Will technology save or sabotage education?
If Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth, driving to Disneyland and being turned away at the door must be the unhappiest experience in Southern California. During the holiday weekend, the park sold out of tickets, leaving my family and I stranded outside the gates. But Disney isn’t to blame for our misfortunes.
In fact, Disney “imagineers” are hard at work improving the park’s crowd control system. According to a report by the New York Times, a “cultural shift toward impatience ─ fed by video games and smartphones” has put on the pressure for less waiting and more entertaining. Disney’s new tactics for shifting traffic and reducing wait times have increased the average number of attractions attended in a day from nine to 10.
What stands out to me here isn’t only the way technology deftly solves the problems posed by modern society. It’s actually the double edged sword presented by technology — the impatience generated by it met with the solutions to neutralize the situation and move beyond it.
Technology and education: how much is too much?
On this cusp of the new year, I find myself in a space of existentialism when considering technology and issues surrounding it. I wonder what we’re getting into as we undertake education, the building block of new knowledge and social progress. At Raven Tools, education of clients and the marketing industry is a priority executed in webinars, Q&As, blog posts and podcasts. It makes sense to follow the trajectory of education and consider where its taking the industry and society.
So when I read that South Korea plans to introduce all kindergarten classrooms to robot teachers by 2013, it caught my attention. A robot-teacher program is being tested now in close to 30 after-school kindergarten classrooms, where classes of up to eight students are taught by a 3′ robot controlled by teachers in the Philippines. Under pressure of strained budgets and shortages, a classroom model characterized by these remote teachers is gaining approval.
On the other hand, an experiment in the UK is testing a new model of education: i-scientist. The form of education and the way children learn was tested by neuroscientists through a five-day course that immersed 20 primary school students in a first-of-its-kind learning environment.
It demonstrated that curiosity and confidence together can unlock creativity and that comfort with the unknown leads to discovery. Tools like the iPod were put to use to inspire creative thinking, but student-teacher contact and many tactile activities were at the core of the learning process. That process went beyond rote memorization of facts and pushed students into levels of higher intellectual development. They were taught to ask questions, to imagine the new and never-been-seen and to understand that learning starts by getting lost, not achieving expected results.
It’s these ways of thinking that create ground-breaking technologies, and it’s attentive, visionary teachers who can stimulate this thinking in the new generation at risk of falling victim to the temptations of technology’s easy answers. We must actively combat habits that keep us wrapped up in the smartphone in front of us rather than the person across the dinner table, or harebrained plans that have robots raising and educating our children.
Brain power beats all
Interestingly, we can round out a discussion of the effects of technology, both advantageous and limiting, by considering what it means that the proclaimed most influential technologies of the last decade are high-speed Internet (24 percent), followed by Facebook (22 percent) and then Google (10 percent). With our Internet exo-brain a keystroke away at all times, high-speed Internet has changed the way our brains retain information. Facebook has revolutionized social interaction and communication between friends and family. And Google has put the universe’s information within reach at all times.
Certainly, there’s much power and potential in these technologies, but with great power comes great responsibility. Now is not the time to put education on auto-pilot. An active cultivation of independent thinking is required to neutralize the effect of technology’s traps. Raven is a leader when it comes to providing technology that supports intelligent, independent professionals, not that puts all the thinking on auto-pilot.
Happy New Year, friends. Can’t wait to see you in 2011 as we all follow the motto of future genius inventor Lewis Robinson: keep moving forward.