Space Mountain by Xcelerator on Some Right Reserved

Question: Will education as we know it change because of technology?

Answer: It already has and will continue to whether we are prepared or not.

The Past

When I was a kid (in the 1970s…the timeframe is important to understand the context of this story) my family would travel to Florida every summer to visit my grandparents and we often spent a day at Disney World. One of my favorite rides was Space Mountain. After a thrilling roller coaster ride through ‘space’, a ‘people mover’ would glide us a long a display of “Home of Future Living” (sponsored by RCA). The polyester, pantsuited family members were engaged in a variety of activities via television screens throughout their futuristic minimalist home. The baby was being monitored via a remote camera! Dad was conducting a business meeting through a briefcase sized monitor on the patio! Mom was ordering new dishes see could see on the TV by pushing a button on a console! A daughter was taking a pottery class and talking with her instructor through the TV! The kids were recording a football game they were watching on a huge TV screen! What?! That’s crazy sci-fi thinking! I remember, even at a young age, being skeptical of the possibility that I would experience any of those things in my lifetime. (I think part of it was the horror of a future of shiny jumpsuits and orange hair.)

Now, as I consider the future of education and the impact of technology, I remember my attitude from so many years ago. My disbelief as a child that things like telecommuting, online shopping and online education could happen in my lifetime have become a reality as an adult.

The Present

After almost twenty years in education, I have often heard veteran teachers’ comments in regards to a ‘new’ reading or math program or initiative, “Same program we did 5 years ago. Just a different name. Just wait it out and we’ll be asked to do something ‘new’ next year.” During my career I’ve seen a number of teachers reject ‘new’ ideas in education as ‘recycled’ or ‘temporary fixes’. They often go through the motions implementing top down initiatives and, in many cases, watch as administrators abandon plans and programs within a year and then move on to a ‘new’ fix. I have experienced their frustration with attempts to address the educational needs of our students with programs and packaged curriculum which I’ve seen succeed with some students and fail miserably with others. But over the last 18 months, as I’ve learned more about 21st century learning and the digital age, educators cannot ignore our changing world and the impact it has on the education of our students. The impact of technology on how and what we teach is not going away. We can’t just wait it out.

The Future

So what does the future hold for learners and educators? For one, the distinction between who the learners and educators are becoming more and more blurred. As an educator, I have had to become a learner to improve my ability to adjust to their needs as 21st century learners. On the other hand, my students are learning to select and share information to educate themselves and their peers. Besides the redefinition of roles, what else does the future/present hold?

To think about the future of education and technology, I found the New Media Consortium’s annual Horizon Report K-12 Edition useful in distilling the trends impacting education. The annual research report “identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe.”

The Key Trends they identify are:

1. Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.

2. The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.

3. As the cost of technology drops and school districts revise and open up their access policies, it is becoming increasingly common for students to bring their own mobile devices.

4. People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.

5. Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed.

6.There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based, active learning.

What I see throughout these trends is that, for the most part, times they are ‘a-changing’ whether educators and administrators support it or not. Learning models are changing. Access to resources and devices is increasing. Learner expectations are expanding. It is not surprising then that the ‘significant challenges’ to technology in education reflect the slow pace at which educational institutions are addressing the rapid changes of the digital age.

Significant Challenges

1. Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, especially teaching.

2. K-12 must address the increased blending of formal and informal learning.

3. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

4. Institutional barriers present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies.

5. Learning that incorporates real life experiences is not occurring enough and is undervalued when it does take place.

6. Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of traditional learning metrics.

The Horizon Report committee concludes…

“These trends and challenges are a reflection of the impact of technology that is occurring in almost every aspect of our lives. They are indicative of the changing nature of the way we communicate, access information, connect with peers and colleagues, learn, and even socialize.”

So how does this all impact my teaching and what happens in my classroom? The first step for me or any other educator and administrator is to accept the reality of what is happening. The job of any one involved in education (past, present or future) is to prepare our students with the skills and strategies to be a productive and successful member of our society. Educational institutions are notorious for their slow, laborious attempts to adapt and change. We must follow suit of those educational, governmental and business organizations that are addressing the current and future impact of technology on education. Recently, the Education and Science Committee of the New Zealand House of Representatives published a report “Inquiry into 21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy” (December 2012). Their comments show an acceptance of the changes that are happening in our world which in turn impact education.

“We believe major changes in the way students learn are inevitable, and it is essential that the Ministry of Education and teachers be responsive to the shift.”

“The pace of technological development is such that teaching and learning approaches are going to need to be much more flexible to respond to these and future changes.”

“When considering the skills, knowledge, and understanding that will be required of a future teacher, it is important that the approach is open-minded. We understand that technology is rapidly changing, and so the skills required of a teacher cannot be fully anticipated. In assessing the role of the teacher, the changing environment needs to be taken into account.”

The acknowledgement of the impacts of technology on education are imperative for any group to move forward. An acknowledgement that change is already happening and will continue. And acknowledgement that the future can be uncertain and we must be prepared to deal with that…in education and beyond.

Back to the Future

This summer I will travel to Florida with my family for a family reunion. There will be three generations enjoying some fun in the sun and a trip to Disney World is already in the works. I am looking forward to visiting the updated Space Mountain. My six year old nephew said he’d ride the roller coaster with me. (If he grows to 44 inches tall by then!) I’m interested to see if there is a ‘this is the future’ exhibit like I saw many years ago. I’ll be curious to see his reaction to the ‘future’ and if it is more hopeful than mine was so long ago.

Photo Credit: Xcelerator via Compfight cc

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2 Responses to Tomorrowland

  1. Jeff Utecht says:

    Ah…..the future… fun to think about what might be.

  2. Clint Hamada says:

    The future? Bah! I’m still waiting for my flying car!

    One of my (current) pet peeves is to hear people talk about “21st century learning” like it is something futuristic and to be aspired to. That “future” is actually called The Present and has been so for the last 13 years!

    On a more serious note, teachers are notorious in my experience for their inability to give up control. How do we shift the mindset of a cultural institution so that they can accept the idea that “the skills required of a teacher cannot be fully anticipated”?


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