WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains | Magazine

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains: Wired Magazine.

By keeping lots of brain cells buzzing, Google seemed to be making people smarter. But as Small was careful to point out, more brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity. The real revelation was how quickly and extensively Internet use reroutes people’s neural pathways. “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate,” Small concluded, “but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.”

Everyone knows that attention span has been dwindling, but this article really strikes home and shows what we are dealing with. A must read for all teachers and those who want to impart knowledge and skills to the world wide future generation.

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June 28, 2010 Posted by | Communication, education, future | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education Gone Wrong?

The students of Carleton University here in Ottawa, like most universities in Canada, run a fundraiser campaign for Cystic Fibrosis research, called Shinerama, during orientation week (Shinerama has been run annually since 1964, includes 35,000 students in 60 university and college campuses). This week, the Carleton University Student’s Association controversially voted to pull out of the fundraiser because they said the disease “has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men”. The rationale was that they decided their efforts should be more “inclusive” and be directed to a more “diverse population” (CBC report).

Of course, their information about the disease is untrue. They found their information “on the internet”.

This example of a lack of academic integrity highlights some problems with our education system which does not bode well for the world wide future. First, how can a group of university students, (arguably brighter ones probably heading for a future in politics, public administration or business leadership), base their decisions on erroneous information from the internet, without any further research or even contacting the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Association, StatsCan, or local medical establishments? Isn’t the declared reason for universities supposed to be to provide academic scholarship in training future citizens? Secondly, how far can “political correctness” go in affecting rationale decision making? (The lone student voting against the measure called it “political correctness gone horribly wrong”). Aren’t universities supposed to teach their students to critically consider information sources, to carry out research and debate ideas based on facts?

Maybe this is all making mountains out of molehills, but it is a story on the national stage, and I believe, just another example of an education system gone wrong. After all, this is a group of students making a deliberate decision that did not happen overnight. We may be seeing many examples of an education system wrongly rooted in the past: from business leaders or governments that seem to have never learned basic accounting (think Enron et al or the recent global economic calamity), to engineering mistakes that cause bridges to collapse from basic design flaws to very bad decisions concerning the environmental crises (think ethanol from food sources).

The question of the day is: how can we expect the right decisions to be made by politicos and business leaders when we can’t depend on tomorrow’s leaders having the right stuff to critically consider complex issues in an accelerated future? How do we know that decision makers will have the necessary scientific and technological literacy to make the right choices for the world wide future?

November 28, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A call to arms for change in education

We live in a scientific and technological world…one affected daily by innovations in manufacturing, transportation, medicine, communications…every facet of our lives. In order to survive and thrive in today and tomorrow’s economy one must be scientifically and technologically literate. Scientific and technological literacy is about understanding how technology affects our society and our lives, and is about learning the skills to utilize technology effectively. It is about being better-informed consumers and producers; it is about finding one’s role in the infrastructure that makes our society run; it is about ensuring our economic future.

The consequences of a scientific and technological illiterate population are profound. Governments and corporations can “pull the wool over your eyes”, can obfuscate facts and get away with lies and misrepresentations. Look into any political campaign, and you will find loose facts and catering to the uninformed masses. The media can either be fooled, or can fool us, as to the workings of society, government and the planet. A looming environmental catastrophe can be glossed over a la whispering Jedi knight style: “There is nothing to be seen here, move on”. Statistics can be used and abused in endless ways; the daily news is full of so-called facts that the untrained eye or ear might not pick up. Look into the recent political campaigns in the US and Canada, once the ill managed banks and brokerages broke down everyone scrambled to play messiah…we will bring jobs! It is all about jobs! We will fix the [name your crises here]. Hard not to be cynical.

Without scientifically and technologically knowledgeable citizens, industry and businesses cannot find skilled employees. Without skilled and knowledgeable managers and administrators, companies lose direction or are misdirected. Money is wasted or lost, jobs are lost, and the economy suffers. Innovation goes elsewhere, and the best and the brightest goes where innovation lives. The right talent is not connected with the right career. Opportunities for the young in all destinations disappear; society lacks the means to maintain and grow.

Society has a role to play in preparing young people to be successful scientific and technologically literate citizens. (And yes, it is society, not just education that needs to play the role. If industry and business needs strong workers, then get involved and help teach, provide opportunities for experiential learning.

Through a strong and sustainable technological and scientific education, we can strengthen and build the human infrastructure of our society, and ensure a strong economic future. The old Industrial Age model of education, the well-oiled cookie-cutter stamping machine called public education has to finally go and be replaced by a future-thinking, adaptable, multi-pathway and experiential approach where learning the tools of inquiring science and technology is not optional.


Great grandmother and grandfather

My great grandfather, school headmaster Robert McAlister of Balleyclaire, Northern Ireland. Would he understand the needs of today's student?

We must take the necessary steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in a robust, consistent and sustainable technological and scientific education. A bright future for tomorrow’s leaders will be the result of concerted effort to provide a 21st century education that teaches today’s student to be adaptable, to be discerning, to be inquisitive. (Just ask the tigers and dragons of the east what that entails).

At least in America they have a “change they can believe in”, (we here in Canada have another 2-4 years of the same old story). Hopefully soon we will have a President Obama making the Dramatic Difference. Will it happen? Will the west return to historic engineering and heroic science? Will we go to the moon or remain stuck in the sands of the desert?

November 14, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of cardboard boats, flugtags and the competitive spirit

Watching the Beijing Olympics one can’t but be but drawn in by the spectacle, the drama and the enthusiasm of participants, observers and even nations. It seems the whole world stops to watch their fellow citizens perform in high-tension excitement.

Consider the amount of money and effort that went into hosting the Olympics. Consider the amount of money and effort and time that was invested in training the athletes. Consider the enormous amount of money and effort and personnel that went into broadcasting and reporting on each nation’s attempts at the coveted medals. Obviously, there is something to sports competitions; and perhaps to the spirit of competition itself.

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

Competition plays a big part in art and engineering as well, and has an important place in education too. Witness the soapbox derby races, the technical skills competitions, even fun events like the Red Bull Flugtag, each event creating opportunities to showcase and compete on one’s technical skills and abilities. Having played a part in several types of educational competitions, I can attest to the usefulness of the concept of competition to learning, and to the world wide future.

Fun at athe annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Fun at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

What skill competitions give to a person or an organization is the opportunity to yes, showcase their technical prowess, but more importantly, it gives one the impetus to work harder, work smarter and move skill sets forward. The competition event gives one a goal and a target to strive for, a mastery learning opportunity, and a benchmark in which to gauge one’s needs for improvement for excellence. There is a lesson somewhere when Olympic and world records are broken on a continuing basis. (Can we imagine where records no longer are broken? Are we already where Olympians are freaks of nature?)

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

I remember when I first entered the teaching biz (1992) there was a call for banning of school competitions (other than sports of course) because it supposedly hurt the egos and self esteem of those that don’t excel. Perhaps we witnessed this in the Beijing Olympics…for a while it looked like Canada was going to be medal-less, and we had to watch our athletes apologize profusely to the camera for not getting a medal (never mind they were Olympic caliber athletes and missing medals by 100s of a second!) Competitions need to be framed properly. Competitions need to be designed as fun activities with the understanding that it is a growth activity, not an end-of-the-road, make it or go home event. Students need to understand that it is activity to help them achieve a goal for themselves, and that it is all about learning to do one’s best.

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Here in Ontario, we have Skills Canada events such as cardboard boat races (and in Ottawa we have the cardboard sled race) that are the best examples of the spirit of skill competitions. They are fun if not downright hilarious, and it has been amazing to see the level of ingenuity and engineering skill it has engendered each year. The annual regional, provincial, national and international skill competitions are perhaps more serious, but the skill levels demonstrated are unique goals that any student can strive for.

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Soapbox derbies, electric car races and other similar events have their serious competitive side, but there is the fun element that allows anyone to be part of the excitement and more importantly, the learning. I think the Red Bull Flugtag is a prime example of the necessary spirit of competition…no one seriously enters to be a winner, just to be there and have fun. Can you imagine if we had three legged potato sack races, hot dog eating, and apple bobbing competitions at the summer Olympics? Yeah, bring it on!!

Doh! The Grat Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it's flying thing at the Ottawa-Gaineau Red Bull Flugtag In Ottawa Ontario, August 3rd, 2008
Doh! The Great Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it’s flying thing at the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Red Bull Flugtag on August 3rd 2008

Note: All photographs © Michael A. Scott photowagon.ca 2008. All rights reserved.

August 30, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Can China lift the Olympic sized smog?

I was blown away by the dark cityscape imagery in Bladerunner, the 1982 movie by Ridley Scott (and one of my favorite movies of all time). It’s one vision of the future world, notably the constant rain and fog and sea of humanity bumping into each other as floating advertisements blare out to the city below. The imagery was brought back home to me when I saw a picture in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of a couple of people standing a few meters away from the Birds Nest and the Water Cube. The problem was, you could barely see the two normally stunning buildings through the smog. (See a similar picture at Australia’s ABC or at the BBC, also see most recent article on BBC).

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Now, smog and air pollution is not just a Beijing phenomenon of course, I remember coming home to my hometown of Windsor Ontario one year and noting the unique electric purple haze at sunset over the cities of Detroit/Windsor. Many city dwellers can relate I am sure. Of course, with the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, a city notorious for its traffic jams of over a million cars a day, we will be deluged with endless reports on air quaility. (I think we will also be amazed at the herculean efforts to curb air pollution the Chinese will be demonstrating). The important lesson for us is: what will the world wide future bring if we can’t breathe the air (or have potable water for that matter), in our spreading urban centers? And, why does the media rarely comment on the real reason for our burgeoning problems of pollution and climate change: an ever increasing and rising population of humans stressing the ecosystem beyond sustainability? How can we adapt to the rising population/shrinking biodiversity systems?

I know the issue is being brought up that “why should the rest of the world have to reduce their footprint when the West has brazenly used up theirs?” Interesting problem. How can we in the West call for others to forgo the trappings of wealth when we have done little to reduce our own? How can we also teach our students to forgo the collecting of material possessions when the previous generation thought little or none about that concept? What do we teach students beyond the usual ‘recycle garbage and turn out the lights’ gig? Can we turn things around and act locally/think globally?

I don’t think it will happen overnight, and I don’t see the hard choices even discussed within the curriculum. Our outdated Industrial Age education system is slow to respond to the acceleration of change so ably described by Alvin Toffler as the future crashing into the present. I haven’t really seen the hard lessons taught yet, though they are trying to tell students to forgo the fries and consider the healthy choices (yet they still offer the fries).

Pretty soon all the talk of climate change and doing piddly little things like recycling and turning out the lights and turning down the thermostat will irritate rather than resonate and just like in the 1970s we will go back to our material consumption ways. Maybe. Maybe disruptive change will force the issue. Who knows? I will be watching the summer Olympics in Beijing with my big screen TV in my air conditioned house while sipping on Mexican beer and cherries from Malaysia.

In the world wide future, we need to talk and teach in every curriculum area about consumption and footprint. Now.

July 28, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EnviroEducation

The world wide future belongs to today’s student who learns through solving tomorrow’s challenges

-Michael Scott 2008

[All photos (c) Michael A. Scott, photowagon.ca 2008]

Site of the Macoun Marsh Biodiversity site, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Laying out the foundation of the outdoor classroom

The outdoor classroom is taking shape

The outdoor classroom is taking shape

Adding the roof

The classroom takes shape

The classroom takes shape

Toward the end of a long work week

Toward the end of a long work week

The outdoor classroom will be used year round by students from all over the city

The outdoor classroom will be used year round by students from all over the city

The outdoor classroom is but a part of the learning experience

The outdoor classroom is but a part of the learning experience

The Macoun Marsh project is an excellent example of the WOW! Project…Dream the Impossible, Do the Incredible. We all learn best by doing, by experiencing for ourselves, by taking ownership of our time and efforts. For the full picture story of the construction of the outdoor classroom in the Macoun Marsh Biodiversity Project, go to photowagon.ca under World of Education.

July 4, 2008 Posted by | biodiversity, education, Environment | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Intersecting interests: Politics, Education, Science, Technology and Art

Here it is, the beginning. My name is Michael Alexander Scott and I am an educational consultant by trade and a photographer by avocation. My areas of expertise are technology and business education and apprenticeship training. I have industry experience in computer data acquisition, photography and branding, and have worked everywhere from factories to wind tunnels to orthopaedic research to space hardware testing before getting into the teaching biz .

Why this blog, why now? I am concerned about the future. We live in a technological world yet we are saddled for the most part with an Industrial Age education system. We live in an era of disruptive technological change but we are held back by an antiquated political and social system.

Without the requisite education in technological and business matters, this generation of students are going to have great difficulty in coming to grips with Toffler’sfuture crashing into the present“. We are at a point where “if students are not trained to learn, then we are creating performing seals in a circus that’s about to be demolished.” (Dr. Bill Law, School to Work Conference, Toronto 2000)

So here we are, a blog about the world wide future. I hope to expose the misconceptions of what the role of education is, and the errors of scientific and technological discourse that is foisted upon the public by our politicians and our media. I hope to connect you, the reader, with centers of thought that should be considered when examining our future and where we should be headed. Maybe lofty, eh? Like any blog, it is all about opinions (and they won’t reflect those of my employer or government!)

I hope you enjoy, let me know what you think, and pass it on.

My web presence:

http://www.millenniumwave.com

http://photowagon.ca

Michael Alexander Scott,
Ottawa Ontario Canada

The illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write. They are those that can not learn, unlearn, relearn.
– Alvin Toffler

June 27, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , | Leave a comment