Issue Number 272 December 31, 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. Fourteen of the newsletters are available in Spanish. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018a, link; Moursund, 2018b, 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, and the second edition in August, 2018. The Spanish translation of the second edition, La Cuarta R, was published in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of over 79,000 page-views and downloads. More than 17,000 of these are the Spanish edition.

Looking at 2020 with 20/20 Vision

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.” (William Gibson; American-Canadian writer who coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer; 1948-.)

This is one of my favorite quotes, and it is the foundation for this newsletter being published on the last day of 2019. The title is a play on words—the expression 20/20 is a measure of visual acuity, and we are just beginning the year 2020. I will be looking back over the future of computer technology in education as it has been emerging gradually during my lengthy professional career. I include a list of 58 major developments in the field that have occurred since I completed my Doctorate in January, 1963. (Actually, some of them had occurred, but I had not heard about them.)

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” (Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius; Roman Emperor; 121-180.)

The quote from Antoninus suggests that people have been concerned about the future for a very long time. The education and other experiences that have served us well up to now are still available to serve us in our futures. Moreover, we are all lifelong learners. So, each of us can build on our past learning and experiences to deal with our futures that are unfolding.

A New Year

Many people spend time at the beginning of a new year thinking about what has occurred in the past and anticipating what might occur during the coming year. When it comes to looking back to the past, we can’t look back with 20/20 vision, but we certainly can learn through our efforts to understand the past. Because we now collect and store increasingly huge amounts of data on computers, future historians will have much more historical data to analyze. That is, they will be able to have a constantly improving vision of the past.

In recent years, an academic research area named future studies has developed. As one example of future studies, we now analyze information about the past weather, record extensive measurements about current weather conditions, and use very powerful computers to make weather forecasts that are accurate enough to be useful. I assume that you make use of weather forecasts, but understand they are sometimes inaccurate.

Futures studies is now a broad and legitimate field of academic study and research. However, even the best of forecasters do not have 20/20 visions of the future (Anderson, n.d., link).

A Tidbit of History

Let’s begin by looking very far back. Prehumans developed tools—such as sharp stones for cutting and scraping—more than 3.3 million years ago. I find it useful to think of the making and using of such tools as ways to store information and pass the information from one generation to the next. Over tens of thousands of years, humans have developed more and more information bearing and processing tools that help in their survival and quality of life.

It is only in the past 5,400 years that we have had reading and writing. The development of reading and writing—and math based on using reading and writing—led to the development of formal schools. Informal education (every day was a no-school day) had served humans and their predecessors for several million years.

Reading, writing, and math are tools that require years of study and practice to gain a broadly useful level of expertise. The first written language and the first schools to teach it were in Mesopotamia (Salem Media, 2019, link):

It took 12 years to learn the cuneiform marks and the general knowledge of scribes. Temples established schools in which to educate boys as scribes and priests. At first, scribal schools were aligned with the temples, but gradually secular schools took over. Established scribes opened schools and charged costly tuition. The costly tuition ensured that only boys of wealthy families could afford to acquire any level of Mesopotamian education.

When I first read this quote, I was startled by the 12 years statement. We still consider twelve years of schooling, with graduation from high school, to be an important measure of a successful education. When I graduated from high school in 1953, only about 20 percent of high school graduates in the United States were going on to college. Now this figure is about 70 percent (Marcus, 7/5/2018, link). That is a huge change!

It is much easier to learn to read and write an alphabet-based language such as English than it is to learn cuneiform. Nowadays, our precollege schools have the time to teach reading writing, and math, and to also cover a number of other important topics. Over the years, adults have decided that students should stay in school until they are about 17 or 18 years of age—and we have created curriculum content and laws to support this decision. In England as the Industrial Age was developing, it was decided to require children to attend school. A major reason for this was to keep young children from working in factories where they were competing for jobs that adults needed to support their families.

Reading and writing, along with supportive technology such as the movable type printing press, and eventually photography, have facilitated a steadily growing accumulation of information. There now is much more content that might be included in the curriculum than can be covered in 12 years. Thus, we need to think very carefully about what content to include and how to make efficient use of these years of schooling.

Development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Tools

I was born in 1936, before the first electronic digital computer was built. I have lived through almost unimaginable changes in the development of ICT, and this field continues to make rapid progress.

But, by 1936, science fiction writers had already foreseen some of what was to come. As a teenager, my favorite of these authors was E.E. “Doc” Smith, who wrote the Lensman series of books. In one of these books, his view of several hundred years in the future included a global library that contained many millions of punched cards of information. In this story, a complete search of information about the villain’s solar system and its inhabitants took weeks of work by a large staff. Smith really missed what was coming. Today’s thumb drive can hold vastly more information than Smith’s envisioned global library. And now we have the World Wide Web of information accessible through the Internet. Today I can routinely search a far larger database than the one conceived of by Smith—and in less than a second!

I enjoy my smartphone and my smart watch, both foreshadowed in science fiction. The Dick Tracy comic strip began publication in 1931 (Blakemore, 3/9/2015, link):

If you’re not up to date on your fictitious detective history, here’s a little refresher: Dick Tracy made his debut in 1931 in a comic strip that still runs today. He’s a tough-talking crime fighter who often uses technology to nab the bad guys. And in 1946, he started using a state-of-the-art two-way wrist radio while fighting crime. [Bold added for emphasizes.]

We had portable—but rather large— walkie-talkies before that time, but they used vacuum tubes. The invention of the transistor in 1948 was a big step toward having a smartphone and smart watch, but it took many years to achieve these devices.

An aside: I wonder if today’s children know what a vacuum tube is. Is this something that they need to know? What do they know about transistors and very large integrated circuits (VLIC)? In my opinion, the transistor and VLISC are two of the most important technological developments of all time. Should we be teaching the history of these technologies that impact their world today? What about some of the underlying electronics?

In January of 1963, I completed my doctorate in mathematics, with an emphasis on the field of mathematics named numerical analysis. In numerical analysis, one develops and uses calculator and/or computer-based procedures to solve math problems. In my studies I learned computer programming, and I wrote programs that could solve the types of problems I was studying in my research. I became quite facile at such programming.

More importantly, during my doctoral studies I improved my skills in learning to learn, and I developed confidence in my ability to learn on my own. This and the Web have served me well!

ICT Innovations During Moursund’s Professional Career

I have created Table 1 below as a list of some of the ICT innovations that many of us now take for granted in our modern world, ones that did not yet exist and/or that I had not yet encountered by the time I finished my doctorate in January, 1963. They are now part of the future of our newborn children and are relevant to our educational systems. They are all part of what William Gibson meant in his quote that introduced this newsletter, “The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.”

I hope you will give some thought to each item in the list. Perhaps you will want to add some important ones that I have missed. Please make use of the Reader Comments section at the end of this newsletter to add your new items to my list.

As you read each of the topics in the table below, please think carefully about:

  1. How it directly and personally affects you.
  2. How it affects the content of each discipline of study taught in our schools. If you are a school teacher, pay special attention to the subjects that you teach.
  3. How it affects the instructional processes used in our schools.
  4. How it affects the assessment used in our schools.
  5. How it affects the informal (outside of school) education of our children.
3-D printers genetic engineering
automated teller machines (ATMs) global positioning systems
barcodes & barcode readers graphing calculators
BASIC, Logo & other languages hacking computer systems
big brother is listening and watching image (such as facial) recognition
big data, including personal data income tax preparation software
brain-computer interfaces
inexpensive long distance phone calls
Computer Axial Tomography (CAT)
integrated circuits & VLIC
cloud (data storage and retrieval)
interactive multimedia online courses
communication & weather satellites
Internet
computer algebra systems
language transcription, oral to written
computer animation and graphics
language translation, oral & written
computer-assisted learning
online shopping
computerized factory machinery
oral language transcription
computerized musical instruments
quantum computers
computerized robots
search engines
computerized scientific instruments
self-driving cars
database software
smartphones
desktop, laptop & tablet computers
social networking via computers
digital still & video camera
spreadsheet software
digital video recorders
texting and messaging
DNA sequencing
thumb drives & other portable storage
drone aircraft
thumbing to input to a smartphone
electronic watches & smart watches
time-shared computers
email
video & multimedia games
emojis
video telephoning & conferencing
equation-solving calculators
word processors
fake news
worlds wide web (the Web)
fiber optics
YouTube

Table 1. ICT-related innovations during Moursund’s professional career.

The ICT-related innovations I named above all empower their users, and each is worthy of considerable thought and discussion. Some of the tools require that the users be able to read and write, and such learning is typically gained through formal schooling in the elementary grades.

This observation raises interesting educational questions. For example, young children can learn to write using a word processor rather than (or in addition to) using pencil and paper. Some schools have dropped script handwriting from the curriculum in favor of teaching students only to hand print, and there are a number of good arguments supporting all students learning keyboarding skills that will enable them to be proficient users of word processors. Among other things, the computer-assisted learning that is built into a word processor system can be a valuable aid in learning to write and to use a word processor, and also is valuable in communicating with people and computers via the Internet.

For many of the computer tools mentioned in this list, little or perhaps no formal schooling is required for gaining a useful level of knowledge and skill. If the tools are available, many children with minimal or no formal schooling will learn to make use of them. One fascinating example of this type of learning is the Hole in the Wall Project (Mitra, 2/3/2012, link).

In early 1999, some colleagues and I sunk a computer into the opening of a wall near our office in Kalkaji, New Delhi. The area was located in an expansive slum, with desperately poor people struggling to survive. The screen was visible from the street, and the PC was available to anyone who passed by. The computer had online access and a number of programs that could be used, but no instructions were given for its use.

What happened next astonished us. Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They couldn't get enough. They began to click and explore. They began to learn how to use this strange thing. A few hours later, a visibly surprised Vivek [my colleague] said the children were actually surfing the Web.

We have all seen this with smartphones. Our children do not take classes in school in order to learn how to use a smartphone. As another example, I have read articles about thumbing (to do texting on a smartphone) but I have yet to meet a person who learned thumbing via a course taught in their school.

One of the overriding issues with all of the ICT tools I have named is the question of who will pay for the hardware, software, connectivity, and devices? On a worldwide basis, large numbers of people lack the benefits of using these tools because they individually and/or their governments cannot afford them. My personal opinion is that those items in the list that can contribute significantly to one’s education should be considered to be inalienable rights of all people on earth (Moursund, 10/31/2018, link). Thus, for example, I believe all people worldwide should have free access to a very broad range of high-quality interactive online multimedia instructional materials that cover the entire precollege curricula. All should have access to the Internet and Web. Achieving this worldwide access for students should be a goal of our world’s school systems.

Advice to My Readers

This short section is addressed to each of you, my readers. You are an educated person. Every interaction you have with another person is both a teaching and a learning experience. Here is my advice to you:

  1. Think carefully enough about each item in my list so that you have a personal understanding of what it means to you.
  2. Add to the list any other ideas that are important to you and to the people you interact with, but that are not in my list. Mark items from the list that you believe are not currently relevant in your life. (Maybe you will change your mind in the future). This now becomes your own personally modified list.
  3. Make a personal commitment that you will routinely communicate the ideas on your own list in your everyday interactions with others.
  4. If you are a classroom teacher, routinely select an idea from your list to introduce to your students. Then facilitate whole class and small group discussions about what this idea means to your students and to their futures, and also how it relates to the content they are learning in your class and the ICT facilities they have available for school use. Another assignment is to provide each student with two or three items from the list, then have students write a short essay on how these items have changed our world. This essay should include a compare and contrast discussion of the amount, types, and importance of the changes attributable to each item.
Final Remarks

About 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius told us, “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children."

Although the world has changed a great deal since the time of Confucius, many of his words of wisdom still provide us with relevant advice. We can plan for and shape our future, and education is a key component of accomplishing these plans. We can provide a suitable education for children to help them to prepare to deal effectively with the changes that have already occurred, and to have some insight into changes that seem eminent (Moursund, 2019, link).

The rate of change in our world is a key issue. During the many centuries after the invention of reading and writing, there was little change from century to century. Very few people learned how to read and write. A majority of people lived as serfs—a step up from slavery—but with quite limited rights and chance for advancement. 

But, in the past two hundred years, we have seen markedly rapid changes in the levels of poverty and literacy (Ravallion, 2016, link):

In reviewing the history of thought on poverty, I was struck by how much mainstream thinking has changed over the last 200 years. We see a transition in the literature and policy debates between two radically different views of poverty. Early on, there was little reason to think that poor people had the potential to be anything other than poor; poverty would inevitably persist. Prominent thinkers even argued that poverty was necessary for economic advancement, since without it, who would farm the land, work the factories and staff the armies? Avoiding hunger was the necessary incentive for doing work.

Now, 86 percent of the world’s population over 15 years of age can read and write. The world’s extreme poverty rate has fallen to about eight-percent (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 9/20/2018, link).

In addition, we are making remarkable progress in the development and use of new tools. We have smartphones, the Internet and Web, increasingly powerful computers, and the field of artificial intelligence continues to make rapid advancements. For just one example, the world’s yearly production of smartphones has grown to about 1.5 billion a year, or nearly one for every five people on earth (Stastica, 2019, link).

Our children are growing up in a world in which ICT-related tools have greatly changed our world. A high rate of change is continuing. These children need an education that is consistent with current technology and our best guesses as to where this technology is headed. This type of education needs to be thoroughly integrated into our school systems and also into our informal education systems.

References and Resources

Anderson, Janna (n.d.). Future studies timeline. Elon University. Retrieved 12/6/2019 from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=
2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj7lJLT6KHmAhWqGDQIHUskBGEQFjABegQ
IBBAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.elon.edu%2Fu%2Fimagining%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fsites%2F964%2F2019%2F07%2FFutures-Studies-Timeline.pdf&usg=AOvVaw09b-ZVGlEd-28V_utx54LJ.

Blakemore, E. (3/9/2015). How Dick Tracy invented the Smartwatch. Smithsonian. Retrieved 12/8/2019 from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-dick-tracy-invented-smartwatch-180954506/.

Kharas, H., Hamel, K., & Hofer, M. (12/13/2018). Rethinking global poverty reduction in 2019. Brookings. Retrieved 12/1/2019 from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2018/12/13/rethinking-global-poverty-reduction-in-2019/.

Marcus, J. (7/5/2018). More high school grads than ever are going to college, but 1 in 5 will quit. Hechinger Report. Retrieved 12/14/2019 from https://hechingerreport.org/more-high-school-grads-than-ever-are-going-to-college-but-1-in-5-will-quit/.

Mitra, S. (2/3/2912). The Hole in the Wall project and the power of self-organized learning. edutopia. Retrieved 12/13/2019 from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/self-organized-learning-sugata-mitra.

Moursund, D. (2019). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 12/17/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.

Moursund, D. (6/9/2019). Forecasting possible futures of education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 12/1/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/forecasting-possible-futures-of-education.html.

Moursund, D. (10/31/2018). Inalienable rights of children. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 12/5/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2018-244.html.

Moursund, D. (2018a). The fourth R (Second edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/1/2019 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. See the Spanish edition, La cuarta R, below.

Moursund, D. (2018b). La cuarta R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/1/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

Ravallion, M. (1/4/ 2016). Poverty: The past, present and future. World Economic Forum. Retrieved 12/13/2019 from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/poverty-the-past-present-and-future/.

Roser, M., & Ortiz-Ospina, E. (9/20/2018). Literacy. OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved 12/11/2019 from https://ourworldindata.org/literacy.

Salem Media (2019). Mesopotamian education and schools. History on the Net. Retrieved 12/6/2019 from https://www.historyonthenet.com/mesopotamian-education-and-schools.

Statista (2019). Smartphone production volume worldwide from 2015 to 2021. Retrieved 12/11/2019 from https://www.statista.com/statistics/742517/global-smartphone-production-volume/.

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.