Since I embarked upon my career as an educator 25 years ago, the changes in the world have been remarkable. Unless you pause to think about what has changed in the last quarter century, it is easy to take for granted the extent of technological and social change. Some of the obvious advances that spring to my mind include:
- The introduction of mobile phones to Australia in 1987.
- The storage of data on DVDs which became available in 1999.
- The Global Positioning System (GPS) which only became fully operational in 1994.
- The Human Genome Project which began in 2000 and has now sequenced the entire human genetic sequence, which has in turn led to a transformation of the legal system with the use of DNA profiling for forensics and paternity disputes, and likewise has transformed agriculture with genetically modified crops.
- The invention of fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and similar scanning technologies have revolutionised our understanding of the body and especially the brain. We can now practically watch people thinking!
- The popularisation of ATM cash dispensers in the ’80s and the start of Internet banking in the late ’90s have revolutionised the banking industry.
- Social networking – is really the dial-tone of the 21st Century. Most kids with mobile phones don’t actually use them as phones any more at all, but more for the mobile access they provide to social networks.
Were it possible to transport a geneticist through time from a lab in 1986 to a modern biotech facility, she would be dumbfounded by what she saw! Unable to make sense of what was going on! She wouldn’t know what the machines were, what the people around her were doing, she wouldn’t even understand many of the words people were using! The industry is now hundreds of times more efficient and able to achieve things that were the stuff of science fiction in the ’80s. In many cases the tools have not merely changed how things are done but they have changed what is done.
On the other hand, if it were possible to transport a teacher through time from a classroom in 1986 to a typical modern classroom, he would, in most cases, understand exactly what was going on. The biggest surprise would likely be the change to the board on which the teacher writes (while his 27 students still sit in rows, watching). The tools that are used have been updated, but the use of the tools has changed relatively little.
So then, either we’d already got it right by 1986 and the model of schooling we had arrived at then can’t really be significantly improved by available technology, or else the remarkable changes that technology can bring to teaching and learning are yet to have a widespread impact.
It’s the latter.