Where Are We Headed?

Posted: January 4, 2009 in digital culture, edushifts, Mobilelearner, rants, reflections
Tags: ,

Often in this blog, and other education-related blogs that I read, the focus of  blog posts is often on the technology tools themselves, why these tools should be incorporated into the classroom to help students learn and how-to’s of accomplishing this tasks.  However, sometimes I feel a desire to be philosophical and look at the state of how things really are and where things are going.  In doing so, it is often easy to take the stance the what is happening right now in education is insufficient, that we as educators are often ineffective (at least when it comes to connecting kids with technology) and that we have to make things better. At this point in time, feeling this way is especially tempting for me as I work with my network to get the Ontario Educator Meetup off the ground.

I want to get a little philosophical but I don’t want to fall into that negativity trap.  Obviously, something right is happening in today’s schools because kids are learning, reforms are taking hold and improvements are being made.  Jobs are being filled by qualified individuals and standards of living are improving.  Negative comments that bemoan the quality of today’s education system and/or the capabilities of today’s students/graduates reek more of nostalgia than of actual reality.  For example, I’ve often heard complaints that today’s youth can’t do mental math when handling a job as a cashier. I can’t help to believe that the statements like this are biased and non-reflective.  I challenge particular example with the following statement: in modern capitalism, cashiers have always used some sort of adding machine and when those weren’t available, calculations were always done on paper.  I challenge this statement in another way as well – if a young person has the high stress job of being a cashier at a the largest discount department store in the world (and we all know which one that is don’t we?), they couldn’t possibly deal with the pressures of the job if they couldn’t rely on cash registers.  Essentially, then, the comments made by these individuals are not based on reflective thought on the nature of reality but on some biased, preconceived notions.



Let’s look at reality – where are we headed?  Socially, western societies are becoming more global.  People are taking advantage of technology to organize their lives, to communicate with others in a number of different ways and to access content on-demand.  Individuals young and old are leveraging their immediate access to the Internet to live differently.  Corporate staff rely on BlackBerries.  Graphic designers and other visual artists rely on computers and software packages.  Doctors are using mobile devices to search for reference information or to prescribe medications.  Others in the general public use their mobile phones to:

  • communicate via Facebook, MySpace, SMS, Twitter, voice calls;
  • manage their time through calendars, alerts and reminders;
  • consume multimedia; and
  • browse the Internet

Handheld devices are becoming the means by which more and more people are organizing their lives, consuming content and creating content.

Education needs to resemble this new reality.

Leaders in education need to ignore ill-advised , unreflective opinion and focus on meeting the needs of kids in today’s reality.

  1. You might want to watch Mark Weber’s talk on myths about the digital native: http://events.opp-links.org.uk/index.php/tag/mark-weber.

    I like this stance of yours, but I have to take issue with your notion of meeting the “needs of kids in today’s reality.” That sort of talk gets bandied about too much these days. We have to be very careful to be very clear when we talk about words like “needs” and expressions like “today’s reality.”

    In the latter case, I don’t know that reality has ever changed. I’m not being flip. Now I’ll grant that education doesn’t want oversimplifying, but if I can do just that here for the sake of brevity, I hope you’ll give some charity and take my point. It seems to me education boils down to just 2 questions: Who are we? and What are we supposed to be doing here? The plain reality is that those questions remain unanswered.

    But still, everyone is called to take a crack at them. Whitman reminds us “That you are here–that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

    What does a student need then? Well sure, some of the practical things kids need to know change–they learn to make change on an abacus, then on a cash register. But those are mundane things. What student needs is to be able to write a good verse–and that hasn’t change a jot in all human history.

  2. bbcrfc says:

    I agree, however we need to do what we can to assist the majority of our colleagues in catching up and embracing how technology impacts student learning today, and how we can use technology in the delivery of the content and concepts that we teach. We need to move beyond simply using technology simply as a word processor and/or research tool. It needs to be used to allow students to express their learning and understanding. Continuing to build upon our skills as learners is key as education continually evolves (and this evolution seems to be in fast forward)

  3. Thanks Brad for your comment.

    IMHO, I agree with you that the educated are those that demonstrate strong literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills. When I write my posts on this blog, I usually take this for granted as technology is not the end in and of itself but a means to a greater end. The greater end is human development and teaching students how to push buttons doesn’t necessarily develop a human mind.

    That having been said, this argument can only hold if one defines technology as today’s electricity-powered digital technology. If we, however, broaden our definition of technology to include any tool created by human beings that provide an environmental advantage over nature and other species, then we can also categorize the development of mathematical frameworks and writing itself as technology. While it is true that these are forms of communication and communication is found within us apriori (I noticed on your blog that you teach philosophy so I thought I would include some of that language), written scripts are human inventions created to provide an advantage in nature.

    If we concede this broader definition of technology, then one can argue that humans have always invented tools and frameworks, utilized these inventions, and taught younger generations how to utilize these inventions in the pursuit of human survival and development. This, I think you would agree, hasn’t changed a jot in human history.
    If all of the above can be granted, then I think it follows that utilizing modern technology to develop humans to their fullest capacity is in keeping what humans have always done. Just because the tools are different, it doesn’t mean that their purpose is different nor should it be looked at sceptically because ‘it’s not the way we use to do it’.

    With regards to your statement about education boiling down to two questions, I agree. The issue is that everyone, whether an educator or not, has their own individual answers to these questions. While this lack of a standard focus leaves the appearance that we don’t have the answers to these questions, in reality we have a multiplicity of foci.


  4. I think you’ve closed this off nicely; and Weber would agree with you, too. When everyone in the education game–students, families, teachers, admins, gov’ts–can see that while the tools change, the goals don’t, that will be a good thing.

    As a follow-up, would you like to join @chriscorrigan and me reading Heidegger on technology? He’ll give you something to think about. Here’s a link to the text: http://www.wright.edu/cola/Dept/PHL/Class/P.Internet/PITexts/QCT.html

    And here’s a link to some good notes on the next: http://www.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/heidegger/guide1.html

  5. Kristin says:

    Technology is the reality of today’s society and as educators, we need to be able to utilize the services that technology provides and make sure the students are able to learn from and use technology also. I am a special needs teacher and have found that some of my students may never completely understand a concept, for example, math facts. If they are able to compensate for this lack of understanding by using technology such as a calculator, so be it. They may need to compensate for the rest of their lives. I have a brilliant friend who has 2 engineering degrees but he cannot spell accurately. He keeps a small spell check in his pocket to utilize everytime he has to fill out forms or complete a document. He has been extremely successful. Technology is not the future, it is the now.

  6. Thanks Kristin for your comment.

    You provide an excellent example of we why humans invent technology tools, namely, to provide an advantage and to allow humans to do things that would otherwise be difficult if not impossible. In our case in education, that could be a student who requires the intervention of technology to be able use language effectively and to function in school and in society.

  7. Pam Harnden says:

    I believe, looking through history technology is constantly evolving and therefore so should education. where would we all be if we still had to use the quill and ink? I`m sure that those traditionalists in those times would have been horrified to move away from that and use a biro. It is the same with language to see how it has evolved from the time of Shakespeare today`s english is very different. One can never escape the influence technology has on kids and unless it is welcomed into the classroom we are losing an opportunity to stimulate thought, creativity and learning.

  8. TI Teachers says:

    I definitely agree that people all over the world are taking advantage of technology. Technology has been and continues to be a great tool for learning in the classroom. If you are looking for some great easy ways to use technology in the classroom environment be sure to check out the Texas Instrument Teachers blog (http://timath.com/blog/?p=237). Recently, a contributor wrote an entry with some great tips for incorporating technology in the classroom.

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