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Anachronisms in Education

A few weeks ago I came across Brad Kellett’s obsoleteskills.com. The website, based on a conversation started by Robert Scoble, is a compilation of skills that are, quite simply, no longer useful. Here’s a sample set from the main page:

While I found the list amusing, I didn’t give it much thought until a few days ago when, during the course of an Educational Policy Committee meeting, the issue of content and skills in the curriculum sparked a lively debate. Our school will be implementing a 1:1 Tablet PC program this fall, and while none of us can predict the full implications of this initiative, the fact that education is changing is inescapable. As surely as filling a fountain pen is a thing of the past, the advent of anytime-anywhere learning will render a portion of modern education obsolete.

pocket_slide_rule.jpg
Image Courtesy of Benjamin Crowell

In the spirit of fostering conversation at the risk of inviting slings and arrows, here’s my list of five tools and techniques that I foresee going the way of the slide rule (in order of obsolescence):

  • School Supplies: Tools like OneNote mean no more finger-pinching binders, colored tab dividers, tattered notebooks, or missing pens, pencils, or highlighters. If it’s digital, it goes into the electronic organizer.
  • Traditional Textbooks: Whether online or installed locally, electronic texts are less expensive, more convenient, and more interactive than their hardbound counterparts.
  • Printing and Photocopying: With notes, handouts and texts digitized and inkable, paper resources are neither eco-friendly nor necessary.
  • Handwriting: Tablets allow for writing, but keyboarding is faster and more efficient.
  • Keyboarding: Voice recognition software isn’t perfect yet, but it was good enough to compose the first draft of this post.

I suspect that for some of you, reading through my list was not unlike an electrical current passing through a copper wire; the longer you read the more resistance you developed, so perhaps a little perspective is in order:

  • Do I think we will ever truly be paperless? Probably not, but our Tablet students will utilize OneNote and several electronic texts. They will have one small three-ring binder for any/all resources that are not digitized.
  • Will we still have printers and photocopiers? Yes, but teachers will be encouraged to minimize their use of paper resources and student printing will be closely monitored.
  • Am I really suggesting that handwriting will be obsolete someday? No, but I do question its usefulness and the amount of time schools spend on direct instruction.
  • No more keyboarding? Are you serious? Yes. I type faster than I write, and I speak faster than I type. The technology hasn’t fully been developed yet, but it is coming.

How quickly these skills will fade from classrooms depends not on the willingness of educators to change, but rather on the tolerance of students for our nostalgia. Now that we are providing them with options, which tools and techniques do you think they will choose? I could be wrong, but I’m betting the Tablet PC comes out ahead of the Trapper Keeper, downloading will trump photocopying, and the Dragon will slay Zane-Bloser…and maybe sooner than we think.

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7 Responses to Anachronisms in Education

  1. Baumann

    Teaching literature in today’s world is also a challenge. I have to “orient” students. Last week I taught “Epicac” a short story by Vonnegut, and had to explain that original computers did not have screens and that you had to punch in a code. There are a lot of “obsoletes.” At least next year we can instantly have them look on line to see for themselves the anachronisms of which we speak!

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