A wise TA once said that during a class discussion about innovation in education. We discussed the use of technology and the inclusion of distance learners in our blended classroom and may (or may not) have been a bit persnikety about the realities of the gadgets we used: because even though it’s 2018, we still don’t have hovercrafts or flying cars (which is actually a serious bone of contention for me––I want my flying car and I want it yesterday), but we do have the ability to pipe people into a conversation several hundred (or thousand) miles away; it’s just that sometimes it lags a little…or the students in one classroom can’t hear those in another…or the latency restricts the class’s ability to stream videos. Issues, bugs, and hiccups abound, which is how we got into a deep discussion about how “we should have had all this worked out by now” (not the instructors of the class, but the hi-tech infrastructure on which our networked learning paradigm is based).
According to Moore’s Law, the number of transistors that could fit onto a chip increased at a yearly rate by a power of two (up until a certain point, after which predictions become more conservative, but that’s another story), which meant that the chips’ complexity, the random-access memory, and both the speed and power of the computer’s processors would increase as well. Having a faster processor and more RAM means having a computer that can complete more tasks at once, and complete them more efficiently–they can be a lean, mean, rendering/calculating/video streaming/wiki-jumping machine. Essentially, the consensus was (for a time, at least), that this continual uptick in efficiency and power meant that we could produce amazing things that worked at blazingly-fast speeds (which we have, as anyone who remembers the sound of dial-up internet can attest).
However, the problem we’re facing now is the mismatch between the pace of technological progress versus that of pedagogical change. The tools with which we innovate are changing so quickly that any changes to pedagogical practice with specific tools are in constant danger of obsolesence. Case in point, the gizmos we use in class may not work correctly for a variety of reasons ranging from America’s suboptimal internet infrasctructure to the varying degrees of obsolescence of each individual piece of hardware (make no mistake: as soon as the hottest new device hits the market, the clock starts ticking until it’s obsolete) to the myriad human factors (did the human hit the wrong key? Did they plug in that one crucial device? Is the battery running out on their laptop? Are too many browser tabs open?). There’s a similar problem in the legal profession as well: it has yet to catch up to the rapid advances in biology, specifically the use of CRISPR-Cas9 and its use in the modification (and perhaps one day, customization) of the human genome, and by extension the advent of so-called “designer babies”.
While the comparison to nascent legal guidelines for designer babies may be somewhat extreme, the chasm between longstanding legal precendent and the bleeding edge of science is not unfamiliar to those of us who wish to teach in the coming century: there is certainly a gulf between our pedagogical ideals, which are themselves based on centuries of precedent, years of study and introspection, and longstanding tradition, and the daily technological realities faced by our students. When looking at these twin chasms, it is unsurprising that my TA would come to the conslusion that education itself is a moving target. In resrospect, I would amend his statement and say that the moving target is not education itself, but the best education that we as instructors can provide, given the use of emerging technologies into our classrooms. The moving target is internal, and our goal is to emulate our best teaching selves, be that one from a more illustrious past or the future self we know to be possible.