Notes from the Technology Inaugural Ball

Intel and ePals were invited to sponsor and attend the Huffington Post Technology Inaugural Ball on the 19th January 2009. Somewhat more cutting edge than most of the standard inaugural celebrations, nearly 2000 people packed – and I mean packed – the Newseum on Pennsylvania Ave. In addition to celebrities, including our host, Arianna Huffington, and sightings of guests like Sharon Stone, Forrest Whittaker, Martha Stewart, John Cusack, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Beals Sting, Sheryl Crow and performed live.

Intel Employees at The Pre-Inauguration Ball

Tony in the middle posing with other Intel folks attending the ball including (from left) Peter Cleveland, VP for Global Public Policy, Terri Kokinda, Alice Borrelli and Bruce Sewell , Senior VP of CSR for Intel

However, the real stars of the evening, in my opinion were the many – many – people who took time away from their tequila, sat down and talked with us extensively, engagingly and in many cases extensively about education and the juggernaut of momentum building for meaningful change in our educational systems. Changes that use technologies to build communities of thought leaders, communities of thinking young people engaged not only on facebook for fun, but also seriously in schools for solving the challenges facing our collective future. We talked about the absolute need for teachers of the highest quality – teachers who will lead their students from passive learning to critical thinking. And we talked about the need for the appropriate tools – tools that many kids use in their day to day lives now, but adapted appropriately for schools and kids, because kids just don’t work like adults. And we talked about these things seriously certainly with people whose passion is in education, but also with people from the legal profession or film and move production or advertising and public relations and venture capitalists – people who do not attend the education trade shows or read publications like eSchool News or the American Educator. These are people who given a glimpse of new tools for education – like Intel-powered classmate PCs and the ePALs collaboration community – recognize the potential to significantly enhance how we all learn and live in an increasingly interconnected world.

Jeff Galinovsky, Intel's regional ecosystem manager, explaining how the Intel-powered classmate PC design worksJeff Galinovsky, Intel’s regional ecosystem manager, explaining how the Intel-powered classmate PC design works

Being here, in Washington DC the day before an inauguration that’s completely enthralled the city, I can’t help but think about the role of education in civic life. Democracies require an enlightened, educated population. Democratic citizens need to know what they know, know when they don’t know, and know how to get to know. Of course, there are many ways of knowing, the most prominent being our educational system, which by at least one account hasn’t changed much since the European Renaissance, though many reckon the current very industrial nature of education – lecture and learn – to the industrial revolution.

What really matters is not when this education system started, but when it is going to change to reflect today’s realities – preparing our citizens for a more interconnected, dynamic, multivalent world. We must face challenges that bend space and time – as a global populace, we will be come more resilient, even as our planet becomes more delicate. Our day-to-day inventions will move fast, change quickly and have the potential to change societies – and our planet – much more quickly than the planet can absorb. Laws of entropy will brook no dissent.

The history of scientific knowledge is compounded at ever increasing rates. A scientist today needs to know ever more to innovate and push the limits of their fields. They need to collaborate ever more across the arbitrary boundaries of “disciplines”. They need to do more. They also need to be more attentive – to errors, to peer review, to alternative explanations and hypotheses. A peer reviewed academic journal article still requires a year or more to publish. I can publish this note, available to the world in about 10 minutes. Time and work, people and places – it’s all so very dynamic.

Our educational system is rooted in the times when the trip between Oregon and Washington DC took many months and many lives on the Oregon Trail, when it only took me hours to cover the same distance now. Firmly rooted in assembly line manufacturing and heavy industry, as a system, education has hardly changed at all in 150 years. Technology generally has always been at the forefront of dynamic change. And though education isn’t all about technology, appropriately designed technology can and must enable a more dynamic, resilient and thoughtful educational system attuned to the changing nature of our world. Technologies must support the student and the teacher, individually and together, adapting teaching styles and methods, adapting learning styles and methods, adapting what kids learn and how they use what they learn in the service of our world.

My hopes are with the our 44th President, Barack Obama, that he can and will engage and enable America and lead the world to learn what we all need to learn to make the changes we all need to make.

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