Looking at illustrative predictions of what people of the past thought about what the future might become, expose how unpredictable the time is. These conceptions of the future, such as those illustrated above, highlight how technology was heralded (as early as 1899) as the key to unlocking a new world, and indeed a new way of living. In stumbling across the illustration above of a classroom of the future by Jean-Marc Côte featured above, which was subsequently republished by science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov (1986), it is clear that much of what can be seen is just that – science fiction.
For many schools, including my own, embedding technology in the classroom is considered a necessity for reflecting the pervasiveness and prevalence of technology in modern society. Alongside this is the notion that its place in our classrooms better prepares children and young people for tomorrow’s world – a future in which ubiquitous digital technology, systems and networks (including the internet) change the way we live. The question that remains to be answered however is: whose vision of the future is this?
When trying to conceive ideas of what the future will be, our visions are often saturated with images of technology permeating every possible facet of our lives, more so than we see today. In these visions, artificial intelligence removes the difficulty of choice and the chaos and unpredictability of life, so that we are left with the only job a machine cannot perform which is to be human. The ultimate purpose of this notion is that, with the help of technology, we are left to become the best versions of ourselves without distraction. And this is not uncommon. Many science fiction films, TV-shows, stories and comics paint the same picture of the future.
In science fiction, the world is typically depicted in an exaggerated way through: overpopulation, the threat of war, prevalence of crime, outbreaks of diseases, extra-terrestrial invasion, but most often, an over-reliance on technology. These depictions of the future act as a visual parable, warning us of the perilous consequences of our actions and our attitudes. And while I do believe it is important for us to observe these possibilities, in these stories it is one person or a group of people who triumph over adversity, rather than the technology alone. Therefore, it is not technology alone that will save us, nor will it solve all our problems. So why do we still continue on a path towards this type of future?
Used and Disowned Futures
Inayatullah (2008) describes a foundational concept known as the used future which he suggests can be used to challenge existing views of what our future might be. He suggests we may have purchased a used future belonging to other periods of time (such as the industrial age) and furthermore school systems may still be locked into this. Further to this he offers another concept known as the disowned future whereby it is implied that we overlook implicit goals as a consequence of immediate concerns or priorities. Together, I think it is possible to label our current conception of the future as both used and disowned. Perhaps we are so preoccupied with the idea of a technology-filled future driven by constant innovation that we have overlooked the purpose of innovating in the first place? It is possible that because we have been surrounded by conceptions based upon the science fiction of the past (like those created by Asimov) that we are chasing a used future?
Classroom Past vs. Classroom Future
When discussing educational futures, Inayatullah (2008) reminds us that there are many different futures, but if the path we are on leads us to used or disowned futures, then we must move towards alternative futures by challenging these ideas.
In Côte’s depiction of a classroom in the year 2000, pupils sit passively while being fed information directly into their brains. They memorise facts by rote and it is the job of the teacher to act as the authoritarian source of knowledge. Here technology is a tool for assimilating information individually – without interruption. Although this is a far cry from the modern classroom, it illustrates some of the pedagogical expectations of pupils and teachers, but also of what many hoped technology could provide. But now we have moved in a different direction. A classroom in which pupils are active and are encouraged to construct their own meaning. Children struggle to learn by rote (preferring to learn experientially) and the teacher acts as a facilitator for learning. In our modern classrooms, the purpose of technology is still the same, it is used to facilitate the assimilation of information – but the key difference is that collaboration and co-participation are welcomed.
Ultimately, embedding technology in the classroom provides pupils with many opportunities. Opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been possible over 100 years ago, let alone even 30. And while its place in today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms may reflect the pervasiveness of technology in society, it is important to understand that technology cannot save education alone. Its presence cannot fix the bigger issues in education and wider society.
This is also recognised by Facer et al (2011:10) who suggests:
‘’Schools of the future’ for example, are usually modelled around adaptation of schooling to high technology contemporary working practices premised upon continued economic growth rather than, for example, aimed at equipping children for low carbon or post-breakdown futures or for transcendental post-human environments.’
Therefore, the claim that using technology in the classroom better prepares children and young people for tomorrow’s world may be nothing more than just fiction, as it doesn’t take into account other drivers for change or the future needs of education.
In conclusion, our conceptions of the future of education may be both used and disowned, but much like science fiction, we must examine the potential consequences of these futures and use this to highlight the ill-fate that lies ahead of us in a world (or classroom) over reliant on technology. Instead, we must focus on finding alternative futures in which we use technology to help us become the best versions of ourselves and not as the primary solution to all our problems. And while I believe technology to be a valuable tool for humankind, we must deepen our understanding of the world around us and the changes taking place so that we can take action today, for tomorrow’s future.