Sunday, February 21, 2010

Teaching in 2030

I can't stop wondering what a classroom will look like in 2030. When schools stop thinking about Googling facts and information as cheating, how will technology like smartphones and iPad's be used in classrooms? What will this mean for libraries and textbooks? What will quiz and test questions ask if memorizing facts and information is no longer a valued skill?

I keep thinking about the book Ender's Game. In this novel by Orson Scott Card, the title character is attending a military academy. What is occupying my thoughts right now is the electronic slate on which Ender completes his assignments and plays a strategic, fantasy game. The Ender slate is similar to Apple's new iPad, which has me thinking...

What if the entire top of a student's desk was a touch screen computer? The teacher could control the content that appears of the computer. Text, film, audible, graphs, images, pod casts and any other imaginable content could be displayed along with activities, questions, instructions, etc... Students could read text, or plug in their headphones and listen to the audio book format. Students can submit their responses, reactions, or ideas via a touch-screen key pad, stylus, or by talking into a microphone. Students could engage one another in discussions and have a record of their interaction and discussion via the microphone and you-talk-it-types software.

If iPad-like electronic slates are the desk of the future, would kids need to be sitting together geographically to engage in discussions or group talk? Would Skype-like networking software replace the need to be physically face-to-face? If teachers do not need to be physically in front of a class of children, then could they engage and mentor even more children than the 100-150 a typical high-school teacher does today? Would the class size limit be even more restrictive in a virtual classroom because students could engage more directly with the instructor by responding to e-mail questions or on-going conversations tracked with software like Google's Wave?

The above examples use only existing technology. Technology in 2030 may be remarkably advanced. When I was graduating high school 21 years ago, there was no such thing as Google or iPods; portable computers looked like suitcases and portable phones came in shoulder bags. The advances in technology may make the world of 2030 look very futuristic indeed.

Imagine what remote learning, communications will look like when you-talk-it-types turns into you-think-it-types. Imagine when Internet chat rooms and avatars meet 3D TV. Children of tomorrow might interact in holographic classroom. Students could participate in great moments in history in holographic lessons, becoming the lead character in a personal, Forrest-Gump-like interactive film.

When I talk to colleagues about how technology may revolutionize tomorrow's classroom, one of the most frequent responses is a negative, visceral one about the loss of so-called real-human contact. My adult friends find that the limitations of current technology to be problematic. For example, may of us may have experienced a miscommunication via e-mail caused by the absence of the facial expression, voice inflection, and opportunity for question and clarification that exist in a face-to-face conversation. While one might how voice and video conferencing may assuage these concerns, it is far more difficult to imagine that children and grandchildren of today’s high-school students may not share our concerns about the nuances of face-to-face contact.

In some ways 2030 is a far and distant world. Imagining the technological advances of computers, 3D TV and the possibility of a virtual learning environment can at times feel more like science fiction fantasy rather than a serious attempt to imagine the not-so-distant future. On the other hand, 2030 is not very far away. I’ve been teaching since 1996. In 2030, I will be in the 35th year of my teaching career and 58 years old. While that is near retirement by today’s standards, advances in medicine and reforms to social security may mean that I am still 5-15 years away from retirement by 2030. Teachers entering the profession today will be solid veterans halfway through their careers. Today’s high-school graduates will be attending parent-teacher conferences in the high schools and middle schools of 2030. In that sense, 2030 is just around the corner.