The future of classroom tech
Educators are meeting the challenge of curating new technologies for their students
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