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A Very Bad Definition

It’s the start of a new year and that means thousands of articles, posts, and essays forecasting the future. Some are thoughtful and intelligent. Many are trivial. The vast majority will be flat out wrong.

One titled Technologies That Will Define the Classroom of the Future certainly falls into that last group.

First of all, technology will never “define” a classroom, at least not a good one. Students and teachers, supported by parents, librarians, administrators, and others define a class community. Technology should only be there to assist the learning.

Anyway, so what are these innovative technologies that will “soon reside in the future classrooms”?

Augmented Reality – Certainly we want students to interact with the world. But this, and it’s cousin virtual reality, are just tools to help them do that. Unless you’re planning to recreate the classroom inside a virtual world, this concept should not “define” learning.

3D Printer – No. Just no. All of the creative work required to have the machine render the object has been done prior to starting the job. A 3D printer is no more defining of learning than was a 2D printer.

Cloud Computing, New interactive and flexible displays, Multi-Touch LCD screen – Again, no. These are not learning tools. They are devices (and in the case of cloud computing, a concept) that can enhance the teaching and learning process. They will not “define” the classroom of the future.

Biometrics – Huh? I understand the security part but saying this technology leads to “adaptive learning systems” that will “transform the education process into a more individual and productive one” is just silly. This is about management and control, not learning.

Learning based on games – If you expand this into the general idea of “learning based on play”, then I’m with you. But learning from play (aka experimentation) is how children gain understanding of their world from the beginning. Applying the concept of gaming to learning school-type subjects is fine as long as “games” are not just one more way to spoon-feed the same old curriculum.

And finally… MOOCs and other online learning options – Kids are certainly learning online, just not in the highly structured format of MOOCs (which haven’t been a roaring success despite the hype). I certainly hope the version of online learning envisioned by adults, which is largely a digital translation of the traditional teacher-directed instruction, doesn’t define the classroom of the future.

I have no doubt many, if not most, of these technologies will make their way into devices used by students and teachers. None of them, however, will define the learning process. And, if properly implemented, no one will even notice (or care) the technology is in the classroom.

Indifference Kills

This will be my only post about the election. Feel free to ignore it.

Clearly the constitutional election process itself is royaly screwed up. Twice in the past twenty years, the person who received the highest number of votes for President lost. The fact that we continue with this system just because it was written by the sainted founders is absurd to the highest power and needs to be fixed.

However, there is another major flaw reflected in this election, one that has become integrated into our society. And I feel that it is even more responsible for all the crap that is coming in the next four years. It’s one that can be fixed, although I fear, not easily.

This quote, courtesy of the always wise Audrey Watters (by Antonio Gramsci, who died in a Fascist Italian prison in the 30’s), explains that flaw very well.

I hate the indifferent. I believe that life means taking sides. One who is really alive, can be nothing if not citizen and partisan. Indifference is lethargy: it is parasitism, not life. Therefore, I hate the indifferent.

Indifference is the dead weight of history. Indifference plays an important role in history. It plays a passive role, but it does play a role. It is fatality; it is something that cannot be counted on; it is something that disrupts programmes, overturns the best made plans; it is that awful something that chokes intelligence. What happens, the evil that touches everyone, happens because the majority relinquish their will to it, allowing the enactment of laws that only a revolution can revoke, letting men rise to power who, later, only a mutiny can remove.

I am alive, partisan. And, therefore, I hate those who do not take sides; I hate the indifferent.

Hate won this election, on a technicality. But hate also received a massive amount of assistance from that dead weight of indifference.

We have a significant number of citizens who suffer from that lethargy Gransci described. The loudest and most obvious group are those who refuse to vote, except for a flawless candidate who perfectly fits their unique mold. They are the parasites who are too utopian to take sides.

But they are relatively few in number.

Far worse are the large numbers who vote while being steadfastly, sometimes proudly, indifferent to even the most basic issues that most directly impact them. They refuse to do the work of educating themselves (something those sainted founders believed would be a fundamental requirement for representative government) and then demanding candidates explain clearly how they will address those issues. For them simplistic proclamations are just fine, thank you. Never mind if they make sense or are even possible.

We can almost excuse people for not learning enough to make an informed decision since they are served by a news media (mostly television) that has become almost completely indifferent to filling the basic role of the journalist. Of offering their audience the necessary details about problems we face as a society and then providing the context they need to make an informed decision. Don’t give me the crap about the need for “balanced” coverage. That concept is a myth. It’s impossible. Every issue has multiple sides and they are never equally weighted. If all sides were equal, then doing nothing would be appropriate and we move on.

To CNN, NBC, and the rest1, information and truth are far less important to these hacks than ratings and clicks – chasing the almighty demo and the profits they bring. Twenty four hours of indifference.

The combination of an uninformed public and media companies who keep them that way give us elected officials who themselves are indifferent (or openly hostile) to the needs and voice of anyone not providing the cash they need to retain their jobs. With the result that Lincoln’s line in the Gettysburg Address about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” becomes pretty much a joke.

Yes, hate is now in control here in the US. But the real evil in our political process is the indifference that allows it to happen.

Will that change? Can it change? I have to be optimistic because the alternative is not a positive society.


1. At least Fox is relatively up front with their biases. They don’t even pretend to do “journalism” most of the time.

3-2-1 For 9-11-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

NASA launched a mission this week that sounds really cool. The spacecraft will make a seven year round trip to an asteroid and “return a substantial amount” of it’s material to Earth. Of course, that’s no trival process but the story of the collection device that will be used is fascinating and a build that would be right at home at any Maker Faire. (about 4 minutes)

In a short piece on their UK site, Wired reviews some ongoing research that asks if virtual reality can make people more emphathetic. The answer, of course, is that it’s far too early to arrive at any conclusions. But this part is certainly good to remember: “Anything that has to power to influence our behavior for the better also has the power to influence it for the worse.” (about 4 minutes)

On his blog, Nicholas Carr, one of the more intelligent critics of the internet and it’s impact on society, posted the introduction from his new book in which he reviews some of the early promise of the web as an “engine of liberation”. Instead, he concludes that it’s more The World Wide Cage. Even if his ideas lean more to the negative side than I like, Carr’s writing always is worth reading. (about 11 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

A recent segment of the Freaknomics podcast (hosted by the co-author of the book with the same title) is about why The Future (Probably) Isn’t as Scary as You Think. The program is a discussion with the author of a book called The Inevitable and he really is optimistic about what he sees not too far ahead. (34:58)

In case you missed it this week (which would only happen by staying completely off the web), Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek. Among the flood of memorial material posted, one of the better retrospectives was a segment from On The Media that was actually first recorded ten years ago. In it, one of the show’s hosts explores the concept of Trek through the “infinitely powerful engine behind it all: the fan”. (15:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, the idea that the government has been hiding evidence of space aliens for 60 years is at the top of the dumb list. In a short video essay, Bill Nye offers some facts and rationality to explain why the government is not hiding extraterrestrials from us. He is, however, optimistic enough to believe we will eventually find alien life, although probably not like in the movies. (6:18)

The Not-So-Exciting Future of College

A prominent Silicon Valley investor offers Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology, ones that “will continue to transform the world and improve human welfare”.

Some of his choices, like self-driving cars and virtual reality are pretty obvious. Others like artificial intelligence and computerized medicine are slow progressions that have potential to go on the very bad side of exciting. Clean energy is pretty much essential to the continuation of life on this planet.crystal ball future

Then we arrive at his number 8, High-Quality Online Education, and his crystal ball clouds over.

While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.

Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost $1,400. Now anyone with a smartphone can instantly access Wikipedia. You used to have to go to school or buy programming books to learn computer programming. Now you can learn from a community of over 40 million programmers at Stack Overflow. YouTube has millions of hours of free tutorials and lectures, many of which are produced by top professors and universities.

The quality of online education is getting better all the time. For the last 15 years, MIT has been recording lectures and compiling materials that cover over 2000 courses.

This writer1 is working from a warped, very traditional vision of school and teaching that is firmly rooted of the past and not at all something to be excited about for the future.

A view that the process of learning is simply the transmission of information from one source to another. That teaching at the college level should be nothing more than lectures and assigning chapters from expensive textbooks. That human teachers make no difference in the process of learning and can easily be replaced with smartphones, Wikipedia, and YouTube. Making college cheaper with, he assumes, at least, similar results.

This not at all exciting and should not be part of anyone’s future.

Now about those flying cars I’ve been promised since childhood…

And, despite help from Audrey Watters, I wonder, is blockchain really something to be excited about?

Working For The Future

An article in Fast Company, a business magazine, offers the “hottest job sectors” for the year 2025 2 and the skills our current high school students will need to work in them.

With the healthy measure of skepticism required when reading any forecast based on humans and society, here are “six skill areas that the experts recommend”, as narrowed down by the editors.

Technology and computational thinking, the later of which they define as “the ability to manage the massive amounts of data we process individually each day, spot patterns, and make sense out of all of it”.

Caregiving, directly related to the fact that millions of us baby boomers are going to need a lot of help in our old age. Also, veterinarians will also be high demand.

Social Intelligence and new media literacy, to prepare people for the many sales, marketing, and customer service jobs.

Lifelong learning. Evidentally, the world will need a lot of teachers and trainers by the year 2025.

Adaptability and business acumen. Adaptability has always been a required skill for successful adults. Not so sure about business acumen.

So, how many of these skill sets are at the core of the curriculum in most American high schools?

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