Introduction, 4Four Big Ideas by Yong Zhao
University of Oregon
This book is a gift from heaven, a miracle performed by the technology god.
The chance for me to write the foreword for this book was non-existent when I last saw the author merely a few months ago. Jason Ohler and I presented together to a group of educators and community members in beautiful Sitka, Alaska. I was there in person and Jason came in via Skype from Arizona. I was told that Jason was very ill, in fact, terminally ill. Jason was in a chair, visibly weak, but delivered a stunning presentation. It could have been one of his last great presentations because his lungs were losing capacity due to a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
That was February 2015. Then in November, I received an email from Jason asking if I would write the foreword for his new book. I was beyond surprised: How is it possible for someone who was facing death to have written a book?
Jason had a double lung transplant, as I later learned. Thanks to a generous donor and modern medical technology, Jason has a pair of new lungs. And he is back, with a powerful book.
I have been a fan of Jason’s work for a long time, ever since I read his book Taming the Beast: Choice and Control in the Electronic Jungle in 1999. Jason lives with technology, uses technology, champions for technology, and seems to love technology, but he is not a technocrat. He is a humanist, someone who values the agency and interest of human beings. He wants technology to serve the human interest, not to control human beings. Jason is a philosopher, who appreciates the powerful and potential of technology in creating changes, changes that force human beings to adapt. At the same time, he also understands that humans have the capacity to change, to take control, to decide when, why, where, and how to use technology appropriately and wisely. Moreover, Jason is an educator, a reflective one who has taught at different levels. As a result, his writings are always insightful and inspiring, deeply grounded in educational practices.
More importantly, Jason has the amazing ability to see the big picture, the forest, so to speak. In the technology jungle are many entangling trees that are constantly growing and dying. Technological inventions come and go. Brilliant (and not so brilliant) ideas become popular and then vanish quickly. Contradictory and conflicting suggestions are offered constantly to teachers, parents, students, and policy makers. But Jason has always been able to figure out what’s important and present his observations and insights succinctly.
Jason is about big ideas. In this new book, Jason brings together his life’s work together and offers four big ideas for the future. While no one can predict what the future will be, it seems reasonable to believe that we will live in a world drastically different from the past. One aspect of that world is the multiple realities created by technology. There is little doubt that our life will increasingly be mediated by technological devices that are extremely powerful in connecting with fellow human beings, distorting or enhancing our senses, and providing or overwhelming us with information. This new world is also constantly changing in unexpected ways.
What is required of us to live in this future world is naturally different what we knew in the past. To thrive in, or even to cope with, the new world we need to develop new literacies, reconsider citizenship and ethics, understand how things may change, and grow our ability to tell stories with new media. But most important, Jason suggests, we need to be creative, inventive, and entrepreneurial. We must reinvent ourselves. Luckily, the humanist Jason Ohler believes that as human beings, we can do all of that if and when we understand and accept the imperative to change.
This book continues the Jason Ohler tradition of writing—insightful, inspiring, humorous, practical, and straightforward. But it is even more candid, passionate, and almost impatient because his experience with the life-threatening disease has taught him the real meaning of the saying: life is brief and fragile.
About Yong Zhao
Yong Zhao currently serves as the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he is also a Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership.
He is also a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University in Australia. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He has published over 100 articles and 20 books, including Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.
He is a recipient of the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association and was named one of the 2012 10 most influential people in educational technology by the Tech & Learn Magazine. He is an elected fellow of the International Academy for Education. His latest book World Class Learners has won several awards including the Society of Professors of Education Book Award (2013), Association of Education Publishers’ (AEP) Judges’ Award and Distinguished Achievement Award in Education Leadership(2013).
Until December, 2010, Yong Zhao was University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, where he also served as the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology, executive director of the Confucius Institute, as well as the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence.