In the not-so-distant past, the Australian classroom was a very different place.
As The School of the Air – Broken Hill records:
Lessons took days and sometimes weeks to reach their destinations and by the time the completed lessons were dispatched to their teachers, marked and returned to the children, months could have elapsed. As these children rarely had an opportunity to visit their teachers at the Correspondence School, the children inevitably completed their entire schooling without ever meeting their teacher or schoolmates.
And this was the case from the 1940’s right up until the mid ’90s when Australian schools were introduced to something called the internet.
Since then, the developments in technology have completely altered the way we learn and the way we can share that knowledge with each other, especially in remote areas.
But it’s not only regional Australia that’s enjoying the benefits this technology can bring, these advances are game-changing for everyone from preschoolers all the way through to work training. Independent learners and government agencies must keep on top of these changes if we are to be a dynamic and competitive nation going forward.
We know that classrooms are increasingly using technology to learn and have been doing so for some time,but the actual classroom structure really hasn’t changed too much from Victorian times. What we’re yet to see is how new ways of interacting with this technology has the ability to utterly redefine the concept of the classroom.
The virtual classroom
Education World puts it so perfectly when they say: the future school will go electronic with a capital E. As mentioned above, we are already seeing how this is impacting the classroom.
Most students have a device (or several) that they learn from, correspondence is done via email, coding is in the curriculum and computers now are a common sight in the classroom as proudly pinned artwork.
What we have yet to see is a radical departure from the way lessons are taught. As education author Marc Prensky observes, the technology we have now, largely upholds a structure that really hasn’t changed too much in 150 years. The potential of the technology is curtailed by the limitations of managing such a large institute. However, it’s actually not that dire. We are now seeing the first sprouts of how technology will completely open up this sphere and broaden the definition of learning
In the city of Zhuji in China, the municipal council are rolling-out a massive cloud-based school system, that will go into 118 schools and use over 6000 devices. This system will have an enormous impact on both the administration and the culture of education, as Chen Xikun, director of the IT centre at Zhuji's education bureau says:
"By using such a system, we could effectively push forward the development of the city's teaching, resources, research, and evaluation — all of which is done on the cloud. Take teaching on the cloud, for example, students in different courses have full access to all resources available, and it helps the elementary and secondary education of Zhuji develop in a balanced way."
By letting all students have all the resources (and the technology they need to access it) you are creating a way for students to learn in an equal way. There still might be better teachers and better resources in some schools compared to others, but if the basics are this thorough and this easy to access, then the quality of learning will increase.
As educators see the potential of technology, there is a realisation that lessons aren’t necessarily confined to the physical classroom, or the lesson plan to the teachers themselves. Smartboards, aren’t an overly new concept, but we are just starting to see how teachers can really use them to great value.
A great example of this is author talks. There are schools who can elect to participate in smartboard talks with publishers now. The author will go to a central location and can give a talk where they will be projected to six schools.
The schools can be all over the place and students can ask questions to other students.
The teacher can also put up parts of the book, or the curriculum outcomes, while the talk is being given.
What this interaction achieves is that students who are too far from these kinds of resources normally, or don’t have the resources to invite guests, can have access to them in a way they couldn’t before.
Another fantastic outcome is that children are introduced to ways of life that are vastly different than their own. Often in these segments, the author is ignored in favour of a huge discussion between the students.
Dr Amit Pal Kaur did her PhD on the impact of whiteboards on schools and found, that even though they are in their infancy the result is generally positive:
"When used correctly, this technology can lead to an enhanced interactive classroom environment. There is clear evidence that when used in this way by both teachers and students, students are more likely to adopt a deeper approach to their learning. As a result, the quality of the students' learning outcomes improves.”
Educators and policy makers
However Dr Pal Kaur stresses that smartboards are only as good as the people that are using them. It’s no use spending large amounts of money on fantastic technology if its potential is going to waste because the people involved won’t embrace change.
Education agencies in the future are going to need to have a whole different skill set. Technology will inform how educators approach curriculum and learning, not the other way around. In order to be truly competitive in the sphere, we need to be thinking a little more broadly about how technology can be and should be impacting learning.