Disruptive Technologies?

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.

As Disruptive as Facebook?

As Disruptive as Facebook?

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?

11 thoughts on “Disruptive Technologies?

  1. Umm, they never worked that well, and made holes in the lumpy collection of smallish wood pieces we called paper back in the day.

    I suspect the same will hold true for all the stuff that is so shiny and desirable now in about 30 years, assuming that we don’t run out of oil or electricity first.

  2. You were in 5th grade?! Oh my god – you are young.

    Your post got me wondering about disruptive technologies. They don’t seem to stay disruptive for long. Do they just rock the boat enough to work us up until we can adapt, adjust, or abandon them? Seems like context is an issue, too.

    Some of my work in teacher education has me exploring the notion of adaptive expertise (Bransford et al). Unlike routine experts, adaptive experts question their practice and are willing to be uncomfortable while they try to figure out new tools, ideas, etc. Probably the kind of professionals we want to support in an ever changing tech-rich world.

    Too serious for a post on erasable pens?

  3. The idea of retractable (almost erasable 🙂 emails has also had a lot of appeal at some disruptive times.

  4. Thanks for the reminiscence, this brought back memories of writing papers in pen to typing papers on a typewriter. (I got a C in typing, to give you an idea of the torture typing was for me.) I spent many hours over the years re-writing & re-typing papers. Forget adding any graphs or diagrams, or being able to choose a font. Everyone’s papers looked all the same in that regards.

    The computer and the delete key has probably saved a lot of hours in the realm of writing. I wonder now with more publishing on line and the ability to add graphs, video clips, and photographs, if students find that they have to spend more time creating those elements (or finding them) than spending the time on the writing itself.

  5. Kim,
    I spend my day writing reports and analyses. i think i spend the same amount of time actually ‘writing’ as i did when i used legal pads and a pen. But i do spend much more time dinking with grafx and links. this has taken up the time i used to use to get lost in research books, since i can copy and past *much* faster than i can transcribe. (and proof my transcriptions)

  6. I was in an office supply store last week and I saw boxes of erasable pens… and I thought to myself, “who still uses those things”?

    Anyhow, just a thought to go along with this line of thought. There is this growing sense in public education that the time has come to abandon the teaching of script hand-writing (ie cursive). With growing demands on the time of both students and teachers and the ubiquitousness of electronic text entry, eliminating the teaching of cursive might free up time for other endeavors.

    I’m a practical person by my nature but I wonder what that means for us culturally. I already have students that struggle to read cursive writing because they stopped using it as soon as they no longer needed to demonstrate to a teacher that they had mastered the cursive z or capital Q. Will this create a period of time where there is an even greater divide between digital native and digital immigrants?

    Handwritten letters will go the way of printed photos. Generations from now, what will people clean out of attics and basements when we pass on?

  7. Kyle, that is a leap I have never considered. I wonder if we all sat down and really talked about it would skills like penmanship make it today? Clearly in the past it was a skill that was required, and by no means am I pushing for it to be set aside, but it is an interesting thought. I wonder what all of the digitization of everything will mean to us in years … I was thinking tonight about how different it would be today had there not been printed text in the recent past — I am thinking about the last 20 years or so.

    As technology has changed, much of my early word processing has become completely inaccessible. I am hopeful that the Internet and the death of the proprietary file type may provide us with a path forward, but a world without printed text is a potentially scary thought. What will all this personal content management look like in 20 years? Will this platform be just as difficult to get to as are my 1.44 MB floppies and WordPerfect files are to me today?

    Really interesting questions. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Asimov wrote about this, regarding civilization abandoning knowledge of basic mathematical calculating ability in deference to the use of hand-held calculators — I think I was in 6th grade at the time (& I’m an old codger), well before TI’s 1st calculator hit the market. Interesting short story. As I recall, there was an underground movement of folks who maintained the old tradition of “reckning” who were in high demand, but had to work via black market as access to calculators was controlled by powerful interests.

    This is actually quite an important issue – as our written language degenerates into texting abbreviations, and as the written letter slides into oblivion. Disruptive technologies are valuable when they add to our possibilities (like mutations in the evolutionary process). When our response to them is the reduction of possibilities, there may be cause for concern.

  9. Cole, you response to Kyle Kauffman got me thinking a bit about lost digital assets.

    It is interesting to predict what will happen when Facebook or any other digital “sharing” site no longer exists*. As you mentioned it is the number one photo-sharing site on the internet (http://colecamplese.com/?p=1006). I am sure that after images are uploaded, there are plenty of people who discard or forget about the original. In the case of mobile up loads to Facebook, the original may be lost when the user replaces the phone.

    These people would essentially be running into the same problem as you with your Word Perfect files on floppies. There’s probably some great old content it’s but no longer accessible.

  10. I wonder what will happen to all that content when FB closes its doors? Will they notify every member and tell them to come and get their stuff before it is all deleted? One year I failed to renew my hosting package before the due date and they just shut it off. After paying it came back, but it was a very startling experience … it would be even more so now. I have a lot of stuff here, at Flickr, delicious, and other various places on the web. It makes me wonder what the best method of managing an online identity would look like?

  11. I just bought a pack of erasable ballpoin pen today. Click link for photo http://www.bazicproducts.com/1797.html

    In the 1980s when I was in high school, I remember having used an EraserMate ballpoint pen. It didn’t write well on some poor, rough quality newsprint papers (such as our school’s exam/test paper) and the rubber eraser at the other pen’s end was so hard that it sometimes left a hole on paper if you don’t use it carefully.

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