The wide open learning world: sea, land, and ice views
The day was August 27, 2009. That morning I explored CNN for some online
news and found a story about the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in
a sailboat by himself. His name was Michael Perham and he was from the UK. I had never heard of him before but it was
clear that I should have done. A couple of years earlier, at age 14, he had set
the record as the youngest person to sail across the Atlantic. Now at age 17 and 164 days, he travelled east
around the globe to beat the record of the American teenager Zac Sunderland. It
took Michael 9 months and 12 days to complete his demanding and highly eventful
The previous month, Zac
had completed his westward journey around the world in his 36-foot
(11-metre) sailboat Intrepid. He arrived back at his Marina del Rey, California, starting point on July 16, 2009. With 13 months and 2 days elapsed from start
to finish, Zac's journey was much longer than Michael's. However, his world record
would last a mere 42 days. When Michael Perham sailed his 50ft racing
yacht, TotallyMoney.com, back into Portsmouth, England, he was a
couple of months younger than Zac.
Situated as I am in Indiana, smack dab in the heartland of the USA, I was a tad disappointed by this widely
syndicated news story.
In addition to racing
against each other, Michael and Zac were racing against time, constantly changing
weather conditions, and extended loneliness. Imagine these two young sailors heading
in opposite directions around the globe, each starting off his journey at the
tender age of 16. And as luck would have it, they met in Cape Town, South Africa, along the way. Fortunately, with twenty-first
century technology the world virtual community sat in on this storybook meeting
and simultaneously learned from it. In a February 11, 2009 blog post
Zac documented their chance encounter with interesting text and pictures for anyone with Internet access to see. In the midst of this
excitement, Zac's mother informed him that Minoru Saito from Japan, the world's oldest
solo circumnavigator, was about to pull into Cape Town as well. With that
information, Zac quickly delayed his journey for a few days in the hope of
was at that moment that the power of the Web came into full view. As Zac put it
in his blog:
"I went down to the
Royal Cape Yacht Club on Friday morning to welcome Saito-san in. We waited at
the YC for a few hours and didn't see any signs of him or his approach. We went
up to the club and on to his web site (www.saito8.com) and saw a photo of his
boat. As I walked outside I saw him pulling in just then."
A picture found on the
Web helped identify the record breaking sailor they were about to meet. Imagine
these two daring teenagers, who would each later that year become the youngest
person to circumnavigate the world on a sailboat sitting next to Saito, who was
at age 73 to do so. Not only that, he was attempting it again at age 75. If
successful, this would also be his record-breaking eighth time to sail solo
around Planet Earth by himself. Imagine the lively conversation Zac and Michael
had with him as well as the stories that were shared and mentoring offered. You
can get a sense of it from Zac's February 13, 2009 blog post.
Of course, as with all of us, long after departing Cape Town, they can keep up with Saito on the Web from his
homepage and Wikipedia page updates as
well as online news stories and shared online video coverage.
I had been following Zac
Sunderland during the previous months and was hoping to interview him for an
extension to my new book, The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is
Revolutionizing Education published in July 2009 by Jossey-Bass/Wiley.
I had read his blog and watched his online videos. It was clear that each day
at sea was a unique learning experience. When it came to more formal learning
pursuits during his quite eventful and arduous journey, Zac had taken all his
high school books with him and emailed his assignments back to his mother for
grading. The Internet was his lifeline for feedback.
He also had his satellite
phone to make contact with his parents and friends. At one point he also talked
with astronauts onboard the space station who were flying 250 miles above him. And
so it is today that astronauts can now meet aquanauts through the power of
technology. As I wrote this newsletter piece, I sent Zac an email asking him about
the technologies he used to learn with while sailing around the world for more
than a year.
I also wrote to Michael
Perham's press agent. Within 24 hours, I got a pleasant response and an
upcoming interview with Michael's father. That is the way of the world today: you
learn about someone's feats through online technologies and you contact them
online and interview them the same way. No landline phone, no letters, and no endless
waiting for a response. With the Web, most responses come within 24 hours and
sometimes within seconds. There are dozens of ways
to use online technologies to contact people for interviews. In fact, it is the
high level of communications technology available today that convinces parents
to allow their teenage sons and daughters on such a voyage.
As I explored their sites,
I found much informal learning embedded in the stories of these young sailors
for my students to learn from. The day after Michael's triumphant welcome home
to the UK, I posted the Web homepage,
video blog site,
and Wikipedia page
for Michael Perham as well as the Web homepage,
blog site, and Wikipedia page for Zac Sunderland
to the opening week discussion forum for my online class on learning theories.
I also gave them an article link from the Telegraph
that detailed more about Michael's adventure. I asked my students questions
about learning opportunities that were available on their boats as well as the
ways in which Matt and Zac became teachers to the world. They can watch videos
about their respective adventures from BBC News, Sky
CNN, and other news
agencies. Shared online videos of their experiences can also be catalogued in YouTube, Zimbio,
and other places.
I have shared online
videos that they must watch and reflect on each week of the course. These
videos range from such sailing adventures to original research of famous
psychologists and educators to everyday examples of theories in action. My
class has several
video options to watch each week that are intended to connect the book,
discussion forums, and Webcast lecture posts. As they view them, the class content
typically springs to life. In fact, the YouTube videos that my students watched
last fall made the course so exciting that they did not want to leave. It was as
though a magic pill had been inserted into their mouths. There is no other way to
describe it except as phenomenal.
What is clear is that
learning from the adventures of both Michael and Zac can be formal as well as
informal. My graduate students in education can reflect on the teaching and
learning techniques of Michael and Zac as they explore their blogs, videos, and
Web pages. At the same time, college classes on sailing, oceanography,
meteorology, geography, cultures of the world, interactive media, and Web
design might tap into these same resources, albeit in vastly different ways.
Admittedly, such media resources are sometimes taken offline by the creators or
the links no longer work for different reasons. But as this happens, countless other
educational resources spring up. Learners simply need teacher expert guidance through
Michael and Zac are not
the only ones travelling by boat from whom your students can learn. What if,
instead of sailing solo around the world like Michael and Zac, your parents are
planning to pick up a new boat in Brazil and sail it for five months through the Caribbean en route to Charleston, South Carolina? That is what exactly happened in the spring of
2006 to Bridey Fennell. Bridey was just 16 at the time. Her mother, Karen
Fennell, got in touch with officials from the Indiana University High School and arranged for Bridey to take four classes
while on board the S/V Roam, a 46 foot Dolphin 460
catamaran. To complete her four
classes, she could upload and download assignments via the Web or email them
directly to the instructor when in port. She could also practise French lessons
on different islands. During the journey, ship dock captains and retired
teachers on islands like Grenada supervised her examinations and sent them in
for grading. Notably, she performed outstandingly in all her classes.
Bridey was learning at
her own pace using the resources available to her. Without the Internet, it
would have been much more difficult and she would likely have fallen behind her
peers back home in Chicago or not been able to go at all. At the same
time, her older sister Caitlin found a way to be a teacher and mentor to
elementary students in the Chicago area. She created a programme for students at Lake Bluff Elementary School to monitor the journey of the Fennell family as
part of a geography class. Her blog updates were posted for these young people
to monitor, track, discuss, and comment on. Other family members also got
involved in their own blog
posting. So while Bridey was engaged in formal learning online, her family was
teaching others in formal as well as informal settings.
the early morning hours of August 31, 2009 and just a few days after reading about Michael
Perham's record setting day. Before heading to bed, I finished writing up an
interview I had conducted with Adora Svitak and submitted
it for publication.
much as Michael and Zac are phenomena in the sailing world, Adora is a prodigy
in the world of writing and literature. At age 11, Adora is known as "the
world's youngest teacher." She has been teaching and learning online since she
was seven when she published her first book, Flying Fingers. More recently
she wrote Dancing Fingers
with her older sister, Adrianna, a
thirteen-year-old pianist and violinist. A technology enthusiast,
Adora Svitak's website
captures much of her writing, poetry,
media events, and teaching
experiences. As with many preteens, she also has a Facebook
account. In contrast to most of them, however, Adora's Facebook account and
blog posts take on a much more serious and professional tone.
That is only part of the Adora Svitak story. Adora reads at
least two books per day. She has even read and endorsed my 470 page "The World is Open" (TWIO) book and wants to
teach it to my graduate students. In addition, she has a blog and writes invited posts
for educational blogs such as The Educator's Royal Treatment.
More impressively, she has written a novel, Yang in Disguise, and over 400
short stories. With the ability to type more than 110 words a minute and a
vocabulary that is well beyond her years, Adora Svitak is simply amazing. Last
year, she wrote more than 330,000 words and she was only 10 years old at the
time. Not surprisingly, some consider her a little professor.
As part of her international teaching, she has visited
schools in the UK. A January
2009 article in the Telegraph
ponders whether she is the cleverest person in the world. For those who prefer the
visual to text, they can watch a YouTube video from Michael Dolan on Channel 4
in London. This video covered
Dolan's worldwide quest to find the World's Cleverest Kids;
most notable in it is the story of Adora Svitak.
lessons on writing and literature to children in schools both live as well as via
Web conferencing. Not only has she spoken in hundreds of classrooms and school
auditoriums, she has conducted professional development seminars and workshops
for teachers. If you miss them, they are often posted to her personal channels
in YouTube and TeacherTube. In
taking her message to wider audiences, Adora has shared her teaching and
learning insights and ideas on the BBC, TLC, NBC, FOX,
CCTV, the UK Channel 4, Good Morning America, Montel Williams,
and the Tyra Banks Show, among other well known media outlets. She has also
been featured on Oprah.
And, in case you are wondering, yes, she does have a Wikipedia page.
The same day I complete
my article on Adora, I receive an email from Cassandra
Brooks. I had interviewed Cassandra for a story in a chapter in my TWIO book on online collaboration. For her
master's degree, this young woman had been studying the Antarctic toothfish
(more commonly known as the Chilean sea bass) as well as a smaller invertebrate
creature, the krill.
Cassandra seems blessed.
Twice this young adventurer was selected to join research expeditions to Antarctica. Through the innovative Ice Stories
project, the Exploratorium in San Francisco opened the world to Cassandra's work as well as
that of her fellow scientists and researchers on that frozen continent. With this
one creative Web-based project, young people around the world have read her blog
posts and asked her questions about her research. In addition to blog posts, some
of her fellow researchers have provided Webcast presentations to explain the research
they are conducting in more detail at Explo.TV.
With such resources, the Web places young as well as older learners
face-to-face with leading scientists and researchers where they hear and see
amazing discoveries as well as often quite dire future predictions.
Near the other end of the earth, Wendy
Ermold, a researcher for the University of Washington's Polar Science Center, has spent weeks
of her time on ocean ice or on board icebreakers hundreds of miles north of
Barrow, Alaska. Wendy has also conducted research on Disco Island in western Greenland and Ellesmere
Island in Canadian
Arctic Archipelago. As part of her
work as a scientific programmer and field technician, Wendy studies the mechanisms controlling Arctic water
circulation. Much of the research is posted to the Web for others around the
planet to find and learn from. Websites featuring her work include one from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean
Explorer. There are countless hours of highly interesting and motivating
educational content from just this one Web portal. Maps, podcasts, videos,
pictures, and stories are all there. Once collected and analyzed, climatology data
Wendy and her colleagues have posted online can be resident on the Web (or
other places it evolves into) for many years and perhaps centuries to come.
While she is conducting
her research, Wendy learns from Web resources. As an example, she often downloads
content from the OpenCourseWare
project from MIT to listen to on her iPod. Wendy told me that she also
finds lecture materials from Stanford, Seattle Pacific University, and Missouri State University for her
learning needs. Wendy added that she often hops from one to another resource as
her needs and interests shift. The learning path is not prescribed in the same
way that might happen in more formal learning settings. Free and open online content
helps with her learning needs. And she can replay the contents as often as she
likes and at whatever moment in the day she feels fits her best.
makes personal choices as to her learning needs, formats, venues, and overall
mix of resources. As she does this, she often is learning from some of the most
renowned scientists and scholars in the world. Perhaps most important, the
of her informal and highly personal self-paced style of learning physics from
OCW materials can be posted prominently on the Web by MIT for others to learn
from and become inspired. She teaches online. She learns online. What's remarkable
is that neither her teaching nor her learning episodes take place in
traditional classroom settings. That is twenty-first century teaching and
learning; it suddenly springs up where learners and teachers are and at the
moment that learning happens to be needed. Increasingly, such teaching and
learning is found on the Web.
Sea, Land, and Ice
between Cassandra in the south and Wendy in the north you will oftentimes find Jon Bowermaster.
It is September 5, 2009 and I am
reading his latest post from his world famous NOTES FROM SEA LEVEL blog.
It is a fascinating entry on Ocean Warming that
had been posted earlier that day. In it he said:
"I went for a swim this
morning in deep water in the middle of the South Pacific. Twelve-thousand-feet
deep. The sea was lumpy, with six-foot swells running towards Hawaii, a couple
thousand miles to the northeast. Using just a mask and snorkel, no fins,
peering into the depths I tried to imagine what was below. It gets dark fast
just below the surface despite the bright sunlight, which leaves everything to
the imagination. That's the wonder of the ocean; even its most expert fans have
very little idea what lies two miles below. When it's suggested that
everything's been "explored" or "discovered," I put on a mask and try and see
into the deep ocean. There's a lot down there we have no idea about and I
wonder if we ever will".
goes on to discuss the warming of the oceans and the impact that global warming
is having on the continued melting of the polar ice caps (especially the
thinning of ice at or near the North Pole) as well as the number and intensity
of hurricanes recorded each year.
is an environmentally concerned writer and filmmaker who, during the past
decade, has created the Oceans 8 series for
National Geographic. His mission in this particular project was to visit all
seven continents plus Oceania from the view of a sea
kayak. Unlike the stories above, the ones Bowermaster tells us in Oceans 8 come
from sea, land, and ice. He was not alone on this journey; in fact, he gathered
some of the leading photographers, filmmakers, scientists, and navigators in
the world to bring the viewer to places on this planet that they might not
otherwise have seen. He and his team have used the power of the Web to report
from places such as Antarctica, Vietnam, the Aleutian Island, French
Polynesia, Gabon, Chile, Bolivia, Croatia, and Tasmania. With that, they
bring interesting and highly sensitive aspects of life and culture of this
planet directly into our homes and learning spaces.
this new millennium began, the Web became his vehicle for telling and retelling
his stories. In his daily blog,
one will find photographs, videos, maps, charts, streaming videos, audio
dispatches, and countless intriguing stories. With Bowermaster's homepage, the world comes
with you whenever and wherever you have an Internet connection. These resources
can be used to think about what is now possible with online environmental and
global education. Not only do his adventures appear in National Geographic
magazine, DVDs, books, and television specials, with Web resources like National Geographic
video and Link TV, they can be freely replayed
by millions of potential viewers online.
talked to Bowermaster several times during the summer of 2009. When I asked him
about Link TV reusing his content free to the world, he told me, "The more the
merrier! A great goal of any story teller is to have their stories heard, so
I'm thrilled that they've aired in 160 countries on the National Geographic
Channel, live as DVDs, and are
showing in-full on Link TV."
He then added that, "previously some of the films have been shown in full on Ocean.com." The latter is home of the Ocean Channel;
a place brimming with life and imagery in and around the world's oceans.
these myriad outlets for his awe inspiring work, Bowermaster is a global
educator using a global forum called the Internet. With that one resource, he
is teacher of the world about the world. As with the online resources provide
by Michael Perham and Zac Sunderland, I post many of the resources Jon
Bowermaster has provided to my learning theories class discussion forum. I then
ask my students to reflect on his teaching philosophy and learning approach
after exploring and viewing some of them. During the past few days, I have
found their responses quite thoughtful and encouraging; especially for the
first week of the semester. It is clear that the Web offers tools, resources,
and expertise that previously was not possible. There is so much we can all
take advantage of now to supplement, enrich, and elevate our courses. So much
to inspire our students with!
The World is now Open
Web technology has opened up the world for learning, Michael Perham, Zac Sunderland, Bridey
and Caitlin Fennell, Adora Svitak, Cassandra Brooks, Wendy
Ermold, and Jon Bowermaster are now our teachers and fellow learners. What is
obvious is that these extremely adventurous and interesting people are non-traditional
teachers and learners. In the past, we might have waited days, weeks, months,
or even years for books to come out about their experiences, ideas, and viewpoints.
Today their homepages, blog posts, and shared online videos come to us
in mind that Michael, Zac,
Bridey, Cassandra, Wendy, and Jon did not have schools, colleges, or
universities close by for their personal or professional development when on
their respective journeys and expeditions. And Adora--the only one who was
located near traditional schools-purposefully decided not to take advantage of
them. Instead, she opted to learn virtually as well as teach that way. In a
world of free and open access education, a learner can always find one or more teachers
as well as peers to learn with. A wealth of useful teaching and learning
resources is always at your fingertips. In fact, there are millions of other
online teachers and learning resources today. You will find them in places like
TeacherTube, YouTube Edu, NASA TV, Link TV, NomadsLand, , National Geographic
Video, MSNBC Video, Current TV, Discovery Channel Videos, SciVee, MIT World, BBC News: Video and Audio, CNN Video, Big Think, Flora TV, TED
Talks, and Academic Earth, to name
my World is Open book, I provide more details on the online teaching and
learning adventures of Cassandra Brooks and the Fennell family. The other people
mentioned above are discussed in the free e-book extension to the World is Open
book on which I am currently working. It will have the same chapter sequence,
just different content. I hope to post it to the World is Open book website in the next
couple of months. Already tons of resources from these two books are posted there
for anyone with an Internet connection to freely explore and use. Such
resources include several book excerpts, a book prequel as well as a
postscript, and all the citations and Web resources for both books.
is life in the twenty-first century. It is a time brimming with lively teaching
and learning opportunities at every moment of the day. With all the rich
learning discoveries and adventures made visible on a daily basis and then
replayed whenever needed, it is a quite interesting moment in the history of
humankind. This is the learning century. Our schools are no longer physical
structures but are increasingly virtual or blended experiences. Our teachers
are not just found in specific geographic places for limited periods of time
during the day for eyeball-to-eyeball learning endeavours. Today they are
available at 4 am, 4
or midnight. And our instructors
and tutors might be as young as 11-year-old Adora Svitak or perhaps years
younger. They might also be centenarians long thought to have been retired from
teaching or who had never taught until their eleventh decade on this planet.
And they are located with a simple mouse click on a Web link.
should be clear is that the world is open for learning. The routes we take to
the local school, college, university, or government or corporate training centre
are no longer just paved in concrete; our learning journeys might now take
place aboard ships or planes, high up in the mountains, at the bottom of the
Grand Canyon, or when standing on thinning sea ice. The world is wide open from
sea, land, and ice views as well as from spaceships hovering hundreds of miles above
or beyond. Many of these learning adventures today are not geographically
specific or in physical classrooms but are online, filled with rich digital
images, animations, simulations, communications, and collaborations. As the
learning world opens up, it is time we each found approaches to teach as well
as learn that fit our personal interests and styles.
Curtis J. Bonk
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
of The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is
Revolutionizing Education and Empowering Online
Learning: 100+ Ideas, for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing.