We were asked in class this week what has been the greatest technology to impact education in the last 50 years. Lots of good options…internet, smartphones, digital projectors. I was just thinking about how my schooling experience is different than my experience now as a teacher and what has changed it the most and the thing that came to mind was….accessibility!!

I remember in elementary school having to do a presentation on Harrison Ford. I went all out and had a golf shirt on with the buttons left undone and I took a marker and drew on my best Han Solo chest hair. I remember doing a good job of this presentation, but I remember all the work that had to go into it. I had to get my parents to take me to the library, hope that the likely single copy of Harrison Ford’s biography was in, read the entire book to find the snippets of information I really needed, and then craft a presentation. I had to read a whole biography in grade 6 to do a 5 minute presentation!! Fast forward only 10 years and this assignment would involve a student googling Harrison Ford, skimming wikipedia for the pieces they needed, and all the information they needed could be theirs in 10 minutes flat.

Han Solo
Photo Credit: ShirtRater via Compfight cc

I don’t even want to reminisce about my cuttlefish presentation. Do you know how many libraries had books on cuttlefish (which is a really cool fish by the way -well, actually a mollusk)? I was left to resort to about the 3 sentences found in the encyclopedia.
Photo Credit: Nemo’s great uncle via Compfight cc

There has been more information in this world than a person can consume since the library in Alexandria was built. It hasn’t always been as accessible. Even with the dawn of the internet, while I was a student I remember waiting 20 minutes for a picture to load top to bottom on the screen. And even then you had to be at a location wired for internet! The point I’m trying to make is that you didn’t have access to the answers immediately, often times not even in the immediate future. It took time and it wasn’t even available to everyone, whether due to lack of internet accessibility in the region or simply lack of devices.

Oh, how things have changed. Much of the world now has access to the internet, and soon, if Elon Musk has his way, not a single inch of the world will be without internet access.

This has changed education in a way and at a rate that I can’t believe has ever happened before. Students, and teachers, can access information, communities, programs, individuals and you name it instantly (well, actually at 3.00 x 10^8 m/s). This is great right?!

Well, yes…but there is a dark side as well.

This ease of access into world events, personal lives, or whatever else also allows humanities less savory nature to come out. We seem to always want to blame someone for things that go wrong, or publicly shame individuals for mistakes, whether real or perceived. Monica Lewinsky can explain better than I can some of the problems regarding this accessibility. This powerful talk explains how information that is accessible to everyone, instantly, on a platform that allows us to voice our thoughts now can inflict terrible pain on the victims, often resulting in suicide.

We are constantly hearing about cases where students have been bullied online. I still remember listening to a presentation from Alec in my first year of University (2005), and he showed us ‘Star Wars Kid’. This video now has almost 31 million views, when the viewership was likely supposed to be 1. This kid has been embarrassed internationally, and really, who hasn’t pretended to wield a lightsaber before?

The ease of access the internet provides and the anonymity of the internet brings the worst out in many people. I never thought there could be any good to come of this. However, after listening to a StarTalk Podcast (listen below), it was discussed that when we have new technologies, there is often a period where we deal with unintended consequences before we can straighten things out. Perhaps, this will lead us to becoming a more tolerant society. After all, who among us has never done anything embarrassing that we wouldn’t want the world to see? It’s unbelievable to think that we are so quick to criticize, blame, or shame those that have done things not so different than the things we ourselves have done.

Is it possible for us to become more forgiving and be more tolerant of each other? If so, perhaps the internet’s greatest contribution to humanity is yet to come.

Live long and prosper