I remember my A Level History lessons with fondness. My teacher brought History to life in class by showing students her many slides of archaeological digs to ancient lands such as Israel, Greece and Egypt. This inspired me to visit some of these places throughout my life as an adult. I did not just want to read about them in a book but wanted to experience them like nothing else can, a chance to connect, understand, and explore objects, perceptions, feelings, and innovative thoughts. Seeing a picture can’t ever replace material engagement with an object. We can’t anticipate the kinds of questions we’ll want to ask of objects in the future, so a digital record should never take the place of an object or image. There’s no replacement for the real thing.
Recently I spent a day at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition. Coming face to face with artworks of an inspirational artist whom I studied at school enabled me to understand more about his reasons for creating his art work and his interpretation of popular culture and consumerism. This experience broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the art work which made me think about how young people learn new material not just in class but through technology.
Teachers of young people are in a prime position to encourage them to widen their life experiences beyond the classroom and experience real life by bringing the classroom teaching alive and broadening their thoughts, feelings and ideas. We offer many school trips to cultural and science museums, art galleries and many more. The power and influence of ‘being there’, a real life experience compliments the curriculum taught and more importantly, enriches the learning of any student.
A reproduction of an artefact, whether it’s a photograph or a digital version of it, for example, can travel much further than the artefact itself. It can be in many places at once and so dramatically enrich the conversations that surround it. You lose something when you are engaging with a work of art or a specimen on a computer screen. You can’t walk around it, or touch it, or see how light plays upon its surface. It can be hard to appreciate the scale of something – whether it’s incredibly delicate or whether it dominates the room.
Digital life is so much part of society’s way of interacting with people and the world around them. This experience and way of living is only a way but not the only way. According to Jim Taylor, PhD ‘The power of prime’, a Psychology Professor at the University of San Francisco, believes that wired life is not real, meaning experiences are created by technology with the aim of ‘simulating an experience’. He goes on to explain that,
‘The problem with this “low-resolution” life is that, though it shares similarities to real life, it lacks the high resolution and the granularity of real life…..There is always something between us and our experiences’.
Susan Greenfield, a noted British neuroscientist, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords, who has studied the impact of new technology on people believes that, ‘for all of its appearance of freedom, technology puts us in a box, a very bright, shiny, and fun box to be sure, but a box nonetheless. You may think those dropdown menus give us options, but what they really do is limit choices that limit our thinking, imaginations, and actions’.
At Northampton High School, we encourage girls to be bold, creative, confident and competent women who have the skills to think, question, take risks and broaden their learning experiences. Real life enriches our sensory experiences through sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, movement, temperature and emotions. Technology has come a long way replicating these through visual graphics and sound but these are artificial and are they enough?
So, what do you plan to do on the weekend or on your next holiday? Visit a museum, art gallery or walk the streets of the ancient town of a foreign city? ‘Why we go to museums, or art galleries, travel to distant lands doesn’t really matter as much as what we get out of our visit. We may go to see a famous artwork, and end up meeting someone special. We may go to get out of the rain and come face to face with an artefact that changes the way we think, or lifts us somehow; something that sets us on a wholly new journey of discovery. Make it a real experience.
Head of Pastoral Care