Information Age Education
   Issue Number 21
July, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

"The future depends on what we do in the present.” (Mahatma Gandhi; major political and spiritual leader of India and the Indian independence movement; 1869—1948.)

I like to read futuristic science fiction books as well as less speculative forecasts of the future. Recently I have been reading Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge, a 2008 book edited by Damien Broderick This is a collection of 15 speculations about what life on earth might be like a million years from now. The articles are written by a number of learned people.

Also recently, a number of people used ISTE’s SIG Teacher Education distribution list to respond to the following request from Tammy Vaught at Clemson University:

I am working on reevaluating a class that teaches pre-service teachers how to incorporate technology into their classrooms. I want to update the class to reflect new technologies. If you could send me a brief description of a new technology that you are using or that your teachers are using that would be great. … The big question is: What should new teachers know how to use?

Education for Now and the Future

I think of education in terms of preparing students for the lives that they are currently facing and for the lives they will face in the future. That is, education is for now and the future. If we are to educate students for possible futures that they might face, we have to have some insights into what these possible futures might be.

You are familiar with issues concerning “sustainability” and whether we are living at a time in which humans may be doing nearly irreparable damage to the earth and many of its occupants. Thus, some of the “million years in the future” articles question whether humans will still be around a million years from now. Such articles tend to have a strong focus on whether and/or how humans will deal with such current problems as global warming, global epidemic diseases, pollution, hunger, and over population. They point to the need for widespread education, widespread involvement, and forward-looking leadership in dealing with these current problems that are apt to have very long-term consequences.

Thus, such very long-term and relatively speculative forecasts of the future provide us with some insights about what all students —including preservice and inservice teachers—should be learning now.

Technology and Change

Viewed in a very broad sense, technological progress is the underlying cause of the various sustainability problems mentioned in the previous section. In this broad definition of technological progress, I include the development of agriculture, reading and writing, math, science, medicine, industrial manufacturing, electronics, telecommunication systems, computers, and so on. Humans, in working to better the “human condition,” have drastically changed the world. They have also substantially improved the quality of life for a great many people.

I have a specific interest in computer technology and its contributions to technology in many other disciplines. My Web Page What the Future is Bringing Us (http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us) provides a large number of forecasts for technology in the next few years. My free book Planning, Forecasting, and Inventing Your Computers-in-Education Future (http://i-a-e.org/eBooks/cat_view/37-free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund.html) provides some methodology for making forecasts and some general forecasts for computer technology in education.

Most of the forecasts listed on the What the Future is Bringing Us are relatively short term—a few years up to perhaps 20 years. Forecasts of up to approximately five years are typically based on working that is currently being done in development and manufacturing and tend to be relatively accurate. Longer term forecasts tend to depend on continues success in basic research and materials science developments, and are more speculative.

Thus, for example, consider the following forecast:

CORDIS (June 2009). No more geeky glasses to watch 3D. Retrieved 6/13/09: http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults/index.cfm?section=news&tpl=article&BrowsingType=Features&ID=90639. Quoting from the article:

Most people’s experience with 3D involves wearing tinted glasses in a cinema. But a new technology, which does not require glasses and may enable 3DTV, is being developed by European researchers.

While the first applications of the new technology are likely to be the fields of industry and science, there are also very major implications for the future of entertainment, both at the cinema and on television, as well as in video gaming.

Suppose that we eventually have relatively inexpensive 3D television. Does this make any difference in what preservice and inservice teachers should currently be learning about technology? Consumers readily adsorb this type of technological progress. You don’t have to go to school to learn to watch ordinary TV, HDTV, or 3DTV.

However, consider the following article:

ScienceDaily (May 26, 2009) New Memory Material May Hold Data For One Billion Years. Retrieved 7/11/09: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090525105418.htm.

This article discusses shortcomings of current computer storage media. The storage devices we now use tend to have a life expectancy of 10–30 years, and many are quite fragile. The article discusses new technology that might provide both much large storage capacity and storage that might last up to a billion years. What should preservice and inservice teachers learn about increasingly larger and more reliable storage capacity?

Final Remarks

Most of the responses that Tammy Vaught received did not focus on the big pictures of what has long term-value in education. The storage topic mentioned above provides an excellent example. Preservice and inservice teachers need to know the how fragile current storage technology. They need to know about doing regular backups of the material that they and their students are developing and/or preserving for future use. They need to know educational implications and uses of providing all students with easy and routine access to a virtual library that is far larger than today’s largest physical libraries.

Teachers do not need to know small details of the latest and greatest storage devices. Such progress is much like progress toward 3DTV—consumers can readily learn to use such new devices without benefit of instruction in school.

Here is what I would say to Tammy Vaught. Do not focus on the “latest and greatest bells and whistles.” Look for general ideas that are apt to be important for a very long time. For example, what problems can computers now solve in the various disciplines that the teachers will teach? What are current practical examples of widely available computer technology that can solve such problems, and how should this be affecting curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment? What are Artificial Intelligence and Computational Thinking, and how do they fit into the questions just asked?

Here is another piece of my answer. All preservice and inservice teachers are already familiar with use of various search engines. These change (improve) over time. How does a significant change or a new search engine such as Wolfram Alphas (http://www.wolframalpha.com/) affect informal and formal education—and what teachers and students should be doing? This trend toward more powerful and more intelligent search engines is a very important component of a good education for all teachers.


About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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