For many months, I have been writing two books and making use of the IAE Newsletter for the prepublication of potential chapters in these books. These newsletters have been far longer than the guidelines I set for myself when I published the first of these bimonthly newsletters in August 2008. Now that one of the books is published and the second is well along towards publication, I am returning to writing shorter newsletters on a variety of topics.
Currently, the general topic that most interests me is a combination of how to improve our educational systems and the possible futures of computers in education. I like to start each IAE Newsletter with a pithy quotation. Below are two that I have used before, ones that really appeal to me.
“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-.)
“Don't worry about what anybody else is going to do…. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything that doesn't violate too many of Newton's Laws.” (Alan Kay; American computer scientist; 1940-.).
My current newsletter plans are that these two quotations will guide my writing efforts. During my long career as a computer educator, I frequently have written about possible uses of information and Communication Technology (ICT) to help improve the education our children are receiving, and to better prepare them for their future lives in our rapidly changing world. I have enjoyed dabbling in being a futurist. One of the things I have learned is that it generally takes a number of years for technological developments to be widely accepted and used. Thus, by paying attention to reports about new technological developments, I could develop useful insights into possible effects such developments might have on the people (especially, students) of the world.
In his quotation, Gibson is talking about technology and other major change agents in our current world. Commercially-produced electronic digital computers have now been part of our world since 1952. They have become better (faster, more reliable, and more broadly useful) year after year for the past 68 years. They certainly have contributed to major changes in our world. A key aspect of Gibson’s observation is the challenges we face in moving from development to widescale and effective use of new technology. Let’s look at three examples.
Alan Kay and Laptop Computers
As noted earlier in this newsletter, there often is a long time gap between the thought and the deed. In 1972, Alan Kay discussed the idea that a laptop computer he named Dynabook could be developed and used in teaching children computer programming and other uses of computers. It wasn’t until nine years later that laptop computers became commercially available. Progress on computer technology over the years since then has made it feasible to provide all students in the economically developed countries such as the United States with a computer to use at home and also with a computer to use in school. The Coronavirus Pandemic with its demands for online schooling has greatly speeded up this educational improvement project. Our current attempts to substitute at home online education for traditional at school classroom-based education have not proven to be particularly successful.
Unfortunately, during the 48 years since Alan Kay proposed the Dynabook, we still have not developed and implemented widely accepted and forward-looking plans for how to make effective use of this technology to significantly improve curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment in PreK-12 education. It seems to me that this technology has been slow in significantly helping to improve the quality of education that students are receiving.
We have a 5,500 year history of providing some students with twelve years of precollege education. Initially, educators and governments were satisfied with providing such education to a very few students from elite, wealthy families in a few locations.
However, over the centuries, we have made huge progress in expanding the percentage of students receiving this schooling and making it free to all students. I believe that such education significantly improves the quality of life of those receiving it. During the most recent century, the people of the world have gradually come to consider education at some level (perhaps only grade school, but considerably more in many parts of the world) to be an inalienable right of all children (Moursund, 11/30/2018, link).
In economically developed countries such as the United States, a major issue right now is how many years of no-tuition schooling should be made available to students. Progress is occurring in making two years of schooling available before the first grade and two years of community college available free to all students in the United States. Some countries have already achieved much more than this.
Jeffrey Bezos and Amazon
Jeffrey Preston Bezos is CEO and president of Amazon, a huge multi-national technology company that he founded in 1994. He is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Amazon owns a number of companies whose products include Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, Fire TV, and Echo devices. Amazon sells products from its own companies and serves as a retail mail order distribution outlet for millions of products from other companies (Wikipedia, 2020, link.)
Before Bezos founded Amazon, he examined the possibilities of the rapidly improving speed and storage capabilities of computers, and of the increasing capabilities of telecommunications. He thought carefully about what kind of new company he could create that would take maximum advantage of this future of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). He started with online and mail order books. And, as they say, “The rest is history.”
Some ICT-oriented educators (including myself) asked the same
question about education and schools. Indeed, by 1994, I had
already spent about 25 years of my professional career in
attempting to facilitate the widespread support and
implementation of my ideas on the effective integration of ICT
into our preK-12 schools. Sadly, however, the actions we
educators have taken have not had the level of impact that Bezos
and other business people have had in their computer-based
Some people understand the potential of new technology much sooner and more deeply than do others. Elon Musk is my current favorite example of a person who is good at recognizing the potential of widespread uses of progress in ICT and other technologies. Quoting the entry for Musk from my newest book, Computer Cultural Literacy for Educators (Moursund, 2020, link):
Musk, Elon (1971-). A very successful engineer, industrial designer, technology entrepreneur, and philanthropist. (Benveniste, 9/1/2020, link.) Some of his current companies include Tesla Motors (electric, autonomous vehicles), SpaceX (spaceships and communication satellites), The Boring Company (tunnels for underground transportation), Neurolink (brain implant to provide connectivity to computers outside of one’s brain), and Hyperloop (a transportation system using sealed tubes through which pods carrying people and other contents travel rapidly and energy-wise efficiently due to very low air resistance). He was a co-founder of PayPal. (Wikipedia, 2020, link.)
His companies also are working at the leading edge in developing better batteries and solar energy collectors, including solar cells built into housing shingles that can be installed much more rapidly than the traditional solar cells.
I find the examples given above to be provocative. However, they do not directly suggest actions that the United States could take (if it decided to) in order to relatively quickly provide essentially every precollege student with good computers, good online connectivity, and good educational software for routine use both at home and in school.
The software and hardware currently available to meet the needs of students working at home is not yet up to meeting the instructional needs of many (perhaps most) of these students. The same statement holds true for use of ICT within traditional classrooms. We do not yet know how to make effective use of such facilities in meeting the huge range of differences in ability levels, as well as the different needs of students learning in a combination of home and school environments. Our traditional schools have not prepared students to learn effectively in such an environment. Nor have we done well over the years in preparing teachers and school systems to work effectively in such a complex and rapidly changing environment.
But, perhaps even more importantly, we do not have a precollege educational system that is designed to prepare students for a future that already is here. Far less are we ready to meet the need to prepare for our best guesses about what the future will look like as our children move into adulthood.
People in business and industry face a different set of challenges. Their criteria for success tend to be based on measurable financial results. This is quite different from meeting the educational needs of every single child!
Let me close with my own quite provocative proposal. Consider the idea of the U.S. Federal Government funding the development of quite high quality Computer-assisted Teaching and Learning (CATL) materials suitable for use in the main curriculum areas we want to teach at the PreK-12 level. These could be provided free to every student for use throughout their lives, to every teacher, to every library, to parents and guardians, and so on. They could regularly be updated based on continuing intensive research on the effectiveness of the results of their use, our changing technology, and our changing world.
The CATL materials I am talking about would not only be at the frontiers of our current materials, they also would incorporate well thought out answers to the following two questions:
These are difficult questions whose answers will undoubtedly change as computers become still more capable and ubiquitous, and the computer-human interfaces continue to improve. Providing answers and beginning to address them are an essential part of developing a future-looking educational system.
Just for the fun of it, let’s make up a “modest” Federal budget item for such a project—say $10 billion per year. This is about one-third of one-percent of the U.S. Federal budget in recent years before the Coronavirus Pandemic, or 1/7 of the current U.S. Office of Education annual budget.
Can a good year-long set of materials for use at a particular grade level and subject area be developed for $10 million? The work would be carried out by a broad range of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. I believe that this would be a generous budget for many (perhaps most) of the courses. If not, remember that I am proposing $10 billion per year, year after year.
With such funding, we could immediately begin thinking about and planning developing the first thousand courses. If these are appropriately divided across the fourteen PreK-12 grade levels, that would be about 71 courses per grade level.
Some grade levels would require a wider variety of different courses than do others. We would need multiple language versions of many courses. However, the language translation of a course is far less costly than the original development costs of the course. Courses for students at a particular grade level would need to accommodate a wide range of individual student differences. This idea and its implementation challenges boggles my mind! However, it is clear to me that over the years the United States could easily afford to do the necessary initial research, development, distribution, teacher and parent education, research-based evaluation and improvements, and development and distribution of additional courses.
TMy writing of future IAE Newsletters will be guided by the ideas presented in this current one. In presenting these ideas, I have not explored any of the problems that people will encounter as they consider and work to implement these ideas. However, I have provided a starting point for raising and exploring many challenging questions. For example, how will the ideas I propose affect teachers’ employment in the world of education? How will we decide what courses to develop and what groups will develop them? To what extent will we move toward open computer, open connectivity assessment?
How will we deal with some strongly held beliefs that some people have, such as that the world is flat or that the world is only about 6,000 years old, or the complete rejection of commonly held theories of evolution? How will we go about fact checking on the content of the courses that are created?
To what extent will we help our students to understand major problems facing their current world and the world they will inhabit in the future? For example, see the award-winning video about the havoc we have created for them, Three Seconds (Connect4Climate, 4/4/2017, link).
And what about major improvements in existing technology and breakthroughs in new technology that may well be earthshaking? Education and schooling do not face a simple, smooth path. However, remember the ancient Chinese proverb:
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
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 (IAE Books, 2020, link.)
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE) in 2007. IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. 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 IAE and AGATE (IAE, 2020, link; AGATE, 2020, link.)
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