The Future of Education: Part 1 – Dreams

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I mentioned to an old college teacher a while back that I was working to develop educational technology. “So this is how you thank me? By replacing me?” He said. There’s no point trying to deny that advances in technology render obsolete certain professions, but teaching need not be one of them, at least not until long after my professor’s retirement. Teaching is about the most necessarily social job out there, along with diplomat, counselor, psychologist and many more. Technology is not even close to where it can effectively perform these tasks. If society knows what’s good for it, none of these professions will be replaced for a long, long time. Whether society knows what’s good for it, however, has been an open question since people have had the time to ponder questions of the greater good.

Let me share with you a vision of a possible future where technology aids human teachers in providing an experience to students unparalleled by today’s standards, The Inverted Classroom. I have not invented this general concept, but I’ll describe how it might play out. Imagine you our your child taking lectures at home and doing “homework” at school. The lectures are delivered by subject matter experts who have devoted their life work to making amazing lectures, the “homework, ” which we shall from here on out refer to as “coursework,” is done under the supervision of a teacher, who instead of stressing over how to reinvent the same lectures that other teachers have perfected thousands of times before, can spend his time doing what a human still does better than any computer – giving individual attention to the particular needs of each of his students. We already have the technology to accomplish this, but let’s think further into the future.

The students don’t write their answers on paper with feedback only once every day at best. Instead, they work on tablet computing devices, answering short answer questions and completing virtual labs to learn the content interactively. The digital notebook can do simple analyses of their work and to a limited extent help them to stay engaged and scaffold them towards proper learning. It can even provide a simple digital tutor for each student to help them feel comfortable and encouraged to stay on task. Moreover, the teacher doesn’t have to just look over her students shoulders and check their work because she will have her own portable device with a list of the students in her class. Beside each student is a progress bar and a simple indicator, perhaps color-coded, that can tell the teacher when a student is falling behind or is not learning the material. Freed from the need to constantly be devising and presenting curriculum herself and with the ability to easily see the progress of her students, a teacher will be better prepared than ever before to lead the next generation’s students on the path to becoming the productive citizens of tomorrow.

What do actual teachers think of this? I know I have more than a couple teachers and former teachers who read this blog. Is there anything you’d like to see technology help you with? Does this dream seem like more of a nightmare to you? Next week I’ll discuss some of my nightmares in part 2 of this two-part blog post.

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7 thoughts on “The Future of Education: Part 1 – Dreams”

  1. I think these are good insights, though I think that some lectures need to be tailored to the class. I like the idea of being able to give more help with homework, but the interactions between students also needs to be taken into account; discussions should still be facilitated by the teacher from time to time.

  2. I like this technological approach to the ‘flipped-‘ or ‘inverted-‘ classroom, as you call it. Students really need frequent feedback, but teachers do not always have enough hours in the day to give as frequent feedback as the students need. Technology could also be used in a more traditional classroom as a quick-quiz at the beginning of class to see if students understood the last lecture.

    I agree with Greg, however, that student-to-student interaction is invaluable and should not be minimized, and that some lectures do need to be tailored to each class. That is part of the point of doing assessment– giving additional instruction in areas where the class struggles. This is not the same for every group of students.

    The nightmarish part of it is re-designing a course. It would have to be worth it. How much data is there to support that students’ learning is enhanced by such an environment?

  3. I’d say that Greg hit on the key. The problem with the classroom you’ve described is that it simply inverts the inappropriate model of education that we are currently using. Both models are insufficiently communal, and fail to recognize the degree to which learning is social. Lecture is not good education. Drill-and-practice homework is not good education. Reversing the order doesn’t help. The goal should be to create a learning community in the classroom. For example, this is a description of a learning community that I am proud to have worked on: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/pcmath/788.

  4. I understand your idea, but my problem with this is that I personally am terrible at concentrating on videos of lectures. One of my professors was out at conferences several times last semester and he would have his TA either show a video of his lecture or he would skype with us. I had so much more trouble paying attention during those classes, because he wasn’t watching me. He couldn’t see when I dozed off, or call on me at just the right moment.

    1. Rachel, we could use cameras with posture analysis that my roommate is developing to automatically detect when you’re falling asleep. We already have developed cattle prod technology to shock you awake.
      As a more human solution, maybe the lecture could increase volume or play a sound to revive you or just pause and wait for you to wake up again and hit play.

    2. Rachel, we could use cameras with posture analysis that my roommate is developing to automatically detect when you’re falling asleep. We already have developed cattle prod technology to shock you awake.
      As a more human solution, maybe the lecture could increase volume or play a sound to revive you or just pause and wait for you to wake up again and hit play.

  5. Educational technology aims to progress education. Technology should smooth the progress of learning processes and amplify performance of the educational systems as it regards to value and good organization.

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