So What’s Different? — Some Answers

Yesterday, a coupled with a comment from Eric Langhorst a request for some ideas about what exactly has changed in our world that demands new technologies in our classrooms. The request sparked some valuable conversation, but not exactly what I was after.

Singularity, by Ray KurzweilIt seems to me that in order to shape the application of new technologies, we need a mold to shape it around, and that mold needs to be new as well. One of our problems has been that we have tried to shape the technology around out-dated notions of what schooling is about, rather than reshaping our notions to reflect new world conditions.

So here is my basic list. Here’s what has changed, what is different.

  1. The Information is different
    • It’s Networked — Information is increasingly coming to us through networks, initially radio and TV, but today it comes to us over the Internet from nearly anywhere, from nearly anyone, and for nearly any reason
    • It’s Digital — Information is now made of ones and zeros, and as a result, information can be reshaped in a wide variety of ways, using increasingly ubiquitous tools. We are starting to think of information as a raw material, not merely as a product to be consumed.
    • It’s Overwhelming — Information is increasingly increasing. This is important because the messages that we wish to deliver to help us accomplish our goals, must compete for attention among all the other messages out there.
    • It Doesn’t Need a Container — information is shaped differently. It can not be contained nor controlled in the traditional sense. We must depend less on central gatekeepers to assure the information and more on our own skills and highly developed sense of ethics when accessing, using, and producing information.

    Each of these aspects of information leads to a dramatic expansion of what it means to be literate, the new BASICS of school curriculum.

  2. Content is Different — The answers to today’s questions will not be their answers tomorrow. Science, health, culture, politics, economics, and even history are all changing. In a rapidly changing world, it becomes much less valuable to be able to memorize the answer, and much more valuable to be able to find and even invent the answers.
  3. Our Tools are Changing — Technology is changing at dizzying rates, which is part of the reason for the preceding elements of change, but also a good reason why we should be focused on the information and not the technology. We can’t keep up with making the technology the curriculum. All we can do is prepare our students to teach themselves. It’s the only way to keep up.
  4. The Singularity — This is a concept that I occasionally share in my talks. It is the belief by many notable scientists that some advance in technology or discovery is so going to rock the world that we will sit at a moment were we can not clearly describe our future. Some of the ideas that are talked about include:
    • When computers become smarter than we are (access to super-human intelligence)
    • When computers becoming self-aware (new notions of what life is) [I know, really weird]
    • The ability to stop aging — (what are the implications on population?)
    • Nano Replicators that can produce almost anything on command

    Consider nano manufacturing. Consider suddenly finding that only 2% of the worlds population could produce 100% of our material needs. No need for jobs — in the next 20 years? How would we handle that? How would it work? Are we teaching our children to answer these questions? Should we be including science fiction as required reading along with William Shakespeare.

So that’s the short list and exactly 2¢ worth.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.