My experiences have convinced me that computer-mediated communication is fundamental to life in the 21st century; humans adopt (with increasing rapidity) the information technologies in their environment and humans adapt their communication habits to the tools. Humans also exapt technology; they find new and unintended uses for technologies. In biology exaptations are those structures and functions that evolved for one purpose, but then were applied to a different purpose. The typical example is feathers, which were originally structures for thermoregulation, and later were adapted for flight. An analogous process occurs with technology; it is used for purposes imagined (and unimaginable) by the inventors and designers.
The rapid adoption of, adaptation to, and exaptations of 21st century information technology that my research suggests has occurred in many fields has not occurred in education, however. Educators’ reluctance to embrace emerging information technologies in a systematic manner can be blamed several factors including the precautionary principle—we are slow to accept any change until we are sure it is “the best for our students”—and our unwillingness to abandon familiar and safe practices that are deeply embedded in our existing culture. We have spent decades preparing with excessive precaution for a transformation that our students make in days. Our delays have also been caused by distractions arising from politicians, philanthropists, and business leaders seeking political advantage and profit from “educational reform.” We are slow to adopt any changes not aligned with misguided direction from above.
Some may counter that school and technology leaders have provided what is necessary; computers are available, classrooms are connected, curriculum standards are in place, and teacher training is available. While these are all accurate observations, there is evidence the teaching and learning experienced by students is the same as it was prior to the arrival of the technology, and it would not change if the technology disappeared.
Children who were born in 1990 are now young adults and have always lived in a world with computers and the Internet. Both became ubiquitous as those children entered school in the middle of the 1990’s. They have graduated from our schools and their children will be entering our schools in the coming years. We are no longer building classrooms for the first generation of digital natives, but for the second generation. Many conclude however that we still have schools that would be familiar to the parents of the children born in 1990. (This paragraph is largely autobiographical; my wife and I graduated from high school in 1983 and our first son was born in 1990. His brother was born in 1994. I found my children’s classrooms very similar to the ones I attended; too similar.)