K-Mart WAS the store to shop at in the early 1980’s. The “blue light special” never feared any Wal-Mart or Target when I was growing up. K-Mart was the place to shop in Port Huron, Michigan. K-Marts even had “K-Mart cafeterias”, not in-store Subways, McDonalds, or Starbucks like we have today. These cafeterias served greasy french fries, hot dogs in little paper sleeves on plastic trays, and cola slushies, These famed K-Mart cafeterias were usually near the back of the store. Near these havens of heartburn and other unpleasant digestive side effects were usually an aisles of a new product that was beginning to dominate the American landscape: home computers.
On more than one occasion, my parents scolded me for losing them at K-Mart because I had become so entranced with playing whatever game was featured on the Commodore 64 in that aisle. I remember standing at that oversized keyboard, mesmerized by the blue glow of the screen, thinking, “This is it! I have arrived in the future.” Mattew Broderick can create a nuclear war, which I often had nightmares about, with one of these computers.
Move through blisters on thumbs from Atari 2600 (Pitfall and Pac Man!), the original Nintendo System (Mike Tyson’s Knock Out), the first home computer, WITH with only Kilobytes worth of memory(later would come Megabytes, comes home with my parents. Complete with a word processing program, that seemed amazing at the time, that was no better than a typewriter. I now laught to think that it had less memory on it than the little, portable flash drives I use today. Post high school, I remember being in awe at Western Michigan University as I entered this HUGE student computer labs to use Word Perfect or whatever version of Microsoft Word that was around in 1995. I remember setting up my Hotmail account in one of those labs and really wondering if email could ever replace the U.S. mail man and the letters he brought to my dorm room.
Ten years later, I have several email accounts with thousands of emails that desperately need to be deleted. At the beginning of my first decade of teaching, my school barely had enough computers for half a class. Now we have five computer labs and more computers are soon to be coming. Only a few teachers had cell phones. Now, when I address my cast and crew of my drama company, I have to ask almost ALL of them to put away their cell phones, stop texting, and pay attention. I now own a Kodak camcorder that is as small as cell phone with better resolution than that monstrosity I use to hoist upon my shoulder to capture my first child’s birth. On and on, the days since my marveling at that Commodore 64 are long gone, and the impact on education gives me the sensation of standing in the middle of a merry-go-round while the biggest kid in the park spins it furiously and unmercifully.
While my explorations into what “is out there” leave me a little overwhelmed, it is not that I cannot sense and clearly see what I believe will be the future of education. Even before the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, much of what is discussed about students being engaged in their academics comes down to the fact that the days of a teacher being the sole fount of knowledge are OVER. And I believe many egos still remain to be bruised and/or crushed in the transitions that are yet to come. Even myself, one that actually enjoys the progress that technology is bringing, cannot fight the urge to daily dominate a class with my insights, my knowledge of writing, reading, literary tools, grammar, and so on.
Trends in technology do not allow for my type of self-centered pedagogy. What is both striking and scary is how much the culture has moved from School impacting the student then impacting society TO Society impacting the student which impacts how school is conducted. The Web, when offering credible sources of information, can explain and demonstrate literary concepts to greater depths than I could ever imagine. Why would a student need me? A student has the wonderous, ever-expanding resources of sound, imagery, video, and lecture at his or her finger tips. My friends, who are teachers, and I often joke about the idea that someday a robot, with our voices, will be instructing our classrooms, but is this a joke? In the future, the year 2020 and beyond, will students need teachers?
Students will not need me, a teacher, in the year 2020 and beyond, to necessarily INSTRUCT but to GUIDE. While students probably should never be fully let go to just learn WHATEVER they can on trigonometry, chemistry, literature and so forth from just exploring and connecting on the World Wide Web, the information may be out there, but students need a credible guide. The future, in my opinion, really comes down to the simple truth that we learn best by doing.
Recently, I began two ventures that totally demonstrated this ideology. First, I never really appreciated who my car moved down the street until helping my father-in-law fix my brakes and struts. Mechanics had explained to me many of the dynamics of components they were fixing, but until I got under that car, myself, and had someone guiding me through the steps of fixing a part of my car, most “car talk” went in one ear and out the other. In another arena of my life, I have become a much better cook. Ever since I was a kid in my grandmother’s kitchen, I had always fancied myself to be a “cook”, but until I stepped into my own kitchen and attempted scrambled eggs or lasagna or chocolate chip cookies, most recipes, cooking shows, and cooking advice meant little to me.
And so the future of education, with the major aid of Web technologies and applications, will be about DOING. The DOING will be very specialized too. I don’t quite see it in my neck of the woods, but I wonder, as teachers become guides, allowing students to pursue PARTICULAR INTEREST, if the parameters of what call curriculum will greatly change.
I often feel bad at the end of the semester-long Theater class I teach because I feel that I have covered what I believe students interested in theater should know. I NEVER cover make-up or lighting or that much on directing. It is primarily focused on Acting, my area of specialty. No student has ever complained, but I am sure I have cheated a few along the way from discovering more about an AREA of theater that both interests them and would engage them better. I believe a teacher/facilitator of the FUTURE will let go and allow students to explore the specific areas that each of them want to know more about. In a computer lab, students could watch videos, explore blogs and web pages, listen to lectures devoted to a specific aspect of the theater. One student may be putting together a project on mimes, while another studies clips on lighting design for the stage.
In these personal journeys of more individualized learning, I have fears and mixed feelings about where technology could be taking us. As I sat watching Maycomb, Alabama in 1938 on the school’s theater stage last weekend in our production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, a colleague and friend of mine and I whispered about how life was so much simpler and community meant more. She continued on about her concerns over each of her children having headphones on, ISOLATED, while driving together, as a family, from school. I know the discussion is out there about how technology may allow us to collaborate through wikis and blogs, but technology DOES have the potential to isolate us even more.
In the future, I would hope that teachers, serving as GUIDES would establish time and create projects that have students using the tools of the web to build community not fragment it. Technology may have provided us with wikis, but I was able to participate in several with people from all over the country. This is great except that I never really had to talk on the phone or meet face-to-face. In fact, students can communicate via the isolation of being on their Facebook accounts or MySpace pages. Trends indicate that people are watching movies less in the “togetherness” of a theater and more in either the small groups of a home or the solitude of a personal move device complete with headphones.
While I am certainly for moving away from the teacher-centric mode of learning to engage students more, even while students may be bored presently with the one teacher instructing all thirty or so students at the same time, all of the students are being bored TOGETHER. They share that experience. Will the future only find us being together via a computer and by making comments?
My methodology and style of teaching certainly will continue to be tweaked and improved, sometimes with major renovations occuring. One are I am proud and hope to maintain is creating and facilitating moments where students build community. In my creative writing class, students must peer edit, following a certain and required formula: READ, WRITE, TALK. They must read another student’s poem or story without ASKING the author any questions. They must write out their thoughts on a guided questionairre to give the author something concrete to work from. But it is the last stage, TALK, that I love. Once the reading and writing have occurred, I require students to discuss, FACE-TO-FACE, making eye contact, each other’s original works. Sure, making a comment on another’s student’s blog can work in very similar ways, but I would miss the face-to-face, eye contact aspects of working together.
Perhaps, this has been more my wishes for the future, rather than my vision, but I hope that in the future relationships are not built just through the median of technology but away from it. Perhaps, like my process of moving away from the model of teaching that I grew up with and have always known, I am still clinging to the past, but I want my children and grandchildren to swing on the school’s swingset and play kickball. The mobility of Web 2.0 is great, but I want a future that builds community not just with blogs, wikis and podcast but with true human interaction.
The K-Mart cafeterias, let alone K-Marts, are a dying breed. Commodore 64’s are relics found only at the Henry Ford Museum. Along with Ataris and Pong, VCR’s and 3.5″ floppy diskettes, much of what I thought was “the future” seems laughable and from another lifetime. I wonder if what we consider to be trendy and “the future” will be equally laughable in the year 2020? Will our visions and prophecies will be so “out there”? While I love many of the advances of Web 2.0, there are times that I miss the blisters on my thumb from the Atari joystick and the simple awe of staring up at the blue glow of those Commodore 64 screens. After all, those days were more about being with the people, IN PERSON, than via a computer and the internet.