June 19th, 2017
Holodecks and Smart-Phone Wands: How Technology Could Continue to Shape Our Minds
An essay by Catherine Vigil, CGTrader Annual Scholarship 2017 winner
When thinking about the future of technology in education, my first instinct is to imagine a Holodeck-like scenario in which students embark on a tour of a historian’s reconstruction of the Library of Alexandria, guided by their exuberant history teacher, picking up ancient scrolls or speaking with a long-dead philosopher. Perhaps in French class, instead of simply googling pictures of Bordeaux, they might experience the sights and sounds of a famous port city, getting chance to practice their French with native speakers – all while remaining in high school classrooms.
Yet while I do believe and hope that the forward march of technology could lead us to this Star Trekian world, I also witness the real and significant change existing technology has already had on how we process information and experience the world, causing me to wonder if the future of technology in education looks like completely new gadgets, or an extension of what already has been and continues to be developed. One could easily argue that today, we already have more opportunities for learning than at any other point in human history. If we want to access information, we can read it, yes, in an online article or a physical book, but we can also listen to a podcast or find a Youtube video. Smartphones, magic-wand like devices that have become a part of our person, allow us to attain virtually any facts we desire in a few seconds’ time. In this way, the future of technology in education may not revolve around drastically new devices, but rather around refining technology’s ability to aid us in thinking critically instead of memorizing facts, working towards unified knowledge, and devoting much needed attention to different individual learning styles inside and outside the classroom.
Lately, there have been many changes to the formats of AP, SAT, and other national exams, often reflecting a general trend in today’s classrooms away from simple fact recitation. We can view this as directly related to devices, personal computers and smartphones, that have become ubiquitous among students and the general population alike. While it is of course important for humans to retain some information on their own, with machines to store raw data for us, there is more room for humanity to focus our attention on what those facts mean, and how they relate to each other. Any future technologies must continue to aid students to focus in identifying trends, inferring meaning, and recognizing patterns from many different types of data – data that will be stored by these technologies, just as computers and smartphones do now. It is important to note that computers cannot as of right now act as a replacement for deciding which facts we accept as truth, as this falls under critical thinking skills.
There was a time when philosophers like Aristotle did it all - science, math, humanities – because of a belief that knowledge was unified and related. Necessarily, we began to specialize and develop very specific branches of study to further progress in our understanding of fields like Biology, Psychology, or Aerospace. Yet the advent of the internet, a technology founded upon the concept of networks and systems, has given rise to a renaissance of interconnectedness, and an understanding that cooperation between disciplines is at the heart of future educational systems. Future technologies, perhaps fancier WebCrawler-like devices or algorithms, will aid us in understanding how different subjects are related to one another. Perhaps a student will use their computer to build their own virtual self-organizing ecosystem, or use a new kind of social network to allow a neurologist and a philosopher to work together on the same problem within a few minutes, just as we send a snapchat today.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, new technologies will allow us to more easily cater to individual students’ needs and learning styles. When speaking with a math teacher about my struggles performing on math exams, he lamented a schools’ limited ability to craft a testing mechanism and classroom uniquely suited to every students’ abilities. In a world where technology like VR or even AI is part of an ordinary classroom, students may be able to receive the individual attention they need in all subjects with technology that is able to learn as they can. Of course, future technology, like current devices, will feed our natural passion for understanding and thinking, like a good podcast encouraging us to learn long after we have left the classroom.
All of this can only be made possible, though, if these technologies do not first become so smart as to destroy us or capitalize on or shortened attention spans. Will this ever happen? I don't know - I just heard my phone buzz
About the author
Catherine Vigil is Biology, Systems Theory student at Harvard University, United States. She has been awarded $2000 for the best submission on the topic “The future of technology in education”.
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