Insight from Agora Consultants

Back to School – Technology Style

Like most kids in the civilized world north of the equator, my three daughters all went back to school this week.  The eldest has just gone away to university for first year and she happens to have chosen my alma mater, so moving her in to residence this weekend brought back lots of memories of my own arrival there just over 30 years ago.

That also allowed me to reflect on the similarities and differences between those two times.  The residence rooms are exactly the same.  The food appeared almost identical.  The events planned for Orientation Week are very similar.  Finally, the energy level of several thousand first year students all together is still an unbelievably positive and infectious thing.

The one main difference is technology.  As my daughter set up her laptop and printer, and figured out how to set the alarm on her iPod docking station/alarm clock, she was busily texting her friends who were on other floors in the same residence so they could get together later.  Her next door neighbour was installing a wireless router in his room to extend his reach (and allow his printer to be in the closet). 

Thirty years ago, none of this existed.  But it got me thinking about what great and wonderful things this technology has allowed today’s students to do.  They can update their Facebook pages with the endless digital pictures that they take so that friends and family can see their new shaved head or hair dyed in the university colours.  They can wander the halls with their laptops playing networked computer games with the guy in the next dorm room.  They can spend endless productive hours watching their favourite TV shows pirated on YouTube.  And most importantly, they can ensure they never have to have a minute alone because they can always connect with someone.  But this is only Frosh Week.  Next week when school starts, perhaps there will be a higher calling to all of the technology.

But at this point, call me a sceptic (cynic is such a negative word).    I have watched in utter disappointment over my first 14 years as a parent of school age children at complete lack of vision in terms of the use of technology in our education system.  Although there have been a number of “tech” classes, these tend to be high level introductions to programs that kids will probably never again encounter in their lives.  I have not seen a teacher incorporate technology into the classroom in a meaningful way to enhance the experience of learning math, science, literature or music.  I can’t help thinking that it’s somewhat at the root of Canada’s woeful performance in worker productivity and under-investment in technology.  Kids are constantly exposed to the power of technology, but then don’t see it being used for anything other than simple amusement and as something to feed a growing generational case of ADD.

So I’ll continue to watch with keen interest to see if post-secondary education will be different.  Maybe I can schedule a weekly Skype video chat with my daughter to get her input – and to make sure her hair is still the length and colour it was when we dropped her off on Monday.

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