paying attention to what they have said. We’re headed to Switzerland soon, then to Germany before I travel to Helsinki for OKfest. I’m hoping to be able to set up shop in Berlin for a week, working out of a hotel room and meeting with a couple educators and open-source advocates during the week before OKfest. Oh yes, and I’m volunteering at OKfest and will be working on the “Welcoming Party” as a greeter and information staff. If you’re going to be there, please do contact me or some say hi. If you’re unable to come, but are interested in the goings-on at the conference, you can expect a blog post about the experience in a few weeks.