As a kid in the early 1980s, Baratunde Thurston took part in myriad enrichment activities — from sports and community gardening to boy scouts, cultural spectating and political activism. His mother encouraged him to pursue his interests through after-school and weekend programs, and with mentors and peers.
“My mother was always pushing for me to have experiences,” said Thurston, a humorist, social activist and author. “She was trying to enrich me and give me a bunch of perspectives to help me figure out what I care about, what I would enjoy or love so I could pursue that, follow my interest. She did her best to expose me to people in the world doing interesting stuff.”
Because his mother was a computer programmer, Thurston also was exposed to computers at a young age and he learned how powerful technology could be.
“I had computer access early, and I realized that there was utility to this tool, and not just for calculation,” he said. “Technology doesn’t just allow us to do bad things faster, which is a bad deployment. It allows us to do better things together and if we can expand the concept of how we’re talking about education and how we’re talking about technology, grow both of those and combine them, I think we have a better shot at actually disrupting the world for good. We want things to actually be better. This is not about changing the icing on the cake. We can bake something else in this oven. Why do we have to eat cake?”
Thurston will elaborate when he speaks with Joi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab, during their keynote conversation at the inaugural Connected Learning Summit, happening August 1-3 at the MIT Media Lab.
Thurston is an Emmy-nominated host who has worked for “The Onion,” produced for The Daily Show and advised the Obama White House. He co-founded Cultivated Wit and the About Race podcast and wrote the New York Times bestseller “How To Be Black.”
He also is a national board member for BUILD, a nonprofit program that works to propel students in under-resourced communities through high school and onto college and career success through entrepreneurial experiences.
“Students are engaged in learning through building a business together,” Thurston said, describing BUILD. “They’ve created things like items with places to hide your money from bullies and real practical stuff — backpacks that are also pillows, cell phone holders. And, they end up communicating, collaborating and learning how to solve real problems. You learn by doing. People facing challenges often are not alone so if people want to make more resilient communities, we have to make sure we’re always learning.”
That is the essence of connected learning — the pursuit of interests with the support of peers, mentors and caring adults, and in ways that open up opportunities. While connected learning does not require technology, digital and networked technologies expand opportunities to make connected learning accessible to all young people. The “connected” in connected learning is about human connection as well as tapping the power of connected technologies. It puts progressive, experiential and learner-centered approaches at the center of technology-enhanced learning.
For more information visit the Connected Learning Summit website.
Banner image: Baratunde Thurston. Photo by Ryan Lash