What I learned about the future of the classroom at ISTE 2018

 In IT News/Events, News

The modern workplace has come a long way since the 1950s. So why do so many classrooms still look like they did in that bygone decade?

If we want to train our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, we need to rethink everything from classroom setup to curriculum to technology.

At this year’s International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Chicago, speakers shared plenty of ideas on how to do that.

Their ideas boil down to three top priorities for school districts in 2018:

  • Personalized learning
  • Next-generation learning spaces
  • Digital curriculums

Let’s look at what each of these means and why every school district should be thinking about them.

Personalized learning: What’s best for each learner?

Some 90 percent of school districts are encouraging personalized learning by providing computers, digital curriculums, and professional development for teachers.

One of the big takeaways from many of the presentations at ISTE 2018 was that providing real-world problems for students to solve better engages them in research, analysis, experimentation, and even creative construction.

Teachers using these methods can cultivate a continued interest in the subject. In STEM especially, a lot of jobs end up outsourced because students, especially girls, don’t remain interested. In middle school, 74 percent of girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math, yet only 0.3 percent choose computer science as a college major. Project-based learning can reinforce a culture of creativity, offering students opportunities to be content creators, not just content consumers.

Technology provides more flexible learning environments by reimagining what the classroom looks like to promote more social and interactive learning. Learner profiles and personal learning paths emphasize the interests and strengths of each individual student to keep them interested. Likewise, competency-based education allows students to advance as soon as they demonstrate mastery, empowering them to follow their curiosity and remain engaged.

Next-generation learning spaces: Reimagining the classroom

The consensus at ISTE 2018 was that next-generation learning spaces should be:

  • Technology-enabled
  • Collaborative
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Fun

Students learn better when they’re comfortable. That means that 1950s-style classroom needs a few updates.

To facilitate a more social atmosphere, classrooms need furniture that’s easily shuffled around to form groups, but can be separated when students take tests, for example. The teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom should be a thing of the past; teachers should move around the classroom engaging with students.

Charging stations for Chromebooks, tablets, and other mobile technology should be a standard feature. Smartboards should be available on multiple walls. 3D printers, robotics, coding kits, and more can showcase different technology and foster creativity. Of course, how much of this any one classroom adopts is at the whims of budgets, but any steps in this direction can have a positive impact on students.

Fun in particular is crucial, since boredom is one of the most significant barriers to creating a culture of lifelong learning. Learning spaces should encourage interactive engagement, active involvement, physical movement, and social stimulation.

Digital content and curriculums: Preparing students for a 21st-century economy

Two announcements at ISTE 2018 aim to aid the spread of digital curriculums.

The first is ISTE U, an “online professional learning hub for teachers and leaders to build critical skills for teaching and learning in a digital world.” Teachers used to have just a few professional development days every school year, but with ISTE U, teachers can continue learning with a trusted resource independently of what their district is able to offer. This new initiative shows how important professional development has become to helping teachers extract the most value from the technology in their classrooms.

Second is Edtech Advisor, a digital database that helps educators find tools, technology, and apps endorsed by their peers. For example, if you need a math game for third graders that teaches multiplication in a fun way, you can search and find recommendations through this tool. It gives teachers a more trusted resource than a Google search to find the hardware and software they need for their classrooms.

Both of these initiatives will add further fuel to the advances schools have achieved over the past three to five years. Collaboration with vendors has resulted in both more customizable digital textbooks, like McGraw-Hill’s “common cartridges,” as well as new efficiencies, like single sign-on platforms that reduce the time wasted by passing out logins and passwords.

The technology itself has pushed toward more personalized, interactive, and connected learning, aided by current research into the brain and learning sciences. All of this can support innovative teaching, improve student performance and engagement, and prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s economy.

The bottom line: The classroom of the future is here

One of the biggest problems that teachers of all eras have struggled with is the bored student. If students don’t love learning, that will follow them their entire academic career and into adulthood, limiting their opportunities.

By personalizing learning, advancing classrooms, and updating curriculums, school districts can encourage learning in ways that are more tailored and creative, sparking an interest in different subjects that will carry through school and into the workforce, and fostering a generation of lifelong learners.

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