Q&A with Idit Harel Caperton, Education Entrepreneur

Q&A with Idit Harel Caperton, Education Entrepreneur

John Converse Townsend's picture

Changemakers is changing. Through the new Changeshops platform, we now offer improved ways to help build the world of social good. Changeshops users will be able to tell the online community what they need to grow their projects; search for collaborators, innovators, and competitions in the field; and access funding opportunities for world-changing ideas.

The Changeshops community is growing each day; to get a preview of what might be in store, Changemakers is catching up with a few of the platform’s top users.

Our first interview is with Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, president and founder of the World Wide Workshop, the New York-based foundation that is powering ideas for global learning and leadership in the 21st century. Caperton’s Globaloria project is the world’s first and largest social learning network where students develop the digital citizenship skills the global economy demands. Globaloria helps both youth and educators learn to participate as leaders of change in the global knowledge economy.

Caperton sat down to talk with Changemakers about the organization’s early success with Changeshops.

Changemakers: Tell me about the idea for a digital curriculum for learning showcased on your changeshop.

Caperton: Our mission is to use technology, more specifically cutting-edge social media technology, to reach underserved and underprivileged youth and educators and help them to practice digital citizenship. Digital literacy and coding are at the core of manufacturing and leadership in the global economy.

We want to make sure that no one is left behind. Unfortunately, 50 percent of schools and 60 percent of homes in the U.S. are not connected to high-speed Internet. People forget that here in the U.S. there are pockets of the grid that resemble the developing world, where schools lack the resources required to practice digital citizenship and participate in democracy in an equal way.

With access to technology, children begin to ask the right questions and think about complex topics like poverty and water, climate and energy, obesity and teenage pregnancy. As they mature, they’ll try to build communities and organize movements as entrepreneurs, as leaders of change.

Changemakers: Many of us take youth’s understanding of and access to technology for granted. But Globaloria seems to be focused on five hot spots where the program can make the biggest impact: among them, rural districts in West Virgina and underserved urban communities in Texas.

Caperton: You’re absolutely right. Everyone says, “Look! These young people are digital natives, turning pages on the iPad with their little fingers.” But iPads cost a lot of money and require huge investments in connectivity in schools and homes. People see the upper- and middle-class hanging out with BlackBerries and iPhones and iPads and laptops and forget that paying the monthly cost of high-bandwidth is a luxury.

I think connectivity is a basic human right that ought to be provided to every home and school in the nation.

A lot of schools claim to be connected, but that’s not always the case—visit places like Santa Clara, like East Austin, like rural West Virginia, Hillsborough County in Tampa, Florida, and places in the Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens. Yes, it’s true that when you approach these kids they become digital natives, but they don’t all have access to that technology.

Changemakers: Access to technology is the start of a bigger change in these kids’ lives.

Caperton: Right. When you reach rural populations in West Virginia, you’ll meet kids who have never blogged before, or considered contributing to Wikipedia, or programmed an app. They don’t see themselves as engineers or community organizers. But after a semester of working with us, exercising their brains 60 to 90 minutes a day, students were able to develop digital fluency, citizenship, and changemaking skills through technology. We have middle-schoolers in a state that hasn’t yet fully committed to recycling programs who are creating games about environmental awareness and the harm of littering. They did research, designed a game, and together became a part of the conversation. A high school team created a science game called Elemental Elegance, which introduces basic knowledge about the periodic table of elements and chemistry. Two-thirds of kids drop out of chemistry, out of science, and some many not even graduate high school. Students are able to help teach the material.

Changemakers: What motivated you to join Changeshops?

Caperton: We were introduced to Changemakers through the “Partnering for Excellence” competition, which sought solutions to improve STEM education in the U.S. While we weren’t selected as winners, we received an invitation to join the Changeshops platform to increase our social impact and sustainability and to connect with a community of innovators like us. Because we’re very entrepreneurial, and because Ashoka was launching something new, we were excited. Naturally, we said, “Let’s go for it!”

Changemakers: What were your first impressions?

Caperton: We didn’t fully understand it at the beginning, to tell the truth—What it is it? How does it work? How does it fit with Ashoka? But we began to explore Changeshops, and opened one that explained what the World Wide Workshop is and how Globaloria is a solution to improve learning for disadvantaged and underserved populations. Every week we have come up with another idea of how to post our needs on the platform, inviting others to join our network as researchers, partners, and funders—we are always looking to increase our funding [laughs]. 

Changemakers: Any success stories so far?

Caperton: People are responding well to what we do, and people around the nation have asked to work with us. Paul Glader from Wired Academics found us on Changeshops and we connected for an interview.

And you found us! This is the second time I’m being interviewed for what we’ve done on Changeshops. We’re seeking volunteers to help us reach more schools, more communities, more after-school and summer programs. We’re a small team on a shoestring trying to make the world a better place. This is the best place for us to be.

Changemakers: Late last year you also won a $500 grant from Changemakers for your activity on the new platform—

Caperton: Which was amazing! We really appreciate it. We really invested in Changeshops, Ashoka recognized that and invested in us. We’re using the $500 to award prizes to kids in our game design competition, and have bought pen tablets for digital design for teachers in our training academies—those that have really dedicated themselves to becoming inventive education leaders. 

You’re running an amazing worldwide network of networks, a community of people like me and my team. We’re working empower our students in the most stubborn and rigid system of education—true in every county and every state and every region—to become the creative leaders of change in the future.