Educators are in the midst of this phenomenon as we see our classrooms inexorably invaded by smartphones, Ipads and computers.
It is the end of the year, and as is so common when faculty are both tired and in a place to reflect a little, there are those “faculty-all” e-mails in which colleagues are sharing their thoughts with everyone all at once. This year the topics seem to be about technology. No surprise.
There are links to scientific articles proving that smartphones will damage children’s brains, or a piece telling us that good old fashioned pencil and paper is a better tool for imprinting memories in the human mind than any of these distracting electronic devices. As I write this blog piece, the latest entry in my e-mail box is a proposal to institute restricting rules around technology in public areas. Well, good luck with that folks. Pandora’s box has been open for some time now. LOL.
We love innovation and want to have the latest fashionable dress yoga pants, the newest go-pro camera, the most up to date safety features in our cars, and yet we also love the retro stuff, the music of our youth, the backpack that has seen a thousand trail miles, a comforting morning routine of coffee and a newspaper. The human condition.
Maybe this apparent oxymoron comes from our evolutionary heritage. We have survived as a weak and clawless creature mostly as a result of our culturally acquired skills and knowledge. We know how to hunt and find wild edibles because our elders taught us. They learned from their elders. We have the longest childhoods of any species because so much time is needed for that transfer of knowledge from parent to offspring.
And yet we also survived the Earth’s upheaval of Climate change through the last ice age because we are the most adaptable mammalian species ever. Perhaps the defining characteristic of being human is the ability to have a cultural conversation about ideas, to discuss and debate, to try things out, and to discard or improve. We have no fangs and we are slow runners, but our minds are fertile grounds where new ideas compete with older traditions. Often what results is a creative blend of “all of the above,” and thus the tribes of humans have learned to inhabit every corner of this varied planet from jungle to desert to tundra. We have always been experimenters.
Let me return to the debate about technology in the classroom. A calculator is a poor tool for pounding in nails, but it sure works nicely when you need to find the area of a circle.
Of course some of us are old enough to remember the outcry against calculators in classrooms too.
But I find the debate about technology in the classroom fascinating, and revealing too. Maybe we are not asking the right questions yet? Is this really the fundamental question “What is better for learning my History or English facts, a notebook or an Ipad?”
The Wright brothers asked the question “Can humans fly?” Watson, Crick and Franklin asked “What does DNA look like?” Maybe we educators could be asking some new questions? It is finding the right question to ask that might get us somewhere.
Here are a few that plague me all the time.
“What is truly most important for our students to learn in school right now, as humanity will face this century, the greatest challenges it has ever faced, the very limits of the Earth to sustain us all?”
“What social, technical, scientific and cultural skills will our students need, to be able to help find solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems ahead?”
“How can we educators help our students to be prepared for the future that none of us really understands yet?”
I don’t have the answers… but let’s talk!