Predicting the Future is Still Risky Business

By now, most educators have probably at least glanced at the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report on the top 6 emerging technologies in K-12 education. An interesting list, full of technologies that I would love to see take hold in education.

But some things are still on the list from 2010 – like cloud computing. How many years will they let cloud computing be listed as emerging in one year or less? As others have noted, the word “cloud” is becoming an overused cliche (like “social” and “___2.0” before it) – so we may not even be able to tell if or when this one actually emerges. After all, some people still debate whether Web2.0 is old news or still around the corner.

In many ways, K-12 kind of serves as a litmus test for whether trends have substance or not. I used to be a junior high teacher, and I found that most teachers don’t get overly excited about new technology just for the heck of it. Those of us that do (like me) tend to go into different lines of work.  The rest just want to know “will this work?” If you can’t prove that it will help students learn better/faster/easier/etc, they won’t touch it. Sometimes this suspicion keeps grade schools lagging behind, and other times it saves them from wasting time on pointless hype.

But it also means that if anything catches on, it probably has some merit. K-12 teachers usually don’t have the time to experiment on their students like (some) college professors do.

So some of these predictions I see as wishful thinking. Yes, I too wish they would emerge – but I don’t see it happening in five years or less.  Mobile devices and educational games? I love them myself, but too many educators are still suspicious of them… and they still cost money (money that many states don’t have for the next few years at least).  Open content? Love the idea, but content still rakes in big money for some companies – so expect push back against that one. Learning analytics? Sounds too much like administrative-ese to many, so expect a hard road on that one. Cloud computing? I do a lot of it myself, but how many IT Directors do you know that love releasing that much control.? Anyone? Anyone? Yep.

The problem with most of these emerging technologies is that so many of them rely on administrative decisions – districts have to decide to allow cellphones, or to switch to cloud computing, or to fork over money for games, etc.  The main one that actual teachers have the most control over is the Personal Learning Environment – assuming they can choose tools that their school fire wall allows that is.  But even with restrictive firewalls, you can always use them after hours from home to extend student learning. If the idea catches on, then we will possibly see this one emerge.

Don’t get me wrong – I want to see all of these emerge as soon as possible (used properly, that is). But we need to be aware of the obstacles for their emergence as much as we are of their existence.

The Future of Education: The ABCs vs. the EFGs

I’ve been pondering an article called “Future Ed: Remote learning, 3D screens” for a few days now.  While this article covers some interesting geeky stuff (such as ocular implants and 3-D screens), there are also some great nuggets of wisdom in there about how what we teach needs to change –   along with our technologies:

Barker pointed out that with more tech-savvy learning, the curriculum will have to change, too. He and his wife funded a five-year experiment in Chattanooga, Tenn., to create a 21st-century curriculum founded not just on learning the ABCs, but also the “EFGs”: Eco ed (“How do we interact with the planet?”), Futures ed (“How do I shape my future?”), and Global ed (“What is my relationship with other human beings?”).

Each student had to learn a 500-word vocabulary in six languages and, in sixth grade, choose one in which to be fluent, including cultural knowledge. Physical fitness focused on lifelong sports such as tennis and golf, not team activities. Grade levels were kindergarten “through competence” — that is, when students accomplished all of the program’s lofty goals, they graduated.

Personally, I get more excited about these approaches to changing education than others.  The “death to the university” concept is too much “baby and bathwater” to me, and the open education movement is too caught up in hopeless romanticism (or unhealthy bitterness) for my taste. I don’t think people in either one of these movements have really thought about what would happen if they got their way.

Think about it – you don’t want to drive across a bridge designed by someone that learned engineering through following an engineering blog do you? Or, for that matter, get operated on by a surgeon that learned surgery by watching a bunch of YouTube videos.  After Universities die and education goes free and open, people will begin to realize that we need to be able to prove that people learned what they needed to in order to do certain things. Then we will need to hire people to track who learned what, and those people will need a place to work and store records. We’ll go out and buy the empty college buildings, which will cost money, so we will start charging for education again. We’ll just end up right back where we started.

Or, we could listen to the people that want to reform what we have and end up in a better place overall in the end.

Anyways, the article I mentioned above covers a lot of ground in 4 pages, so give the whole thing a read with an open mind. Assessment, socialization, and realistic school reform (i.e. ideas for change that involve educators keeping their jobs) are all covered.