Technological changes in the last half-century have dramatically changed the education landscape. We’ve gone from the blackboard to the overhead projector and from the slide rule to the iPad. Some schools are even putting all the textual resources—which used to require five different textbooks weighing thirty pounds in total—into that little iPad.(Want to view the complete evolution of classroom technology? Click here.)
When it comes to new technology adoption in the classroom, it’s almost always a good thing. We prize innovation when it comes to gadgets. I can’t think of a single technological advancement that hasn’t been good for students. But we seem to have a built-in resistance to structural innovation.
Our Outdated Education Model
The education model to which we’re applying all this technological innovation has been with us since we were still colonies and hadn’t even considered throwing tea off ships yet. And changing the underlying structure of the education system is about as easy as a quick turn around on an old slow-going schooner too. We’re essentially using an educational model that still heavily resembles what schools looked like even before the invention of the steam engine.
Making education accessible and relevant will have to be the driving force in reforming our educational model. In many ways, current online university options offer some insight into how education could evolve to provide uniquely tailored education to individual students rather than teaching classes of students whose age may be the only common factor.
Instead of lumping students together by age without regard to ability, interests and learning style, the flexibility of online learning could allow for greater engagement and allow individual strengths of students to be assets rather than liabilities.
Verbosity Does Not A Good Student Make
When I taught high school English, I tried to never make assumptions about a student’s intellectual or academic abilities by how verbose they were in class. Verbosity isn’t a good indicator of a good student. But even though I was cognizant of the difference in learning styles, integrating technology into the classroom quickly showed me that I had still been making incorrect assumptions about students’ academic ability based on their verbal engagement with me in class.
Because my English classroom was also the writing resource center for the last period of the day, there were enough computers for all my students. We began to use Moodle, even though I initially viewed it with some level of suspicion. I had students do a daily journaling exercise each class period and also engage in a writing exercise responding to either a question or writing prompt.
The Need For Instant Feedback
I was amazed at what I discovered. Being able to see what students were thinking and writing in real time not only gave me instant feedback on what they were digesting well, but it also showed me the areas in which they were having trouble or that I hadn’t taught as well as I could have. I also realized fairly quickly that in spite of my efforts not to view verbosity as academic virtue, I had been doing exactly that. Students who tended to be introverted in class suddenly had a way to express their giftedness and ability in a non-verbal way.
I was now able to interact directly with individual students who were no longer hampered by their fear of judgment or ridicule by classmates. Instead of relying on pop quizzes and exams, which penalize students for lack of knowledge, I was able to spot knowledge deficits immediately and work quickly to correct them. Tools like Moodle highlight the often-overlooked potential of students. A structural change in our education model might work to accommodate students’ unique abilities and learning styles.
Meaningful Structural Change
The national dialogue about reforming education needs to move from agenda-ridden and internecine sniping toward a real conversation about meaningful structural change in the education system. We still have the ability to harness the innovative spirit that embodies our national character and apply it to positive changes in the education landscape.
Jesse L. is a recent college graduate looking to make his mark on the world. Currently he is a blogger and a contributor at the Professional Intern. You can follow the Professional Intern on Twitter @TheProIntern.