Sunday, September 23, 2012

Face to Face

It’s interesting, actually encouraging, that with all the modern ways we have available to us to connect with each other, we still like WP_000181to meet together face to face.  There’s just something inherently human and fulfilling about being together in the same physical space, shaking hands, looking each other in the eye, seeing facial expressions, and hearing the other person’s voice, live.  We travel all around the world to see amazing places and things, face to face.  I wonder though how things may get blurry with future, yet to be invented, digital devices?

Last Tuesday a colleague and I received 10 principals from Denmark who were interested in our system of schooling and examples of educational technology.  We toured three schools visiting five classrooms.  They were able to have a great experience talking to teachers and students about their use of iPads to transform learning, various immersive uses of technology, technology used to support English as a subject, etc.  We also visited one of our grade 9/10 gifted classes to listen to kids share stories and highlight skills that were missing.  My colleague and I enjoyed swapping stories with the Denmark Principals about funding, curriculum, pedagogy, staff development, and the differences between our respective societies.  This was a rewarding face to face experience.  I wonder if one day this type of experience will be replicable with new, today unknown, digital environments?

On Friday a friend / colleague and I arranged to meet at a Starbucks halfway between our respective places of work.  We fought some traffic, expended gasoline, used valuable time, all to meet face to face.  We had a rewarding time catching up, sharing stories,iStock_000009196143XSmall seeking advice (well I was), for about an hour.  We could have just as easily phoned, texted, Tweeted, Skyped, Face Timed, Google Hungout, emailed, Facebooked, or used some other digital means of communication, but we didn’t.  Well actually we use many of those options too but still wanted to meet face to face.  Why is that?  We are both very tech savvy and do use many varied communication methods but we chose the old fashioned face to face method.

Quick sidebar…  when I first got my iPad 2 almost a year ago, I Face Timed with a Principal colleague around 6 at night.  He connected with his iPhone.  His family had just finished up dinner so he took me on a virtual tour of his kitchen, and introduced me to his kids and wife.  It was like I was there in the room…  well, not really but it was pretty cool.  It was my first experience with this app.  One of the classrooms we took the Denmark Principals to visit, had iPads for every student.  Some of the students showed us how they use Face Time to help each other at night with their homework.  That’s pretty useful.  Imagine that they could digitally connect face to face so that they were in essence “together” and able to directly work on their homework and learn from each other, not just chat through a video conference session?

In our schools, every school day it seems, students congregate in clusters of 18 – 30 in rooms that fit about 32 people.  Our students are expected to sit in rows, around tables, or in various configurations for 40 – 80 minutes at a time.  Perhaps they are listening to a scintillating lecture, watching video clips, or observing their teacher project screen after screen of valuable content.  Maybe their teacher is more technically up-to-date and is touching the white board to manipulate content.  The bell rings and kids THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX on a blackboardmove onto other classes or perhaps the same class but another subject.  This face to face experience is repeated in 10’s of thousands of similar sized rooms around the world.  Sure there are experiments with flipping classrooms to push the content piece to homework.  This approach is known to free time during the face to face encounter to work cooperatively in small groups, to engage more deeply in the content, and to socially learn.  Increasingly educators suggest this latter use of face to face time, is better than the former.  But, I wonder what type of digital experience could replace this?  Is face to face learning in the same place at the same time, replaceable with technology?  Now to answer this question we need to stretch our view perhaps 10 years out and let our imaginations run a bit freely.

Is face to face as we now expect it, a sacred innate human need or will there be valid alternatives in the future?  Online meetings or learning using web tools where presenters share video clips, Powerpoints, lecture, and people vote and chat in the back channel are not what I would call relevant alternatives.  I don’t know about you but when I engage in these pseudo online spaces, I often check out and work on email or something else.  No, I am imaging something much more immersive.  A few posts I’ve written about what I think might come in the future include:

What we view as SciFi has a way of coming true in our lifetime…  I was at ISTE this past June and visited a booth where the vendor had a desktop 3D printer.  I previously wrote about the potential of 3D printing and thinking that maybe by 2020 this would be a household tool.  I also saw a 3D scanner that scans objects and renders them in 3D CAD drawings that can be sent to the 3D printer.  Sound suspiciously like a precursor to the replicator of Star Trek?  I was obviously not being imaginative enough!  Think about augmented reality and how the world in front of you is beginning to blend in with the world of information through your mobile phones or Google Glasses.  Perhaps one day a holodeck like experience will be possible.  If that is true, face to face as we now know it will not require being in the same physical space and time.  The Face Time we now experience on our iPads will be an enveloping experience where we actually feel like we’re there together.  Digital replacement of face to face will have a profound impact on our work, our learning, on teaching, on schools, on coffee chats, on offices and office buildings.  We will flock to take advantage of this efficient and engaging new way.  But, will it completely replace face to face as we now experience it?  Should it?  I say NO!  We are human and there is something wired into us to require being physically present.  I think it would be psychologically unhealthy to replace this completely.  I see a more balanced future where we co-exist with our technology in old and new ways.  We will find that balance because our humanity will depend on being balanced.  Even today we should seek balance with our technology.  We should not use technology all the time for everything just because we can or it can.  We need to thoughtfully choose when and where to engage digitally versus personally. 

So, what do you think?  Is it feasible that face to face as we now know it will be replaced by our technology?  Do you think it can happen to you?