Don’t let the flux of technology make your curriculum irrelevant

I've begun my summer reading, and have completed my first book of the summer.

Must Read for Literature and History Teachers

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill is an absolute must read for any teacher of classical literature or history. This is the first of the “Hinges of History” series and is not for the person afraid of a robust vocabulary. My father recommended the series and this is one time I'm glad I didn't go with the Amazon reviews which only gave it three stars. I loved this book!

World Knowledge suffers from whiplash

I have had several paradigm shifts as I've realized that world knowledge has not been on a steady sloped increase. Every so often society suffers from whiplash as the rapid acceleration of learning is halted by a collision with unlearned or repressive political take overs of those who want to control minds or simply do not value learning.

In many cases, hunger and over population are great enemies of knowledge. As we know from Maslow's heirarchy of needs, if one is hungry, one will not ponder the meaning of life.

The loss of the library at Alexandria: From Books to Bathwater

The uneducated who care only for their safety and their next meal are more likely to view books as firewood rather than as kindling for the mind. As I consider the events which served as precursors to the Irish “saving” civilization, I think of the final demise of the most priceless contents of literature, science and engineering in the library of Alexandria. This library was founded near the end of the fourth century BC as a repository of the world's great books and at its height numbered almost a half a million works, many of them original. Although the Emperor Theodosius had much to do with the destruction of part of the library, in met its final demise in 640 AD, when Arab legions swept through Egypt. The commanding general used the books were used to heat Alexandria's public bathwater for several months.

I wonder if the barbarians learned anything as they swam in the last vestiges of works by Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, or Aristotle?

The Flux and Stasis of Education

This brings me to ponder the two words that have been the focal point of my thoughts for the last several weeks: flux and stasis.

Education thrives in stasis
Education seems to do quite well in stasis. When things are orderly and quiet and there is time time for reflection, study, and lecture. However, when society enters states of flux it seems there is difficulty.

Technology is always in flux

This relates directly to technology. Technology by nature is in flux. Its very core is that of flux. This has thrown education on its proverbial ear as educators grapple with standards, best practices, and measurement tools to determine exactly the STATUS of our technological education.

Therein lies the problem: STATUS and Stasis share the same root. How can you determine the status of something not in stasis? Todays answer is irrelevant tomorrow.

Technological innovation IS FLUX. So how do we determine its status? How do we respond more quickly to innovation? Who determines whether an innovation is worthy of covering in the classroom? How do we continually make sure teachers are “educated” on current technology.

Can an educated person become uneducated?

I am fascinated by a quote from one of my students last week as we discussed DOPA. One student responded to our classroom discussion by calling the Congressmen who supported this legislation “uneducated.”

I ask, here we have Congressmen, many of who are at the top of their field, and a tenth grader is calling them “uneducated.” Why is that?

Forgotten knowledge versus unlearned knowledge

I had three semesters of Calculus at Georgia Tech. Can I sit down and do it right now? — not without review. That is “forgotten” knowledge because I don't use it every day. However, this is not a matter of forgotten knowledge but rather of learning new, current technology. It is a matter of continuing education in a more real way than we've ever known it!

Education in a perpetual state of flux

If we are going to live in this state of flux created by our increasing dependence on technology, we are going to have to devise methods to “educate” the masses of people in this country and around the world.

It should not take two years to add information into the technology curriculum that will be outdated as soon as it is added. (I think a year is too long!) I believe that whereas the curriculum model may have worked relatively well for classical subjects, the technology curriculum (and technological tools used in the traditional core) need a delivery method that work well in a state of flux.

Ideas

More blog readers
– I am thankful for our many educational visionaries who “tell the story” and we would go a long way if educators would just read the blogs of leaders, but that is simply not happening right now. To respond better to the flux of technology, teachers must be attuned to it. As part of continuing education, could blog readership and subscriptions be required and counted as part of the assessment of such courses? What can we do to push relevant blogs to those who need them?

Curriculum Wikis
– I believe wikis are going to become more important as we create a compendiums of information on various topics: English technological resources, History technological resources, Technology Curriculum, etc. If curriculum writers and approvers could become involved with teachers and industry, I believe that we could begin to make curriculum more relevant in a more efficient time frame.

Streamline the process – With technology changing at the speed of your voice, it is vital that we create methods to work within the framework of education to create current, relevant, exciting educational opportunities for children. The bureaucracy that did so well in stasis is beginning to struggle and fight within itself as flux has thrown it into a tailspin.

The alternative

What happens if we do not make education relevant? What happens if we do not graduate students who understand the real world of technology? What happens if we do not engage our students?

We risk another societal whiplash as seen in the Middle Ages. Education is vital, paramount, and essential to our future as a society and the future of our world. So much knowledge was lost in Alexandria, perhaps even discoveries we have not yet made. What would be lost this time?

I love what TeacherDudeBBQ from Greece said last Friday in his “Waves” post:

Now the secret to swimming with large waves is to know when to enter the sea. Go in too late and you get hit by the full force of the wave, which can knock you for six. Get it right and its like having your own personal carnival ride.

It occurred to me that this is a good analogy as far as using technology in the classroom is concerned, reading blogs such as Cool Cat Teacher, Ewan McIntosh's Edublog or EFL Geek I see teachers wading out to meet the huge changes that are rapidly approaching, preparing their students to deal with and even enjoy the such developments'

On the other hand those teachers and institutions that ignore the existence of such changes are going to hit doubly hard by the swiftness of the technological, economic and geopolitical wave that is coming our way.

Well said. Moving these important technologies into the classroom is important! Creating educated world citizens is important! Creating an intrisic value for education in our growing world society is vital to the very existence of education itself.

If you don't think it can happen, read your wake up call, How the Irish Saved Civilization. It is a wake up call for the modern day educator if I've ever read one!

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4 thoughts on “Don’t let the flux of technology make your curriculum irrelevant

  1. Thank you very much for the mention, .

    When you talk about backlash and the library at Alexandria you remind me of the late, great Carl Sagan who made the exact same point in the TV series, Cosmos. Unless we share our knowledge with as many people as possible it runs the risk of being isolated and even destroyed, as was the library.

    Education, like democracy is a process, not a given.

  2. This is an interesting post – I’d not heard of the book before.

    One point jumps out at me, though, and that is your point about education thriving in stasis. By this I presume you mean formal/institutional education? Because I would suggest that the evidence shows that learning tends to slow down in stasis and advance exponentially in a situation of flux, as people rise to meet challenges they had not expected and were not equipped to face. I posted on this a little while ago: http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/2006/05/thriving-under-pressure.html

    While I’m not trying to say that hungry people contemplate the meaning of life, I think in stasis people have the luxury to theorise, whereas, in flux, they just get on and do.

    Technology has been in flux for a while, but within a society in stasis. As a consequence, many are theorising about how to apply the changing technology in education. In informal learning, people are just getting on and doing it. Some teachers (and I include you) are doing the same within the chafing restrictions set by static institutions.

    This sort of ties in with George Siemens’s white paper (http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/google_whitepaper.pdf) and the discussion that it has sparked off. I posted on this yesterday, too. http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/2006/05/industry-and-school.html

  3. Teacher Dude –
    I agree – Education is a process, not a given! Great point.

    Karyn –
    I believe that what I mean about stasis and flux is an actual societal state — is the government stable? Is the society stable?

    I recall in World War II that many innovations were made in the areas of technology. I’m not sure how much innovation was made in other areas.

    On the other hand, flux makes giants of men and women who would have otherwise been anonymous. Men and women who rise and thrive in the flux such as the late great Winston Churchill.

    I do think that there are greats who define any epoch whether it is an epoch of flux or stasis. I am concerned that it takes so long to add a new book to the English curriculum. Changing things in a Science curriculum is almost like an act of congress. At our school, we have flexibility to move and change, however, most of the textbooks we buy are targeted to larger, public schools.

    Really, this post of my was reflective and more of a macro view of society as a whole. If we look at periods in history with governmental instability and where basic human needs were not being met we will see that education actually goes backwards. You and I live in societies that have been pretty stable for a while, so we have time to, well, blog, for instance.

    Unfortunately, the education systems are also too much in stasis and need to have more flux to reflect the changing in technology.

    That is pretty much my point.

    I think perhaps we differ in that I’m talking about the macro view and I think your comments are on the micro view?

    Great comments.

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