The Internet: Tangled Webs, Global Promise


August 6-9, 2018

“...the Internet was going to be something that changed the very nature of humanity. It was like humanity getting a nervous system.” ~Elon Musk 

The Internet today is so ubiquitous and such a constant presence in so many lives that it is hard to remember a time when constant connectivity wasn’t the norm. As of 2017, nearly 52% of the world’s population are considered Internet users, with tens of millions more joining their ranks each year. Seventy percent of these users are youth, yet 94% of youth in developed countries are routinely online compared to only 30% in the least developed countries. But while more than half of the world’s population is online, how connected are we really? What kind of connections are being nurtured in the online space? And how equitable is people’s access to the Internet around the globe? How does this lack of equity impact our ability to connect to others globally? 

The internet doesn’t just connect people; it is present in seemingly every facet of our lives in big and small ways. It is woven into financial transactions, government functions, the way we learn and access information, how we entertain ourselves, and increasingly in things themselves (appliances, transportation devices, even children’s toys). These connections make our lives easier in many ways, but they also make us vulnerable to both natural and man-made challenges (not to mention what should be, could be and actually is done with the data that is collected through these networks). We all hold a variety of ideas about the web’s promises and perils. The goal of the 2018 summer workshop for educators was to investigate and make sense of these challenges--and opportunities--as a learning community, and to consider how best to examine them with students who are growing up as digital natives. 

Throughout the summer workshop, we focused on the Internet as a global phenomenon. We included the US in the discussion (especially as a means of understanding our own perspectives and as a point of comparison), but focused more broadly on global patterns and trends to enrich and expand our understanding beyond the American viewpoint. As a learning community, we paid special attention to investigating both the benefits and costs of connectivity on a global/societal, community and individual level. We examined how and why the web affects different groups and people differently, reflecting specifically on how the Internet reduces or increases equity gaps. We considered the ways the Internet makes our lives easier and at what cost. 

This workshop offered eductors:

  • A focus on both content and pedagogy, which allows you to wrestle with new ideas and insights individually and with peers in small learning groups;
  • Presentations and regional case studies by scholars, experts, policy-makers and practitioners who study the Internet and its impact;
  • Pedagogy and skill-building techniques to help you and your students better understand the Internet as a global phenomenon;
  • An introduction to relevant classroom resources to explore with your colleagues and students; and
  • Access to Harvard-based resources

The following questions guided our exploration of the topic:

  1. How does the Internet make us more or less healthy, connected, secure, informed, educated, empowered, creative and globally competent?
  2. Is access to the Internet a human right? Should it be? 
  3. To what degree is the Internet really increasing our engagement with the world? Our understanding of the world?
  4. Who is in charge? Who has (or should have) the authority to monitor, maintain, regulate and censor the Internet? 
  5. To what degree is the Internet changing who we are as individuals (biologically, psychologically or in terms of identity), as communities, nations, global citizens? 
  6. How does where one is situated (place, class, age, race, gender, culture, expertise, work/experience) impact our answers to these questions?

Additional details and speaker bios are available in the program booklet.

To support deep conversations around curriculum and pedagogy as well as content, we partnered with Project Zero, a research group based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Guided by its mission to understand and enhance high-level thinking and learning across disciplines and cultures in schools internationally, Project Zero will help to provide the pedagogical underpinning for this year’s workshop, drawing upon its diverse research-based initiatives, including “Educating for Global Competence,” “Teaching for Understanding,” “Making Learning Visible,” and “Making Thinking Visible.”

Email with any questions or concerns about the workshop.


Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies in collaboration with the Asia Center, the Center for African Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator and the Religious Pluralism Project of Harvard University.