When we arrived in Shanghai for the Learning 2.0 conference we chose to take the Magnetic Levitation Train into town. It doesn’t actually get you very far into town, only into Pudong but that suited us well enough as we were staying close to the conference which was held at Concordia Interernational School in Pudong. The picture above is a poor one admittedly, but it is difficult to take a steady picture when travelling at 430 km/h.
It made me think, briefly mind you, about China’s leap into this century and the way that it is trying out new technologies. We lived in Shanghai for seven years and the changes we witnessed were dramatic. New is a veritable religion there. The Maglev train was very new and a very exciting development when it began being built. But as I rode on it for the first time just this weekend, It struck me that it still doesn’t really go anywhere. It makes a 40 minute taxi-ride into a five minute train ride but when we got out we still had to take a cab to our hotel. It stops short of taking you into the heart of the city and has never been expanded or added to. Its a bit like they said, “Hey let’s build a bullet train” and once they had done it they moved on to something else.
Perhaps it is just that, a sample bullet train. A tourist attraction. A cool way to welcome visitors to China and then let them off at a station at which they have to choose a real destination. That was fun, but what are you really here for? Maybe the government learned what it needed to and moved on. Maybe they will build one to Beijing next or to points west.
It made me think of technology teaching too. Often we go for what is cool and what is cutting edge. But does it stand the test of time. I tried teaching fifth graders to use a wiki last year. They thought it was cool and I had high hopes for it to offer them a publishing medium with instant editing and feedback potential. But it didn’t catch on. The classroom teachers did not see the benefit or the relevance. We never got back to it. It sits there still, with all the enthusiastic comments made by students on the first day. I often check to see if it has been spammed or hacked but it seems not even a desirable target.
Now I am trying blogs and podcasting. That seems to be catching the teachers’ attention a little better. Not blogs so much. They are not quite getting the “log” or journal aspect. But many teachers are seeing the benefit of the podcast. Students too are listening to themselves reading and speaking and wanting to improve and do it better. It is frustrating at times because I want to move on and show the next thing, but this one thing, hearing their own voices, is grabbing their attention in less of a “wow that’s cool” kind of way and more of a “do I really sound that way? I think I can do better.”