Thursday, March 09, 2006

Knee of the Curve

One of the issues I think we need to look at as educators is the accelerating pace of change. I’m reading a book right now that makes a compelling case for the amazing changes that are going to happen in the lifetimes of our students (and, more specifically, within the next 30 or so years).

The books spends some time talking about exponential growth. For those of you who may have forgotten some of your algebra, a simple example of exponential growth is doubling. Start with 1 of something, then double it and you have 2. Double it again and you have 4. And so on. The famous exponential growth example in technology is “Moore’s Law”, where an industry executive predicted that the “speed” of computer chips would double every 18-24 months. The thing with exponential growth is that at the beginning, the growth doesn’t look all that spectacular. While it’s true that going from 1 to 2 is doubling, the absolute increase is only 1. And from 2 to 4 is doubling, the absolute increase is only 2. In fact, at the beginning exponential growth is barely distinguishable from linear growth. The author makes the case that humans are conditioned to view things as growing linearly, because we naturally take a fairly short-term view of things. But the thing about an exponential curve (when you graph it), is that suddenly the curve seems to shoot up – almost vertically. The author argues that we are currently in the “knee of the curve” and that even though we give lip service to the idea that things are changing rapidly, we don’t really have a good intuitive sense of how quickly and how much things are about to change. So, for example, if you have 1 million of something and now double it, you have 2 million – or an absolute change of 1 million.


If we are in the “knee of the curve,” then we are about to see explosive changes in just about everything because of the capabilities of technology. My daughter is in Kindergarten. By the time she graduates from high school, the typical household computer will probably be at least 100 – and maybe as much as 1,000 - times faster than current household computers (and most likely one-tenth of the cost). The Internet – in terms of mass use of it and also broadband access – is still in its infancy. It’s already had a massive impact on all areas of our lives – and we’re still just figuring out how best to use it. Imagine what it’s going to look like in 12 years. At the current pace, the fastest computers will be able to simulate the human brain in 2013. He predicts that between 2025 and 2030 we will be able to upload ourselves into computers. This sounds like science fiction (and there's much more in the book - especially the nano technology stuff), but he has shown a remarkable ability to predict change in the past.

Even if you don’t buy all the predictions, I think there’s no question that the pace of change is itself increasing (that would be the second derivative for all you math folks), and that should have a powerful impact on what and how we are teaching our students. Do you believe that school as we have typically defined it is going to prepare our students adequately to be successful in the 21st century? As David Warlick says:

Never before in the history of the world has a generation been better prepared for the industrial age.
Or, from Tim Wilson:

    • Old teaching methods don’t work with today’s kids. I raised a few eyebrows when I suggested that the act of a teacher consciously deciding not to use advanced technology with his or her students might be considered educational malpractice.
    • The value of factual knowledge is plummeting. I showed how quickly basic facts can be accessed with Google and looked ahead to a day within ten years when all students will carry an Internet-connected computing device with them 24×7.
    • We are in a relevance race. If we fail to utilize new technologies, we risk alienating our students. It won’t be many years before students can homeschool themselves and earn a high school diploma without setting foot inside a traditional school. If schools as we know them are to survive and prosper, we’re going to have to adjust to a world where we’re not the only game in town.
I tried to come up with some choice quotes to leave with the group. Here are two that seemed to go over well:

If your work can be automated, it will be.

And the question of the day:

What are you doing right now to prepare your students to collaborate seamlessly across cultures in jobs that probably don’t yet exist?

So, what are you doing right now to prepare your students?

8 Comments:

Blogger lgaffney said...

In response to your question, "what am I doing?" I would have to admit that I'm not doing enough. I try to expose my students to technology in a variety of ways, but it is the relevance of technology to my particular subject that I find most challenging. I want to learn how to do more though because I agree wholeheartedly with what these authors are teling us. It is, in fact, a disservice to not expose our students to these growing technological developments because this will be their life. If we refuse to adapt to these technological developments, we are also asking to be phased out of our own jobs. Technology is the future for our students and I agree that we need to adapt our teaching accordingly. What I would love to learn more about is how I can intergrate these technological developments into my study of literature and language because my limited use of technology is not the result of a lack of desire, but of a lack of know-how.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Michael S. said...

As a hopeful participant in the technology and constructivist learning community, I hope to learn the exact information that Lauren desires. I want to prepare my students for the world in which they will participate, but like Andrea asks in her posting, "To what degree?"

People often accuse me of living in this world with rose-colored glasses - of being the eternal optimist, naive to the point of ridiculousness. Essentially, I am an art teacher. My medium is words. Reading, writing. Not just for communication, but for creativity, appreciation, entertainment. Here is where I show my real concern as an art teacher - my comfort zone. Like Jared and his feelings of inadequacy when it comes to assessing his students' written work, I am having difficulty understanding my role in this technology awareness and preparation.

Do not misunderstand, I have no desire to hide away in my world of poetry and literature; I am simply struggling with ways to make this techno jump plausible, worthwhile, and maintainable.
I want my role in this endeavor to be one that does not teach students to supplant basic skills with a reliance on technology or to erase any potential love affair with literature. Instead, I hope technology can be used to enhance these attributes.

For this, I hope Karl and others with his passion and expertise can and will assist every teacher in finding his or her own technology implementation path.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Sally G said...

Eleven years ago, an age when faxing documents was just coming into educational vogue, I was teaching in a school that introduced a school-wide computer grading program to a skeptical faculty. Advocates assured us that it would quickly make gradebooks extraneous. It would save time and eventually perhaps even be accessible to parents on the internet! We were resistent to change, but good sports. At least most of us were. But I remember a teacher close to retirement status said, "I am too old to start changing now!! And she quit.

I love technology! I relish what it can do. Granted, I have only had a cell phone for almost a year. And I have not yet clogged my home Dell with music files. To me portable music comes in CD format. But I am learning! And it is an exctiing world. I guess I use the old shark analogy when I think of education: if it doesn't move in the water, it dies.

3:06 PM  
Blogger jaredr said...

One thing that the rapid expansion of technology has done is made me question myself (and others) "why are we still teaching what we are teaching?", and, "what should take it's place, what should stay?" These are some serious questions and discussions that should happen sooner rather than later.

For mathematics, what should stay are ideas, concepts, major themes. What potentially should go is the redundancey, the drill and kill. Symbolic manipulation can be done by a computer so the idea of symbolic manipulation should stay, but less emphasis on doing it from 1-50 on page 100 if you know what I mean?

In addition, technology enables us to see so much more, to understand and make meaning of math concepts. The ideas that should stay in the curriculum then when understood through technology, can be extended. Critical questions can then be asked that will take students to higher levels of understanding.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Jared Robinson said...

While I generally see technology as a positive, I think it is worthwhile to grapple with its perceived value. In my response to the "Technology At Its Finest" post, I gave examples of how I am trying to use technology. Here are my thoughts on the other side of the coin.

Don't get me wrong. I have really enjoyed my blogging experience. But I can't help but question, in a classroom setting, does blogging unify the class, or separate it? Let me qualify that question. We are in an age where communication is easier than it has ever been. We can follow the news in myriad mediums. We can send and recieve emails rather than wait for days or months to receive snail mail. But it seems to me that technology leads to a downgrade in communication rather than an upgrade. We spend time every week sitting at a computer communicating in writing precisely so we don't have to sit down in person with people who walk around all day on our same campus! We say, "isn't this convenient that I can get all the benefits of talking to Danielle without ever really having to talk to Danielle?" Now I can go online and grocery shop, having my groceries delivered to my house, so that I never have to interact with the other shoppers in my community. All of my entertainment needs can be met from the comfort of my own house via satelite, withouth the discomfort of interpersonal interaction in, say, a theatre or community dinner. It seems that technology is doing more to separate us from the world and from eachother than it is doing to unite us. What do you think?

8:07 AM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I think technology itself is neither good nor bad - it just is. It's how you use it that matters. Certainly some uses of technology are not the best and can separate us.

What the research so far says, however, is that active users of technology are actually more social and interact more than those who do not use technology. The researchers specifically set out to answer the question (fear) of whether technology was enabling the isolation of individuals. Somewhat to their suprise, they found the opposite. That doesn't mean that it isn't sometimes isolating, but that the majority of the time it is not.

As far as whether it's a downgrade in communication, I again think that depends on how you use it. In my experience, it has been exactly the opposite. It has expanded communication between people, not only within the AHS and LPS community, but worldwide. The conversations we are having through technology are not only increasing our interaction via technology, but actually increasing our interaction face-to-face as well. Just because you blog with your classes doesn't mean they shouldn't be communicating in class - it just means that you can continue the conversation after the bell rings. It provides an opportunity to think of "school" in terms of learning, not just in terms of a building.

I think if a person is using technology to avoid sitting down face-to-face with another person, it's likely that they wouldn't have sat down face-to-face before they had the technology. If they are having their groceries delivered to avoid talking to people in the grocery store, they most likely don't talk to people in the grocery store when they do go.

And I think - as we've seen with the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina - the instant access to both information and human stories that technology has provided has served to unite us in ways that we are just beginning to understand. Being able to read what victims have experienced directly from the victims - and almost in real time - is a powerfully different experience than watching network news anchors on television or reading the wire services news stories in the newspaper the next day.

All this isn't to discount the very real issues surrounding the negative sides to technology. But I guess the question I'm posing for our staff is - the technology and the opportunities it provides are here now and are rapidly increasing in capability. Are we going to bury our heads in the sand and hope it goes away, or are we going to utilize the amazing power it gives us to do good?

7:55 PM  
Blogger K Schneider said...

Now I love technology as much as the next person, really I do. But I'm a little concerned about how lazy we are becoming as Americans in regards to technology. For example, isn't it great that I can rent a movie without ever leaving my house or send email instead of walking/driving to the post office. Even the library has a computer system in order to check out books. The librarians stand around just in case something goes awry with the computer. I think this is just a little sad.

I feel that this technology boom is making us loose that personal touch. The ability to talk to each other honestly face-to-face instead of hiding behind a cell phone or email. It is difficult to read the tone implied in an email and quite easy to hurt someone's feelings by what is written, without intending to do so. I have had several parents this year call to say, "I'm sorry if my tone was rude in my email, I truly didn't mean for it to be construed that way."

I guess I'm old-fashioned in that I still like the sound of someone's voice. And laughter is pretty one-sided in an email.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Caroline S said...

Technology is changing at lightening speed! Trying to keep up is like climbing up a mountain. Are department is revamping our computer courses to help update them. Items that were relevant 3 years ago need to already be redone.
One of the items that we are looking at doing is teaching what to do with information overload and what is ok information what is not. This is a huge challenge!

11:06 AM  

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