Visions of the Future

As we make our way through July, 2011, I am thinking of the ways that teaching will change in the not-too-distant future. We already have SMART Boards, of which I wrote in a previous post. There is increasingly sophisticated technology to come. Can we imagine what we will use in a year from now? How about two years from now? Are you ready? If you are a member of the MAT@USC program, you are well on your way. You have already experienced something important: the elimination of geographic barriers to synchronous learning. This post explores some of the changes that might come.

Trainers have been working with eLearning tools and web conferencing for years.  A web conference or self-directed learning delivered via the web is much more cost-effective than flying participants to a training center or flying a trainer to a remote site.  These eLearning tools would benefit teachers in terms of resource management and the opportunity to tap sources of knowledge that would not have been available before because of geographical barriers.  Imagine this:

  1. Middle and high school students learn Chinese from an instructor based in China using a large HDMI monitor and a High Definition sound system, along with a web connection.  The instructor takes them on virtual field trips once a month, wearing a web camera that shows the students the sites, such as Wall of China.  The instructor also invites friends into class to demonstrate conversational skills and allows the students to ask questions.  Finally, the students are able to meet Chinese students and practice conversation.
  2. Ninth graders experience the thrill a Shakespearean scholar and actor gets by studying the Bard as they watch her facilitate a seminar with college students in the UK.  She delivers the seminar at Shakespeare’s Globe, a theater in London.  After the seminar, college students take groups of ninth graders on a tour of the building using portable web cameras and answer their questions about the theater and life in London.  They can see and hear the ninth graders via an app on their tablet and the younger students watch the tour guide on their own tablets.

Is this farfetched?  I don’t think so and I think it’s doable now.  Some of the more affluent schools may be doing things like this right now.  The only thing standing in our way is the technology and, of course, funding.  In the future, however, these activities will be commonplace and much less expensive.  Businesses had been using SMART boards and other sophisticated technology for years before they came into the classroom.  Once the prices dropped on these very useful tools, schools could start bringing them to the classroom.

The Paperless Society?

Do you remember the paperless-society craze?  It is still an important objective, of course, but I remember a time in which people talked about it more than they do now.  I have an office manager’s perspective on that idea and remember ordering more paper than ever as people balked at not having a “hard copy.”  I still have friends in the business world that print everything.  Today, however, our electronic storage capacity and redundancy virtually assure us that anything we want to save as 0s and 1s will not be lost during a disaster.  What we save in San Jose has also been saved in Wilmington, DE, Providence, RI, and on our personal computers and portable hard drives.  The paperless society could become reality.  Imagine this:

  1. Students no longer take tests using the paper and pencil method.  Instead, all tests are administered on a computer and graded by the teacher on a computer.  In distance education programs at the post-secondary level, this happens all the time.  The professor no longer has to decipher handwriting and can quickly grade the tests and provide feedback to students.   I have also seen secondary teachers blessed with computer labs for classrooms administer their tests via the computer.  They print the results and grade them by hand, but that could change in the near future.
  2. Students keep electronic portfolios.  Any work that originally done the old-fashioned way is scanned into the electronic portfolio.  During parent-teacher conferences, the teacher shares the portfolio via the SMART board or a tablet and explains the student’s progress to the parents using the portfolio.  Electronic portfolios are available to students and parents at any time via a secure website.  They can add comments or reflections based on any artifact at any time.
  3. The copier machine has gone the way of the dinosaur.  Teachers no longer make copies of anything, but push the information to the students’ tablets.
  4. Students have everything they need on a tablet computer they carry with them to school: textbooks, programs, etc.  If they do carry a backpack, it is light.  Lockers are to store jackets, not heavy textbooks.  Textbooks are updated and new versions are pushed to the students’ tablets, just like programs are now.

Is this farfetched?  Hardly.  In fact, as I said before, there are probably schools where this is happening now.  Post-secondary institutions have been moving this way for years and all distance education programs operate mostly through electronic media.  If you want to buy a hard copy of the book, it costs a lot more than the electronic version (believe me, I know).  Again, the problem with bringing this to K-12 education is funding.

I am sure that there are many other ideas I could have mentioned in this post.  These are the first that come to mind.  I would love to hear your ideas.

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