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Five Ground Rules to Keep Up With Technology in Education

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Ubiquitous, interactive technology is shaping how we live, how we learn, how we work, how we see ourselves, and how we relate to the world. Technologies have a way of bursting onto the scene, leaving a trail of opportunity and disruption. It's happened before...and it's happening again. The big difference? The pace of change.

What we've gained is an avalanche of new technologies, each with a set of life-changing benefits and possible consequences. What we've lost is what the "ancients of a previous decade" called "the between" or "between time." For the consumer, the time between anticipation and gratification continues to shrink.

In this brief essay, I'll take snapshots of nine realities, possibilities, and concerns, all driven by our tech-accelerated move from an Industrial Age into a Global Knowledge/Information Age, even an Age of Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking.

Expect many technologies to become even more mobile, wearable, and invisible. We'll put them on when we get dressed and hardly give it a second thought. Iowa City Community Schools Superintendent Stephen Murley observes, "Technology immigrants think about technology. For digital natives, children and young adults, it just is."

Technology is more than a device with a keyboard. Nanotechnology, at the molecular level, is allowing us to move atoms around within a molecule to produce a revolution in materials science. Biotechnology, robotics, and development of higher-capacity batteries are exploding fields, along with data analytics. Expect billions of devices to be connected to the Internet of Things.

A fixed physical workplace will become less significant. With widely distributed computing power, networks, and portability, many of us will be able to do our jobs nearly anywhere. Think of cottage industries, consultants, free-lancers, and employees of large and small firms who spend a lion's share of their time working from a variety of locations.

Equal opportunity for bandwidth will become part of the level playing field. It might even be seen as a civil right.

The power of social media will continue to increase. By whatever future names they are given, interactive social media will rally people to sing anthems at shopping centers, protest or support public issues, and send suggestions directly to classroom teachers.

Increasing numbers of people will be blindsided by their own dashboards. A word of warning to those who program their dashboards to give them only one side of a story: You just might lose touch with the broader world.

Discovery, enabled in part by immersive technologies, will bring greater life to education. We all know that the thrill of discovery teaches us lessons we never forget.   

Tools of the learning trade will grow by the minute. We're surrounded by new tools for teaching and learning, and they are multiplying. Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality are among them. Students are reporting on their research (learning through inquiry) using writing, speaking, thinking, reasoning, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, and interdisciplinary skills. Their tools often include videos they produce, PowerPoint presentations, and lessons for their classes. Learning-technology veteran Gary Rowe of Rowe, Inc. sees the evolution of 3D visual media making virtual travel a possibility. He suggests virtual field trips to "Bunker Hill, Bell Labs, and the Great Barrier Reef."

Getting and keeping attention will become exponentially more challenging. Whether we're speaking to staff, constituents, a community group, or students, we know up front that nearly all of us have access to the same information. While using communication technologies can help us stay in touch and up to date, it can also give us graphic, animated tools to help us make learning more exciting and novel. In Talk Like TED, author Carmine Gallo quotes Northwestern University Adjunct Professor Martha Burns, who observes, "Our goal as teachers is to get our students addicted to learning."

A Few Suggested Ground Rules for Technology:

•  The same device that can connect us to the world can also isolate us from personal face-to-face communication. We may need remedial units or courses on how to talk with each other.

•  Each technology can be used constructively or destructively. An aircraft that can take us to exotic places can also bring down an office building.

•  Not everything on the Internet is factual. Thinking, reasoning, problem solving, research, and other skills are essential in separating wheat from chaff, truth from fiction.

•  Consequences for ourselves and others should be clear if we ignore the rules of netiquette.

•  Finally, students should know that we are depending on them to invent or develop entirely new or next generations of existing technologies that will help us shape our future. Today's entrepreneurial students will be the ones who conceive of new industries and job opportunities that may be beyond our imaginations.

The silicon chip may not be able to give us the exponential increases we've come to expect in computer speed and capacity. Already, quantum computers are in various stages of invention. Each will likely be built around a qubit. All of us will be jolted by the quantum impact these dazzling devices have on an already dizzying pace of change.

Just for perspective. Remember five or ten years ago when we declared we would never be able to use some of the new technologies? Today, we can't do without them.

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