The fu­ture of class­room tech

Ed­u­ca­tors are meet­ing the chal­lenge of cu­rat­ing new tech­nolo­gies for their stu­dents

The Kids Post - - School 101 - By Ju­dith Muster

The class­room of the fu­ture is here. Touch screen LCD pan­els swivel, a 3D printer hums with life, and stu­dents col­lab­o­rate on a Google doc pro­jected over­head. It all ap­pears or­ganic, as if it came to­gether seam­lessly, but in fact these new learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments are care­fully and painstak­ingly de­signed by ed­u­ca­tors del­uged with a wave of ed­u­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ed tech) in­no­va­tions.

“Deal­ing with the in­flux of tech is like drink­ing from a fire­hose,” says Bob Tarle, direc­tor of in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy at TFS - Canada’s In­ter­na­tional School. “We’re try­ing to go from pa­per to dig­i­tal in a way that is thought­ful and at the right pace. Since we know the aca­demic out­comes are al­ready very strong at TFS, we want to pur­sue thought­ful tech in­te­gra­tion driven by ped­a­gogy to cre­ate very real, new value.”

In prac­tice, al­low­ing ped­a­gogy to drive in­te­gra­tion means us­ing teach­ers, as trusted ad­vis­ers on which prod­ucts to bring into the class, and stu­dents as the sound­ing board.

“Tech in­te­gra­tion in the class­room is up to the dis­crim­i­na­tion of each in­di­vid­ual teacher,” Tarle says. For in­stance, last year TFS started us­ing No Red Ink, an on­line gram­mar in­struc­tion pro­gram, af­ter the English depart­ment co­or­di­na­tor and sev­eral English teach­ers re­quested the tool. It per­son­al­izes learn­ing for stu­dents, al­low­ing them to learn English gram­mar at their own pace — and even cus­tom­izes les­son con­tent to in­di­vid­ual stu­dent in­ter­ests.

Per­son­al­iza­tion is one of the ma­jor trends in to­day’s ed tech land­scape, con­firms Robert Martel­lacci, pres­i­dent of Mind­share Learn­ing, an ed tech con­sult­ing com­pany that brings to­gether mar­ket lead­ers and ed­u­ca­tors.

“Per­son­al­ized learn­ing is a huge trend where you’re see­ing so­lu­tions like Edsby and Fresh­grade com­ing on the scene,” Martel­lacci says. “These also al­low the con­nec­tion of school to home, where par­ents can see through Fresh­grade what Suzy or Jonny is work­ing on, and the teacher can com­mu­ni­cate with par­ents to share the stu­dent’s dig­i­tal port­fo­lio.”

To trans­late for those of us whose class­rooms were stocked with Duo-Tangs and pen­cil sharp­en­ers, Edsby and Fresh­grade are two of many on­line plat­forms that track stu­dent work us­ing data an­a­lyt­ics. Each stu­dent’s progress is vis­i­ble and read­ily avail­able to teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents. This, says Martel­lacci, is part of an­other trend — blended learn­ing. Ed­u­ca­tional con­tent is ac­ces­si­ble both in the class­room and on­line.

Of course, talk­ing about ed tech trends with­out men­tion­ing the emer­gent world of vir­tual re­al­ity ( VR) is a no go.

They are ahead of the curve at Cres­cent School, where, as the head of up­per school, Nick Ko­vacs, ex­plains, “Teach­ers in mod­ern lan­guages were re­ally ex­cited that in­stead of talk­ing about the streets of Paris, they could put kids in Paris and walk around.”

The mod­ern for­eign lan­guages teach­ers were so taken with the tech­nol­ogy that one in­struc­tor vol­un­tar­ily opted to train col­leagues from other de­part­ments in VR.

“We pi­lot any of these tech­nolo­gies that we deem to have a cer­tain amount of po­ten­tial, and our direc­tor of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion will work specif­i­cally with will­ing teach­ers to pi­lot tech in the class­room,” says Ko­vacs. “If you want a tech­nol­ogy to live in a mean­ing­ful way in a school en­vi­ron­ment, you need to get buyin on the part of teach­ers and stu­dents.”

But back to that del­uge of new tech­nol­ogy op­tions (which Martel­lacci de­scribes as the Wild West of ed tech in­no­va­tion). Even if ed­u­ca­tors hand-pick the op­ti­mal learn­ing tools, aren’t they con­cerned about the cu­mu­la­tive hours stu­dents will end up spend­ing in front of a screen?

They are. And the poli­cies in place to ad­dress the is­sue are a work in progress. At TFS, younger stu­dents (up to Grade 8) are not al­lowed to use their phones dur­ing school hours. A high school well­ness pre­fect is work­ing with the school ad­min­is­tra­tion team to de­ter­mine whether other lim­i­ta­tions, such as tech-free zones or phone-free cafe­te­ria time, might be war­ranted. Gam­ing web­sites with no ap­par­ent ed­u­ca­tional value are in­ac­ces­si­ble, thanks to a school fire­wall.

And those are only the in-school mea­sures. TFS takes the am­bi­tious ap­proach of ask­ing par­ents to adopt cer­tain habits at home.

“We want to give all our par­ents a shared vo­cab­u­lary,” says Tarle, “so we sug­gest tech-free meal­time and tech-free bed­time. We want to all model this be­hav­iour, so we work in part­ner­ship with the par­ent body to sup­port the TFS com­mu­nity.”

Cres­cent also has a no-phones pol­icy in the lower and mid­dle schools, but Ko­vacs says the up­per school ap­proach is to of­fer stu­dents cer­tain free­doms around tech use so that they be­gin to de­fine their own bound­aries.

“Once a week we have flex time, and if they want to use their lap­top and play an ap­pro­pri­ate game, we’re go­ing to al­low them to do that. When they’re sit­ting in their univer­sity dorm room, they’re go­ing to be faced with de­cid­ing whether to crack the books or play a game, and young peo­ple need to fig­ure out how to man­age their time ef­fec­tively. The fact of the mat­ter is tech is not go­ing away. It’s only go­ing to be­come in­creas­ingly per­va­sive in our day-to­day lives.”

“We want to pur­sue thought­ful tech in­te­gra­tion driven by ped­a­gogy. ”

Toronto French School takes a pro­gres­sive and bal­anced ap­proach to new tech­nolo­gies

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