What with winter over, we’re now ready to jump back into school again. Let me explain that: my family and I are just back home from 10 weeks of travel first to western Washington state (where June and July were pretty consistently in the low 60s) and then on to Australia, where July and August were (despite being mostly a little warmer than the Seattle area!) winter.
We had a fabulous month “down under”. With some pressure from my parents, whom we were visiting for much of our travel, my husband and I did something we haven’t done for years and years: both of us travelled without our laptops. Imagine. A whole month. We were nervous. It was a big decision not to just slip one of them into our carry-on bag. But we did it. And no regrets whatsoever. For a whole week at the Barrier Reef, in fact, we spent no time online at all. The rest of our trip we very minimally checked email. It was a welcome break from routine and I feel like we took full advantage of exploring Australia.
The trip started, however, with a heavy dose of screen time for all of us. On the back of every seat of our Quantas A380 airbus waited our own individual portal to the land of entertainment, talk, news and information: the little video screen, remote control, and earphones. The last time I traveled overseas was before my children were born more than 10 years ago. An in-flight technological revelation has occurred in those years! Each of us holed up in our seat, and even my youngest - age 7 - stayed up most of the night watching movies and nature videos (cheers, David Attenborough) and playing games (and not even the arcade kind – they were thoroughly entertained with hangman, drawing programs and Sudoku!) Although I usually severely limit how much time my kids spend on computer and tv, I let it go for our cross-pacific voyages and enjoyed how (1) “plugging in” greatly eased the pain of the 13 hour flights and (2) by sucking us in for so long, effectively scrambled our body clocks so that we suffered very little jet lag on either end of our trip.
Despite thoroughly enjoying the luxury of being offline for a month, I know screens are part of our lives, and will only become more so. On a domestic flight this summer (which didn’t have entertainment systems on every seat!) I watched a group of university students traveling together as they passed their iPads around to one another, and I wondered how this screen revolution is going to evolve in the next 10 years – by the time my daughter goes to college. Although computers have been integral in academic centers for a long time now, it seems to me that the shift to learning through screens is in its early stages. The power of screens is apparent and it seems pretty clear that higher education will incorporate this way of learning more and more into lectures and labs and discussion sections. What will a course lecture be like in 10 years? And how best to facilitate the balance of time spent on screens for my own kids now? I’m not sure. I’m generally pretty positive that screen learning will improve our lives and spread quality education further around the globe, though for me, I like to remember to flip the off switch now and again.