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Eukaryon

Inevitable Innovation: Implications for the High School Educator

Sarah Applebey
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

            In his 2014 novel The Future of the Mind, theoretical physicist Micheo Kaku utilizes physics and neuroscience evidence to predict technological advancements we may encounter in the future. Though these technologies may not occur precisely as Kaku describes, my fellow science high school teachers must be made aware of these possibilities as we or the students we teach may experience the transition to these advancements. For the education system, these novel technologies will upgrade the way we teach students, but may obstruct learning, have health consequences, and create ethical conundrums. Yet, technological progress is inevitable and these advancements have the potential to increase the rate of scientific discovery and societal development.

            Students of the future may be able to learn through experiencing the memories of great historians and scientists. Kaku predicts future humans will be able to record their own memories using nanoelectrodes interspersed throughout the brain. This memory can be stored on a server and anyone who wishes to experience it may download the memory via those same nanoelectrodes. Instead of taking notes, students can simply record their memory of a lecture, allowing for more discussion-based, interactive courses. Conventional teaching as we know it may cease, as students will simply download memories to acquire basic background knowledge. Teachers will likely assign memories to their pupils and meet to discuss the information. In high school, teachers may have a smaller number of students to help guide them through comprehending more complex downloaded memories. As students will be able to explore various fields with a greater understanding at a younger age, future high school teachers will be expected to hold doctorates in a specific field. Most importantly, mentors can easily pass on their experiences and make it easier for students to continue a scientific project. Importantly, students will gain understanding more quickly and the rate at which science develops will increase relative to today.

          Though young minds will be wise with years of memories, high school teachers must be reminded that adolescent brains are not fully developed and have heightened emotional reactivity (Casey et al., 2010). Teachers will likely be trained in developmental psychology so that when designing lesson plans they do not supply a memory that will distress a student and can discuss the emotions that accompany certain memories. Additionally, teachers must remind students to be respectful of these private donated memories, just as today they respect donated cadavers and animals used for experimentation.

          To facilitate this heightened learning, Kaku predicts it will become common to enhance intelligence via various mechanisms.  For example, applying magnetic stimulation to the left frontotemporal region improves fact memorization, mathematical ability, music performance, and creativity (Kaku, 2014). Drugs to enhance memory and performance may also become accessible, and parents may choose to insert genes that augment intelligence into a developing fetus’ genome. Like the ability to download memories, these enhancements may speed scientific discovery. Kaku also predicts these augmentations, including genetic ones, will be available to all, creating a more equal balance between students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and those of higher socioeconomic status (SES).  This may also eliminate the advantages seen today in student who use illegal stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

          However, a different gap may accompany the use of these enhancements. It is plausible that a subset of students will become addicted to drugs or TMS, and it will be necessary for them to abstain unless treatments for addiction also arise in the future. Hence, those predisposed to addiction may fall behind academically and may be forced to perform less desirable, low paid jobs. Others will refrain from using these enhancements, preferring to rely on natural ability, but, they too, risk falling behind as the use of these enhancements become commonplace. Similarly, those who do not utilize genetic enhancement will exacerbate this divide, since intellectual differences can be passed through families. Instructors may find themselves teaching separate courses for those with and without these intelligence enhancements.

            Finally, it is likely health risks will be realized after intelligence is manipulated. Today the use of amphetamines to boost brain power is correlated with Parkinson’s disease (Callaghan, Cunningham, Sykes, & Kish, 2012). Many individuals, particularly desperate students, will sacrifice health and experiment with these enhancements. Even today, amateur “brain hackers” build homemade transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) devices to administer electric current to their own brains. Some amateurs stimulate the wrong regions of the brain, and cases of temporary blindness or loss of sensations have been recorded (Pustovrh, 2014). Psychological risk may also accompany these enhancements; some students may have low confidence in their performance when it is not augmented. Similarly, men who use erectile dysfunction medication recreationally tend to have lower confidence in their sexual performance when not using medication (Harte & Meston, 2012).

           New technologies may also inhibit learning. Kaku predicts the brain will be linked to the internet, making physical devices obsolete and increasing the use of technology in education. Assignments and exams will be submitted more often and teachers will be able to grade these assignments without touching a physical copy. Education will be more convenient and resources will be more accessible to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the increasing use of screens may not be beneficial to learning. In a recent study, students who wrote essays on paper displayed more critical thinking than those who typed their essays (Heflin, Shewmaker, & Nguyen, 2017). It has also been shown that students who studied from physical textbooks have improved recall performance than who use online editions (Eden, & Eshet‐Alkalai, 2013). However, if future teachers are knowledgeable of this evidence, students can be encouraged to used physical copies of books or first write paper drafts of assignments. Finally, an additional inconvenient consequence is that future teachers will be expected to immediately respond to emails from students once their minds can access email without a device.  

          These innovative technologies will also result in greater distraction in the classroom and make cheating easier. We have already seen a rise in distractions, with students pulling out their phones mid-class and sending emails on laptops that were supposedly used for note-taking. A study by Heflin, Shewmaker, and Nguyen, (2017) found that allowing the use of mobile devices during group work resulted in students who were less engaged in learning. Though today teachers can forbid the use of laptops in class, Kaku suggests future students will have their brains linked to the internet and students may be able to record lecture whilst browsing the web. Students may be able to download the memory of an exam from a former student as a method of cheating, and internet brain-to-brain communication to discuss answers. Hence, a method of preventing internet access or recording memories during this time must accompany use of these advancements in the classroom.

          As technology develops, it will be difficult to prevent the use of these technologies and their accompanying issues. Yet, current labs should not be prohibited from furthering their research as less regulated regions of the world will continue to this research. As instructors, we must prepare for problems of the future by educating our students and engaging in discussions. While negative implications may overshadow some benefits, when these future advancements are used to improve education, motivated students will be more prepared to contribute to society—finding novel ways to treat disease, explore the stars, and aid the environment.

 

References

Callaghan, R. C., Cunningham, J. K., Sykes, J., & Kish, S. J. (2012). Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in individuals hospitalized with conditions related to the use of methamphetamine or other amphetamine-type drugs. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 120, 35-40. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.06.013

Casey, B. J., Jones, R. M., Levita, L., Libby, V., Pattwell, S. S., Ruberry, E. J., … & Somerville, L. H. (2010). The storm and stress of adolescence: Insights from human imaging and mouse genetics. Developmental Psychobiology, 52, 225-235. doi: 10.1002/dev.20447

Eden, S., & Eshet‐Alkalai, Y. (2013). The effect of format on performance: Editing text in print versus digital formats. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44, 846-856. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01332.x

Harte, C. B., & Meston, C. M. (2012). Recreational use of erectile dysfunction medications and its adverse effects on erectile function in young healthy men: the mediating role of confidence in erectile ability. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9, 1852-1859. doi:101111/j.1743-6109.2012.02755.x

Heflin, H., Shewmaker, J., & Nguyen, J. (2017). Impact of mobile technology on student attitudes, engagement, and learning. Computers & Education, 107, 91-99. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2017.01.006

Kaku, M. (2015). The future of the mind: The scientific quest to understand, enhance, and empower the mind. New York, NY. DoubleDay.

Pustovrh, T. (2014). The neuroenhancement of healthy individuals using tDCS: Some ethical, legal and societal aspects. Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems, 12, 270-279. doi:10.7906/indecs.12.4.1

Schleim, S., & Quednow, B. B. (2017). Debunking the ethical neuroenhancement debate. Rethinking Cognitive Enhancement. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198727392.003.0010

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Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.