This blog is the first of a three-part series. 

Coming up next week is Cisco Live 2017, where I’ll be hosting an education session, and where the theme is (much to my excitement) superheroes.

I am a big fan of superheroes. The comics, the movies, and the whole idea of super human powers that enable a person to fly, leap buildings, read minds, etc. If I am honest, I like them as much now as I did when I was a boy growing up in the north of England.

That may be because of the impact of digital on our superhero experiences over the last 40 years. Digitization is evolving the way we watch, read, and consume the storylines that inspire our imaginations.

The infamous origin story of each superhero was always key to the future adventures we would take with our favorite hero. The definition of “superhero” is “a fictional hero having extraordinary superhuman powers.” They are also described as “exceptionally skillful or successful people.”

Where many superheroes’ origins start from a spider bite, born on an alien planet, straight from mythology or even a workplace accident such as falling into a tank of radioactive goo, the second definition, “a successful and skillful person,” is more directed at the self-made heroes like the Bruce Waynes and Tony Starks of the superhero universe. Those superheroes have used innovation to enable their human skills to be boosted to a superhuman level.

There is a lot more synergy between superheros and the evolution of teaching than you would expect.

Teachers expect to be the personification of superheros, exceptionally skillful people with extraordinary knowledge. This was certainly the case when I attended school (a long time ago).

Quote on teachers

“Do they even use the toilet?” was a question I remember hearing during elementary school. Especially that teacher we all identified with, the one who inspired us to a higher level within a subject, to commit to a subject into our future, helped you ace that test, or the one you try and hold in your mind’s eye as a role model for your future “you.”

The consumerization of digital technology, however, has somewhat undone that perception. Yes, we still have super teachers, but there seems to be erosion for both students and teachers. The information trust issue seems to be the villain created by the digitization of education. Today’s students, from very young to very old, have instant and easy access to digital information, textbooks, and online resources that predict a desired purpose, all via mobile and social applications. As students become more fluid with their own digital footprints, so too must teachers. When these subject matter experts show any weakness, students can see teachers as less confident, less extraordinary, and less exceptional. This has led to some teachers believing their use of technology marginalizes them, making them more of a facilitator and not the focal point of learning. I call this the technology sidekick syndrome of digital education.

Quote about teachers

In addition, parent and student expectations reduce the time for a teacher to adapt or react. Although education technologies are now more available than ever, the need for continual proof of value by stakeholders means schools sometimes hold off on adoption or professional development until mainstream curriculum is brought up to date, both as tools and methodology. The fear being that adoption will have a negative impact on student success and on a student’s future career options.

Throughout the history of disruptive advancements in pedagogy, we have seen fear rise up and stifle the speed of acceptance, holding innovation off until it’s totally fine-tuned and fully accepted by everyone in the teaching profession. Ironically, student success actually drives change faster, which, in fact, was the very thing used to push back on innovation adoption. And, the latest advances in technology are at an inflection point, especially in an era when your history student is already asking Alexa or Siri “when was World War I declared over?” They get a detailed answer in seconds rather doing the deep research traditionally required in the chosen textbooks. Oh, and they are doing this anywhere but in the classroom.

So, what’s the answer? We need to get teachers back to being superheroes, the oracles of information. We need them back on top of the pyramid of extraordinary knowledge. We want to increase the number of teachers who inspire their student every day, to an extraordinary number, not reduce them only to guides on the side. The embracing of the latest new technologies is the answer. In fact, just like many superheroes, we can choose to uplift our human capabilities with innovative technology. Just imagine what those teaching super powers could be!

Well, let me tell you…

Check out part two of the series, coming later this week! 



Neal Tilley

Cisco Education Advisor