Jean Baudrillard made some important points that reflect well on the discussion of technology and educational change (the rest of his conversation provides enough basis for about a decade of controversy and offense to many):
We are changing our system of values, changing all our identities, our partners, our illusions, and so on. We are obliged to change, but changing is something other than becoming, they are different things. We are in a “changing” time, where it is the moral law of all individuals, but changing is not becoming. We can change everything, we can change ourselves, but in this time we don’t become anything. It was an opposition put forth by Nietzsche, he spoke about the era of chameleons. We are in a chameleonesque era, able to change but not able to become.
This quote gets to the heart of much of our problem in changing schools, colleges, universities, or corporate training. We have, I think, a vague sense of what we don’t want to be. We recognize that we are riding a wave of tremendous change. And we are grasping for clarity on what we are becoming. We simply don’t know. Sure, we have a few who say they know the path, and find ample reward in their prominence and speaker fees. If they end up being right, it will be more a function of luck in predictions than of intelligence and awareness on their part.
Why don’t we now what we are becoming? The answer is complex…but centre on the following:
- Technology change – new tools, new software, new networks
- Conceptual change – new theories, new research (particularly in regard to cognition
- Ethics – we’re quite close, if nanotechnology, neuroscientists, and biology enthusiasts are accurate, to blending humanity and technology in unprecedented ways. Our capacity to innovate exceeds our ability to understand implications
- Global and political pressures – Brazil’s, Russia’s, India’s, and China’s economies are expected to overtake G8’s combined economies in the near future. African nations are building educational, medical, and financial infrastructures. The Middle East is rapidly developing. If someone says they understand the impact of those tremendous shifts, they’re guessing.
- Rise of everyone – people have voices at an unprecedented level. What happens to our expectations of government, schools, and religion when we function with democratic tools in how we engage and interact with each other and information?
Those are only a few of the changes, but their interplay is hard to predict. The difficulty of making these predictions creates an environment of perpetual not knowing. To function, we need to elevate from cause-effect thinking to (surprise) network adaptive thinking. As educators, our emphasis needs to be on increasingly learners ability to function in unknowing environments. A lesson we first need to learn ourselves.
“Change” is not “becoming”. The act and end result of becoming has many dimensions – who I’m becoming as a person, what our schools are becoming, what our society is becoming, what the world is becoming. How does one begin to impact change to the point of becoming? Shall we fatalistically be tossed about by these tumultuous changes and make our task one of accepting the final result? Obviously not. While many of the change pressures are well beyond our control, education has always played a dual role in society:
- Reacting to emerging trends, adjusting our approaches to influence learners, etc. Those who advocate for “teaching to the millenials” see this part of education’s role. Our task here is primarily about understanding our learners, embracing their tools, and trying to speak their language. That’s why educators fall over themselves trying to use blogs, wikis, Facebook, iPods, etc. The mindset is: if they use it for fun, maybe we can get them to use it for school. Not a bad idea with technology and curriculum (i.e. change what and how we teach to prepare learners)…but a disastrous idea when applied without thought to the structures of society. If our only metric is utility, then much of what it means “to be human” is ignored as we seek to only produce employees.
- Impacting society, changing society toward high ideals. I find this aspect of education to be most rewarding. People have a sense of beauty, idealism, and excellence (how’s that for a sweeping statement?). Many positive changes in society – such as public schooling – arise from this desire to impact society, to make a better world. I’m concerned that the voice of what education should be is lost as we scramble to react to trends. Perhaps this is why we are changing, but not becoming today. We are unclear on our higher ideal. We don’t know how we want to impact society through our education systems.