Dear Dr. Fournier:
I read your March 8th article and agree with your advice. I’m an architect and trying to imagine how the new technology will manifest itself in the school facilities. If classrooms become more like Wi-Fi media centers (no more egg crates) and media centers more like retail bookstore environments, what sort of resistance do you anticipate coming from educators and stakeholders? It seems like everyone is ready for a paradigm shift, but not sure about acoustics or control over students. What do you think?
The resistance will not only come from the educators, but the parents. Remember, aside from people who make it their business to follow educational, technological, and statistical trends, the rest of the country is in the dark. Is it any wonder, then, that the default response for most parents is to throw their support toward the model that they grew up with? The problem is that this kind of thinking comes from a desire to educate children for the parent’s past, and not toward their children’s future. This is not to say that parents aren’t concerned with their children’s futures… they undoubtedly are. This is simply mentioned to point out the problem of trying to equate a school experience that is a generation old to the demands of education today. It also serves to remind us of the available options to lay a new foundation for success in educating our children that were pipe dreams just twenty year ago.
Schools have long been two things: dissemination centers and assessment centers. The core idea was that the student needed to go to a place where someone who had the information to pass on for that grade level. The process of dissemination was in the teacher’s ability to relate the data to the students so that they in turn could learn the information. This idea is now in a position to be challenged.
One of the keys I am constantly pushing for in our educational environments is promoting good collaboration, one of the necessities for the future that needs to be given more attention. Many times when parents hear the word “collaboration,” they immediately think of projects or presentations, but the concept goes much deeper than that. In the networked world of today and in the undiscovered communication techniques of tomorrow, students will need to be able to draw on one another for support and input. This will also solve some of the control issues with students by making them a member of a group whose is responsible for input. What was once called “cheating” in the classroom I call collaboration. This is not to say that students should not be personally responsible for learning information anymore, but the attitude should not be one of condemnation when a child reaches out to a peer.
Can we achieve both at the same time: Disseminate data to enable collaboration, while simultaneously ensuring that individual learning is taking place? I believe so. I have referenced the method and solution given by Salman Khan entitled let’s use video to reinvent education from TED.com, or at the www.khanacademy.org. If the Khan Academy model is realized on a national scale, more collaboration and efficient and effective learning would almost certainly manifest in the classroom.
While it may not be the mainstream method of education that the country settles on, I have yet to see a better solution. It allows for learning at one’s own pace in a video based format that allows for pauses, stops, starts and as many repeats necessary for the user. It also represents a willingness to reformat the way education is being handled by taking into account the technology in use today – and if the comments and response from students is any indication – with very good results. (Note: when I say results, I don’t mean simply numbers, I mean excitement about learning and the reawakening of that lost sense of curiosity and “can do attitude.”) In addition, it still takes advantage of the schoolroom as a useful place for our children, though its role is essentially flipped. As is explained in his talk, a new phenomenon developed. In many cases, the teachers were assigning the lectures/demonstrations from the Khan Academy website for homework, and leaving the work (what is traditionally assigned as homework) for the classroom. What was the effect? It brought a spirit of collaboration to the room, and dissolved the sense of isolation that many of the students felt. The teachers were able to provide additional aid to students who were still having difficulty with the lecture material that the children watched at their own pace for homework. In addition, the students who were already proficient in the material were then in a position to reinforce their own understanding by helping instruct a peer who has not yet grasped the concept. Instant collaboration! The site is also intuitive enough to offer a myriad of tracking features for teachers so they can see which students have completed said lectures and have moved on, or the sticking points that are impeding progress. It also allows for open dialogue with students from all over the world, in response to each topic. If the consensus is that a video is unclear or they simply need more examples, the academy is responsive to these needs.
WHAT TO DO:
I have said this much without getting caught up in specifics regarding the question you asked, which was what the schools of the future will look like. I say this so that anyone who is interested in education can understand why more money, slicker designs, and pretty campuses, though attractive and nice, do almost nothing to improve the quality and method of the education our children are receiving in groups. However, I feel that if we are able to determine what the needs are and give them appropriate attention, and then the designs will come easily from those who are in a field like yours. We are trying to promote collaboration and discourage isolationist learning. Will there be resistance? There always is to change. However, if we can begin with the watchwords of creativity, collaboration, and caring as the basis for whatever form schools ultimately take, we’re on the right track.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER