Let me tell you about my Aunt Leone. She’s 83, a cancer survivor, a stroke survivor, blind except for a little peripheral vision in her right eye. She is my mother’s oldest sister and one of my last connections to a family branch whose characteristics I admire and enjoy seeing show up in my daughters. Leone is strong, tough, and as kind-hearted a person as you’ll ever know. Life has roughed her up pretty good, especially the last few years. She recently moved into a long-term care facility outside Seattle. That’s half a continent away from me, but I stay in touch by cards and emails with her son, one of my multitude of cousins.
I’ve mostly had to imagine her condition lately based on how it’s been described to me through those emails. Then yesterday her granddaughter put up a note on Facebook that the home where Aunt Leone now lives has a Facebook page. I immediately “friend-ed” the facility and asked whoever monitored their page to tell her hi from me. Within two hours, I had a video message from Aunt Leone posted on my Facebook page, and it meant the world to me. She began, “Hello, Gary” in that craggy voice of hers and went on to say nice things about my kids, the most direct path to my heart.
I had not heard her voice or seen any visual image of her for several years, and she seemed stronger and much more “with it” than I was expecting based on what I’d been imagining. Facebook is not my favorite tech platform, but yesterday the way it was used out in Washington made a big difference in how I felt in Illinois.
Wait a minute. What did I just say? Facebook made a difference in how I felt? How I felt?
Please excuse a rough change of gears here. I promise I’ll bring together the threads of this by the end.
Technology is a big part of how I do my job. Since the big boom in technology instruction began, I’ve kept up reasonably well. My goal has never been technology integration just for the sake of using technology, but because it helps me teach better. My guiding question is always, What can I do today to improve each student’s literacy? In recent years the answers to that question have increasingly included a technology or Web 2.0 aspect. The technology approaches that my students and I use have without a doubt improved their learning and my teaching.
But yesterday a social network made me feel better. This seems somehow different from teaching and learning. This had nothing to do with curriculum. It had everything to do with connection.
As we teach students to navigate the online world, we ask them to evaluate sources and resources, to avoid bullying, to follow appropriate communication etiquette, but I wonder if we’re doing enough to model for students how they can also make a difference in other people’s lives by using technology—how they can make positive contributions to the lives of others by how they use social networks or other platforms.
So, dear readers, here is my challenge to you and myself: Use technology’s impersonal, binary-based series of circuits and systems today to help someone or make them feel better. Don’t worry about whether or not anything is learned from what you do. If learning happens, it’s a bonus.
Technology is indeed a tool. Let’s put it to use in ways that really matter.
As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments, insights, and stories.