I love using themes in faculty trainings and professional development sessions, and Star Wars is something I always come back to. Not solely because of my inherent geekiness, but mainly because elements of Star Wars truly embody the essential big ideas of educational technology. It doesn’t hurt that Star Wars is timeless, is retro without seeming old-fashioned, and is so immensely popular you won’t have any eyebrows raised in confusion in a PD session. Well…maybe a few, because people will be wondering, “Just where is he/she going with this?” Here’s where I’m going with this – we can learn a lot from Star Wars in relation to ed tech, and here’s seven parallels:
- Innovation – Star Wars was the most innovative thing happening in film in 1977. George Lucas pushed the boundaries of what was visually possible on screen, founded Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), and between him and Steven Spielberg (Jaws – 1975), the summer blockbuster event was born. Lucas was a rebel at the time – he saw the old ways, and decided they weren’t good enough. He negotiated the rights to merchandising and pushed the envelope with his film. We need to look at ed tech the same way – the old, 20th century methods of teaching just aren’t good enough. And we need to fight for what’s right and what’s innovative. Once we continue to push the envelope, others will follow suit…but it’s a matter of the leaders stepping up and leading the way, much like Lucas did in 1977.
- The fundamental ideas are familiar – Star Wars had amazing special effects, unique characters, a killer score (John Williams!) – but what tied everything together was the story. A simple farm boy who dreams of bigger things goes on an amazing journey and saves the galaxy. Lucas didn’t pull this character arc out of thin air – it was an arc that’s existed for thousands of years, broken down famously by Joseph Campbell in the The Hero With a Thousand Faces (often called the Hero’s Journey). Feel free to read more about it, but basically it is how our main protagonist has a call to adventure, receives the help of a mentor, goes through a road of trials, and hopefully returns after saving the day. Audience members latched onto the story because it’s familiar and timeless. When we think about good teaching, it always comes back to having our classrooms be collaborative, student-centered and filled with authentic learning opportunities. Educational technology isn’t turning the theory of good teaching on its head – it just provides more opportunities for quality teaching, student engagement and concept mastery. Collaboration and creating are far more fluid using ed tech tools, and we need to preach that although using educational technology may seem innovative, the story of a collaborative and creative classroom is still undeniably familiar.
- New challenges are often familiar – Think about Return of the Jedi. What’s the big climax? They have to blow up the Death Star…again. Hmm, okay. Seems kind of similar to the original Star Wars, but it’s still pretty cool. As many new challenges present themselves in education, they are all pretty familiar – we are fighting for student-centered classrooms with the teacher serving as content facilitator. That’s the main battle. We are always trying to blow up the Death Star, and in a few years the Empire will come back and build a new Death Star. We just have to find that tiny exhaust port or send a torpedo into the core and blow it up again!
- We need to work with the tools available to us – Remember Luke’s reaction to seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time? “What a piece of junk,” Luke says. But what Luke doesn’t know is that it will make point five past light speed, has crazy maneuverability, and a hyperdrive system that gets the job done (sometimes). Think about the technology in your school – are you 1:1? Using iPads? Maybe you only have four classroom computers and they are running XP. Whatever you have, you can make it work. Maybe you have students rotating in stations; maybe students bring in devices from home; maybe you are kind of enough to let students use your iPod – whatever the case, take what you have, and make it work for you (read this article by Alan November, it hits upon maximizing opportunities for students with only a few devices). In the end you may sound like Han Solo – “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
- You need to give up control – Lucas sold off Star Wars and Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, and now JJ Abrams (rebooted Star Trek, Lost) is directing Episode VII which comes out (tentatively) in 2015. No one saw this coming – Star Wars is Lucas’s baby, and he is notorious for controlling every aspect of the galaxy far, far away. But he finally gave up control, and a new crop of filmmakers get to play in the Star Wars sandbox. Think about your classroom – have you given up control to the students? Do you let students drive and contribute to the learning? Ed tech allows you to truly become the learning facilitator. Be like Lucas, and give up control.
- Turn off your targeting computer – remember how Luke blew up the Death Star? He turned off his targeting computer and trusted his feelings. BOOM. Death Star, obliterated. You need to trust your students in the classroom – it is so tempting to want to control everything. Once you turn off your old targeting computer and trust the students, your classroom and authentic learning opportunities will thrive.
- Newer isn’t always better – the new Star Wars film (Episodes I, II, III) are objectively terrible. Or maybe not objectively. I’m not trying to offend anyone’s delicate film sensibilities, but I think they’re awful. And Lucas was working with technology 25 years ahead of what he worked with the original Star Wars – and look at the result. The movies are a cold, confusing mess that resemble a video game half the time. Good actors spout wooden dialogue in front of green screens….sorry, I am epic nerd ranting right now. But seriously, newer technology isn’t always the best. Dumping the brightest and shiniest stuff on your students and staff won’t get the job done – you need professional development, progressive leadership, willing teachers, and clear curriculum tie-ins. So whatever ed tech you have in your schools, think about why you are using it and how it will best support the students’ learning. Because if you don’t have a gameplan in mind, your ed tech integration might be like Jar Jar Binks stepping in Bantha poodoo.