Thoughts on Standardized Education

My career has approximately coincided with the history of personal computers in schools. I was an undergraduate student when “computer” meant a device that sat on a desktop and was turned on only after placing a diskette in the drive that loaded the only program that could be used during the session. The display was a heavy cathode ray tube and usually displayed information in a single color on a black background. At that time, the “Computers in the Classroom” course was optional for students in the teacher education program; most opted to avoid it, I did not.

Over time, operating systems became more sophisticated and network connections became ubiquitous. Devices became smaller and contained more processing power and longer battery life, so handheld computers are now common. Today, large portions of the population (in the United States) consume and create and share multimedia information with their computer devices.

Each advance in hardware, software, and connectivity necessary for the evolution described above seemed to be the staging ground for “the next big thing” in educational technology as well. Programming was replaced with multimedia (creating and consuming). The Internet was first described as an infinite library, but those was replaced with the interactive web 2.0, and now cloud computing.  Educators have been told to “teach about computers,” “teach by computers,” “teach with computers,” “integrate technology,” and “flip their classrooms;” all the while, school and technology leaders have been expanding one-to-one initiatives to provide each student with a laptop and configuring networks and encouraging students to “bring your own device.”

School and technology leaders have proceeded under the assumption they knew what was needed, and all they needed to do was to select the tools that best met their needs. If we have learned nothing else in the last year it is that unexpected situations arise. While the obvious reality that we cannot predict pandemics and their effects on schools, the less obvious reality is that there are many factors about which we are ignorant that affect our schools.

Unpredictability and variability are two of characteristics of our world. Schools that reflect that reality will look much different than they do today.