It’s hard to believe that we’ve flipped the calendar page to 2014. As some researchers suggest, the older you are the faster that time appears to fly, a bit like the changes in technology we now experience annually in our lives. Yet, educational pundits sometimes say that if Rip Van Winkle awoke and dropped into the modern world, the one place that wouldn’t seem much changed to him would be a school. Now I know our Albemarle schools haven’t stood still here, but over the winter break I’ve thought about where we were in 1999, where we are now and what comes next …
It seems as if just yesterday, the newspapers and news channels were full of stories about the potential crash of the world as we entered a new century. Some were convinced that technology would fail and the world would end as we had known it in the 20th century. Water bottles and non-perishable foods flew off the shelves as people prepared for power grids, banks, phone service, and communication networks to stop functioning.
Yet, here we are. We’ve made it almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century and the computing speed of technology follows Moore’s Law, changing with rapidity since we worried about surviving “1999 to 2000.” In ’99, most people only vicariously understood the power of evolving technologies to change the world.Today, the experience of using powerful technologies is ubiquitous. In fact, the number of cell phones will exceed the total world human population in 2014.
Today we are learning to integrate new tech language, devices, virtual tools, communication networks, and learning options inside and outside the walls of places we call school. Day by day, new modes of communicating, seeking, constructing and creating knowledge change the world’s stock of what people understand and can do. Some research even supports that use of contemporary technologies may wire our brains differently, adults and children.
Mobile computing devices that most of us carry in our pockets are more powerful than the computer systems responsible for navigating the first astronauts to the Moon and back. Our current purchases aren’t determined by the reach of transportation to stores in our local community or catalogs from which we can order. We surf the web to find and order what we want from eBay, chain stores, and even obscure internet “storefronts’ in other nations.
We once lamented that bookstore chains such as Barnes and Noble would put small independent book sellers out of business. Today, we hear that online merchants such as Amazon may put Barnes and Noble out of business. We once were limited mostly to medical access and availability of health interventions within a regional service area.Today, medical services and consultation have become part of a medical delivery model spanning states and nations. For example, the University of Virginia Medical Center offers a vast of array of telemedicine services including teleconference support to physicians for outreach and educational consultation purposes. And if home deliveries by drone seem like a pipe dream, the FAA just commissioned testing of drones by six public sites including Virginia Tech.
Over the last fourteen years, new technologies have changed just about every current career that a high school graduate may choose to pursue. For example, the contemporary Automotive Mechanic, according to the Virginia.Gov career guide must be able to exhibit (along with skills and aptitudes) knowledge of tools that are quite advanced beyond those of the 20th century mechanic:
Machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
Circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.
Practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
Our children are growing up in a world where they are surrounded by evolving technologies. The expectations for workforce entry, community and citizen engagement, and post-secondary learning all involve new competencies of technology literacy and applications. Yet, much of the time young people spend with new technologies often seems more for entertainment purposes than for learning. However, we also know that these technologies can become powerful learning tools when used with learning purposes in mind and when adults understand how to create those pathways.
Over break, I’ve witnessed children reading on e-readers, solving interesting problems in Minecraft, writing code as shared in a parent-posted video, searching the web for science info, and skyping with a grandparent in another state. Technology opens pathways for learning that didn’t exist just ten years ago and while I don’t know an educator who doesn’t value their capability to support learners face to face, I also know many teachers who see integration of new technologies as advancing educational opportunities as significantly as the printing press technology did in 1450.
If forced to pick one grand challenge facing education communities today, I believe it’s figuring out how to appropriately transition to uses of contemporary technologies that advance access and opportunity for learners, without losing the basic social nature of human learning.
After all, it’s the interactions among learners and with teachers that power up the learning potential of technologies whether in writing poetry, composing music, coding in Java, or repairing cars. We know that humans exert a mediating influence upon each other to consider different solutions to problems, to scaffold knowledge and experiences into new learning, to stimulate curiosity and interests, and to connect ideas. We humans have always networked to learn from campfires to the Internet. We have always been storytellers and makers.
As we move forward through 2014, confronted by old challenges of funding educational resources (remember a box of pencils for a class in 1999 cost about $2.60 vs. one mobile computing device which will range from $250-$900 depending upon application) and recruiting and retaining excellent educators, I know that we are in a turning point to figure out how technology will be used by educators to effectively and appropriately support learners and learning, not just serve up the newest tech tool.
The grand challenge associated with making investments in contemporary learning resources while sustaining viable face-to-face learning communities won’t be figured out by any one school board member, superintendent, principal, teacher, technology specialist, or parent. Instead, this challenge demands that we all work together to make sense of what’s in the best learning interests of our young people as they make their way into a future that will be very different from the 18th century of Rip Van Winkle or the 20th century in which I was schooled. It’s definitely time to do that work.
Happy New Year!