world in a web

Earlier this year, the Thinking Digital conference took place in the UK. I wasn’t there in person this year but lucky for me and others, the great Thinking Digital team live streamed some of the keynotes and are now publishing them online for viewing on-demand.

One fabulous and inspiring talk was by Jack Andraka who, at just 16 years old, has invented a dramatic advancement in the testing process for pancreatic cancer.

Was he a child scholar completing his nth doctorate at an Ivy League or Russell group university, having finished high school at the age of 5. No. Clearly from just listening to his talk, he is very very bright. But his invention didn’t come from being a studious genius ‘ahead of his time’ pharmacology graduate. It came from a personal story and desire to figure something out. And it started with Google and Wikipedia.

So many authorities in education dismiss the Internet and tools like Wikipedia as dumbing down education. They so miss the point. We have tools now that enable anybody with an Internet connection to embark on an intellectual and/or emotional journey of their choosing. Our schools need to foster that desire, not squish it out because it doesn’t conform to the text books of old.

And for anyone who is thinking ‘well he’s a one-off, a genius’. Consider the following quote from his talk

I decided to go online and found 200 professors that had anything to do with pancreatic cancer… so I sent off 200 emails… I got 199 rejections… However, eventually, one person finally said yes. Well it was more of a maybe…

Success is never just about talent. It’s never just about hard work either. It is crucial to have the persistence to get others involved.  I admire Jack because that last aspect is one of my own weaknesses. And this is not something being taught well enough in schools. That needs to change. The world has become so much more connected, success or failure is going to have a lot more to do with relationships than ever before. Yes, that has always been true to some degree. And yes, some people are lucky to be born into circles that come with ready made connections that give them a significant advantage or head start. Just as there are still too many people born into conflicted areas of the world with more pressing needs than an iPhone. But for those of us privileged enough to be living in stable societies that are connected to the Internet, we can become part of any social network if we really want to. It’s not that long ago such an opportunity simply didn’t exist for those born outside of elite circles.

A closing quote from Jack and the video is embedded after. Take a break and enjoy. It’s worth 12 minutes out of your day to listen to his story.

I’m a 15 year old. What degree do I have? High school biology – Woot! … I was able to develop a sensor that can detect pancreatic cancer without even knowing what a pancreas was. Using just Google and Wikipedia.

Just imagine what you could do.

[ba-vimeoflex videoid=”70024587″]

Source: Thinking Digital on Vimeo and you can follow Jack Andraka on Twitter

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