iPads, Chromebooks, eBooks, oh my. We live in an age where success is defined not by hard work but by accessibility, where information is not just a tool, but a weapon, a double-edged sword that can hurt more than it help. It’s an age where we are both in control and out of it. How did we get here?
On the surface, advances in technology appear to be the virtual panacea to all educational woes. It is convenient, relatively inexpensive, and a door to lifelong learning. Compared to the unwieldiness and prohibitive cost of textbooks, an iPad is more than a solution. It’s a revolution.
So where does one go wrong? How does a system built to foster success meet demise, come face to face with disaster?
Technology promotes innovation. But also laziness. It inspires. But concurrently devalues such inspiration. We are what we create. We are a society pushing the limits of known physics like never before, yet at the same time, we are a society where entitlement is a principle upon which the younger generations are conditioned to abuse. These results are due, in no small part, to the power of technology.
Anything–everything–is available at the tip of our fingertips. Information about dinosaurs to how to build a paper-mache volcano, court case briefs to chemistry assistance, the digital world has, in a sense, rendered the physical world obsolete. Everything we expect, we expect to receive.
In the education system, this mentality is both insidious and potentially irreversible, creating students raised with the belief that hard work is the folly of the unenlightened. The studies are already done; the proofs, already made. All the students need to do is look it up. The excitement of discovery is replaced by an artificial feeling of reward resulting from a Google search well done.
Some may believe the solution to be a shift to virtual reality. After all, with hardware such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive hitting the market and the military’s incredible work with flight simulators, it seems like a no-brainer for the next step to be the application of such technology in education.
There are a number of issues with the current iteration of virtual reality that make such thinking a far-off fantasy, however. First and foremost, its prohibitive cost. At the moment, an Oculus Rift retails for $600, the Vive retails for $200 more. Prices mainly set to recoup the cost of research and development, it will take a number of years before a classroom set can be considered a feasible purchase. Second, while the software may be used to simulate reality, it is still just software. Studies have shown that a technical plateau is quickly reached when virtual reality is used for practice by medical students. Lastly, the sense of accomplishment acquired virtually is no match for that of an achievement grounded in reality.
Is there a solution? I hope so. The education system has proven remarkably adaptable to a changing society. Cell phones, once the bane of teachers and administration alike, have been used to enrich the classroom experience. Overhead projectors have gone the way of VCRs and cassettes, replaced by docucams and Scantron scanners. Technology, under the right circumstances, can enhance and improve the quality of education many times over.
So is the current technology-dependant system broken?
In short, not really. Well, not yet. In its current state, it possesses a degree of efficacy that, if nurtured, can restore the country to former academic might. If abused, it may spell doom and dysfunction for years to come. We just need to make sure the latter doesn’t happen.