As often happens at major industry events like the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, there is as much value to be gained just outside the conference walls as inside. With a revolution underway in K-12 education, the discussions are raging here in San Antonio on topics of gaming and simulation in education, the evolving role of the human teacher, individualized teaching, common core standards, online assessment, and even whether or not technology is actually useful in education. Though, given the name of the organization running the show, you might guess the conclusion on the last topic.
As the conference got underway over the weekend, NPR aired an episode of the TED Radio hour entitled Unstoppable Learning. The two speakers gave what might seem like divergent views on how to improve our education process. Veteran teacher Rita Pierson believes that relationships are critical to education. In her TED talk, What Role Do Relationships Play In Learning? she feels that classrooms often lack the kind of human connections kids need to feel inspired and to learn. When one of her students had only two correct answers out of twenty, she wrote on his paper, “+2″, rather than “-18″. By telling him what he did right, along with insisting that he was capable of better, he was inspired to achieve more from that point on.
The other TED Radio Hour speaker, Sugata Mitra, takes a different view on the need for personal intervention in teaching. In his TED talk, Mitra explains how kids in Indian slums discovered how to use a computer left abandoned in a hole in the wall. They taught themselves not only how to access the computer, operate Microsoft Word, and explore the Internet; but, since all the software was in English, they also taught themselves how to read English.
In his TED talk, Build a School in the Cloud, Mitra describes that during the Victorian age, the English engineered a great global bureaucratic administrative machine, composed of people with nearly-identical skills calculating and storing information on pieces of paper, in order to to manage their worldwide empire. Feeding this machine required the schooling system that has perpetuated up to the present day. But is that system of education still necessary when real computers have taken over the role of the Victorian bureaucrats? Computers now easily handle the arithmetic, handwriting, and the simple recall of facts formerly performed by the bureaucratic administrative machine. More advanced skills, such as critical reasoning and creativity are needed by humans, at least for today.
So is more human interaction or less needed in education today? The emerging answer is: both. Discussions both on and off the ISTE conference floor key on how to provide more individualized education. Give students who thrive on self-teaching, the tools they need to progress as fast and as far as they can handle. Provide human interaction to the students who thrive on it. As the ISTE attendees know, educational technology is making great progress at helping to determine which students thrive best in which environment.
Foreign language study has also been an off-floor topic at ISTE13. An individual involved in K-12 marketing at HP expressed pride that the school his kids attend requires students to learn one of two foreign languages beginning in Kindergarten. The two choices: Spanish and Mandarin. Seems like a great idea, until you consider that realtime language translation is just about ready for prime time. Combine language translation with Google Glass or simple ear buds and the babelfish concept doesn’t seem so far off.
Another K-12 marketer brought up a college customer of his that needed to find out why so many students who had enrolled in expensive classes were no longer attending them all. After getting nowhere talking with faculty about the issue, they went directly to their students. Turns out that the classes being skipped were mainly lectures that simply covered content available elsewhere, such as on the web. The college needed to implement the flipped classroom where the students can view the lectures via web-based video, but come to class for group discussions and personalized help.
If you haven’t yet visited Enterasys at ISTE 2013, be sure to drop by booth #12262 to learn about our K-12 WiFi and wired networking solutions.
Coming tomorrow: Highlights from inside the ISTE 2013 show walls, including keynote highlights, predictions on the key technology trends and tips for K-12 CIOs.