The Future of Education: How To Get Ready

I have been experiencing quite a bit of nostalgia of late. It may be TV shows like Stranger Things or movies like Ready Player One (based on one of my all time favorite books) that reference the golden years of my childhood, the golden age of pop culture really.  

The 80’s! What other decade could boast of Max Headroom, Atari 2600, Z Cavariccis and Ms. Pacman?  The boys proudly displayed their gold chains outside of their mock turtlenecks and the girls teased their hair to the ceiling. We had a movie star for a President whose wife started her very own war, the war on drugs, one which I think we may still be losing.  We didn’t have to worry about being hurt in school or mad men blowing up our cities. It was a simpler time, but it was not without obstacles. Car rides were torture without a smartphone; if we wanted to listen to music we had to carry a big box of tapes, and getting to…  pretty much anywhere was hit and miss without a GPS. So many things have changed since then, some for the better and some not so much. It may just be my perception, but it seems as if the rate of change is speeding up.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of education.

Technology has advanced so much since the Commodore 64 days I experienced in the 80s. Educators have so many more resources at their disposal, but just as many questions about how to utilize those tools.  Our children have so much more tech, so many more opportunities, so much more information at their disposal, yet with so much more also comes more pressure, more questions, more decisions.

The challenge we face today is no longer providing our students with all of the important information they need, but rather help them navigate what to do with all of the information they are bombarded with. What can they trust? What does it mean? How can they make sense of it, make use of it, be creative with it, all the while teaching that it is still pretty damn important to be a good person? This is an exciting time in education, born with possibilities, but with those  possibilities comes a responsibility to ensure we prepare our students to handle the inevitable shifts our society is facing. I often wonder:

  • Will Kindergarten students ever actually need to drive a car, sign their name, or write a check?
  • How long before the last mall closes?
  • Will my grandchildren attend a real school or a virtual reality school (Like in Ready Player One)?
  • How long before language is no longer a barrier because of tools like google translate headphones?
  • Will they make glasses that do the same for print?
  • Is it absurd the think that maybe, just maybe, our children’s children may live forever by uploading their brain electronically, or cracking the genetic code that allows our cells to repair themselves and defeat the aging process?

There are just so many possibilites and it is starting to feel more and more like things that were science fiction only a few short years ago are within reach today.  The question becomes: as educators how can we be at the forefront of this change to ensure that we do it right? Will these tools be used for creativity or conformity?  Will these advancements be used for the betterment of all or as another way to delineate between the haves and the have nots? It is up to us, it is up to the good guys, the educators, to ensure our children have what the parents and teachers of the 80s wanted for us: a little better life and a little better world.

Thoughts on how to accomplish this are the thoughts that keep me up at night.  I want to empower students, I want to encourage innovation, I want to be understanding and forgiving of student indiscretion, yet I am a realist and I understand many times it is easier in promise than it is in practice. I am not so disconnected that I think there is not a place for discipline in school, there is not a place for rules, for expectations, and common curricular concepts.  Yet as a system I think we can do better. I think we can promote more innovation. I think leaders can encourage teachers to take more chances. I think we can get further with students by caring and understanding. We need to start changing the paradigm, embracing change, thinking differently, putting our guard down, and pulling our kids up. When we start to do this we can start to prepare our students for what is to come next, even if we don’t know what that is.

In the 80s, joy was VCR carts signed out and pushed down the halls.  This was an advancement that teachers drooled at. They no longer had to show movies or clips on the old projectors that inevitably would snap, spin, and come undone at least once during the weekly showing of Mulligan Stew.  Kids loved it too, despite the very real danger of being run over by the 6 foot, 150 pound cart being pushed down the hall by the 4 foot, 75 pound student who was lucky enough to be assigned as class helper for the day. Those carts were common place for about 20 years until they were replaced by the all in one TV/VCR that was mounted on the wall of many early 2000s classrooms.  That was the tech of choice for about a week until everyone decided they needed a smartboard.

 

We went from bulky laptops that took five minutes to boot up to chromebooks.

We went from calculators to ipods to powerful smartphones.

We went from discs to downloads to “web based” to free tools.

So much has changed and improved so quickly that I often ask, what is next?

In the last ten years we have seen the following tech tools come and go:

  • Flip Cams
  • Flash Drives
  • Palm Pilots
  • Ipods
  • My Space
  • Delicious
  • Smart Notebook (Yes it is going away)
  • Scanners

What changes will we see in the next ten years and how can we prepare ourselves and our students?

Here are some that I wouldn’t be surprised to see that excites me:

  • Virtual Everything-organs that students can move and manipulate, field trips, interactions, meetings, and visits
  • More and more audience- think Twitter times 100
  • AI – Alexa-like devices that will allow questions to be answered even quicker and more desecretly than we can now.
  • Individualized learning
  • More specialization in trainings
  • More making-kids will be able to physically create whatever they can imagine
  • Space exploration- Drone-like devices that will allow any student to explore the heavens and make new discoveries

Here are some of the things that could happen that worry me:

  • Tech is used in a way that destroys privacy
  • Information is filtered and is used to create more of a divide
  • Standardized tests become a norm that is used to predetermine potential
  • Genetic testing is used as the new discriminator (Think Gattaca)
  • Kids become so tech dependent that social interactions become less and less personal
  • AI takes makes life easier, but starts to takes away our purpose

I may be getting ahead of myself; maybe things are not moving as fast as I think they are. Maybe it is my own fear as my progression through life’s stages seems to be moving faster. Maybe it is human nature to think your time is special. Yet when I realize that the first ipod was released only 15 years ago, the Kindle less than 10, and 5 years ago Toys R Us was still a booming business I think maybe, just maybe, this is actually a special time in history. Things are moving quick and technological advances are happening exponentially.  So what can we do to prepare our students? Some of my thoughts are:

Be Open To Change

Change is inevitable, embrace it, understand we can’t hold it back, and realize, as the revolutionary educator George Couros stated, every best practice was innovative at one time or another.  Be open to different.

Be About Kids

Content is now cheap. Relationships, mentorship, motivation is not. Those are things that can never be replaced by a computer and are what will keep us relevant for now and forever.

Give Up Control

Let kids explore, be creative, play, have fun, be imaginative, and dive into their passions.  We are not helping kids by expecting them to hop to our every command. Show them respect, empower them, and make them a partner in their own learning.

Be Humble

Some kids are smarter than us. And not just the ones who know how to play school or who are likeable.  Some kids who are different and difficult are smarter than us too…and it’s ok. They still need us–not to knock them down a peg or two–to build them up, embrace their strengths, and empower them to do great things.  Build them up because they are the ones who are going to solve global warming and cure us from our future ills.

Be A Rebel

No one has all the answers–no administrator, no parent, no State Ed agency. No one knows what the world will bring and skills our kids will need. It is not the end of the world if you go off script. Do what you feel in your heart is right by kids. That is what will make a difference in 20 years, not that you got through the entire Cold War.

Be Responsible

We have to remember why we are doing this. It is to help kids and sometimes that means teaching them right from wrong, teaching them empathy, tolerance, and how to be happy.  Teach our next generation to be good people.

Be Open

Learn from others. Visit classrooms, go to conferences, make friends and find ideas on social media. Learn from others; that’s how we truly get better at our craft.

Be Daring

Sometimes you just have to “F- it “or “F”-you” and be different, despite what others think. Go out on a limb, be different, be ahead of the curve, go for it! Your kids deserve it.

I am not sure what education or the world for that matter will look like in 20 years, but I know that as educators we have the opportunity to shape what the future will be and the power to make it what we want it to be, which is, hopefully, a better place for our kids.  I implore you to join me in dreaming, in speculating, in being different, not only because it is so exciting, but because our kids deserve it.