The Currency of Connectivity: Networking for Innovation in Chattanooga

In late November, Erin Mote, co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School and Mozilla’s Special Adviser on Next-Gen Learning, visited Chattanooga to explore our growing Hive Learning Community and to participate in a Next Century Cities hearing on expanding gig access.  Below, Erin reflects on her visit to the Gig City and on the role Mozilla is playing in Chattanooga’s innovation ecosystem.

If you build it, innovation will come.  For some cities this has been the dominant philosophy for the building the next blocks of the innovation economy – not so for the city of Chattanooga, TN which has one of most successful high speed municipal gigabit infrastructures in place.  In Chattanooga, and for the Mozilla Gigabit Fund, a partnership with US Ignite and the National Science Foundation, thriving innovation is built both by unlocking the network’s capacity and building the human capital to take advantage of a next generation network.

This investment in extending the reach of game-changing gigabit infrastructure is at the heart of the Fund’s investment in building the currency of connectivity – not just linking folks to a network, but seeding innovation amongst communities of practice.  On a recent trip to Chattanooga, I visited with mayors, community leaders, students, teachers, and entrepreneurs who were harnessing the power of the gig to drive next gen technology.  What struck me on my visit was not the uber fast connection of the airport wi-fi – though I have to say it has LaGuardia beat any day – but a city and an ecosystem focused on building a community that prizes digital inclusion alongside extended access.

The Hive in Chattanooga is at the heart of building these ecosystems that prize trust, connection, and extending the reach of the “gig”.  If 1:1 deployments were the answer to integrating tech into education, then the promise of technology in education for personalizing learning would have been reached long ago.  The reality is that the biggest driver of outcomes remains great teachers.  We see great learning outcomes tied to digitally empowered teachers and students, not just to devices.  This is the work that the Hive is taking on in Chattanooga, working with the Public Education Foundation to cultivate an amazing group of 38 educators who are committed to extending the reach of tech in their classrooms.

When I sat down with a group of these “teacherprenuers” last week, the conversation was dominated by great ideas and imagination about how to harness the “gig” for these learning outcomes.  They were eager to share what was working and what their frustrations were, living in one of the most connected cities but still hoping to realize the promise of technology in their schools for all of their students.  From discussion on how technology could harness the personalization of learning for students with special needs, to unlocking a new pathway for project based learning, these teachers formed (with the help of the Hive) one of the most active and engaged “gig” ecosystems thinking about extending the reach of the gig.  Their classrooms were defined by the excitement of using drones or new courseware or being able to deploy tech so their students could leap forward with 21st century skills.

In Chattanooga, the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund and the Hive have formed not just an ecosystem of partners, but cultivated the extension of the “gig” to classroom outcomes for these teachers.  They have built a community that thrives on the currency of connectivity not because it has a gig, but because it has figured out how to harness the “gig” to not just build the network but also to activate it.

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