Care to Google Your Own Genome?

Most of you have probably seen this video already:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o

It’s “A Vision of Students Today” video from Kansas State University. Basically, it presents a future we were trying to avoid or prevent– it shows a strong disconnect between education and student technology use.

At the same time, however, I find the video mostly disappointing in that the students seem to present themselves as dis-empowered. I could think of a better argument for changing the structure of 120:1 student to teacher ratios, and perhaps the most positive message in the video was the Google-based word processor that allowed 200 students to collaborate on one document.

Before I’d argue for a digital ethnography course at all schools, I’d rather contribute to the design of a digital science curriculum. If we look forward a few years, I believe that we’re approaching the point of this type of technology synergy becoming a “must have” instead of a “nice to have.”

For example, I’ve been reading a bit about the Cancer Genome Atlas (http://cancergenome.nih.gov/) in which some of the most powerful computers in the world are being paired with genome analysis protocols to create an atlas of genomes of all known cancers in the world. I was reminded of this future again today when I read a NY Times article about several services coming online that will distill specific aspects of your genome from a saliva sample, and then allow you to “Google” it for clues to your genetic nature

The “wake up” message in these articles for me is that technology is now being focused in ways that can help solve problems for humanity, be it in medicine or the environment, and I wouldn’t mind working at a school that looked toward that future. I’d like to work on a hybrid of teaching and technology practices that unlocked student potential in positive and focused ways, collaborative and individualistic.

This also makes me wonder if the goals of education should aim higher than “creating lifelong learners.” In some ways, the generation we’re working with now may change the world in fundamental ways– world-changing discoveries we can’t even imagine yet.

Ethics and the desire to improve humankind will be essential in this process. It is likely that all of our current students will have serious decisions to make about their lives and their children that we never even had to think about. If we are moving from an age of scientific discovery to an age of scientific mastery, I’d like our students be aware of the discussions and opportunities on the horizon.

A final reference that come over my horizon this week is a BBC documentary called Visions of the Future that broadcast its second episode this week. It covered much of the genetic progress to this date, and looked into the near future.

As for Googling my own genome, I’d have to think about that. Personally, I found the film Gattaca to be disturbing enough on that score.

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