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3 Questions for the World’s Most Tech Savvy Professor

Virginia Tech Professor, John Boyer, may look the part with his pipe and array of sport coats, but the average academic doesn’t have a digital alter-ego named The Plaid Avenger.

What truly makes this Geography professor stand out is his mission to “motivate, educate, and inspire students to be fully engaged in the rapidly globalizing 21st century.” Through a mix of technology, media, and his larger-than-life personality, Boyer connects his students with the ever-shrinking world around them.

He explains, “An understanding of current events and global issues is now an imperative for anyone seeking real solutions to the great challenges of our day.”

We caught up with Professor Boyer via Skype Video Call at his Virginia Tech office:

Tell us about some of the guests you’ve connected with on Skype in your classroom?

This semester we met with former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who is arguably the most social media connected head of state. The surprising thing was how easy it was to get him to commit to a Skype meeting. We did a shout out to him on Twitter and within an hour he tweeted back and said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” We had a great time with him.

We’ve met with everyone from legendary break-dancer Crazy Legs, to actor Martin Sheen, to Invisible Children of Kony 2012 fame. But I’d say that our biggest highlight was a Skype Video Call with Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, right after she was released from decades of house arrest in Myanmar. She had just talked with Hillary Clinton and then spoke with my students.

How have the students responded to these interactions?

I can talk to them about stuff people are doing all around the world, but having a real interaction with a person on the ground – nothing can beat it and nothing’s ever going to be able to beat it. We’re all gonna have our own robots some day, but it ain’t gonna be like talking directly to Aung San Suu Kyi right after she left house arrest.

After the Skype call with her, some students we crying and more than one student said, “That changed my life.”

How do you see technology changing the future of a university education?

I believe education is for everybody and the best way to strengthen a society is to educate as many people as possible in as many ways as possible.

Technology is blowing up the old model. So now I can practically teach anyone from anywhere and pull people from all over the world into the conversation.

There is an increasing amount of interest in this approach to teaching, but I always say, “I’m an experimenter – a canary in the coalmine. I’m a practitioner not a researcher so don’t ask me for conclusive proof. I’m still dabbling to see what works.”

But, again, my number one goal is that I want my students to be passionate, knowledgeable and engaged in global affairs. For me, that is even more important than their grades. Once people get involved and connect to other people around the world, they’re global citizens for life.

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