I first want to give a shout out to a Richmond, Indiana original: Wilbur Wright. Wilbur attended Richmond schools though he was born in nearby Millville. His family made that fateful move to Dayton during the spring of his senior year and he did not graduate here. So much about the Wright brothers is legend, but one significant fact is rarely mentioned and it bears directly on any discussion of disruptive innovation. The point of this blog is to discuss that factor, a condition that we all share in approaching new educational technology: prior knowledge.
As Every Schoolchild Knows
The Wright brothers failed in their first business, a print shop, but the second enterprise, a bicycle shop, succeeded and supported the brothers through their other interests. Orville became a champion bicycle racer. But another challenge drove the brothers, and they plunged or should I say soared into aviation.
Many efforts were underway to get into the air and get somewhere. The Wright brothers didn’t invent aviation. Da Vinci launching flying machines off the heights of Fiesole toward the Arno River didn’t even do that. And the Wright brothers didn’t invent powered flight either. Dreamers with their heads in the clouds had been strapping engines on their fabric-winged creations for decades, often leading to distressing, if not fatal ends. This was a dangerous business. The Wright brothers, Wilbur, the methodical, older brother, and Orville, the intuitive, younger sibling, did something far more remarkable. They created controlled flight. Their Flyer could takeoff and return to the same spot, or to Detroit if they wanted and everywhere in between.
They brought something to aviation that no one else had connected prior to this. The Wright brothers knew something that you knew as a child and that every child understands.
Before the Wright brothers, inventors tried to steer aircraft by simply turning them left or right. The gauzy birds staggered and stuttered into these turns, and flopped, buckled, and failed. What the Wright brothers knew, the thing every child knows or learns painfully with applications of iodine and hugs, was that you can’t just twist the handlebar on a bike and expect it to turn. A bicycle must be leaned into a turn. It was the great Aha! that solved the problem for the Wright brothers. They designed a flyer that leaned into the turns. In aviation this is called ‘banking’. Problem solved. And prior knowledge allowed the Wright brothers to completely disrupt aviation.
We all bring our prior knowledge to educational technology. We already know what we want it to do. True, the solutions are often more sublime than we envisioned, but each of us brings our own information to the process. Which one of us will create the next great disruption in our classroom?