Imagined futures 2: Classrooms

From Villemard, c 1910
Aspirations, dreams, hopes and desires for the future appear in many art forms. Known as retrofuturism, the study of how people in the past represented their imagined futures is quite fascinating. In my last blog post I wrote about an illustration from 1930 that depicted - quite accurately - how people would be using their mobile phones for video communication.

The illustration featured on this page is one that is familiar to many teachers. It has featured regularly in keynote speeches, articles and texts about the future of education. The illustration is by the French artist Villemard, and it dates back to 1910. In fact, Villemard painted many images of life as he envisaged it in the year 2000, some of which are collected here as a series of postcards. Some were fairly ridiculous or at best fanciful, but others are quite revealing both sociologically and psychologically, about what people of the time thought about the future and about new technology. The image captures his thought of what a school classroom might look like at the turn of the millennium.

In Villemard's image, book contents are transmitted to the students as audio files, fed through headphones. In one sense, the students are also connected, albeit in a simplex (one way) mode - but if the technology exists to transmit data in one direction, the flow can easily be adjusted for two way (or duplex) mode. If that occurs, you have networked learners. Once the connections exist, it really doesn't matter where you are located - you can gain access to all of the content, as is now seen in MOOCs and other online courses. The illustration really depicts education as it would have been in 1910, with a teacher as the gatekeeper of knowledge, and with the students as passive recipients of that knowledge once it was released. Technology is thrown in to make it appear futuristic. This is analagous of a problem that exists to this day in our education systems. If new technology is introduced into a conservative environment, but the pedagogy doesn't change, there is little hope for any transformation.

When we try to predict the future, we are gazing down a narrow corridor of experience which is heavily influenced by our present knowledge and experiences. As Voltaire once argued, 'Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of their time.' Most of us look at what is around us and try to make predictions based on what we know, rather than what is possible. If we restrict ourselves to the current mindset, we limit the extent to which we can effectively imagine the future and constrain ourselves to old practices.

“Prediction is difficult, especially when it is about the future.” Danish Proverb

Creative Commons License
Imagined futures 2: Education by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Excellent article.

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