The fun we had

“Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2155, she wrote, ‘Today Tommy found a real book!’

These are the opening words of an Isaac Asimov short story called ‘The Fun They Had‘. It’s about how children of the future find an old book and what they think about it. The story was written in 1951 and Asimov sets the story 200 years later.

‘They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving, like they were supposed to – on a screen, you know. And then when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that they had had when they read it the first time.’

I was reminded of this story at the DeFT Conference at Sheffield United Football Ground on Tuesday 2nd October 2012. We were talking about Digital Futures for Teacher Education and I was thinking about how in the story the teachers were robots. We talked about this in relation to language teaching and how sophisticated digital translators were becoming. ‘Not good enough yet‘ said one person ‘But maybe one day they will be‘ said another. ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, ought to be” said Bob Harrison, quoting Arthur C Clarke, and echoing Sugata Mitra on ‘Child driven education‘. I wanted to know what happens to the curriculum when knowledge becomes redundant – like Latin, perhaps. ICT as a subject in schools has become like Latin – difficult to learn, unpopular and without a real purpose in the world. But programming is the ‘new Latin’ says the government: notable here not because it has any real purpose for learning but because it differentiates – those who can from those who can’t. Bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur as someone’s old Etonian Latin master used to say. Which reminds me of a very old Spike Milligan joke about eating old sausages. That is perhaps why the consultation on new programmes of study for ICT have been given to the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and the Royal Academy for Engineering to lead and advise. We were not mindful of this at all at the conference where teachers shared their stories and digital practices. We were too busy thinking, perhaps like Margie in the story:

“Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had”

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