My children have led me into new uses of technology ever since they were little. It’s happened again!
The Back Story
12 years ago, when we brought my two older boys away from school for half the school year, to rural New England, we learned how to get a computer in the public library to dial up and log on to another computer at a university in our hometown (techno-babble term: telnet). My children’s classmates also had logged onto the hometown computer from their classroom, and people from the two locations typed messages which appeared at both locations, thus enabling classmates and teachers to “chat” long distance.
Years later, when we were vacationing away from home, our boys figured out they could play a role-playing game (RPG) with their friends back home, and with no long distance charges, by using the “voice chat” option in IM (techno-babble: using an “Instant Message” computer program to transmit sounds back and forth in real-time).
Now, I have one son using an online project monitoring program to coordinate collaborative efforts of a team of writers and editors–most of whom have published together before, but never met in real life.
I’m at Autism Network International’s Autreat (a conference/retreat run by and for autistic people-read the web site for a better description) with one of my sons. People came from Japan, Canada, Israel, and the U.S. for the event. One presenter set up an informal discussion session about the future of their aims and the direction members want to pursue. He had a projector on the screen at the front of the room, and it showed the window of an IRC chat channel that had been set up for this. A typist was at the keyboard, transcribing the discussion in the room onto the chat channel. The presenter moderated, passing a microphone to people in the room, taking time now and again to read aloud the comments being posted in the chat channel from members who were not physically present, and passing along questions or comments from those physically present to those present in the chat room. The typist had her hands full from time to time, but the people in the room helped her recap, and everyone was valuing the inputs. It was a rich discussion, enhanced by those who joined via the internet–people from Britain, the Netherlands, Georgia (U.S.), and so on who could not join us physically.
It was amazing! The level of discussion, the consideration of everyone including each other in genuine discussion, the head-spinning ability to ask “so and so, what’s your experience with government regulation of this educational program in Britain?”
I had no idea what a wonderful resource IRC could be. Frankly, I’d overlooked it, assuming it would be too clunky and slow, difficult to use. Yet, here I was barely keeping up with the conversation sometimes. I am aware that it was the conversation, and the people having it, that made the session so wonderful–but their use of this tool was superb, and they used it to enhance their ability to have a genuine interaction–to connect.
And it wasn’t a fluke, there was another discussion later that evening–different topic, different moderator, same rich quality and international connections.
I’m so glad my children are educating me!
Photo: “Lead Me” courtesy Spleenboy http://www.flickr.com/photos/spleenboy/270741497/