Line Up for the Future by Bob Sprankle

I teach in a computer lab; classes come to me during their teachers' planning time. At the end of each class, students line up, ready at the back door, for the teacher to come get them. There's always time to "fill" during this part of our lesson's closure as teachers are rarely on time to pick up their class (no fault of theirs: all the clocks in our school are mysteriously out of sync with each other). I usually continue the conversation we've been having during our work while we wait, or review the objectives of the lesson. Sometimes the students beg me to show them the latest gadgets on my iPhone, which is guaranteed to spark even more conversation, easily connected to the many 21st Century Skills and Standards I am responsible for teaching. Sometimes, I talk about some new technology or latest developments I've just learned about. I did just that last week.

In one of my 4th grade classes, I asked students to raise their hands if they owned an Xbox, Playstation, Wii, etc. (gaming system). Most of the students raised their hands. I next asked them if they had heard the latest news about a new company called, "Onlive". None of them had. I explained what's being promised from this startup: that we'll no longer need "game systems" or computers with expensive video-cards and processors to run high-end games. When Onlive's system launches later this year ---if the promises are true--- you'll be able to play graphic intensive games on any old computer or even your TV, directly online. All the high processor needs will happen at Onlive without (fingers crossed!) any lag whatsoever.

Besides this topic being definitely on the "cool factor," my reason for talking about it was to start a conversation on how quickly technology is evolving and how the world can literally change overnight (ok, Onlive's been working on this for 7 years, but for us, this news is brand new). I wanted to guide the conversation towards having students examine the ramifications of what this announcement means, how it might affect their own lives and how it might change the existing gaming platforms. Turns out, I didn't need to do any "guiding" at all.

One 4th grader raised his hand and said, "Wait, let me get this straight. If this actually happens, all these people who make game systems will lose their jobs?"

My first thought when he said this was, "Wow... you know you're in a recession when a ten year old is able to identify possible economic outcomes."

My second thought was that this was indeed evidence of a 21st Century Skill: being able to think critically and analyze the implications of a "shifting landscape".

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills puts it this way:

Use Systems Thinking: Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems

Our conversation in line continued examining this very possible scenario and other students were able to identify who might benefit from this dramatic change in gaming: Onlive themselves, software makers, and consumers of the games.

I believe that part of having 21st Century Skills is being able to recognize that it isn't the 20th Century anymore. Even if Onlive is pulling our leg and doesn't deliver the goods, we've known for quite sometime that someday this will be possible. The technology is just going to keep getting better, faster, easier, cheaper. There's no retreat. Surely the makers of the game systems have been preparing for the inevitable transitions ahead. I'm sure they've seen the "writing on the wall" and have redesigned their business models to be ready for the future. Right? Just like other entertainment industries, such as movies and music have easily adapted and been ready for the transitions that have come... video... dvd... mp3s... streaming... They've been ready and welcomed the changes with open arms, haven't they? I mean, they wouldn't want to try and stop or slow down the inevitable, would they? And how about the automobile industry? Surely they've been ready with the new alternative energy cars necessary to answer the dilemma of dwindling oil supplies and the planet's carbon condition. They've stayed up with the times and have a new business model, right? All of these industries are aware that it's the 21st Century, right?


And how about schools? Do we have a new 21st Century business model? Are we ready for the inevitable changes, and even, competitive alternatives that some say are right around the corner?

The 4th graders in the line the other day were able to see "the writing on the wall". They're "lined up and ready", waiting for us to lead them into the 21st Century.

"We really believe that in a developed country like ours, any person who has only standard skills or standardized skills, they can be taught anywhere in the world now and [that] can be done a lot more cheaply in low-cost centers. And so if people are going to survive in a developed country outside of low-level service work, they're going to have to have innovation and creativity. The form of schooling that we engage in that basically privileges people who know a lot of facts but can't solve problems with them is on its last legs. It will not be an economically prosperous form of schooling for us."

James Paul Gee

Citation: Ellis, Ken. "Grading with Games: An Interview with James Paul Gee | Edutopia." Edutopia: What Works in Public Education. 7 Apr. 2009