The days of chalk boards and slates are something that only reside in the memories of the parents of those of us that are in our mid to late twenties and early thirties at best. To ask a child in the education system of today if they remember the roll down boards, which I know I even remember at the grand age of twenty-four, you would more than likely be greeted by a rather bemused expression and a head beginning to lean to the right. Even exercise books in some sectors are slowly starting to see the end of the line as the use of technology in our enlightened period of the 21st century grows and grows as we are trickled new ventures, gadgets and gizmos on a quarterly basis.
Tales of a bygone era
In the final stages of a Masters myself, and going through the sometimes difficult periods of essay writing and endless amounts of reading, my mother might occasionally pass comment on her education in response to my moaning. The tales she spins feel in my mind almost Victorian, with horror stories of standing on chairs and recanting the times tables, doing long hand on slates, slates! And of course, being cautioned with board erasers and punished with a whip of the cane to the knuckles. Truly dark times in the spectrum of education some might comment, however, this is only some forty to fifty years ago.
So are we now truly enlightened? Blessed that technology has graced our classrooms, lecture theatres and teachers staff rooms? In a lot of ways yes, but I believe there is a counter argument. I’ll begin by assessing one of the positives though.
Paper. A commodity that we have for centuries taken for granted as being one of the only ways to harbour our knowledge and information. From the countless rows of books in libraries, to the endless circulation of the daily printed newspapers, paper is still a strong runner in our every day lives but it does come at a cost. Our source for paper is trees, and their yearly cultivation although replanted and nurtured, greatly affects our environment. Not to mention the significance the process of making paper has on the world’s carbon footprint. So, the technology hero here has quite literally been, the creation of virtual storage.
Say goodbye to paper
With hard drive capacity now in a region that we wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago, its possible to store nearly the entire catalogue of books your community library would hold on a tablet no bigger than a sheet of A5 paper. Access to such material has exponentially altered this magic also, with the ease and low price of getting a hold of digital material now through sources such as Amazon and hardware to put it on, such as the craze of the kindle, reading has become an altogether different experience.
In the classroom, this now means fewer textbooks, because they’re on the five-hundred iPad’s the school bought, and writing up your notes? That’s covered too, because there’s an App for that, in fact, there are more Apps for that than you need. Remember all those handouts you would get as well? Yep, it’s all good! Because you can store those on your tablet, laptop, phone, mp3 player, in fact, any device that has a screen and memory, will just about have the capability now to hold software that will let you read a simple document file. Handouts lead to the next point actually…
Like I have already alluded to, I’m twenty-four, so I’m not really that old, but when I left school, we had just moved to ‘wipe boards’ rather than chalk boards and that was pretty impressive, and not just because we loved the smell of indelible markers. We still had OHP’s (over head projectors) and the A4 transparent slides that the aforementioned pens also wrote on, and they were also pretty cool!
Just before I left Sixth Form for the lofty heights of a University education, projectors began to shine their incandescent light on the walls, and rumour bounced around the 70s prefab halls and corridors of a new form of homework. Sheer dread. I never saw or used it before leaving, but have since come to rely on a version of it. The VLE. (Virtual Learning Environment)
Death to homework
The VLE has seen the death of conventional homework, the creation of poster boards and physical handouts. Now at school, you have a username, which is usually an eight digit number and an assigned password which you change on first login. Much like a new online shopping account. Once you have access, there is an abundance of educational wonders at the end of your fingertips. This rumour I heard of the virtual learning environment at school became the way in which I would near enough complete my entire undergraduate course. My university had a different name for it, but it was the same thing. My entire years worth of modules were on there with nearly every lecture, seminar and group piece of work for each week, and all course work assignments and essays. I’d edge my bets that I could have completed my degree with next to no human contact whatsoever. This brings me to a bad point.
The possibility to interact with technology on the level that we do is making a huge impact on our sociological standing. I have personally had some of the most mind-altering experiences in the terms of my education, in the company of others, through group debate, the exchange of ideas, and the flurry of an open floor forum. A concept not too dissimilar from that of the Romans some two-thousand years ago. The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes the old and trusted ways don’t need technological advancement, that they in fact inhibit them.
We’re beginning to lose a sense of what society is meant to be simply because we don’t interact with one another on a personal level as much anymore, and its also making us lazy. Children now have a language of their own, abbreviating and shortening words for ease and to make the length of a message or passage of writing shorter is ruining the literacy of an entire generation. We openly encourage it, with words like ‘selfie’ even finding their way in to the Oxford English Dictionary. This, in my view, is no virtue. Some will address it as progression, I think in this small way we are regressing.
I don’t doubt for a second that on the whole, technology in the education arena has been something to marvel at and even revel in. Something I particularly congratulate is the opening up of knowledge and the access to education it has given us. Those who before couldn’t do that course because of time commitments, because they couldn’t afford that kind of education, can now access the world’s database of knowledge and even subscribe to courses offered online by open-end sources and some Universities. This is a remarkable feat.
The way in which we now communicate is also truly wonderful. At any one point I am never usually more than an arm stretch away from connecting with the other side of the world, ordering dance shoes from a shop in Beijing, reading about how Ebola is going to kill us all, ahem. RAF Fighter jet interception, or deciding which holiday I want next. And Google Earth is practically the best snooping tool ever right?
What we can now do is fantastic and in the terms of education, we have never been so greatly connected, which allows for our knowledge to strengthen continuously as we consult internationally, with minds across the world and produce research that we once would have had to be on location to collect and assess.
However what we must not forget are the dangers of becoming completely reliant on these technological advancements. We were doing fine before they came along, and were still producing some of the greatest minds that we have ever known. Albert Einstein never had the use of Google and he still delivered enough to keep us both quoting and using his work and discoveries.
An alternative to traditional schooling; homeschool – Matthew Peter Ballard has a look at homeschooling here on our site – http://www.kettlemag.co.uk/article/why-there%E2%80%99s-nothing-wrong-homeschooling