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A 21st Century Troglodyte 

By Tim Bugno, AVID Project Manager, Curriculum

As I travel in a plane going more than 500 miles per hour in a dearth of electricity, I am painfully reminded of the limited charge left on my devices: only 24% on my iPhone, my iPad at a measly 3%, and my computer battery rapidly draining.  It brings to mind a familiar situation in a plane, when I had similarly drained my devices of their life-giving energy.  Upon landing, I watched my devices drain from 3% to 2%...  Oh no, my phone is the only place that has the address of the hotel.  How can I call my loved ones to tell them I landed safely?  It’s my turn on Words with Friends.  Someone, update my Facebook status to “FRANTIC!”  I continuously scanned the walls for a plug-in, but I was apparently in an airport that must have been constructed during FDR’s age of the New Deal because there was not a socket in sight.  Finally, from across the room, I see the three-pronged savior.  Upon approaching, I join three others huddled around, patiently waiting their turn to give their devices that life-giving glow.  Strangely, we have even deemed locations of connection as “hotspots.”  That is when it hit me: we had become 21st century troglodytes.  Our generation has witnessed the creation of fire.

It was a crystallization of this thought, “the world had changed while we slept.”  And just like that prehistoric invention millennia ago, we have only begun to tap into its potential.  We can be fairly certain that the Neolithic Newtons who first harnessed the power of the spark never imagined their invention would be used to cook food, heat homes, power locomotives, forge steel, or majestically float hot air balloons.  Similarly, we have only seen the tip of this electronic iceberg.

Admittedly, I can hear the collective, sarcastic, snort of derision, “So, you’re telling me that technology is becoming a big deal?  Wow, I hadn’t even noticed.”  And it’s true, we have all noticed that technology is increasingly becoming the grease that moves our societal machine, but as we glimpse into the future, it becomes even more apparent how biology and technology will become increasingly intertwined.  Sure, a large proportion of people in developed countries now own some type of a smartphone, but technology is increasingly migrating into other common items, such as Apple’s (mythical) glass smart watch or the Google Glass.  Already, a smartphone is able to interact with a laser projected keyboard, resulting in a projection of the smartphone’s content onto a wall.  Scientists are currently working on organic solar cells that will be incorporated into clothing, allowing us to use solar power to recharge our devices while still in our pockets.

In the book Physics of the Impossible, renowned physicist Dr. Michio Kaku discusses current innovations that leaders of industry have already created, such as the augmented reality contact lens. These contact lenses will allow a person to view the Internet at all times and pull up relevant information in an augmented reality; think Terminator.  This technology will allow users to look at a person and pull up all relevant data, such as name, job, and hobbies, and even translate other languages into written word scrolled across your cornea.  In addition, Dr. Kaku predicts that, within the next two decades, the walls of our home will be covered with a narrow film that will act as a paper-thin screen and create a floor-to-ceiling touchscreen computer.

Rewind from that futurist view to our present-day educational system, and you will see that today’s classroom appears disturbingly similar to classrooms from two decades ago.  Although it is clear that not all schools have the resources to put millions into technology, I personally spent years of my teaching life in a state of Smart Board envy; it still does not excuse a prevailing principle in education known as the Qantas effect.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is the demand from educators for their students to power-down all of their electronic devices for the six hours that they are in school, much like boarding an aircraft.  Some teachers opt to take students’ phones away when seen or refuse to let students utilize personal tablets for fear of them being stolen or students using them inappropriately.  The counter of that is the opportunity for students to use technology to organize their life through their phone’s native calendar, create to-do lists, reference the Internet to examine course content in more depth, use backchannel chats to process course information, or utilize personal tablets to take notes and create e-binders.  The benefits clearly outweigh the dangers!

Although an increasing number of teachers are delving into the deep-end with their students in the use of 21st century technology, a disturbingly large proportion fear this 21st century fire, which likely stems from a sense that students will use their technology inappropriately.  After all, there are no filters, no firewalls, and no effective way to monitor or determine what students are viewing.  However, isn’t that the primary job of an educator: to guide students into an ability to self-monitor, self-evaluate, and self-regulate.  There is a paramount need to help students understand that we can use technology to disengage from the class or use technology to reengage in the course content at an unprecedented level of complexity.  When it comes to the integration of technology, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we asking the right questions?”

Through all of this, we can be certain of one undisputable fact: humanity and technology have become forever intertwined.  Our world has evolved, and our education system must evolve, as well.  We must molt the industrial education model currently in place and embrace the reality that we are preparing our students for a world which we cannot even begin to predict.

Timothy Bugno taught mathematics and the AVID Elective for 10 years at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California.  He is currently finishing his doctorate in Education focusing on AVID’s ability to support the development of metacognitive skills in students, which helped contribute to the thinking behind this blog.

He will be presenting on the 21st Century AVID Elective Classroom at AVID's National Conference in Grapevine, Texas, December 12-14.  To learn more about our National Conference, see our brochure.   

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Reader Comments (1)

Great topic to write about Tim. I love the humor and satire while attending to such a relevant topic for education today. BYOD classrooms are creating an environment where students blossom into thought leaders and innovators in education. Teachers must learn how to harness this creativity an a structured environment. Reminds me of the discussions around moving classrooms from "lecture hall" to "collaborative learning environment."
Well done,

September 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Mosher

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