Issue Number 259 June 15, 2019

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018, link). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 42,000 page-views and downloads.

At the upcoming June 2019 annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, Dave Moursund will be honored for having been ISTE’s founder in 1979. This newsletter and several that will follow it are a short break in the current sequence of newsletters focusing on roles of computers and math in the history curriculum.

Education for a Changing World

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” (Charles Darwin; English naturalist, geologist, and biologist; 1809-1882.)

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” (Isaac Asimov; Russian-born American science fiction author and biochemist; 1920–1992.)

“There won’t be schools in the future…. I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum—all of that....” (Seymour Papert; South African/American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator; 1928-2016.) 

Introduction

The previous IAE Newsletter raised the question of whether 50 years from now education will still be highly dependent on brick-and-mortar schools and classrooms, much as they are today. When I ask my friends, some say yes and some say no. This current newsletter does not provide a definitive answer, but it may help you better understand some possible changes to schooling that are likely to occur during the next 50 years.

We also can ask the question, “What academic, social, and other content could/should we be teaching now to better help our children during their adult lives?” In this newsletter, I am brainstorming some of the things that I think are possible and may well occur in the future. The next newsletter provides additional information about my exploits as a futurist.

Over the years, we have developed a number of school-based activities that are important in addition to the academic content being taught. For example, schools provide an environment in which students learn to learn and to make progress toward being independent, self-motived learners. Schools provide an environment in which students learn to work together in a learning and problem-solving community. A typical school provides some health services, meals, counseling services, and so on. This adds to the difficulty of trying to give a carefully reasoned answer to the question about what schools may be like fifty years from now.

Schools from 5,000 Years Ago to Now

Written language, first developed by the Sumerians about 5,400 years ago, was a major change agent. While oral tradition was quite successful in preserving and passing on some information from one generation to the next, writing had more permanency and accuracy, and could reach broader audiences.

About 5,200 years ago we first had schools in which groups of students came together in classrooms and were taught basics such as reading writing, arithmetic, and history.

Thus, we now have had more than 5,000 years to improve these initial schools. Perhaps our greatest success is that a quite high percentage of the world’s children now have the opportunity to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and some other topics. Such formal instruction and/or other good opportunities to learn are considered by the United Nations to be a birthright of all children.

This progress toward universal literacy has been greatly aided by technology such as movable type printing presses and by mass production of paper and printed materials. Much more recently, electronic media, the Web, and the Internet have been major change agents. (And don’t forget pencils with erasers, and ball point pens!)
In terms of content to read, the amount available is overwhelming. For example, I own a copy of the 200 Greatest Novels, Stories, & Poems Ever Written: The Complete Harvard Classics Library Shelf of Fiction that cost me $2.50 to download to my tablet computer. I continue to be very impressed by the Wikipedia and I use it frequently. Today’s Wikipedia is available in 303 different languages, with the content varying considerably between different languages. The English version is about a hundred times the length of the set of encyclopedias that my children grew up with (Wikipedia, 2019, link).

The Wikipedia is, of course, a very small part of the Web. The content of the Web is many times larger than the largest hardcopy library in the world. It also includes a tremendous amount of multimedia materials. Consider these changes in terms of the steadily increasing amount of reading and viewing materials, many of them interactive, that now are available to students in schools and in their homes.

Oral Literacy

First, let’s consider a child’s development of oral literacy that begins well before starting formal schooling. A good introduction to this topic is available at (PDST, n.d., link). Oral literacy predates development of the first schools by many hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, we have ample evidence that schools are not essential to most people for the gaining of oral literacy. What is essential is an environment in which two-way oral communication is commonplace.

I can envision a time within the next 50 years where one’s routine everyday environment will include robots with a high level of oral literacy. These robots will play a significant role in helping children to gain oral literacy and in their other learning.

Likely these robots also will play a significant role in childcare. This is a key issue. As the Industrial Revolution was occurring in England starting in the late 1700s, it was decided that developing public schools and requiring students to attend was a good solution to the problem in which quite young children were facing the dangers and hardships of working long days in factories, and also were taking jobs away from adults.

In more modern times, schools provide a childcare service that is essential in single-parent households and in households with two working parents. Hmmm. Fifty years from now, will it be common for a child to come home from school to a house devoid of adults, but with a robot serving as a babysitter, housekeeper, and so on?

Now, returning to oral literacy. Ask yourself, “Will these robots be as good (or better) than humans in helping children gain their initial and expanding oral literacy?” A key issue is what the robot actually knows and understands. Parents conversing with young children are human beings with human knowledge, skills, and understanding. They develop a human-to-human bond with their children. They know what their children are learning and the level of understanding the children have developed. We currently are a very long way from having robots that are anywhere near adult humans in these capabilities.

On the other hand, a robot can remember every conversation it has had with a child. If the robot is present most of the time while a child is learning to speak and listen, the robot can keep track of much of the oral language the child is exposed to, the number of exposures, and so on. It can keep track of many of the spoken words the child utters. Using that information, a robot, serving as tutor and companion, may well be able to play a major role in helping a child to gain oral literacy.

But, think about some possible underlying issues. Do you want your child’s orally fluent robot to talk with your accent and perhaps only be exposed to words in your own oral vocabulary? Do you want the robot to imitate grammatical errors and word usage that occur in your everyday oral communication? What new vocabulary and topics do you want the robot to bring into conversations with your child? Do you want the robot to reprimand your child when the child uses a swear word, or to provide feedback when a child mispronounces a word? Wow! Just this simple little topic of developing a talking robot to provide oral literacy instruction is overwhelmingly difficult!

Reading Literacy

Next, consider reading. We know that reading literacy is tied closely to oral literacy. We know that loving parents who hold their children on their laps and read to/with them are a powerful aid in helping children learn to read. It is not hard to envision a time when we have cuddly, soft robots that can hold a child on their laps and read to/with them. Just think of this robot as an improved model of the ones discussed in the previous section.

In terms of the pure mechanics of teaching reading, it seems clear to me that we eventually will have robots that are very good reading teachers. Moreover, the robot itself can be the computer providing the book content. Just think of a tablet computer wirelessly connected to the robot, and with the robot connected to the Internet.

We now appear to have several major issues to consider. First, a parent holding and reading to/with a child is engaged in physical, human-to-human bonding. This is exceedingly important. Do we want to raise children who are closely bonded to a robot? This reminds me of children and their teddy bears. Most parents are not bothered by their children bonding with a favorite toy. But bonded to an artificially intelligent robot?

Next, let me share a story of my reading to and telling stories to my own children. After one of my children learned about Peter Rabbit, and Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, I might be reading or telling the story about the three bears. I would mention that the bears were named Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. My goal was to get a reaction such as, “Oh, that’s not right. Those are the rabbits.” Or, I might ask a question, “Would you like to live in a hole in the ground?” Such banter was an important component of my interactions with my young children. Would you want a robot to add such banter as it read to your children?

I believe that it will prove to be quite beneficial to children to learn to converse with robots and computers. This will help to prepare them for an adult life in which conversing with computers is a routine activity. At the current time, such computers have severe limitations. Part of learning to deal effectively with such talking computers is to learn that they are not humans, and that they have major limitations in their understanding of language and people. How might this change as robots continue to be improved in the coming 50 years?

Math and Writing Literacy

It may seem strange to you that I am combining math and writing. My purpose is to develop an important analogy between math education and writing education.

We know that writing is both a memory aid and an information processing aid. For example, suppose you were faced by the task of remembering the names of 20 or so of your friends, and organizing the names into alphabetical order. (Perhaps you are going to give a talk in which you thank some of your friends, and you want to say their names in alphabetical order.) With sufficient effort, you might be able to accomplish this task mentally. However, first writing the list of names and arranging them in alphabetical order certainly would be a very useful aid.

Now, think about various aspects of writing such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and penmanship. It takes a very large amount of education and effort to become highly skilled in these four aspects of writing.

Finally, think of having a voice input system with sufficient artificial intelligence to be able to take your somewhat rambling and disjoined voice input and produce a nicely organized and formatted printed document without spelling or grammar errors. This voice input system can partially obviate the need for a great deal of the teaching and learning that currently is well-imbedded into our school curriculum, instruction, and assessment. As such computer systems become better and better, and also more widely available, our schools will need to rethink significant aspects of their curriculum.

Now, consider math literacy. Here are some of my math-related thoughts:

  1. I own a residence with both a street number and a ZIP code number. I have a Social Security number, two different phone numbers, a birth date, age, weight, and height. I have money in my wallet and in a bank account. While working, I was enrolled in a retirement plan and had to make decisions about how the money was to be invested. Etc., etc., etc. Like the non-math words in our oral and written language, the math words also have meaning. If I don’t know the commonly used math words and how to use them in routine communication, I have a major gap in my literacy.

  2. My math vocabulary is used both within “ordinary” communication and within math communication. I don’t have any interest in determining the product of my two phone numbers or the result of dividing my street number by my ZIP code number. However, I frequently benefit by being able to do mental and/or written arithmetic on many other numbers in my everyday life. Moreover, it is important for me to understand why I am doing the arithmetic and the meaning of the results. This is part of what math educators call number sense, an important type of math literacy that is a major goal of math education.

  3. I use pencil and paper, calculators, and computers in doing math (solving math problems). These tools are aids to my brain. That is, math and writing are both aids to my brain. In that sense, both are important aspects of my everyday literacy. It takes a great deal of time and effort to become skilled in the symbol manipulation aspects of math. These include doing arithmetic calculations, using formulas and equations, solving problems in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, and so on. My informal research suggests that about three-fourths of the math education time in our precollege schools is spent on learning to do these things with accuracy and reasonable speed.

Finally, the analogy. Artificially intelligent computers can do much of what we teach students to do, both in writing and in math. Outside of schools, people who have a need to accomplish writing and mathing tasks routinely make use of such computer tools. Some of what they need to know, they can learn on their own. Some they learn from their friends, co-workers, and perhaps from their own children. Some they learn through on-the-job training. All of this is “just in time” learning. Much of it could also have been incorporated into their precollege schooling. This is true whether the schooling occurred in a bricks-and-mortar setting, home schooling, or via some other, possibly online/electronic, mode of instruction.

Final Remarks

I have not attempted to make a definitive forecast on the long-term continuing existence of physical brick-and-mortar schools. However, my current thinking is that we will continue to have need for, and will make effective use of, brick-and-mortar schools for many years to come. However, this education will gradually be considerably more supplemented by formal and informal education outside of such school settings.

Changes in technology will continue to strongly affect the content, instructional/learning processes, and assessment processes for the curriculum. Such changes also will affect how the societies of our world deal with these tasks, as well with the other tasks currently assigned to schools.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (6/9/2019). Forecasting possible futures of education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 6/9/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html.

Moursund, D. (2018). The Fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 6/10/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R_(Second_Edition). Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/308-the-fourth-r-second-edition-1.html. Download the Spanish edition from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

Moursund, D. (October, 2016). Striving to Improve Education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 6/10/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2016-196.html.

PDST (n.d.). Five components of effective oral language instruction. Professional Development Service for Teachers. Retrieved 6/3/2019 from https://pdst.ie/sites/default/files/Oral%20Language%20Booklet%20PDF.pdf.

Wikipedia (2019). Size of Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/30/3019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Size_of_Wikipedia.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner).He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books .

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu

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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. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.