What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
― Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
The story is well known now that Stephen Hawking, who many consider the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein, has been able to continue his illustrious career despite a debilitating diagnosis in 1963, due to technology that has assisted his communication.
Like Hawking, many students are trapped in the prison of a body that does not unleash their capability. Unlike Hawking, they don’t have access to the technology that will do that. Thousands of caged birds sit quietly in today’s classrooms. Their wings flit, eager for a voice to share the song in their heart. Now that it is more affordable, shouldn't more people have access to the technology that has helped Stephen Hawking live more fully?
Recently I interviewed Karole Pearce, the mother of such a student, Lanie. Lanie’s classmates raised $5,000 so Lanie could regain her ability to speak after her mobile eye-tracking device broke. While excited about the device and her child’s ability to speak, Karole shocked me with her offhand comment that Lanie was sometimes “lazy” and could do more. Are we letting the disability of those like Lanie make us unable to see their ability?
In the 1980’s and before, we typed into computers using the command line interface (CLI). And then transitioned to the mouse and the graphical user interface (GUI). Now, with Siri and gesture-based computing we are using the Natural User Interface (NUI). But a new age is upon us and it is not just smart watches that measure your heartbeat. Just take a look at the tear-inducing YouTube videos of those receiving cochlear implants. Neil Harbisson (called the “world’s first human cyborg”) is painting with sound. The biologic user interface (BUI) is here.
While Matrix-like implications will raise ethical dilemmas we cannot understand perhaps our biggest ethical dilemma is this: Can we justify caging the birds when it is within our power to open the gate and let them sing?
If we unleash the potential of the BUI, then a generation of disenfranchised people will find their voice. BUIs will unleash an exciting age for those with special needs. I say “exciting” with tempered joy because those with special needs and their families have many struggles few others can understand. As I hear mothers like Karole excited about talking with their child for the first time, it is joy I hear.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
In the next ten years, I hope we work to give all children a voice and listen to them sing. We have the technology. Do we have the will?
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