On December 7th, my employer school board used a PA Day to organize and connect all education staff of the board from their remote locations via an internet stream to watch two speakers discuss the issue of 21st century fluencies. It was a mammoth undertaking I am sure but one I found successful as it used communication technology to demonstrate the power of communication technology as staff listened to two speakers talking about the power of communication technology.
The two speakers, Ian Jukes and Will Richardson, both discussed how education systems in general, and schools in particular, need to do things differently because of the nature of new technology and how it’s transforming society as a whole. One of the ideas that really struck me was the idea of ‘digital bombardment’. Presented by Ian Jukes, it is the idea that all of us, including kids, have this pervasive exposure to digital technology.
When Jukes first mentioned it, the first idea that came to my mind was that this was a new and novel way of discussing the mature topic of information overload. Upon further reflection, however, I’m seeing that digital bombardment is about more that just information overload. It is the fact that all day, everyday, we are interacting with a multitude of different devices exposing us to content in many forms and that this exposure is nonstop. Another striking element to this notion is that unlike information overload, digital bombardment may not be just a phenomena in western society. With cell phones and smart phones connecting people to the Internet in less privileged countries in a way computers have never been able to accomplish, for the first time ever, we may be seeing a global social shift brought about by mainly mobile devices.
We could go on and on here about stats. We could discuss the amount of content being uploaded to the Internet on a daily basis or how many internet-connected cell phones there are globally and how this is connecting people in areas that were previously unconnected. We won’t do that here because I think you know this already. It’s really the implications of this that I find interesting.
One implication is how this social shift is being driven but mobile devices. I have stated many times that I often write my blog posts from my phone. I listen to music from my phone (both purchased music and streamed music). I listen to radio programs and podcasts from my phone. I watch, read and listen to news stories and books from my phone. I communicate with others and stay current from my phone. I get directions and ask for directions from my phone. I can even control my TV now from my phone. I’ve been doing all this for some time now so none of this even phases me anymore. What has struck me now is that many of these activities and more can be done by anyone with a smart phone and these are becoming ubiquitous in geographic areas never seen before. The lower entry costs of mobile devices vs. computers is truly connecting and bombarding people globally.
Another implication is how we are connecting with each other. While I am definitely and advocate of the wider use if mobile devices, I sometimes can’t help but to feel that this constant screen watching is creating this Orwellian world of external social control through information dissipation through technology and its only getting worse. Everywhere we look, we see screens – the mall, the doctor’s office, schools, the gym, etc. and we bring our own screen to fill in the void in those public and private places that may not have one. Access to unlimited information is a good thing but what happens if access and exposure to information is directed maliciously by some external source?
Bring it back to education, Juke’s point was essentially that we have to adapt and do things differently in a world where digital technology and screens invade every space that we all inhabit – kids and adults alike. Rather than bemoan the state of affairs which are beyond our control, let’s work on what we can control and leverage what kids bring with them to help them learn. This is what this blog has always been about – leveraging technology to improve learning. It continues to be relevant and becoming more important as the years go on. The key piece, however, is not just leveraging technology, but leveraging technology to improve learning. If technology use is not planned around specific learning goals aimed at meeting specific curriculum expectations and is only used by children to surf the web or Youtube with no real learning aim, then it would be better not to integrate technology at all. Technological tools need to help students learn if they are going to be relevant and useful.
Children entering kindergarten this year will graduate from high school in 2026 and the oldest mobile technology they will know is a first generation iPad or an iPhone 3. Given this reality, what do our schools need to become in order to meet the needs of these children graduating in 2026?