Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Imagine this: one day you will be able to type your homework on a thin molded-aluminum keyboard inlaid with fingertip-sensitive white plastic tablets in the same configuration as in a typewriter, using barely any physical effort at all, even resting your palms or the inside of your wrists lightly on the desktop, if you choose, so as not to fatigue your arms. The letters you type will appear within in a white rectangle, roughly the size of piece of paper, on a screen on the desk in front of you.

The keyboard on which you will type will not be connected in any physical manner to the screen on which the letters are appearing. The screen will display in the background whatever picture you have selected, from among a virtually infinite number of choices, to place on it. Appearing to hover above that picture will be little rectangles and little pictures, and, over to the left of the screen, on a sort of electronic totem pole to the left of the screen, a lengthy set of symbols of many shapes and colors.

Each picture and symbol on the screen will be a portal to other visual and aural experiences, some of which reside in electronic reservoirs within the unit housing the screen, and others of which – magazine articles, songs, movies, artwork, whatever your imagination can conjure – will be delivered to your screen via electronic cables connecting your screen with other screens very much like it all over the planet.

Access to these experiences will granted by means of a small oval device sitting to the right of your keyboard. Although it does not appear to connected to the screen either, it has great power. You will need only to note the position of a black arrow on your screen. If you move the device on the desk, you will see that the onscreen arrow will move in exactly the same direction at exactly the same speed.

If you maneuver the onscreen arrowhead so that it appears to be hovering over an onscreen symbol, and then press down with your index finger on the top of the device on the desktop exactly twice, a larger rectangle will suddenly appear at your summons, on the screen in front of you, displaying exactly the information you were seeking. You will be able to move any picture or symbol which appears anywhere on the screen any where you want it, and, once you have learned how to use the device, to resize them or duplicate them or cause them to disappear..

Anything you see on screen, you will be able to print onto paper, exactly as it appears, in black and white or full color, without leaving your seat. Anything you see onscreen, including your own face and your own voice, you will be able to share with anyone you like anywhere on earth.

Process Reflection:

This started out as a six-sentence exercise, but got away from me. It arose from an idea that came up in a discussion today at school with Chris and the others connected to our professional support group. A group of teachers was discussing Daniel Pink’s TED Talk on motivation, in which he argues that the key factors in motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It occurred to me as we were talking that the laptops that our students carry around with them are uniquely powerful devices for encouraging and facilitating exactly these three inclinations, if only we could learn, or re-learn, to see them this way. The problem is that the students have grown up with the technology and take it for granted, using it primarily as an entertainment center and portal for everyday communication. They don’t see it as transformative, they don’t see it as a wonderful gift, they see it as a given, which is to say they don’t see it at all. Even digital immigrants like myself have lost the ability to fully appreciate the nearly miraculous power now at our fingertips. So I began this exercise in an attempt to force myself to just see all of this as if it were new, as if I had not seen it before.

The question that the discussion, and the exercise, raises for me is the question of responsibility: given these amazing tools, ought we not feel some responsibility to use them for good, or, in the words of Daniel Pink, “to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”? If I were walking in to teach a class tomorrow, which alas, I am not, that would be the first question I'd be tempted to start off with. Followed by others: What would that look like? Have you ever seen it? Would you like to see it? If you wanted to do it yourself, what would you have to do first?

1 comment:

C. Watson said...

Yeah, I like this. Since you don't have a class to walk into today, I'm starting with: "to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves..." Not sure where we'll end up, but I've got this big map that flows from that statement to the essential questions to four themes that my students extracted from Alexie's first sentence to the active reading questions and responses they've been keeping and back around. I think it all has something to do with the question I posed to my class last cycle: what does it mean to read together as a community? what are we accountable and responsible to each other for? I'll let you know how it turns out.