Disruptive Technology Does Not Fly in the Classroom

Disruptive Technology Does Not Fly in the Classroom

Classroom Learning: What to Expect this Decade?

Given the biological evolutionary timescale, The way we learn is unlikely to change very much in 10 years. I'm not trying to be facetious but believe we should keep this in mind as we look to improve (read: “change”) the educational experience of our children.

That said, how we teach is certain to evolve in a significantly shorter period. Even so, while the last century has seen significant changes in the way we educate our children, the similarities between most modern classrooms and one from the days of the Puritans are immediately identifiable. Clearly, however, there have been some important changes.

Changes in the classroom have historically evolved from changes in technology and/or changes in our understanding of how people actually learn. The steady disappearance, in the 1950s, of "hands-on" lab work resulting from the widespread adoption of photography in textbooks is an example of a technological impact. About a decade later, a movement to bring hands-on, physical experience back to the classroom was driven, at least in part, by changes in our understanding of the Human brain and how it functions—the beginnings of left-right brain and "multiple-intelligence" research.

Schools are generally (with some notable exceptions) very slow to adopt and adapt. The result of a number of factors such as budget, logistics (numbers), governance and forces of habit, the way schools teach tends to evolve more slowly than most other organizations. While myriad attempts continue to be made to measure the quality of a teacher, the bottom line is that most of us (including those charged with school governance) generally make judgments based on personal experience—experience that dates back to our own schooling.

As a side, we all seem to appreciate the qualities of uniquely gifted teachers. The movie industry seems uncannily adept at creating these characters. We recognize them; celebrate them; even respect them. Movies such as “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Dead Poets Society” tempt our passion for learning and yet, almost without exception, in some sick reverence to our puritan interests, devastate these unique protagonists. In fact, it is rare to find any movie in which an educator—gifted by passion for teaching—does not die or is fired.

The implications of this are important to consider. The adoption rate for paradigm changing technology like, for example, computers in the classroom, is extremely long with a period akin to a generational gap. In this example, we're not talking about simply "having" computers in the classroom but computers being utilized as an indispensable tool in the regular curriculum. (i.e. Using the computer is not considered a "Special.") The driving force for the adoption of this type of technology is often new educators that recognize and feel comfortable with the technology from their own personal experience... a decade or more earlier.

Technology that improves on existing classroom rituals, however, has demonstrated far more aggressive adoption. "SmartBoard" technology, for example, has seen exceptionally fast and widespread adoption by schools at many levels. Of course, this device is just a better blackboard. I don't mean to belittle this fantastic new technology, only demonstrate the significance of its clear relationship to an existing classroom element. We recently witnessed whiteboards supplant the classic blackboard on a national scale.

The reliance of teachers on existing classroom activities is further bolstered by our curriculum model itself where teachers are asked to teach the same lessons and units from year to year. As a result, teachers tend to rely on the same lesson plans and activities from one year to the next. New technology has an inherent barrier to adoption as teachers are required to rewrite or, at the very least, rethink existing lessons plans and activities to fully take advantage of even the most basic new resource.

No doubt the next decade will see the development of many new tools and visions. That said, the wide-spread changes we are likely to observe in the majority of classrooms are those that support existing teaching and classroom activities, or advance the capability of technology that is already in use.

This may seem very general but consider the case of electronic textbooks. We may ultimately see their adaption as an alternative to dragging a 30-pound backpack home each day, but electronic textbooks on every student's iPad? It may be a bit longer than you might think.

Now, if Apple had called it an "iSlate", that's a different story...

TOGO Media
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