Today’s high school classrooms are starting to look like offices. That sounds like a pretty dull place for a teenager until you think about how advanced the modern office has become.
It’s all digital, or at least it should be by now if your boss cares at all about productivity. At the cutting edge, the office now houses ClickShare media lounges, always-on video conferencing, digital huddle rooms, hot desks for mobile workers, and single-screen workflow apps that incorporate video calling, chat, digital documents, and let every employee interact seamlessly no matter where they are in the building or the country.
And our classrooms are moving in the same direction.
Video conferencing and online learning are already major components of the curriculum, and more tech is on the way. With all these new digital toys will come changes to the very structure of how a classroom operates. Students are about to be given autonomy and freedom that’ll make them approach learning just like a professional in an office approaches a day’s work.
Education Technology Trends Embrace the Digital
You might be surprised to learn that there are already classrooms in the U.S. that are 95% digital. That’s not quite a typical scenario just yet, but almost half the nation’s schools last year increased their computer spending, and the collective K-12 IT budget is now more than $4.5 billion.
Schools are filling their classrooms with touchscreen tablets and Skype-enabled laptops, and shifting the design away from neat rows of single-student desks toward collaborative roundtables for creative group activities.
While wealthier schools do have an advantage in making a quicker transition to digital, the ubiquity of the internet in U.S. classrooms means 75% of students attend a school that has a high-speed broadband connection.
With that power comes the ability to close the financial education gap. A couple of laptops in the classroom can replicate even the most well-resourced library, at a tiny fraction of the cost. It also lets schools stage expensive field trips and host guest lecturers online rather than paying for travel and entrance fees. The affordability of digital content is why all schools, not just wealthy schools, are mimicking the workplace trend toward smarter technologies.
Video Calling in Education
One of video conferencing giant Polycom’s education partners, Ben Newsome, believes video calling is central to the transition to collaborative, open classrooms. The Managing Director of science and technology education provider Fizzics Education, he says the technology will put students directly in touch with experts around the globe, and prepare them for the fluid, unstructured workplaces of the future.
That’s the tech side. The Flipped Classrooms theory shows the pedagogical side of this style of education. Under this emerging concept, students lead the way through their educational journey while their teachers act more as advisors and supporters. In practical terms, students receive new information on their own–say, the causes of the Civil War–and then turn to their teachers with their questions–how were those causes connected? Of course, this more independent approach needs to be supported by devices that can give students access to the information in the first place.
Classrooms As Workplaces
The average day for the student of the near future will begin much as it does for the professional. They’ll take up their personal tablet and log in to check their emails and video messages. These will come from their teacher and fellow students within the classroom updating progress on current projects, and from external sources responding to questions that international time zones didn’t allow them to get to the previous day.
From there, it’s off to a team meeting to go over the plan for the day. Or, in our student’s new world, a quick roundtable over a shared touchscreen computer to see what subjects and tasks they’ll be completing.
After that, the day might include a video call to peers in another part of the country to discuss an upcoming virtual debating competition, or a group video chat with a NASA expert on how jet propulsion works, or maybe a game of Minecraft with a virtual friend in a school overseas. Or maybe they want to schedule some time with their teacher to go over a difficult part of their Civil War homework.
All the while, the students’ overall work and their progress on specific tasks could be updated on a central, wall-mounted flat screen that links directly to their personal devices.
And when the day is done, the students can download their homework assignments and unfinished work to their own smartphones, to take home and work on in their own time– just like that crucial project that fills the evenings of a business professional.
It’s a self-guided, project-orientated approach to learning that mimics the tools and methodologies of the modern office, even down to social networking over lunch.