SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / September 2005 / Superintendent's September Message
100 Years Ago
I believe the education enterprise is at a comparable stage of development as the entertainment industry was 100 years ago. At the turn of the 20th century, the entertainment industry was primarily vaudeville shows, some of which traveled from city to city. Singers, actresses and jugglers entertained locals with variety shows. They were not paid particularly well, not held in high esteem and had to keep “the show on the road.”
Vaudeville shows gradually began including motion pictures (flickers) at the turn of the century. These “flickers” were primarily novelties showing perhaps a horseback riding trick or a Wild West act or a Native American on a horse on the plains or Old Faithful erupting. Silent movies with live piano players and brief subtitles became the next wave. Then 60-90 minute silent movies with scripts and music became a box office draw. Full-length feature films transformed traveling minstrels and actors into motion picture stars. As the motion picture industry grew with larger audiences, actors and actresses became the equivalent of American royalty. Technology was able to add value to live acts with larger casts, special effects, close-ups, “on location” backgrounds, sophisticated editing and mass production. Entertainment could be duplicated and reproduced on thousands of screens simultaneously and shown several times per day. By 1908 there were approximately 10,000 neighborhood theatres in the United States.
Streaming video, interactive internet sites, computer simulations, and animation have the potential to mass-produce information in an engaging and entertaining way. As sophisticated as computer software has become, it is still in its infancy. In another 20 years students could take field trips anyplace in the world using surround video, digital sound, and even odors to add to the experience. Computer simulations could propel students as amino acids into cells to experience protein synthesis. Graphic representations of the battle of Gettysburg could allow students to see Pickett's charge as a member of the Union or Confederate infantry. Even student discussions could be simulated with digital students programmed to respond in a typical manner as real students. Video conferencing could be available in every home making it unnecessary for students to be transported to a central site, able to interact as though in the same room. Parent cooperatives might home school their children using purchased subscriptions to interactive programs connected to videoconferencing. Artificial intelligence will be able to grade student writing and offer feedback for improvement. Online assessments of complex skills will hold students accountable for their work. There will be capacity to mass-produce knowledge to be delivered anytime to large or small groups of students.
I'm not suggesting that teachers would be obsolete, but the role of teachers would be changed significantly. Teachers might serve more as motivators, clarifiers, encouragers, coaches, managers, information organizers and leaders more than sources of instructional information. Computerized math courses, developed by an entire team of content specialists and technicians, might be delivered by a studio mathematician that would spawn the equivalent of educational movie stars.
Oregon Online, a virtual high school, has been operating out of Southern Oregon ESD for about five years. We have seen significant growth in technical capacity, online resources, and integration of computer and videoconferencing technology. The 600 students taking courses via Oregon Online is only a fraction of high school students in our region. Stand-alone online courses will continue to grow in number and sophistication. As technology and course interactivity advances, the electronic education industry will become increasingly incorporated into “traditional” classrooms. It is not inconceivable that in the next 20-30 years the education industry will develop similarly to the entertainment industry of 100 years ago transforming how information is delivered.