ET Probably Isn’t Coming

In an excerpt from a book of essays by scientists discussing the search for extraterrestrial life, an astrobiologist wonders why aliens would even bother with Earth.

To make the point, he runs through a list of common sci-fi alien invasion movie plots. Like when the monsters come to Earth looking for slaves. Or lunch.

Alien races enslaving each other is a common trope of many science fiction universes. While enslavement of defeated enemies or other vulnerable populations has regrettably been a common feature of our history on Earth, it’s hard to see why a species with the capability of voyaging between the stars, and therefore having already demonstrated the mastery of a highly advanced level of machinery and of marshaling energy resources, would have any need for slaves. Constructing robots, or other forms of automation or mechanization, would be a far more effective solution for labor — people are feeble in comparison, harder to fix, and need to be fed.

Maybe they will arrive looking to steal the Earth’s water or other raw materials.

The problem with this supposition is that there are loads of far better sources of water in space… you’d have access to a far greater amount of water in the icy moons and cometary halo of the outer solar system. You’d also find it much more practical to operate in deep space, rather than trying to suck up the oceans against the gravitational pull of the planet Earth. And as with the water, it’s hard to see why aliens would bother extracting material against the gravity of the Earth when the asteroids are composed of the same basic rocky stuff.

Of course the process of just getting here in the first place is a major physics problem. Instead of sending bulky, fragile life forms, our first extraterrestrial visitors would more likely be “sentient robots as emissaries”.

Although alien invasion films like “Independence Day” often do huge box office,1 thought exercises like this that address the science (and pseudo-science) behind them are actually more fun. I even enjoy it when people like Neil deGrasse Tyson take a science poop all over big sci-fi movies.

But then, I’m strange. Possibly alien?

The Disappearance of Location-Based Learning

Speaking of coding (as I was in the previous entry), Wired recently posted an interesting opinion piece speculating about how Software is Reorganizing the World.

The whole article is worth a read for the author’s observation of how people today are “migrating” their lives into cloud communities, not unlike their ancestors who moved physically between continents.

However, what caught my attention is his central thesis, one that could very well apply to our education system.

Technology is thus enabling arbitrary numbers of people from around the world to assemble in remote locations, without interrupting their ability to work or communicate with existing networks. In this sense, the future of technology is not really location-based apps; it is about making location completely unimportant. [emphasis mine]

Take that idea and substitute learning for apps: “the future of school is not really location-based learning; it is about making location completely unimportant”.

“Location-based learning” is pretty much the definition of school. What happens to our traditional concept of “school” when technology advances to the point that location becomes completely unimportant to learning?

Something to think about.

Enabling Change is Not the Same as Making it Happen

THE Journal, the free edtech ad-delivery system, speculates on what will be five K12 technology trends for next year.

  1. eBooks Will Continue to Proliferate
  2. Netbook Functionality Will Grow
  3. More Teachers Will Use Interactive Whiteboards
  4. Personal Devices Will Infiltrate the Classroom
  5. Technology Will Enable Tailored Curricula

Four items about hardware, one related to instruction.

That pretty well illustrates one big reason why technology has had so little effect on teaching and learning inside the walls of our schools.

We keep bringing in all these cool new devices and claiming that they will “enable” change.

And at the same time we continue to use the same traditional, teacher-directed educational structure – with some technology grafted on the side when it’s convenient or for a reward when we’re done with the “real” work.

You might also notice that items 1, 2, and 4 are all items that make personal connectivity and learning possible anywhere, not just in a formal school setting.

While number 3 represents a slightly digital version of the classic classroom arrangement with the focus anchored in one spot, the one most often occupied by the teacher.