Empowering students through connected classrooms

In 1959 Issac Asimov wrote a short story called “Profession”. In that story people learnt how to read on “Reading day” by being connected to a machine and with one push of a button they could read. Then, a few years later, on “Education Day”, they learn their Profession (once their brain has been analysed for which is the “right” one for them) from a tape, again at the push of a button. The danger that Asimov highlights in his story is that there is little creative thinking amongst the majority of the population. After all, who creates the tapes? We are now at that point in the history of education.

Never before, have students had so much data and information at their disposal during their learning journey. The means for accessing this information is as easy as speaking a question into their mobile phone. Teaching and learning has never been easier, after all it’s all on-line! The so called three Rs of education, Reading Writing and Arithmetic, though still important, are no longer the pinnacle of educational achievement they once were. Though there is a need for those that can produce smaller devices, with more memory and processing power than before so that we can all appear to be experts because we are permanently connected to Google, what about the content? Who actually finds out the answers? Who decides that the content has any voracity? Who edits the content?

Education is more than ever about making connections and creativity. In Victorian times children wrote on individual slates, sat in their individual chairs, copying what the teacher had drawn on their blackboard. Is there not a danger that today we are simply creating classrooms of individuals, working on their individual devices, in their own individual space, copying what the teacher has on their teaching device? Teaching and learning is about a shared, collective experience so our connected, mobile devices need to enhance that experience.

Being connected via our mobile devices requires all of those working in the education field to think creatively. Having this level of access to data puts a premium on how we interact with it. There are also pressures on educational budgets for a whole variety of reasons. Mobile and connected technologies can allow educators to deliver the curriculum in ways that maximise all the available resources. Teachers, experiences, even objects of interest can be shared across a connected campus freeing up time and reducing the need for physical copies. Even visiting a simple, static museum can be “brought to life” using mobile devices and augmented reality apps.

There are current technologies that are open and allow students to be creative both individually and collectively.

For example:

– Touch technologies that allow people to use intuitive gestures and actions to access functions simply and in a “common-sense” manner.

– Displays that quickly link to mobile devices allowing students and teachers collaborate on shared projects using integrated video conferencing.

– Cloud-spaces provide areas where students can work in a place at any time on any connected device.

– Gaming type interfaces and communities, in which students could become part of teams that go on “quests” through virtual environments or, even in real environments using augmented reality, which place an emphasis on collaborative problem solving.

To truly empower students in a connected classroom, means that there will be a shift in the balance of power between them and their teachers. Knowledge no longer lies with the teacher, but on our connected device. Connected classrooms need to be places that inspire creativity and collaboration. They need to be spaces that bring people together, encouraging them to take risks (as it is impossible to be creative without the risk of failure), to share and value ideas. This raises the most exciting question – Where is the connected classroom? Of course it is everywhere, and perhaps this is what empowering our students through mobile connected devices is ultimately about. Teaching and learning can be about sitting in a lecture room at desks in rows, but it can be about sitting on a river bank reading The Wind in the Willows or looking up at a craggy outcrop on a distant comet or being inside a nuclear fusion reactor as the laser hits the target.

How does this tie in with businesses and their needs? Well, who knows, and that is the key. Today’s educators are having to prepare students for jobs that currently do not exist, to work with technologies that have yet to be invented and interact in ways that have yet to be imagined. This is why businesses are already looking for people that are creative, adaptable and forward-looking. Businesses are wanting people who are flexible and can quickly take on new ways of doing business. Some companies already use social networking as their main means of internal communication rather than email. Small, informal, but highly connected meeting spaces are becoming common place. These spaces are often “un-booked” so that people can just “huddle”, but because their mobile devices are connected the discussion and ideas are not lost and can be worked up and developed upon later.

We are also seeing so many new ways of connecting with customers at many different levels. There are technologies built into displays that can now discriminate between audiences that are either predominately male or predominately female, and companies are only just beginning to understand how to utilize this. Video conferencing is a hugely under used resource in many companies. Our schools/colleges should be educating students in the art of on-screen presenting – being able to maintain an audience’s attention and juggle between a live video feed and sharing on-screen data is no mean skill. Educators need to find ways of empowering students to think about the endless possibilities of mobile, connected technologies and how they as learners can best use them. Flip classrooms, where content is learned out of the classroom and then students meet in school where they are directed by teachers in discussions, problem solving, presentation of learning outcomes. This innovative pedagogy allows for more personalized learning, guidance as opposed to lecturing. The skills learnt in the subject area of History , such as gathering evidence, understanding sources, analysing the writer’s “voice”, these are the vital skills that people need in order to make sense of the information their connected mobile device spews out. Just because it’s in Wikipedia does not make it true!

The classroom is no longer the student’s world, rather the world is the student’s classroom.

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