Back to the Future: Reflections from the Past to Ignite a Promising Future
This blog is part of our series entitled “Techno-Sapiens in a Networked Era: Becoming Digital Neighbors,” following the theme of the upcoming 2019 Missiology Lectures (October 30 – November 1). The lectures and this blog series will explore connections between technology, neighboring and the global body of Christ through reflections from Missiology Lectures guest speakers and SIS faculty members. For more event details, click here.
If you have watched the movie Back to the Future, you will understand what I share here. In this film, Marty McFly accidentally goes back to 1955 and realizes the meaning of his present in 1985.
Seated in front of my laptop, I recall the year 1990. The first computer that I owned was an XT IBM PC. Requiring a start-up disk, it helped me during my first two years in seminary. Elated as I felt about this, I would never have imagined using such a device to type term papers, much less to teach online courses at a seminary in 2019 (almost 30 years later).
Technology evolves as the days go by. No one can pretend to own the latest gadget. Soon, new versions will replace or improve its hardware or software. This ongoing evolution has changed many aspects of our daily lives, especially how we teach and learn. Education can attest to the increasing innovation across institutions, dependent on ever-evolving technology. Billions of people now carry digital devices and access “exabytes” of data daily.  
“Expressing feelings, emotions and empathy took place; I could not deny that it was a sacred space, this virtual small group in an online course.”
The use of exabytes of data is irrelevant as I reflect on the effect of technology in an online class setting. With great interest, I watched a recorded video of students debriefing and reflecting on a reading assignment via a BlueJeans meeting. Building on a community of trust they had already established, each one shared quite personally about new mental models they had discovered for their character formation. Expressing feelings, emotions and empathy took place; I could not deny that it was a sacred space, this virtual small group in an online course.
As a virtual instructor, how can I engage such a level of community?  You might say, “That’s impossible in an online course.” In the past, I would have affirmed the words of each student within classroom small groups. Now, I can do this either by typing or posting a feedback line. However, is this sufficient to express what I would like to share?
“As a virtual instructor, how can I engage such a level of community?…The ‘future’ allows me to participate in new pathways to learning and teaching that I did not think possible.”
Opening my digital device, I go to the Canvas app and access the options it offers. I can choose to send an audio or video message, and I can even create a screen-capture of my feedback. In either format, I can share my words and feelings with each one of the students who allow me to watch their rich interactions, embedded in a trusting community of learners. The “future” allows me to participate in new pathways to learning and teaching that I did not think possible. Exciting opportunities like this one help provide a boost to my teaching engagement. I wish I could share how innovating this can be for an online instructor.
As Marty McFly realized the meaning of his present, I now appreciate even more the blessing of living in this promising era of technology. Harnessing it well will be on us.
Wilmer G. Villacorta is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He teaches for the Master of Arts in Global Leadership (MAGL) program, a pioneer program in online graduate education since 2004. He and his family reside in the city of Colorado Springs.
 Approximately 3.2 billion people. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewcave/2017/04/13/what-will-we-do-when-the-worlds-data-hits-163-zettabytes-in-2025/#6881d9b349ab
 A Petabyte is 1,048,576 Gigabytes or 1024 Terabytes, and an “Exabyte” is 1024 Petabytes. http://www.wu.ece.ufl.edu/links/dataRate/DataMeasurementChart.html