Thursday, October 18, 2012

The curse of Max Headroom in the classroom...and everywhere?

Many years ago there was a short lived T.V. program called “Max Headroom”. It was a spoof on egotistical T.V presenters and supposedly hosted by the worlds first “computer generated host”. It wasn’t -  it was a heavily “made up” actor.  Part of the scenario was that the world had evolved into a place where there was a TV everywhere - in every private room, in every public place - everywhere. Everywhere you went in this future world Max was there with you, babbling away in the annoying smarmy language that is the domain of television hosts. There was no way to escape this for the TVs came with no “off” switch. The television could never be turned off, never be silenced - it was a constant aspect of people’s lives.

What was once a parody is now almost reality. Screens are with us now far more than even in the Max Headroom scenario - screens are not only everywhere but they are mobile; computers, tablets and smart phones mean that we now have screens with us everywhere all the time.  Children in cars now don’t have to ask “Are we there yet?” They may have DVDs to watch or PSPs (or equivalents) to keep them occupied.The social impact of this is debated frequently in social media and serious literature.   

I’m far from a luddite. In fact, I am a huge fan of technology. I enjoy being online and consider the web as much a part of my recreation as of my employment.  

But it occurs to me that, in an age of “screenagers”, we are actually missing something. Our students are conditioned to rapidly respond and react to stimuli via the screens. They can find out what other people think in an instant.  But what do they think? When do we teach them how to reflect?

I’m not simply speaking here of using the powerful  “wait time” approach when asking questions in the classroom. When do we teach students that there are some things that Google can’t answer, that merely “liking” something on Facebook is not really making a social contribution or a sign of involvement?

I’m talking about giving students time in which to think about matters of substance to them.  But what are these significant questions? What is important to our students?

Perhaps we should ask them.  
In person.
Face to face. 

As Miles Kington said, "Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad."  

Since knowledge is now effectively available at the press of a button we need to develop wisdom and understanding - and that means giving students time to think for themselves.

Unless of course there’s an app for that.

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