Do you have concerns about the dangers of global warming? Does the rising cost of energy in this country scare you? Are you worried about the increasing amount of jobs being outsourced to overseas companies? Are you unconvinced our nation’s education system is doing its part to prepare today’s students for the challenges of the 21st century?

If you’ve ever found yourself pondering any of these questions, you’re not alone, world famous author and futurist Joel Barker assured attendees gathered in the San Diego Convention Center for the second day of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference on Education Feb. 24. But don’t despair, he said. Thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, answers to these and other pressing economic and cultural concerns might be nearer than you think.

Don’t believe him? That’s probably because, like most educators, you’re so consumed with the challenges of the present day that you haven’t had time to think that far ahead.

But you should, he said.

“Technology is going to be the primary driving force of the 21st century,” predicted Barker, whose new book Five Regions of the Future explores the emerging concept of “implications literacy.” As educators, “you need to prepare yourselves and your students” for “a new way of thinking about technology,” he said.

As the term suggests, “implications literacy,” states that in order to use technology effectively, everyday users–including teachers and students–have to understand not only how a particular technology works, but what its uses are, and, more importantly, how a certain device could be deployed to address a range of societal needs, from global warming, to healthcare, to the economy.

The first step, according to Barker, is to establish a set of definitions–“a new lexicon” that more appropriately describes the role technology will play.

“It is imperative that we become more precise in our descriptions of what these technologies actually do,” Barker explained. “We have to better understand the implications if we want to know how [technology] can help us.” Rather than speak about technology in general terms, Barker wants people to begin thinking about technology like they would an ecosystem, where different “sets” of technologies work with and feed off each other in much the same way living organisms of the Earth evolve in their own natural environments.

Barker calls this new evolution in thinking “TechnEcology.” The idea contains five main sub-categories, or regions, for technology innovation. Depending on how one views the use of technology, he says, every person in the world likely fits into one of these five regions.

  • The Super Tech Region: Technology users who favor this region believe that technology and technological materials are in such abundance that they should be used for everything, Barker said. In short, Super Tech is the belief that technology is so proficient that it will eventually replace our need for natural resources.

  • The Limits Tech Region: In contrast to advocates of super technology, Limit techies believe “efficiency is beautiful,” explained Barker. In the Limit Tech Region people believe in using everything “as thoughtfully as possible.” Such an approach could lead to the invention of new light-bulbs built to conserve energy or advanced vaccines that would prevent people from ever getting cancer. In theory, he said, the idea behind limit technology is to eliminate a problem by creating a solution that delays or neutralized the threat ahead of time.

  • The Local Tech Region: Technology advocates who adhere to this approach strive whenever possible to use the resources available in their immediate locales, he said. For instance, houses would be built from a particular wood and fuels and other power sources would be produced from whatever resources were immediately available. The idea, Barker explained, is that the resources in your immediate community are likely the most reliable because, like people, elements are a product of their surroundings.

  • The Nature Tech Region: This region describes any technology that is naturally of the Earth. In the future, Barker said, advocates of nature technology expect to see everything from diesel-producing trees to hydrogen-producing bacteria.

  • The Human Tech Region: This region refers to all of the technologies and remedies manufactured naturally by the human body, Barker said. Whether you’re a scientist investigating the medicinal benefits of laughter or a researcher interested in the genetic implications of symmetry, there are plenty of mysteries about the human body that remain as yet unexplored, he said.

    No matter what region of technology you subscribe to, Barker said, the key is for teachers and students to understand how each might be used in the future to solve a variety of new and longstanding problems, from disease control and prevention to increased economic production, energy consumption, and communications.

    “This kind of thinking is mandatory for the 21st century,” he said. “The world is not going to wait for us. If we don’t get literate, we are not going to be able to play the game with the rest of the world.”

    But, as speakers and school leaders have said throughout the weekend, a shift in thinking–even one as radical as Barker’s–would mean little without the presence of solid leadership in the nation’s schools.

    “Our job is not to seek the recognition it is to do the mission,” California Education Secretary Alan Bersin told the audience in welcoming them to the conference.

    Not only is it important to “reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” he said, “but to have renewed faith in carrying this issue forward.”

    Calling education “the great equalizer” and the “cornerstone of our freedom” Bersin urged his colleagues across the nation “to stay the course” in their efforts to build stronger, more engaging public schools.

    At the Rochester City School District in New York AASA Superintendent of the Year Manuel Rivera said persistence and dedication are the keys to fostering effective change in schools. “If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 15 to 20 years it’s never to compromise your values or principles,” Rivera said, adding “We need to believe in the value and worth of every single child who comes through our doors.”


    American Association of School Administrators