Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

January Symposium Google+ Hangout

By CSE Guest Blogger Will Henriques ’16

The McCullough Social Space buzzed with excitement on the morning of January 24th as the crowd conversed over breakfast and coffee, waiting for the start of the second day of the third annual Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s January Symposium. An anxious undercurrent rippled through the crowd; the day’s event centered around a panel of six innovators in education gathering together on a live-stream Google+ Hangout. It had never been tried before; curiosity reigned.

Laura White, Manager of the Changemakers Schools Network, an Ashoka Empathy Initiative, opened the morning with an empathy workshop. She asked the assembled crowd – a mix of Middlebury students, professors, town residents, local high school students, Hamilton College students, and SOLA students – to think about “three moments that profoundly changed the way you see yourself.” The participants reached a consensus: very few proud, life-changing moments were tied to formal education. Professor Jon Isham, Faculty Director of the CSE, chimed in to encourage more time for reflection at Middlebury.

Transitioning to the Google+ Hangout panel, students of Jon’s January term class, Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts, presented about the six global innovators in education.

As the six innovators popped up on the McCullough projector, Midd alum David Hopkins opened the panel detailing four pieces that he sees as critical to the opportunities available today for innovation in education:

1) Technological advances

2) Emphasis on empowering girls and women

3) Reconnecting with nature

4) Free access to empowering tools.

The panelists followed suit, one by one giving a brief synopsis of their work. James Whelton, the 21 year-old founder of CoderDojo — an “open-source, volunteer-led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people,” – emphasized the value of “self-teaching.”

Urvashi Sahni, founder and chief executive of Digital Study Hall, discussed how the foundation is taking advantage of advances in mobile technology and increased access to electricity in impoverished communities by distributing lecture DVDs.

Anjula Tyagi, Executive Director of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), shared her insights on the definition of success: “Success happens the moment a community begins to take ownership and initiative over the education of its members.”  EGG Founder and President, Lawrence Chickering, chimed in to encourage more conversation about the “demand side” of education: “What are communities looking for in education?”

In a seamless transition from Chickering’s proposition, Faith Abiodun of the African Leadership Academy voiced his goal to “transcend [mere] political leadership” and instill in the students “an entrepreneurial mindset in every sphere of life.” Abiodun noted that ALA students, if they choose to attend university abroad, are expected to be back on the African continent, working in their communities, by the age of 25.

As the hour-long session drew to a close, the room hummed as the panelist vowed to collaborate with the others. In this moment, the true power of the symposium became apparent. The power is most aptly explained through the Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s own motto: Reflect, connect, analyze, and engage. The panelists and assembled thinkers have been reflecting on the role of education in society and how to make improve both access and quality for years. The January Symposium was an opportunity for these thinkers and innovators to bring these reflections to the table and look for opportunities to connect.

As Hopkins mentioned early on in the panel, advances in technology are opening up doors that simply did not exist before. Thanks to new technologies like Google+ Hangout and a cohort of people willing to use them, new connections are being forged. And these new connections provide new avenues for analysis and engagement that will ultimately – hopefully – lead to a revolution in the way education is viewed and delivered.

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