This post (about other businesses aside from education, such as supermarket cashiers or stockbrokers, where the use of technology is not optional) is over a month old, at this point, but it’s sticking in my head. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff swimming in there – this is going to turn into more than one post.
In my previous life, I was a software engineer.
In the mid 80’s offset printing was a black art. There were these huge machines with lots of knobs on the front of them, and wizards would take film negatives, slide them into the machines, and twist knobs that did all sorts of mechanical things to produce beautiful images.
I worked for a series of companies that tried to build a better box. They all failed. It wasn’t me, really. I worked for successful companies later as well. It’s just that, at that time, this was an inaccessible market niche.
Those big black boxes were many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ours were right around one hundred grand. Those boxes used a lot of expensive materials. Ours let you do stuff on a screen. Those boxes needed a lot of training to use. Ours could be wielded by the experts, but also yield decent results to amateurs. And none of those could ever break into the market. As frustrated as our sales and marketing people were, they couldn’t just force the customers to adopt the new technology.
Adobe and Quark eventually succeeded where my companies failed.
They succeeded not by forcing the companies to buy the technology, but by making it impossible for them not to. The products became cheap enough, fast enough, and practical enough that those big print shops started getting competition from small start ups.
If technology is going to pervade teaching, it needs to happen in the same way: I need to see another teacher take the 50 worst kids in the school into a classroom, and see them come out proficient in math, english, science, and history, without losing their social skills along the way. (The reason I got out of the software business? Those people forfeited their social skills for technology).
What I expect is more likely to happen is what happened with supermarkets and stockbrokers – the dull repetitive tasks will be supplanted by technology while the rest of the job remains. Computers make inventory control easier, but humans still man the cash registers and do the stocking. Stock analysts have stats at their fingertips rather than having to read a ticker tape, but the actual process of due diligence has changed very little.
Someday, I’m sure, we’ll have a technology revolution.
That day is not today.