The past decade of educational practice has seen some very important trends in how a classroom operates and how its participants interact. Perhaps the most important of these is the move towards a less-hierarchical environment. Teachers are “embedded” with students to become colleagues and guides as the group explores and learns together. The traditional model of subject matter expert, lecturing for a few hours at the front of a room while students dutifully capture as much as they can is quickly disappearing. The model encourages students to take responsibility for their own discovery process, work with their peers, and to view the instructor as a mentor. In short, the trend in education has been to develop students into teachers. With a bit of guidance, these “2nd teachers” are able to educate themselves, research and discover, and even educate their peers effectively.
EduTech and AV companies who operate in the space will be familiar with this model, referred to as the “Flipped Classroom” or “Active Learning” or “Team-Enabled Active Learning”. Design consultants, involved in creating new collaborative classrooms, software companies who are developing software for these environments, and AV integrators have done quite well at adapting to these changes and, in the process, have remained relevant in education. At the same time, these trends are being paralleled by an important shift in the corporate space. I’ve already blogged about the changes in the corporate conference room from powerpoint-meetings to collaborative sessions. The principles that have gone into modern classrooms are now being applied to conference room and collaboration design.
Although these changes have been important (and definitely have had a positive impact on innovation and learning), I think there is an even larger, and more disruptive trend afoot. The classroom is about to get a third teacher – technology.
Obviously technology already plays a role in educational environments: Google Docs are used extensively, Canvas and other learning management systems support online interaction and information exchange, and 3rd party resources like Kahn Academy can be used to augment what is discussed in the classroom. But all of these technologies are a sideline to the main classroom experience. They are limited to supporting a teacher in teaching, augmenting out-of-class time, or supporting existing educational models.
The next-generation technologies will participate far more actively in the room. Technology, just like the student in an active learning environment, will become an educational peer. Software systems will make real-time recommendations to students on where they should focus their attention. Problem solving won’t just involve collaboration between your peers and an educator, but will include suggestions, questions, and collaborative input from technology. Imagine a collaborative classroom where students can post their tablet screens to a shared display to discuss, compare, and ultimately work towards a solution. Now imagine a display that automatically arranges the various tablet screens in a way that helps the students better draw correlations. That same display could monitor student engagement by tracking how often a student is sharing their results with the group and actively query students who are falling behind. Ideas like this are becoming possible because students are in the classroom with mobile devices and, using Solstice and similar wireless collaboration software, those tablets are no longer simply e-readers but are used to collaborate. The collaborative classroom is here.
Sounds like science fiction, it’s not really. I’m having conversations with several of our customers along these lines and I know of several educational software companies that are designing software that will be more active within a collaborative classroom. It’s an exciting vision and will move much Educational Technology from the classroom sideline into a real-time participant and introduce a valuable Third Teacher to the classroom of the future.