Science Fiction or Science Fact?

Investing in technology - make sure the investment pays off

It’s true that the science fiction of our youth have informed much of science fact in today’s society; particularly when it comes to technology. There are lots of examples.

The genre of science fiction has many proponents. In popular culture today we see it in Marvel films, such as Iron Man, or Big Hero 6. These ideas come from literature and have been around for many years.

Adam Roberts writes in his 2005 book, ‘The History of Science Fiction’ (click here to view on Amazon UK) about science fiction saying “the great majority of science fiction written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is actually ‘extrapolated technology fiction’”. He goes on to say, “We find tools and machines at the core of most science fiction: such that spaceships, robots, time-machines and virtual technology (computers and virtual realities) are the four most commonly occurring tropes of the field.”

We can’t see spaceships and time-machines in our classrooms today (although we can create our own virtual time capsules using technology to facilitate virtually travelling back in time), but we are certainly seeing virtual technology, computers and realities alongside robots (such as the Sphero or 3D printers).

Whilst we’re talking about spaceships, certainly naming NASA’s first space shuttle ‘Enterprise’ was certainly more than just a hat-tip to the illustrious flagship ‘Enterprise’ of Star Trek. Whilst we aren’t seeing spaceships in our schools there are definitely technologies in our schools that have been influenced by the classic science fiction series. Take the iPad for example. As Chris Foresman wrote in his article in 2010 ‘How Star Trek artists imagined the iPad 23 years ago’, the science fiction show had a massive influence upon iPad and iOS design. I know from my own personal experience that I remember seeing the PADD (Personal Access Display Devices) in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and thinking how amazing and futuristic it was. Never did I imagine that in 25 years time I’d be holding something even more developed than his original PADD in my hand in the form of an iPad, just like Geordi La Forge.

So enough of the science fiction history lesson; let’s get some facts…

As Oliver Quinlan notes in his Nesta 2014 article, “In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology”. My first encounter with Nesta was following their report in 2012 called ‘Decoding Learning’ and as the report stated, the findings of their research were that despite this massive spend on technology, very little or no impact has been seen on learning or outcomes.

There are some key points for getting a return for your learning investment on education technology:

  • training
  • ongoing support
  • sustainability
  • infrastructure
  • culture / ethos
  • pedagogy

If you can get those key elements right, then technology can have an impact. The thing is, we live in 2015 now. Not 1995. I think it’s about time that the whole education community took technology in education a bit more seriously. While I realise that many will feel cheated because it’s 2015 and we haven’t yet got our hoverboards, despite being promised that in ‘Back to the Future 2’. I understand that. But I also know that just like we are all teachers of literacy, we are all teachers of digital literacy. As with most things in life, if we can model them well to our young people then they are more likely to pick up our good habits too. So just like we should err away from saying ‘I don’t do Maths’ we should also think carefully about making sure that we embrace our use of technology in purposeful ways too.

I firmly believe that there are no such things as digital natives or immigrants, despite seeing my five-year-old take to Google Search better than my mother. When it comes to technology in general, young people are good at what they’re good at; namely Instagram and YouTube. For the most part, the same is true of many educators, although of course no all. I know many who use technology both with purpose and pedagogy.

However, also in my experience, show many educators a new app and they’ll want training on it. Ask them who taught them how to play Candy Crush or to use Facebook and they will reply ‘no-one’. It’s all about having the right mindset. Not just that; they, of course, need everything else – namely the tools to do the job and ongoing support and training. We should all be taking out the use of technology far more seriously. We are investing too much money in it for it not to work. Otherwise, you might as well not bother at all. After all, you expect to see learning returns for the investment you make in other areas of the school; why not technology?

So this is my plea. If your school is providing those key elements of training, ongoing support, sustainability, infrastructure and are developing pedagogy and a culture and ethos to be a whizz overnight. But give it a go. One thing at a time. After all, every (digital) journey starts with a single step.

Click here to read this article freely in the April 2015 Online Edition of UKEdMagazine

Read other articles by Mark by clicking here.

Mark Anderson @ICTevangelist is a former AHT, education consultant with a passion for creativity, learning and innovation in the classroom. Mark is an award-winning blogger, author of best-selling ‘Perfect ICT Every Lesson’, Independent Thinking Associate and finalist in this years UK Blog Awards.


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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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