A Blueprint for Connecting Students to Learning
Advances in technology create unique opportunities for education. At the speed of light, students, teachers and parents are connecting via the web to collaborate, communicate and create learning opportunities that did not exist a few years ago. While physical space occupied by a classroom may remain the same, the evolution of the virtual space continues to change. This paper will attempt to draw a blueprint for an elementary classroom in five years.
Classroom in the Cloud
Few technological advances have had more affect on the classroom environment than the cloud – an interconnected web of servers holding a wealth of information. Innovations in content delivery, progress reporting and monitoring, and stakeholder communication brought about by the economy of scale derived from cloud-based systems will continue to connect students to content, parents to their child’s educational experience, and teachers to data, resources, and students. Software resources once prohibitively expensive are now available to teachers to aid in differentiating instruction, creating collaborative environments, promoting inquiry, and developing student-centered environments where “the most resilient and effective forms of learning happen(s) when there's motivation, engagement, social support, and when the learning is real-world, intergenerational, and connected to young people's lives in a meaningful way.” (Ito, 2013) In five years differentiated, self-paced, inquiry-driven student classrooms enabled by cloud computing will be the rule and not the exception.
Open access to web resources and content via apps, web 2.0 tools, wikis and blogs creates the necessity for ubiquitous and diverse web-enabled devices. In this future classroom wireless connectivity with sufficient bandwidth enables teachers and “students opportunities to take advantage of the most up-to-date technologies in the classroom.” (Nelson, 2007) While some would argue for standardization i.e. teachers and students all using an identical device, (Piehler, 2013) which does have distinct advantages for professional development and lesson planning, a more likely scenario is one where a variety of devices – tablets, laptops, and mobile devices – coexist in the same environment at least until districts implement standard device environments. (Piehler, 2013) It would seem more likely that diverse device environments born from BYOD initiatives will become the norm, requiring educators to rethink digital literacy and move from device dependent skills to a broader concept of web-enabled skills that are device independent. In five years, having a web-enabled device – any device – will be standard in all elementary classrooms as pedagogy becomes more reliant on web-based content.
Game Based Learning
Games, whether apps, web 2.0 or proprietary, offer students immediate feedback, opportunities to think critically and problem-solve, experiment, and experience failure in a virtual world. (Gee, n.d., Barab, n.d., Raymer, 2011) Games played across a wifi network also provide opportunities for collaboration, goal-setting, strategic planning, and communicating with a high level of user engagement. (Raymer, 2011, Chatfield, 2010) Educators have known for years that games engage students. What technology has brought to educational gaming is the ability to differentiate instruction and provide opportunities for higher-level thinking that engages each student. Games also provide glimpses into how students think, providing educators with a valuable assessment piece. (Parisi, 2012) When coupled with project-based learning, gaming immerses students in content providing opportunities to become experts in their fields. Furthermore, many Common Core State Standards are predicated on providing tech-rich content to develop mastery in 21st Century skills. Games facilitate these skills, target areas for enrichment and intervention, and personalize the learning experience. In five years, an elementary classroom without some degree of “gamification” will not provide the best environment for meeting the needs of diverse student populations.
Diversity will be found not only in student populations. Creating technology-infused classrooms, especially 1:1 device to student classrooms, is prohibitively expensive for many districts. Even with the development of inexpensive, durable internet enabled tablets, (Bonnington, 2013) the cost of providing each student with a device is an obstacle to creating the connected elementary classroom. For many districts the investment in infrastructure alone will require considerable capital. One solution is already in the pockets of many students – cellular phones. (Higgins, 2013) Increasingly elementary students are receiving hand-me-down cell phones from parents to use for entertainment. In many cases, these devices no longer have cellular service, yet can connect to district password protected wifi networks allowing for filtered access to web-based content. These essentially free devices provide a viable option to creating the 1:1 classroom environment found in many district’s technology plans. In five years, students will connect to the web via a variety of mobile devices to collaborate on lesson, discover content and for assessments.
Big data and learning analytics have become ingrained in the culture of education as governmental officials, administrators, parents and teachers incorporate data to inform instruction. Technology tools simplify data collection and analysis; however, current reliance on computer labs to administer assessments strains the capacity of these labs and leaves them available for little else than assessment data collection. Contrary to these standardized, corporate, proprietary applications, a significant number of web apps have been created in the past few years to assess students and collect data. Many of these apps are game-based and more engaging for students than the electronic bubble tests they are subject to in computer labs. Student information is readily accessible and available in “real time.” In five years, there will be a movement away from formal, standardized lab-based assessments and toward more “on-demand” assessments of learning.
Personal Learning Environments
Education is experiential. The experiences of students in connected environments engage them in learning on a personal level allowing them to construct knowledge in a way that is meaningful. (Siemans, n.d.) Educators will facilitate learning between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., but the physical space of school will no longer define learning. Organized around connected learning theory, schools will “leverage various experiences, interests, communities, and contexts in which learners participate - both in and out of school - as potential learning opportunities.” (McCrea, 2013) Student assessment will center on what a student can create or curate – providing artifacts that illustrate learning has occurred though the production of a product. (Blending High and Low Tech, n.d.) Learning will become more cooperative. Teachers and students will of necessity learn from each other in a connected environment. An elementary classroom in five years will be a diversified, personalized, and engaging learning space where students and teachers are connected to content, each other and the world through digital media.
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