Since it is Friday and I have been traveling I thought I’d share just a quick thought about something that came up while I was hanging out with new colleagues in Madison … we were sitting at the Union on the University of Wisconsin’s campus when out of nowhere I wondered aloud if erasable pens were still available. All of us instantly remembered the days when these were a new piece of technology. None of us could answer with any certainty if these amazing devices were still available and if the wireless would have been open, an answer would have been discovered instantly. A simple google search allowed me to discover that they still make them, but the idea of the erasable pen seemed to stick with us through the evening — for some very odd reasons.
Later in the evening, I recalled being in maybe 5th grade when these things hit the market — they were some serious high tech options for use in the classroom. After thinking about it for a while I remembered that my teachers at the St. Columba School in Bloomsburg, PA banned them from use. They had switched us off pencils for nearly all our work … presumably because we couldn’t erase and it would force us to be more thoughtful. Then, we started showing up with pens that could be erased. Massive disruption.
Why is this important? In my eyes, the erasable pen is not unlike the pain and suffering laptops, Internet access, and social networks are causing us all right now in and around our classrooms. It is disruptive and that means it makes us think really hard about how we manage our learning spaces. Technologies don’t have to be insanely complex to be disruptive — clearly, a little pen with an eraser was enough to send the Sisters at St. Columba off the deep end. All of sudden they had to face the reality that we could be more risky with our answers because we knew we could simply erase and start over. Of course they had their own ways from keeping us from using them.
I’m not really sure if I have anything more to say about the notion of the erasable pen, but it was an interesting and funny experience diving into the past with a view on our current context. I stopped using them quite a long time ago … maybe the follow up piece to this should be about how the delete key made the erasable pen obsolete?