Ed Tech: The Evolving Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 2 of 2. Click here for part 1.

Crystal ball photo by Tttrung, Chmouel GNU free license creative commonsThere is no time machine or magic crystal ball to show us the future, but hundreds of educators, tech developers, and tech trainers are working to make that future happen. An informal survey of tech trainers shows many exciting innovations on the way. One primary thought came through in the trainers’ responses: new tools are coming to make learner-centered education take off.

Learner-based education is not new. It has been an effective teaching strategy for some time, though adapting the classroom and resources to help students take charge of their own learning can be challenging. Changing a school district to competency-based direct assessment has a cost in both dollars and time.

Tech support for highly interactive learning spaces, off-site support for learners, and administrative support for curriculum and assessment has been expanding in the last few years. As iPods and iPads—with their countless apps—swarmed into classrooms, students pushed the apps’ limits and teachers jumped into learning how to best use these tools. Shifting from using apps as occasional support to fully tech-supported curriculum and resources means shifting the use of these and other tech tools.

This shift has begun, and in a few short years it may well revolutionize how students become learners, and how teachers guide and mentor them along the way. Today we see vendors like Google Apps for Education and ED@ developing curriculum software to change how collaboration happens. Along with other developers, they are building new systems to support the learners, educators, and administrators of the future.

How This Might Change the Classroom

Valles Caldera NM photo by Thomas Shahan upload by Jacobo Werther Creative Commons

It’s 2024, and you are with your students on a field trip through the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the high desert of New Mexico. You are using GPS-guided technology to view highlights of the area. Hiking though the forest and meadow in this ancient volcanic crater, you experience the varied wildlife and study how plants have evolved to use available water in each season. A bird runs across the path, and you notice on your monitor that several of the students are accessing bird identification data, while others are commenting to each other about how fast that bird ran. One student has sent a question to the park naturalist.

The field trip described above is actually a classroom experience, using several technologies available now or under development. Students in the class are watching on a giant monitor, increasing the detail and reality of the “field trip.” In this setting from 2024, you are able to access not only your own district’s cloud servers for resources and curriculum, but other sites as well. Using today’s new clip-on cameras, the National Park Service and many groups are starting to record trail hikes and field experiences. Bringing these to classrooms will likely be done using their own cloud servers.

Google_Glass_with_frame Along with several fellow learners off-site, your students are also using smartphones, tablets, wrist devices, or perhaps a variation on the recently marketed Google Glasses to share questions. You are monitoring your groups’ use of their personal devices—seeing them raise questions and start discussions in real time. After the experience, some students may decide to look at the history of this old volcano, others to look for more on birds. Your off-site students are just as involved in the discussion as the ones sharing the room with you. While not quite a true virtual hiking trip, it offers an experience well beyond the capabilities of a tablet alone. You can revisit it and find new focus areas for future learning experiences.

Presently, in a School Improvement Network demonstration of teaching two-digit subtraction to second-graders using a learner-centered approach, the teacher has the students develop sample equations and define the evidence that shows mastery of the problem. This small group working together in a classroom is engaged in the task and has a great discussion of ways to improve their subtraction skills. But they are using the same technology that their grandparents used—writing it out.

sonystrapsonwristNow imagine teaching this lesson in a learner-centered environment of the future. The math learning station has gone virtual. Students may well be spread out across a classroom or off-site. Using the same personal devices as in the New Mexico class experience, as well as their district’s cloud service, the teacher can help them explore the same math lesson and find ways to practice and improve their math skills. They can repeat the lesson or move on to the next, at home as well as in the classroom. A monitoring service allows teachers to review all students’ work and contributions to the group discussion, then direct them for future lessons. New data packets will continually assess each student’s progress and record it for administrative use.

How Technology Can Make This Happen
At first glance you might be saying, “But all that technology is already here!” Much of it is, but the software—and the cloud-based computing and storage required—need continued refinement. Hardware advances will bring even more changes, and breakthroughs in interactive software are happening regularly. Today’s designers and developers are partnering with educators to envision an expanded integration of technology with learning. In most cases, districts will probably find it cost effective to purchase customizable cloud resources from vendors, both for class and administrative uses.

Interactive computer tableAs anyone born before 1990 knows, the advent of personal computing and its increasing portability has changed the way students want to get information, how they communicate, and sometimes even how they learn. Today’s students have always had personal computing in their lives, and they expect connectivity. How we bring learning experiences to them will change, and helping to manage the change is an important role for educators and tech developers working together. Check the Suggested Resources below for more details on learner-centered classrooms, the technology to support it, and access to professional development resources for educators and administrators.

Then imagine the children of 2050, raised by the students who are barely entering schools today. Their expectations, and the amazing technology the generations in between will bring forth, may seem astounding. As Arthur C. Clarke first wrote in 1962, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The real magic comes in helping students grow and get excited about learning.

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Suggested Resources
The Apsen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet’s 2014 findings: Learner at the Center of a Networked World full report or selected highlights
Integrating Technology with Student Centered Learning from Nellie Mae Foundation (2011)
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
CoSN Leading Education Innovation

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

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