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Crossing the Ocean, Hoping Not to Get Scurvy

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Preetha’s video profile.

So this is how I understand it.

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Folks who are growing up in this here digital age simply don’t know anything else – they will never experience the magic of having to get up to change the channel on the TV or having to walk to the library to find an answer to the simplest question. These people are called the “digital natives” – they were born here, it’s all they know.

Then there are the others.

And they would be those of us who were born when the Earth was still cooling, who used cave painting as our primary medium of communication (at least, until “the wireless” came into existence, and by that I don’t mean “Wi-Fi,” I mean the radio!). We – and I am a card-carrying member of this group – are know as the “digital immigrants.” We weren’t born on the shores of the ones and zeroes. We came here on big boats and suffered the indignity of having our names changed at the digital Ellis Island because we couldn’t come up with secure enough passwords. Ouch. It hurts.

Preetha 7th grade copy
Preetha as a young girl.

Now Preetha Ram was born long after the Earth cooled, but she’s still a digital immigrant. One of the things that we love about her is that she’s been willing to see the new ways and to use them. Her project, Open Study , uses peer-to-peer learning, actually putting teachers and professors in a much less prominent role in the learning process. Using the mechanisms of social networking and digital gaming, Preetha and her team have created a tool that encourages students to learn from each other and to do so by engaging in the very things that they like to do anyway (the aforementioned social networking and digital gaming). Of course, there is still an important place for classroom teaching (as Preetha herself does in her Chemistry classes at Emory University). But the genius of Open Study is that it meets the digital natives on their own shores and lets them talk with one another in their preferred language. And in doing so, it helps, as Preetha says, to “ignite the spark of learning.”

So Preetha, you’re amazing and we’re thrilled to have you here at “Secret Life.” You are a visionary who has crossed many oceans to make the world a better place… for the youngsters and for us oldsters, too.

If you’d like to ask Preetha a question about her work, please use the comments section.