“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-.)
“All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth.” (Alvin Toffler; American writer and futurist; 1928-2016.)
“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.)
This IAE Newsletter is the first of two discussing some possible futures of education. Probably you have heard of the idea that the action of one butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world has an effect on the future weather in other parts of the world. Because I know that this effect is sufficiently small, I have no need to be concerned about it.
However, the current and likely future use of computer technology in our informal and formal educational systems is a much larger change agent than a butterfly flapping its wings. What I am concerned about are the quite large effects that computer-related changes will have on the future lives of our children.
The three quotations given above capture some of the important ideas discussed in this and the next newsletter. Spend a few moments thinking about the authors as being futurists, each sharing his insights (forecasts) about the future.
I especially like Gibson’s quote above. Previous IAE Newsletters in this series discussed Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that is here now, is increasingly available, and has an expected future of far greater availability and usefulness. Topics covered in these newsletters included computer speed, input and output capabilities, storage and retrieval capabilities, connectivity, AI, the Internet, and the Web. We also took a brief look at ways that ICT has changed retail sales and product delivery, using the Amazon corporation as an example.
Our focus here and in the next newsletter is to speculate on some aspects of the future of education based on six ICT capabilities that already exist. These ICT capabilities will be more broadly distributed and used more routinely in the future. All will be improved over time. I have alphabetized my list:
Here are four statements that underpin much of my writing:
I must admit that I have given little thought about how to educate people for a possible technological singularity. But, I have thought a lot about education for life in a world of steadily growing AI capabilities.
My forecast for the future of computers in education is that ICT will become a routine, all day every day, aspect of education, much as books, pencil and paper, and other current aids to teaching and learning have become. Computers will become increasingly able to solve the problems and accomplish the tasks that students are learning about in their schooling. The challenge to our educational systems is to ensure that such use of ICT will contribute significantly to providing an education that helps to prepare all students for a lifetime of continuing change in their world.
My personal opinion is that schools should place much more emphasis on students learning to learn from and via all of the aids that are available to them. Human teachers and hardcopy print materials have been an indispensable aid to teaching and learning for thousands of years. ICT is providing us with new aids, and these aids will become better and still more widely used over time. Every student needs to become a lifelong learner, one who will become skilled at using all of the available learning resources.
Each of us is a futurist. At a subconscious and conscious level, you are continually considering future actions you might take. Your mind and body are making decisions and taking actions that affect your own future and the future of others. We each have our own ideas about the future, and as Toffler’s quote at the beginning of this newsletter indicates, “All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth”.
Both in the past and today, we have many soothsayers, those who claim the ability to predict the future. People who believe and act on these predictions are attempting to support the parts of the predicted future they like, and to change the parts of the predicted future they do not like.
In recent years, a legitimate academic field of Futures Studies has been developed. My Google search of the expression academic coursework in futures studies produced more than 37 million results. There is a continuing debate as to whether Futures Studies is an art or a science (Wikipedia, 2020a, link):
Unlike the physical sciences where a narrower, more specified system is studied, futurology concerns a much bigger and more complex world system. The methodology and knowledge are much less proven as compared to natural science or even social science like sociology and economics. There is a debate as to whether this discipline is an art or science and in its early days was sometimes described by scientists as pseudoscience, but it has become increasingly mainstreamed, as evidenced by the formation of the Association of Professional Futurists in 2002, and the development of a Foresight Competency Model in 2017.
Seymour Papert was a global leader in the field of using computers in schools, as well as being a successful Professor in the Computer Science Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His insights into the potential impact of computers on the schools of the future deserve our careful attention. His forecast quoted at the beginning of this newsletter reminded me of a short science fiction story, “The Fun They Had” written by Isaac Asimov in 1951. This story is available for free reading online (Asimov, 12/1/1951, link).
Asimov’s story portrays a future where teaching machines provide individualized instruction in the home, and schools no longer exist as we know them today. This wonderful story ends with one of the children reminiscing about those good old days, and the fun that children had while learning and playing together in the schools with human teachers.
The current Coronavirus Pandemic with school closures throughout
the world has shown us some of the potentials as well as the
pitfalls of closing schools and replacing them with at-home, online
aids to teaching and learning. At the same time, it has shown us the
need and value of teachers learning to teach in an online
environment, students learning to learn in an online environment,
and the vital importance of developing more high quality,
inexpensive online aids to teaching and learning.
We each have our own philosophies of education. As I write about possible futures of ICT in education, I draw on my personal beliefs as well as my knowledge of the continually growing capabilities and use of computer technology throughout the world. Here are some of my beliefs.
My list can easily be expanded. I hope you now have or will make a
personal list that reflects yourself and your own insights into
informal and formal education. Draw on your list as you work to
improve the informal and formal education of our world’s children
and adults, as well as to improve your own education.
By the time reading, writing, and schools were invented, about 5,500 years ago, humans had been communicating using oral language with gestures, along with cave wall drawing and painting, for many tens of thousands of years. Oral tradition, combined with the knowhow of production and use of tools, preserved and passed on important information from one generation to the next.
It might seem somewhat strange to think of practical everyday tools as being an aid to communication over time and distance. Think about the example of building a fire and using it for heat, to ward off dangerous animals, and cooking. Use of these tools helped to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world.
Reading and writing serve as a more modern example. They provide a tool that lends itself to routine and lifelong use. Aha, a key idea. Some of what we learn has lasting value in helping us to accomplish important, everyday tasks.
You have heard the aphorism, “Use or lose it”. Reading and writing made possible the development of libraries—a very powerful aid to communication over time and distance. They also were a major aid to the preservation and dissemination of stories and poetry used for entertainment. (Hmm. Computers are widely used for game playing, but that was not what motivated the initial development of computers.)
Contrast reading, writing, and libraries with those parts of the school curriculum that fall into the memorize, regurgitate, and forget category. Here is an example. As a citizen of the United States, it is an important part of my cultural education to know that George Washington was the first President of the United States and is often called the father of our country. What about his wife’s name and the names of the children they had?
For some reason, I happen to have learned and still remember that George Washington’s wife was named Martha; quite likely you also know this. Do you know the names of any of their children?
Actually this is somewhat of a trick question. A quick Web search reveals that they had no children together—he was a stepfather. The Web is the world’s largest library, one that I can access easily while seated at my desktop computer or through use of my smartphone, tablet computer, or laptop computer.
This example raises an absolutely fundamental question about the future of education. How will our educational systems change to appropriately address the steadily growing Internet and Web access that students will have, both at school and at home?
Currently, spelling is considered to be an important part of the writing task. I have always been poor at spelling. I have passed many spelling tests by rote memorization, but that has done little to help improve my spelling skills over the years. As a freshman at the University of Oregon, I had to take a composition course that included frequent essay tests. I had to think carefully, not only about the content of what I was writing, but whether I could spell the words in the sentences I was planning to write. For the most part, I was able to avoid spelling errors by mentally revising my sentences to avoid any use of words I could not spell correctly.
Now, I have a word processor with a good spellchecker. In addition, my Web browser is quite good at guessing what word I meant to write when I make a spelling or keyboarding error. I also can use voice input to my browser, word processor, and other devices.
Suppose today’s word processing systems had existed when I was in middle school. I believe my overall academic career and life would have been improved if I had taken keyboarding instruction for a year in junior high school, and then had been allowed to use a word processor with a good spellchecker in all of my academic work, including on tests.
Here is a two-part aside. While teaching in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, I learned that the Oregon Department of Education had ruled that precollege students with certain types of disabilities could use a word processor with a spellchecker when taking tests. Hmm. I doubt if I would have met these disability conditions while I was in middle or high school.
A second part of this aside is a story about the Computers in Education doctoral program that I helped to start at the University of Oregon. It accepted its first candidate in 1971. Several years after starting this program, I began to allow my doctoral students to use a word processor when taking their comprehensive exams. After this had been going on for some time, one of my fellow faculty members discovered I had done this, and this faculty member created a major ruckus. My students were using the spellchecker! That should not be allowed! Evidently this faculty member thought that one of the requirements to achieving a doctorate was to be a good speller. Fortunately, I won this battle.
So, looking at the future of education, today’s technology makes it feasible to decrease the time spent on teaching spelling. Will we do so? My guess (prediction) is that we will be slow to do so, but that this will happen gradually.
Like most of the other predictions in this newsletter, this one is based on the technical capability to implement such a change combined with my professional opinion that this should be done. I have not studied the research on the overall effects of such a change in education.
I like to consider changes made by the use of ICT in factories. It is relatively easy to measure the cost-effectiveness of such changes. Compare this with possible changes in the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment in our schools. How does one measure the cost-effectiveness of such changes? And, we know that cost-effectiveness is but one of the issues. We are talking about a major contributor to a child’s current and future quality of life.
Here is a simple example of one change that some schools are making—likely without adequate supportive research. You know that some schools have dropped cursive handwriting from the curriculum. These schools have decided that teaching hand printing plus keyboarding is a better use of the schooling time. But, what is the research on the long-term effects of this change? Personally, I am bothered when I see one of my grandchildren struggling to decipher a handwritten note or letter from me. However, this does not bother me enough to cause me to oppose teaching an appropriate combination of by-hand printing, keyboarding, and voice input to computers. (And, progress is being made on brain thought-wave input to computers!)
From time to time over the years, I have written about goals of education (Moursund, 8/15/2019, link). In 1988, my colleague Dick Ricketts and I compiled a list of 14 goals of schooling in the United States. This list has been modestly modified over the years since then (Moursund & Ricketts, 6/24/2020, link). Each goal can be analyzed for the impact of ICT from both a current and a future point of view. Here are some questions to help guide you as you think about each of the goals.
Remember, goals of education have changed over the thousands of years since schools were first developed. These four questions are worthy of many books and research projects. Thus, all I am going to provide here is a list of my own personal current goals of education together with a comment about each goal.
Goal 1. Security: All students are safe from emotional and physical harm. Both formal and informal educational systems must provide a safe and secure environment designed to promote learning.
Comment. This goal does not specifically mention computers or ICT. Thus, our analysis needs to look deeper. It turns out that there are many and varied possibilities of ways that computers and ICT may contribute to students not being in “a safe and secure environment designed to promote learning.” Here are several examples.
Goal 2. Values and Diversity: All students respect individual differences and the traditional values of the family, community, state, nation, and world in which they live.
Comment. A good summary of this goal is provided in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, n.d., link).
Reaffirming the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations with regard to the promotion and encouragement of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
Reaffirming also that every individual and every organ of society shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights.
ICT is gradually becoming a major aid to education throughout the world, and this increasing use of ICT will continue to expand rapidly. My forecast is a parallel of what has happened with global schooling to provide most our world’s children with instruction in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. For a very long time to come, we will continue to have schools (and school buildings) dedicated to teaching children. Eventually, however, almost all students will have Internet and Web connectivity both at school and at home This will facilitate major changes to curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment. These changes will contribute to the nationalization and globalization of education, and help us to make progress on the goal of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
Goal 3. Sustainability: All students value a healthy and sustainable local, regional, national, and global environment, and they knowingly work to improve the quality of the environment.
Comment. Sustainability is a very large global challenge. Nine key sustainability topics are discussed in a 2019 IAE Newsletter (Moursund, 9/30/2019, link).
The Internet and Web are making major contributions to the participation of students in local, regional, national, and global affairs. Greta Thunburg is an excellent global example of what one student can achieve (Wikipedia, 2020b, link):
Greta Thunberg (born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish environmental activist who has gained international recognition for promoting the view that humanity is facing an existential crisis arising from climate change. Thunberg is known for her youth and her straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she criticizes world leaders for their failure to take sufficient action to address the climate crisis.
Sustainability is an idea and topic that can be integrated into the curriculum at all grade levels. With the aid of modern communication technology, it can involve participation in and support of think and act both globally and locally (Moursund, 10/17/2019, link). An excellent set of instructional ideas is available from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching (Vanderbilt University, n.d., link):
What is sustainability? What do we want
to sustain? An important part of teaching sustainability issues
involves keeping these questions always open and alive.
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
Environmental topics and projects are an excellent vehicle for helping students to develop knowledge and skills in:
All three of these activities are important parts of a modern education.
Goal 4. Full Potential: All students are knowingly working toward achieving and increasing their healthful physical, mental, and emotional lifelong potentials.
Comment: Notice the emphasis on students knowingly working to increase their potentials. The goal is to empower students to empower themselves to develop life-long physical and mental habits that promote and sustain personal well-being and capacities.
To knowingly and willingly work toward achieving goals requires both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Our current schooling structure works well for many (but, by no means all) students. However, the rapid change to online education motivated by the Coronavirus Pandemic has not worked well for a great many students. In many cases, there has been a sad lack of adequate intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the instructional materials made available have proved to be rather unsatisfactory for many students, as well as for their teachers and parents.
My personal opinion is that our current schooling systems have a long way to go if we want all students to be knowingly working to increase their individual potentials. The feedback, assessment, and personal interaction with other teachers, other adults, peers, and people from other countries can all be (and, I predict, will be) improved through appropriate use of ICT. For example, think of routine interactions via the Internet with students from around the word—a hugely expanded “pen pals” system.
I sometimes think in terms of how children who are playing computer games constantly receive rapid, cumulative, and relevant feedback on how well they are doing. Some of this feedback is built into Computer-assisted Learning (CAL), and there are many websites that provide self-assessment instruments (Moursund, 2017, link). CAL has been discussed extensively in previous newsletters in this series. My forecast is that ICT will help us to make significant improvement in schooling as well life after one completes their formal education.
This is the first of two IAE Newsletters exploring possible impacts of ICT on 14 widely accepted educational goals (Moursund & Ricketts, 6/24/2020, link). The four goals discussed in this newsletter have certainly stood the test of time. But the world they are operating in is changing. Thus, the same-o, same-o curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment no longer suffice. The next newsletter will address Goals 5-14.
The challenge to our educational systems is that computer technology is a very powerful change agent in many different aspects of human activity and society. The content, instructional processes, and assessment of our schools continue to change over time, but not nearly as rapidly as computer technology has changed many other important components of human endeavor.
One simple example keeps coming back to me. In the so-called real world outside of schools, people routinely make use of computer technology to help them solve the problems and accomplish the tasks they encounter. The knowledge and skills used in doing these activities are coming from a wide variety of self-instruction, trial and error, on the job training, and so on.
What schools can do is to provide a foundational and coherent ICT background for all students. Employers should be able to expect that all high school graduates have a substantial amount of ICT knowledge and skills that they have learned and used over their years of schooling.
Contrast the current ICT situation with the fact that a major goal in teaching reading in our schools is for students to learn to read across the curriculum. That is, we want students to learn to read in order to be able to read to learn, and so they also can use reading to help them solve the problems and accomplish the tasks they encounter both inside and outside of school. The education of the future requires the full integration of ICT into schooling similar to the integration of reading, writing, and arithmetic that have been basics in schooling for many thousands of years.
Asimov, I. (12/1/1951). The fun they had. Retrieved 6/14/2020 from https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=The+fun+they+had+by+Isaac+Aismov.
Moursund, D. (10/17/2019). Think and act both globally and locally. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://i-a-e.org/blog2/entry/think-and-act-both-globally-and-locally.html.
Moursund, D. (9/30/2019). Education to help address biodiversity and other global challenges. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2019-266.html.
Moursund, D. (8/15/2019). Educational goals and improving education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2019-263.html.
Moursund, D. (2018a). The fourth R (Second edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 6/24/2020 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.
Moursund, D. (2018b). La cuarta R (Segunda edición). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 6/25/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).
Moursund, D. (2017). Self-assessment instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Self-assessment_Instruments.
Moursund, D., & Ricketts, R. (6/24/2020). Goals of education in the United States. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Goals_of_Education_in_the_United_States.
Moursund, D., & Ricketts, R. (9/25/2016). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/19/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.
United Nations (n.d.). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.
Vanderbilt University (n.d.). Teaching sustainability. Center for Teaching. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-sustainability/.
Wikipedia (2020a). Future studies. Retrieved 6/25/2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futures_studies.
Wikipedia (2020b). Greta Thornburg. Retrieved 6/24/2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greta_Thunberg.
Wikipedia (2020c). Technological singularity. Retrieved 6/26/2020
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.
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