The Student of 2040

On occasion, I wonder about where students and teachers will be towards the end of my teaching career. Let us be optimistic and say that I’ll still be teaching in 2040 – what will my students look like? (I’m not sure that teaching at that age is considered optimistic but bear with me!)

A person with electrodes on their head.

Right now we’re having to adapt to students who can sit in lectures and, easily and without any effort, look things up on wireless or 3G connections to the Internet – searching taking the role of remembering. Of course, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a problem because we’re far more than recitation and memorisation factories. There are many things that Wikipedia can’t do. (Contrary to what at least a few of my students believe!)

But what of the future? What of implanted connections that can map entire processes and skills into the brain? What of video overlays that are invisibly laid over the eye? Very little of what we use today to drive thinking, retrieval, model formation and testing will survive this kind of access.

It would be tempting to think that constant access to the data caucus would remove the need for education but, of course, it only gives you answers to questions that have already been asked and answers that have already been given – a lot of what we do is designed to encourage students to ask questions in new areas and find new answers, including questioning old ones. Much like the smooth page of Wikipedia gives the illusion of a singularity of intent over a sea of chaos and argument, the presence of many answers gives the illusion of no un-answered questions. The constant integration of information into the brain will no more remove the need for education than a library, or the Internet, has already done. In fact, it allows us to focus more on the important matters because it’s easier to see what it is that we actually need to do.

And so, we come back to the fundamentals of our profession – giving students a reason to listen to us, something valuable when they do listen and a strong connection between teaching and the professional world. If I am still teaching by the time I’m in my 70s then I can only hope that I’ve worked out how to do this.

One Comment on “The Student of 2040”

  1. Alex H says:

    I propose: The benefit of memorising facts isn’t in posessing those facts; it’s in what the passage of those facts through your brain does to you. I think this is already underrated, and I think we’ll continue to need that benefit regardless of whatever information retrieval systems are available.


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