Monday, October 7, 2013

JJ Abrams and his Magic Mystery Box

One of the challenges in developing a school environment that is full of technology is overcoming the potential let down of the  "Mystery Box".  JJ Abrams gave a Ted Talk years ago about the Magic Mystery Box that he has sitting on his desk to remind him of the power of mystery.  This talk is very relevant to anybody attempting to create a one to one school technology environment for a couple reasons.

When you first bring technology of any type to the school it represents mystery, and unlimited possibilities.   This is why students, parents and staff often get really excited about the opportunity to have technology in the school.  So why do schools, teachers, parents and students so often find themselves less excited about technology after it has been introduced in the school?  Why do we tend to slow down the process of allowing it to have a transformational effect on our schools?

Prior to the box being opened, we imagine and dream of all the excellent stuff we will work on for our classes.  We think about how we will be productive and explore new ideas.  How we will share and collaborate with our other classmates and how this device will allow us to be a part of unlimited possibilities.  Maybe we will have "virtual class" with a student in another country, or design something for the 3D printer.  The possibilities are so vast we can only be super excited.  But then, we opened the box.

Instead of the device being used for creation as it was dreamed about,  it more than likely is being used for consumption.  And just like all of our educational experiences in the past it has let us down.  After the box is open we find out we didn't transform education, we just repackaged it with a shiny glass screen with a ten hour battery life.  We use it to consume papers, books and worksheets.  We use it to consume vast amounts of information that we will probably not recall a couple days after we are tested on it.  We have taken an exceptional opportunity and put it back into the constraints of the assembly line, consumption driven, education model that we have all grown up in.

This is why it is important as educational technology instructors, that we not allow the box to be opened.  It is important that we take this tool and use it for creation and not consumption.  In order for technology to have a transformational effect on our education system we have to stop thinking that it is a way to get all of our analog products into a digital device.  PDF's of textbooks, web pages and links, and course management systems are simply the rebranding of our current education practices.  It is now time for educators to start thinking in ways that we were never taught.  We have to be creative, and look for ways to allow these new digital devices to be tools to our creativity.  Otherwise, the box is open and inside we found out that it wasn't a magic box that could become anything we wanted it to be, it is just more stuff to be done.

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