By Tony O’Driscoll
his summer I visited the Lost Colony in Manteo, NC, with my son, Aidan, for a school trip. Aidan’s fourth-grade class was instructed to find out all they could about how the 107 people tasked with establishing the colony mysteriously disappeared.
As the midday sun beat down upon us on a particularly humid day, Aidan and I set out to explore the Lost Colony to seek out clues as to how these pioneering colonists might have disappeared. As we entered the first building, Aidan pulled out his pencil and paper and began to pepper me with questions. “What is this building, Daddy? What did they do here? What is that thing over there?”
The questions came at me in an unrelenting flurry. “This is a blacksmith’s shop,” I explained. “That is called an anvil, and the blacksmith used it to shape metal into things like nails and horseshoes.”
“Why did the horses need shoes?” Aidan asked.
“Because back then people used horses to get around,” I replied.
“Aha, maybe this became the Lost Colony because these people did not have minivans to get around,” Aidan theorized as he scribbled in his notebook.
Following a similar battery of questions about the next building, I patiently replied, “This is where the colonists sheared the sheep’s wool. This machine is called a loom where they made fabric out of the wool they had spun, and this is a sewing machine they used to make clothes out of the fabric.”
Aidan paused and then responded, “Maybe this became the Lost Colony because people could not get in their minivans and go to Wal-Mart to buy Star Wars T-shirts.”
Onto the next building…“This is a bakery. Over there is where they separated the wheat from the chaff. This is called a millstone, and when the dough was finally ready, they put it into the oven over here, and they had to use the bellows to keep the fire going to keep the oven hot.”
Aidan’s eyes lit up. “That’s it, I got it, Dad! I know why this place became a Lost Colony. No one can survive more than a few days without Wonder Bread. If it took them all this time to make a loaf of bread, they must have all starved to death.”
Satisfied that I had done my good deed as a dad to help Aidan figure out this mystery, I suggested we head to the air-conditioned cafeteria for an ice-cold drink and something to eat. Aidan agreed, but just before we got there, he insisted we check out one more building. Reluctantly, I agreed and braced myself for yet another barrage of questions as we entered. To my surprise, Aidan simply said, “Oh, don’t worry Dad, I know what this is. It’s a classroom…let’s go eat.”
It was only later that I realized how profound Aidan’s response was in the Lost Colony schoolhouse. In every other building, time and technology had altered the industry it represented to a point where it could not be recognized by my 10-year-old son. However, when it came to the classroom, he knew exactly what it was.
At Learning 3.0, we’ll explore how the rapid pace of technology literally is blowing up the classroom from two different perspectives. First, Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company and author of “DIY-U: Edupunks, Entrepreneurs, and the Coming Transformation in Higher Education,” will discuss how technology is disrupting long-held beliefs about the role of the classroom and the university itself. Second, Anant Agarwal, director of MITx, will share his perspectives on his experience teaching more than 100,000 students in his Circuits and Electronics class.
I, for one, can’t wait to hear what Anya and Anant have to share…because eight short years from now, Aidan will be heading to college, and I want to know what that actually will mean in the year 2020!
Tony O’Driscoll is the executive director of the Center for Technology, Entertainment, and Media (CTEM) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. His most recent book, “Learning in 3-D: Bringing a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration,” explores how emerging Web technologies are transforming the learning landscape within organizations.
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