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WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE “DIGITAL CLASSROOM”?

By: Dave Gordon



Will books be phased out in the foreseeable future? Will every student be using a laptop or tablet in their classroom seat? And will they even need to be in a classroom to learn?

These questions are coming to light as computers, tablets and laptops are proliferating throughout schools and students’lives, and are quickly becoming staple items for students. E-books are beginning to replace “text books,” keyboards are replacing pens and paper, and Google is replacing the library.

Excited, Apprehensive

According to a new survey from Project Tomorrowand Blackboard, dubbed Trends in Digital Learning, nine-tenths of surveyed US educators said using technology to instruct students is important. That should come as little surprise to those who see this generation’s proclivity for devices and the online world as the rule, rather than the exception. More than three-quarters of parents surveyed were supportive of technology in classes, particularly in preparing children for college and career. 

The one thing holding back this goal? Technology is developing at such a rapid rate that, as one-third of school principals report, it’s difficult to train teachers. And that’s not factoring in the resources needed for this training.

Software can theoretically become obsolete – or be upgraded – in just a couple of years; so too a digital device, with new models hitting the market every 12 months. The consequence of this isn’t just that educators find it hard to keep up. The cost involved in consistently upgrading, and then re-instructing, becomes an unexpected financial burden. 

One recent headline captured the problem quite succinctly. The online publication Education Dive featured an article written by Kate Schimel entitled, “School Leaders Excited, Apprehensive About Innovative Classroom Approaches.”

Almost half of the surveyed principals said they delayed implementation of technology instruction because they
foresaw obsolescence. 

But try they must, and some districts are loathe to miss the boat on offering pupils computer literacy for the 21st century and beyond.

According to the Independent Tribune in North Carolina, two counties in that state will be doling out nearly 22,000 laptops to students this fall, with a ratio of nearly one computer for every student. In the United Kingdom, British Educational Suppliers Association says that there will be nearly a million digital tablets bought by schools for pupils to use by the end of this year. And in another project, sponsored by the British Broadcasting Network and 29 partners ranging from Samsung to Microsoft, one million
11 and 12-year-old students in the UK will receive a handheld, credit card-sized Micro:bit computer. The July issue of Wired Magazine says the new device features Bluetooth so it can communicate with other devices. 

However, school officials in England have warned that too much of computer use is clicking and swiping the screen, as opposed to critical thinking. Indeed, Britons have witnessed a decline in computer skills among the population, leading employers to hire from other countries. 

Micro: bit, however, could actually be part of the solution, as the student must write the programming for the device to engage it. Perhaps these two endeavors across the pond could be models for American students, too.

MOOC

Meanwhile, the concept of home learning is developing like never before, with course instruction delivered right to the computer screen.

One concept that is growing in popularity is the “flipped classroom” – which means students learn their coursework from the location of their choice, namely, home. Singapore’s universities, such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, are among the institutions that have welcomed the initiative.

In an article in IBNLive, Rupesh Shah, CEO of InOpen Technologies, discusses what is known as MOOC (Massively Open Online Courses). Today, MOOC is more popular in college and universities, but experts say it’s only a matter of time before a segment of the high school curricula borrows from the same idea. 

In fact, in 2014, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) – the widely-used college admission examination – had initiated a MOOC component. It seems likely that high school students in coming years will be taking the SATs from their own laptops.

With courses geared more towards this generation – such as Standford’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence in 2011– it’s no wonder that the New York Timesproclaimed 2012 to be the “Year of the MOOC.”

As of last year, more than a thousand MOOC courses were launched by colleges and universities in the United States, including Harvard, M.I.T., Caltech, and the University of Texas – all of whom have spent tens of millions of dollars on MOOC development.

Classroom in a Box

Google has already launched classroom-friendly initiatives that welcome student feedback on assignments, monitor student progress in real-time, and allow teachers to assist with problemsat the push of a button.

In an article published in BusinessWire on June 29 of this year, Samsung Electronics America in partnership with McGraw-Hill Education announced the launch of “Classroom in a Box” to serve children in kindergarten through 12thgrade. “Classroom in a Box” is described as a pilot program that includes “components needed to transform classrooms into technology enabled learning environments.” Schools have a choice of 30 GalaxyTab 4 Education 10” Tablets, or 30 11.6” Samsung Chromebook2.

According to a recent survey of K-12 teachers conducted by Samsung, more than 90 percent of teachers feel that access to up-to-date
training on how to use technology in the classroom is important to achieving success. However, the concern still arisesabout teachers not receiving adequate training, and 60 percent say they don’t know enough to instruct students on how to use these devices.

Meanwhile, not everyone is too pleased with the rapid introduction of computerized gizmos to the classroom.

A group of parents in Israel say that technology is gaining a foothold in their kids’ class without their input. The Israeli daily Haaretzreported in late June that a parent group in Hod Hasharon, north of Tel Aviv, are incensed that laptops are compulsory in their kids’ classroom, and have complained about the unexpected high cost, and that the government isn’t offering financial aid. The row has prompted two Knesset committee hearings on the subject, and a petition is being prepared to be sent to the High Court of Justice. One of the parents wrote a letter to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, complaining that the computers are setting parents back hundreds of shekels, whereas Israeli law promises free education. 

The pitfalls of classroom tech are numerous – including the costs to families or school boards and the income-based disparity in numbers of available devices, the need for close monitoring of internet use during school hours, and the requirement that teachers become tech-savvy IT consultants in their own classrooms. But the benefits of the 21stcentury classroom cannot be ignored, as kids are given a new way to learn, show their creativity, and interact with their teachers and peers. 

According to The Economist, Israel had about 1,000 trained computer-science teachers in 2014. If current trends continue, pretty soon there could be one in every classroom.