2015: Back to the Future Syndrome

It’s 2015: Is the future finally here?

Rewind to 1992: Picture two Canadian kids (ages 8 & 10), sitting in pyjamas, watching Back to Future II (on VHS, naturally) and the moment it’s over, rushing to the family garage to craft our very own Hoverboards from old boxes.

I know I’m not the only 80s kid who’s been impatiently anticipating 2015…and now that it’s finally here, feeling pangs of nostalgia and disappointment that most of what Universal Pictures promised did not actually materialise into every day life.

Ok, well maybe some things did materialise but how accessible are these new technologies, and do they exist because of an actual need …or simply because an imaginative screen-writer made it up? Gawker explores the 14 things Back to the Future actually did get right, which does give me hope that one day every child will cruise around on their very own Hoverboard (thank you Hendersons!)

Let’s take a look at another video produced from around that same year:

Were Apple’s predictions as outrageous as a Hollywood script writer’s? To what extent can we anticipate changes that are predicted before their time?

The first time I saw this video was at the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Global Conference this past July 2014. And my reaction was complete disbelief at how spot-on Apple was in predicting the changes education would see at the turn of the century: video conferencing, collaborating ‘online’, mobile touch-screen devices, project-based learning, inquiry & design cycles..and the growing need to connect and network outside classroom walls. I’m sure those watching this video back then were unconvinced that it was anything more than an idealistic pipe dream, like much of the technology envisioned by screen-writer, Bob Galefor Back to the Future II.

When I think about predictions for education, such as those outlined in 21 Things That Will Be Obsolete in 2020 (written 5 years ago) I find myself experiencing a mix of excitement, anticipation, and pending disappointment. I mean, how often does what’s predicted truly materialise? Why are we stuck anticipating the future when it’s actually already here?

CC Nati Devalle flickr.com
CC Nati Devalle flickr.com

 Cardboard Hoverboards vs. The Real Thing

There was something real about the cardboard Hoverboards my brother and I used to play on. In our minds, they were flying. They took us anywhere and everywhere we wanted…without even having to leave the backyard. We truly believed we would grow up in a world where everyone had a Hoverboard, and it wasn’t a question of how, but when. Had we not seen the film, explored the possibility of a flying skateboard, could we (and other children) have ever embarked on this imaginative journey, which is now being realised by a kickstarter campaign?

Since the turn of the century (already 15 years ago) there’s been a lot of talk about 21st Century Skills, Classrooms,  Learners, Schools. Yet despite the research and projections, many schools seem to think these are ‘for the future’ and not right now. Why is this? What is the difference between a Hollywood film predicting the future, Apple predicting advancements in tech, and credible educators, researchers and experts predicting the changes in education as whole? According to Shelley Blake-Plock, some of the ’21 obsolete things for 2020′ include the following:

  • Desks: The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.
  • Differentiated Instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher: The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.
  • Fear of Wikipedia: Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.
  • Paper: In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

While I’m sure the article was meant to provoke educators (and did it ever, if you scroll to the comments section) I couldn’t help reading it, smiling, and thinking…could all this really happen in 5 years time? My gut says no, but the creative cardboard-hoverboard-maker inside me thinks What’s stopping us from trying?

In 2008, Sir Ken Robinson delivered  an infamous lecture on the need for Changes in Education Paradigms . RSA modified this lecture into a conceptual visual-note style film:

If these ideas have been around for 3/4 of a decade, why haven’t more schools changed their focus and embraced these changing paradigms? If experts have been researching, advocating and predicting the need for these changes, why haven’t all schools adopted a standard set of 21st Century Skills, such as those so clearly laid out by ISTE?

My experience in four IB international schools (in four countries) since 2007 has shown me that more than ever schools need resources and support to create a cohesive program for digital citizenship education, throughout the school. The ISTE standards already offer this, and are a comprehensive collection of outcomes schools can adopt. These “are the standards for learning, teaching and leading in the digital age and are widely recognized and adopted worldwide. The family of ISTE Standards work together to transform education” (ISTEMost impressively, they support development for all levels of an educational institution, not just for students but for all stake-holders in a child’s education…including teachers, coaches and administrators.

Just look at ISTEs Standards for school leadership:

  • Visionary LeadershipEducational Administrators inspire and lead
    development and implementation of a shared
    vision for comprehensive integration of technology
    to promote excellence and support transformation
    throughout the organization.
  • Digital Age Learning Culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture
    that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging
    education for all students.
  • Excellence in Professional Practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and
    innovation that empowers educators to enhance
    student learning through the infusion of
    contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  • Systemic Improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital age
    leadership and management to continuously
    improve the organization through the effective
    use of information and technology resources. 
  • Digital Citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate
    understanding of social, ethical and legal issues
    and responsibilities related to an evolving digital
    culture

How many more years of 21st Century research, projections, lectures until society as a whole demand these expectations of a school community and leadership team? We’re 15 years in already.

While researching links to include in this blog post it was incredibly encouraging to learn about schools that have been embracing these shifting paradigms. International schools like UWCSEA & Shekou International School (who both were winners of 21 Century School-of-the-Year) are paving the way forward both from a technological perspective and overall philosophy for what the future of learning looks like. It’s evident looking at these examples from UWCSEA and SIS  that they value a lot of the ideas outlined in both ISTE and Blake-Plock’s article.

Over 2 years ago, George Couros, wrote a concise post about 8 Things to Look for in Today’s ClassroomIt has since been synthesised as a visual note-taking masterpiece:

george-couros-8-classroom-look-fors

Image by Sylvia Duckworth from Balancing Act

Not one of these principles for a learner-focused classroom mentions technology or devices explicitly. Rather, this visual depicts the very skills practice we could be facilitating through the use of technology.

If I were to link these 8 indicators with tech exemplars it may look something like this:

Voice: Blogs, Join an online network, Twitter, Sign a petition for change

Choice: Multiple platforms/apps for publishing, multiple devices, visual/audio/text creation

Reflection Time: Blogging, ePortfolios, Tell About This App,

Opportunities for Innovation: Documenting learning and creating a film/stop-motion to show the process; turning a simple retell/summary into something innovative 

Critical Thinkers: Comment on blogs/articles; create an opinion-based multimedia piece in response to something students learnt/read/watched

Problem Solvers: Student tech ambassadors, helping with trouble-shooting; Students have ‘dabble time’ with a new app and learn how to use it without any direct guidance

Self-Assessment: Students look at exemplars and establish criteria for a multi-media eBook; Create criteria for blog posts & commenting; Peer-peer feedback;

Connected Learning: Using Twitter as a way to connect with other schools & students; sharing learning via blogs; joining collaborative projects like #ifyoulearnedhere

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 13.30.07

Cardboard Prototypes Are Better Than NO Prototype

So what is it about education that makes the majority so hesitant to move beyond what we all grew up with? Are we getting ahead of ourselves and anticipating a future in education that only exists somewhere like Universal Studios? Will all schools ever fully embrace the need to change or only those willing to build a model from cardboard scraps first?

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 14.01.41

I think the real change in education lies with the individuals who follow through with the projected ideas. The ones who jump at the opportunity to try out the weird, new gadgets, connect with other schools & teachers, and take risks in their own classrooms. While we wait for the decision-makers to adopt comprehensive standards like ISTE, for the self-proclaimed tech-dinosaurs to pick up an iPad and dabble, nothing is happening but the passing of time. The fast approach of the future. So, while we wait, there really is nothing stopping you or me from implementing these principles into practice. We can take ownership of our current learning spaces and ~ through inspiration, trial and error ~ create a ‘rough draft’ (or cardboard cut-out) of what it could look like one day in all classrooms globally. Taking advantage of professional learning networks like Coetail and Twitter empowers all of us to maintain the idealistic standards for a digitally innovative classroom, even if it seems far-fetched at the moment. Seeking out opportunities for connecting and collaborating with schools and teachers who are already implementing 21st Century ideals, even if our immediate community hasn’t fully adopted them, brings our classroom and the education paradigm one step closer to it’s next shift. For how can anyone truly envision the change without seeing it first as a prototype?