Audrey Watters, the esteemed educational writer, is keynoting the iPad Summit San Diego. Audrey blogs at HackEducation. Her topic is, “The History of the Future of Ed-Tech” focuses on what educational technology is going – and where it won’t.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Audrey highlights the idea of what do we think the future of technology holds and why does the present always look quite different? Why do we not have hover boards (as promised by Back the Future). So looking at technology today, what is the future of technology going to look like? If we look back at the 1960’s or 1970’s, many of the cool innovations never came to be. However, some truths have held firm. For example, Moore’s Law (that predicted that the number of transistors on integrated circuits would double every two years) has become a truth in the tech industry.
Other innovations were not adopted for a variety of reasons, not because they weren’t interesting, but because we became focused on other things and
Prototype of the first mouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
forgotten some of the great names. Douglas Englebart, for example, was the inventor of the mouse. He demo’d the mouse (one of the most important tools that we still use today) in 1968. This demonstration, “the mother of all demo’s,” featured not only the mouse, but the ability to collaboratively edit documents and communicate via computers. However, we forgot these tools over the years (I have colleagues that still want to email Word Documents back and forth). So many of the features that we saw in the “mother of all demos” (when the mouse was introduced) was not adopted right away and in fact were shelved for years to come.
So why weren’t these tools picked up and developed right away? We can prototype new technologies right away, but when it comes to doing things differently… changing practices, behavior, and culture is really, really, hard. How many of us have had those discussions with friends and family? There is a new, more effective, and easy way to do something yet we are met with fierce resistance: “Why can’t we just email it instead of using Google Drive? Why should I use cloud storage instead of a network/hard drive?”
If we look at the future of Ed Tech, Audrey argues that it will largely focus around the work of Alan Kay. Kay designed the prototype around a personal
Dynabook prototype, courtesy of wikimedia commons.
computer for children of all ages, the Dynabook. Kay argued that all children need to have a personal computing device, not just businessmen or academics. He argued that computers should be common place devices and be utilized by non-professional users. Personal computers are a revolution akin to the invention of the printing press – ready access to a broad array of information. In his vision of the Dynabook, in 1972, he argued that this device should be portable, easy to use, and cost less than $500 (about the price of a color television). He stated that this was within the reach of current technology – in 1972. If you recall, this was well before large, bulky personal computers such as the Apple IIe or IBM or Commodore 64. But why did these bulky, expensive tools become prominent and not the Dynabook?
The iPad is not the Dynabook. Kay stated that the main notion of the Dynabook would be the reading, writing, and sharing the notion of ideas – programmable by its user. The iPad, like all Apple Machines, is not a device that is easy to program; in fact, Apple invests in preventing you from doing just that. Kay also argued that the purpose of the Dynabook was to help us to collaborate, to teach and learn together. A lot of these elements stay out of reach in today’s world of technology. Again, we all grew up in a world of education as consumed rather than created and shared. Changing behavior is hard!
Seymour Papert, Ph.D. argues that the “Kid should program the computer” and not the other way around. He created Logo, a programming language for children. It is based on the idea that computers can be the seed of cultural change, but cutting across traditional lines that separate humanities and the sciences, challenging current believes, and questioning the standard of assumptions of development psychology. Computers are moving away from the realm of engineers and towards the realm of adaptable language that we can all access. Papert envisioned computers as the tools that children would use to access and be able to understand the most profound ideas. Again, this was introduced in 1980 (well before the advent of internet to the public). Papert recognized that great teachers know how to use computers effectively in the educational environment, but that schools know how to nip that right in the bud!
PLATO system, circa 1981; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The next topic that Audrey covers is the introduction of PLATO (1972), the first computer aided instruction. Most of PLATO’s early programs focused on “drill and kill,” but ultimately became more sophisticated and included networking tools for students and instructors to communicate and engage with one another. It also allowed users to create and edit their own programs. PLATO would ultimately contribute chat rooms, instant messaging, forums, multiplayer games, emoticons, and more technology communication norms and platforms (although few of us can name it). This tool was the dawn of cyber culture. PLATO also allowed for differentiated learning by allowing students to move at their own pace. However, PLATO was prohibitively expensive when released to market: $50/hour, $1900/course, hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop courses, and several million dollars to maintain and access. Educational technology takes a multi-million dollar industry. Its cost ultimately killed it in the 1970’s. However, it still saw rapid adoption among business groups.
Skinner’s Teaching Machine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The last innovator that she covers is B.F. Skinner, a scientist at the turn of the 20th century. In 1925 he put forth the idea of a “Teaching Machine” to score multiple choice tests (four options). This was used to grade intelligence tests given to members of the military. Skinner believed that positive reinforcement could help shape student behavior, and that the Teaching Machine could be used as a reinforcing mechanism. While his machine may seem out of date today, if you look back on the work of Skinner you can see the roots of education and educational technology. His work has been highly influential on how we view learning and schooling.
So as our world becomes more technological, as we become surrounded by more data what future do we want to build towards? Do we want a behaviorist future or use technology as a tool that will enable students to build their world?
“One might say the computer is being used to program the child. in my vision, the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intense contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.” – Seymour Papert (1980)