Sunday, March 1, 2009

Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is the Future

Standardization in teaching, though with some variation, has been around since the late 1800s. This is the model that we are all familiar with – the teacher is the master of the classroom, and she/he teaches a selected curriculum to all students at the same time, often frustratingly trying to help the slower students to catch up and challenge the advanced students to race further ahead. Technology is changing this approach, and in the future things will be radically different.

Because technology is developing at a geometric, rather than linear, pace, predicting its specific integration and uses in future education is at least a bit iffy. However, these two authors, give us an imaginative example of a future classroom where, for example, students are learning Mandarin Chinese grammar, using noise-canceling headphones and laptop computers. One student connects remotely with a brick mason and helps him construct a sentence brick by brick in much the same way he would construct a wall. Virtual bricks are color-coded with words on them and when assembled in the correct sentence order, the English words change to phonetic Mandarin, and the two learners read the results together, working on proper pronunciation and tones. (One could suppose that if this student were working with a manicurist, then the words could be written on computer representations of fingernails and toenails.) The point here is that people learn in different ways, and elsewhere in the classroom, the software program might use the more typical and ancient rote method by speaking and repeating the words. The gist of all this is that the learning process should be tailored to the individual student’s most efficient way of learning. The teacher’s responsibility is to “float” around the classroom (which would be welcomed relief to her feet) and function more as a monitor than instructor.

The term “disruptive innovation” could be considered a misnomer, as there seems to be little disruption involved. To me it seems more supplemental in its effects. The authors note that the tendency is for advanced technology to be “crammed” into the existing classroom model – more computers at the back of the class, the establishment of computer labs, bigger, brighter white boards, etc. “Disruptive innovation” means providing technology for learning where no alternatives exist, not merely tweaking education methods already employed. Many schools are simply unable to offer what many students need. Remedial courses, courses that students must repeat in order to graduate, tutoring, home-schooled students, the educational needs of migrant workers’ children and other students whose life situations or health prevent them from attending school regularly and of course providing unlimited challenges for the brilliant students whose hunger for learning and knowledge cannot be met adequately in the classroom – all this hopefully can and will be addressed by the firestorm that educational technology is becoming.

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