Archive for the social change Category

iPad as disruptive innovation in education

iPad in classroom

A recent meeting with a friend who is interested in technology in education, a NYTimes article More schools embracing iPad as a learning tool and recent flood of attention on the growing tablet PC market got me thinking about the potential of tablet PC’s (Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab etc) as a disruptive innovation for education.

Here’s are 5 attributes of tablet PC’s that I think may help to tip the current education system.

1. Data driven. For the first time in education history we have the opportunity to monitor students progress in minute detail through tablet PC’s. A good example of this is the TeacherMate learning systems which has already been relatively successful.

Teachers can see which students are falling behind and where they need help. It also shows areas where students excel. This opens the potential that given this data, education can be personalized to some degree to fit the needs of each individual student. If advances in biotech allows us to dream a future of personalized drug treatments, why can’t we dream an age of personalized education? There could be a core curriculum that every student must fulfill, however with data on each student, they could also have a tailored curriculum that meets their aptitude, interests and areas where they excel.

2. Open ended. Many mention the benefits of tablet PC as a replacement for heavy and expensive textbooks in the classroom. Yes, that’s an obvious solution, but I think they are missing the point.

I don’t like the notion of technology being relegated to eBooks in schools simply because this makes them just digitized versions of a the traditional closed knowledge system: books. There is nothing wrong with books. Books have worked fine for hundreds of years and I am sure they will continue to serve us for the foreseeable future. But there is something not quite 21st Century about text-“books”. Especially the kind that is government vetted, approved and issued, as we have in Korea.

Tablet PC’s are open-ended meaning apps can be developed that not only teach the core concepts but can be open to tap the infinite and dynamic knowledge that is embodied in the Web. This is one of the founding principles of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child initiative). If OLPC’s are doing this already in developing countries where they are deployed, why not in our classrooms?

3. Networked. Kids learn from each other. As Mitra Sugata mentions in his inspiring TED Talk: The child-driven education, kids are consistently teaching each other. If you look at how a teenager does her homework, you’ll see that she is consistently messaging her peers for information. In this always-online, socially networked world, knowledge-making and learning has become inherently collaborative.

A networked device allows for communication, collaboration and peer learning. Learning to collaborate is key to surviving in this ever increasingly networked society. As Steven Johnson points out in his book, Where good ideas come from (also see: TEDtalk, animation), innovations come less from lone geniuses in our midst but as a result of collaborations that build on the knowledge and ideas within fluid networks.

4. Portable. There are no cables attached to an iPad, and the battery lasts a whole day. This is more significant that it sound. This means kids can use them for a whole school day. This means they can work by themselves, in a classroom setting, in the library or huddled around a desk with their peers in a group project. It goes with them wherever they go. We still have “computer labs” in schools, where kids come to interact at fixed times in their curriculum. Being portable means they have a personal assistant with them at all times, with the all above mentioned attributes that this entails.

5. Interactive. The new tablet PC are inherently interactive because they are touch enabled. Being able to touch something is a giant leap from the moderated experience of typing a command, or click a mouse on a screen. Touching something evokes an emotional response, which allows for a far more satisfying user experience as anyone who has seen kids interact with an iPad would attest.

Tablet PC’s force developers of educational application to rethink the whole user experience (I would hope). It brings a whole new dimension of interactivity to applications that go far beyond the point-and-click variety. A storybook for example cannot be just a “flip the page” experience. Characters and objects need to be responsive. You may even be able to rearrange the story and it’s outcome by directly interacting with the story.

Touch-enabled interaction really opens up a whole new area that had been explored only in limited ways on a desktop computer environment. You can now have the constructivist learning environment that Lego afford. We have yet to see these types of applications come into full blossom, but I am sure it’s only around the corner.

Maybe I’ve painted an overly rosy picture of technology. Every technology has its perils. I can tell you that my 4 year-old is already addicted to my (now his) iPad. Technology makes things worse a lot of times, but that should not take away for the opportunities it does afford us. We have to be mindful and vigilant about its pitfalls, and make sure kids are interacting with technology within a guided, safe environment. No conscientious parent would let their kids wander by themselves in the streets, which is tantamount to what we are doing if we allow kids to access the open web, by themselves with no control or moderation.

As with many things, it is hard to innovate from within. Just ask Michelle Rhee. However, there are rare opportunities that we can leverage to make change happen. I certainly wish that this time technology, in the form of tablet PC, in the right hands and minds, is the push we need to upgrade our antiquated education systems.

Photo credit: macattck (flickr)

Up close with Ashoka founder Bill Drayton

Bill Drayton in Seoul

Up close with Bill Drayton

On June 3-4, I had a rare opportunity to be up close with Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka. He was invited as the keynote speaker at “International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship 2010”, an event hosted by Korea Development Institute (KDI) and Korea University in Seoul. I was asked by Ashoka to be a volunteer interpreter for him during his informal schedule, meeting with members of the Korean press and other meeting with interested parties.

Here I’ve compiled some recurring themes that Drayton repeatedly emphasized throughout the various meetings:

Everyone a changemaker

On many occasions he reiterated that he mean this quite literally. Everyone needs to be a changemaker. He observes that the rate of change and people causing change is increasing exponentially (he often motions with his hand an arc rising upwards). We live in a world where change is omni-present. All institutions need to adapt very quickly. How do we survive in a world that is ever-changing? By being changemakers. Those who cannot adapt will be left behind. He rhetorically asks, do you want to become Detroit or Silicon Valley?

The most powerful force in the world is an pattern changing idea in the hands of a changemaker.

Selecting Ashoka fellows

Surprisingly, Drayton says that good social entrepreneurs are not always the great workers, leaders, or managers. However, the following are common to all good social entrepreneurs:

1. New, system-changing idea
2. Creativity
3. Entrepreneurial qualities
4. Social impact of the idea
5. Ethical fiber

Of all these qualities, Drayton puts highest emphasis on the last, ethical fiber. Social entrepreneurs never work alone, but recruit hundreds or thousands of people to make change. Unless they can establish trust in the people they work with, they won’t get far. They need to be able to cascade the changes, and often in the process recruit people who in turn become changemakers themselves.

When interviewing candidates, Drayton talked about using the “cliff test”. He would imagine being at the edge of a cliff on a dark, windy night with the candidate beside him. He would feel the uneasiness rising up and at the moment of fear, if he feels can still trust the candidate, it’s a good indication.

Team of teams

The role of Ashoka is to provide support to social entrepreneurs, through its network, consulting and legal help provided by its partners, (which include McKinsey and many law firms) and in some cases with funding. Ashoka’s strength lies in the network of fellows, now numbering close to 3000, working across all continents, and its collective knowledge. One entrepreneur can make a difference locally, however with a network of entrepreneurs you can begin to see what is happening and where things are heading on a global level.

Drayon explains that the highest level of social entrepreneurship is “Collaborative Entrepreneurship”. How do you see and move the world to the new paradigm? What is the fundamental change that is coming? How do you discover that? When you have a network of fellows collaborating across borders to tackling tough issues such as human trafficking, education and the environment, you can begin to see a much greater impact.

Empathy and the young

How do we educate our young to adapt and work with change? Ken Robinson in his TED talk, mentions the need for creativity in our education. Drayton enlists the concept of empathy. Young children need to master empathy. Unless children master empathy, we will not be able to see a world where we collaborate to solve big issues facing humanity. Schools traditionally teach knowledge and rules. This is not enough and tend to inflexible in keeping up with the rate of change that is happening in the world.

Here Drayton mentions the work of Mary Gordon who is also at the conference and her movement Roots of Empathy. Ashoka aims to have within 5 years 80% of all primary school principals to be aware the importance of empathy in school.

Young children need to master empathy, older children and youth need to practicing being changemakers. This is where Youth Ventures, an initiative started by Ashoka fits in.

Drayton mentions the greatest gift we can give a child is the permission to make change, to tell them, “why don’t you do something about it?” And then get out of the way and let them do their own thing.

It’s about empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking.

Hybrid systems

Traditionally there is a gap between business sector and citizen sector. One seeks to maximize profits, and seek out new markets, while the other is concerned about serving local communities. When you bring them together, in hybrid value chains new levels of productivity can happen.

2 examples he mentions are:

Drip irrigation is an agricultural technique that delivers just the right amount of water to crops, allowing arid land to be cultivated. However this technique is cost-prohibitive for impoverished farmers. Businesses have the resources to mass produce the equipment. However it was the social entrepreneurs, who is keenly aware of the farmer’s needs and can work with the local community and the farmers, who find a way for businesses to serve the farmer and to access this new market.

These markets have been too risky for the businesses to enter, with returns on serving the poor uncertain. Farmers don’t have the financial means to purchase the equipment individually. However when the social entrepreneurs lays the bridge between the two, it’s a win-win situation, with the businesses gaining access to an untapped market and the farmers benefiting from higher production and two or three-fold increase in yield.

Also in Colombia, an Ashoka fellow approached a high-end tile manufacturer and proposed a line of high-quality but low-cost tiles that could serve the low-income market. This new line of tiles ended up being highly successful.

In the past 9 years running, over half of all Ashoka fellows have changed government policies and over three quarters have changed patterns in their field, proving their value is in bridging gaps between the government and businesses and the needs of local communities.

Drayton’s message for Korea

Social entrepreneurship has been a little slow in coming to East Asia. Korea is not alone in being unprepared to deal with a future where change is ever-accelerating. It is not alone in not working with and adequately equipping its young to be changemakers. Most of the youth culture around the world is not empowering.

In a meeting with Vice-Chairman of one of the most successful conglomerates in Korea, SK Energy, Drayton suggested that SK could,

  • Work with children and young people to find changemakers and network them,
  • Make sure that children learn empathy, in the schools they support, and help them practice making change,
  • Tell stories of people making change in your corporate advertising.

Essentially he was saying, “take on a big pattern changing idea for society.” He pointed to Walmart and its work and commitment to sustainability.

He also challenged the media to find young leading social entrepreneurs. To tell the success stories, and support role models.

Social entrepreneurs don’t build big organizations. They build big movements.

It seemed to me that all his points had a symbiotic relationship with each other. You need changemakers to create a better world, however changemakers don’t work alone. And you cannot imagine a world of changemakers without addressing how the young are taught to empathize. It felt like I was listening to Drayton’s personal journey. He started Ashoka 25 years ago by seeking out and supporting changemakers around the world. After conducting thousands of interviews in the pursuit of changemakers, his hard-won conclusion, institutionally embodied in Ashoka, is: our future, and the hope for a better world, lies with how we raise our children.

I could not agree more.

Bill Drayton in Seoul

Bill Drayton

  Bill Drayton in Seoul

With Bill Drayton and Vishnu Swaminathan

ChangeON conference presentation

On November 20, 2009 I made a presentation at ChangeON, a conference focusing on non-profits internet media, hosted by the Daum Foundation, the charitable arm of the Korean internet portal, Daum Communications. They just posted the video online.

My presentation (in Korean) was entitled “UX for Good”, focussing on how internet technologies and social media benefit non-profits, with 4 stories to illustrate how some non-profit organizations in the US are using the internet to their advantage.

The examples include:

  •, a site dedicated to monitoring carbon emissions from power plants and providing citizens with tools to take action.
  • Ask Your Lawmaker where users can post questions they want to ask lawmakers, visits vote on the question and reporters get the answers and post it back to the site.
  • connecting classrooms in need of small funding for activities with donors across the US.
  • Ashoka’s Changemakers, global, open-sourced competition site which taps the community of social entrepreneurs to generate ideas for social change.

These are all work I was either directly involved in or made aware of when I was at Forum One Communications in Washington D.C.

Also check out all the other great presentations at the ChangeON conference (in Korean). Especially inspiring where the presentations by Jung Jin Ho of Yahoo! Korea, Park Woong Hyun of TBWA Korea, and Pyo Chul Min of WizardWorks.

How losing control isn’t that bad

Mr Splashy Pants /

Mr Splashy Pants /

Mister Splashy Pants, a whale named after Greenpeace held a naming competition in 2007 isn’t really news, but Alexis Ohanian, who is a founder of Reddit tells a great story at TED (in 3 minutes no less!) of how social media created a meme, took Greenpeace by surprise, won the competition, Greenpeace ceded control and in the end saved whales, literally.

The example shows one way for establish organizations to work with social media: Loosen up and go with the flow. Make the most of the situation and the attention. You need to give something up to gain people’s trust and participation. This is something that corporations and non-profits alike are mortally afraid to do.

Organizations are afraid of losing control over their message. But what is brand identity anyway? Isn’t it something that forms in the minds of the customers and participants? And it’s hard to control what people think of you. Individuals are constantly making adjustments to accommodate, influence or reject the way they are perceived by others. But it’s an ongoing relationship, not one-way. The more social we get in the use of internet technologies, the more relationship-oriented things will be.

So it’s not ok to find new ways to do old things, like one-way communication. Embrace participation. Lose some control. It’s ok. If a serious organization like Greenpeace can have some fun, other can too.

See also: Wikipedia entry

Co-posted on

Sugar on Eee PC

Sugar on EeePC

Sugar running on Asus EeePC

Finally got Sugar installed on my Asus Eee PC.

My brother gave me a pink Asus Eee as a gift for my daughter about a year ago, but having used it for a few days I was convinced that the version Linux it was running and the lack of Korean support would do more to damage to my daughter’s computer literacy than help it.

Recently I realized that I could install Sugar Learning Platform, the OS running on the OLPC XO (Nicholas Negroponte‘s One Laptop Per Child initiative) on the Eee. Initial web search was very confusing. Do you need to install Ubuntu? Can you install it from a USB? Do you need a CD-ROM drive…

Mike Lee (@curiouslee) who has been using an OLPC XO and has Sugar installed on his Eee gave me the amazingly simple installation answer. It took basic 2 steps:

You need a Windows PC though.

Step 1: Create a standalone USB drive with Sugar from your Windows PC.

  • Plug in your USB drive (1 gig or more) to the PC.
  • Download and run Fedora LiveUSB Creator.
  • Select “Sugar on a Stick” under “Download Fedora”. Select your USB stick under “Target Device”.
  • Click “Create Live USB” button. This should take a while (It took about 2 hours to download and create for me).
  • When the process completes, you now have “Sugar on a Stick” (SoaS)!

Step 2: Boot up Eee from your USB drive

  • Plug the USB drive into your Eee, then hold down F2 as it is booting up to launch “BIOS Setup Utility”.
  • Select the 4th tab “Boot”.
  • Then select “Hard Disk Drives” from the Boot Settings. Set your USB stick as the 1st Drive.
  • Hit F10 to Save and Exit the BIOS setup.

You are done. The system should start up in Sugar.

Thx Mike for showing me the light. I’m going to test Sugar out and hopefully write more about it.