Panel: Evolving technology has great classroom potential


Interactive, mobile technologies present limitless learning opportunities.

Technology, when used properly, has the potential to increase student achievement and engage students in learning. But the overwhelming number of technology devices and solutions sometimes leads to technology use that does not enhance teaching and learning.

At the AFI SILVER Screen Education SchoolDocs conference in Silver Spring, Md. in late June, a panel of education experts discussed the challenges facing 21st century educators who may become overburdened by technology’s potential in the classroom, and shared their own best practices and solutions on how to implement technology for effective use.

The challenge lies in keeping up with the times—young people don’t passively observe when it comes to technology, and they shouldn’t be forced to be passive listeners or observers when it comes to learning, the panelists said.

Children today deal with multiple technology devices that they use to communicate, play games, complete schoolwork, and research everyday information, said Lalita Krishna, president of In Sync Video and Breakout Media in Canada. Breakout Media promotes global activism among teenagers through a series of short video clips, a website and games, and opportunities for volunteerism.

Krishna said that students are encouraged to submit their own videos detailing what they are doing about a global problem or concern, and the video series is supplemented with relevant games. Students use collaboration and brainstorming skills to link a local problem to a larger global problem, and then identify community actions that are helping to fix the problem locally.

Life-relevant learning

Greg Walsh, an adjunct eLearning instructor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Information Studies, studies life-relevant learning environments and the design of children’s technologies. Walsh uses the concept of “embodied interaction in learning,” or physical movement in the learning process, to boost student engagement.

One approach is to apply this concept to a playground and imagine that as children play on the playground, they generate electricity used to power things, such as lights, around the playground.

Using a combination of the Dance Dance Revolution video game, an interactive whiteboard (IWB), and a computer system, Walsh and his team designed a game in which students generate energy to power a virtual house. The IWB displays an image of a house with various electronics, including a television and a computer. Children dance along to the video game and their constant motion creates energy to power the various household items. One or two dancing children create enough energy to power the home’s computer, while three or four children can generate enough energy to turn on the home’s television.

Teaching opportunities appear throughout such a lesson, Walsh said. Not only are students excited, engaged, and eager to participate, but teachers can ask students what objects in the home require more energy, why students think this is so, and how energy can be conserved.

Creating authentic learning environments helps teachers make topics such as science relevant to students. Connecting culture—such as powering home computers and televisions—to student learning also engages students, Walsh noted.

For instance, a science lesson on river clean-up and water quality can become instantly relevant to students if they test school water quality from school water fountains or visit local streams or rivers. Bringing a local flavor to larger lessons prompts students to realize that water quality concerns might impact rivers or lakes where they swim or fish. This heightens their awareness of the lesson and makes them more eager to discuss it with friends and ask important questions in class.

Incorporating technology effectively whenever possible gives learning a huge boost, Walsh said, because teachers are further engaging students with the tools students naturally use.

Walsh also worked with the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), a massive collection of free children’s literature, on a recent “ICDL for iPad” app. The app not only makes it easier for kids to see words clearly, but it also lets young readers generate original stories, edit public domain books, and edit certain pre-existing stories via home licensing rights from select publishers.

Children can create audio recordings with family members or peers while creating original stories or putting their own spin on existing stories, and can share those stories via eMail.

Interactivity, immediacy

Interactive multimedia and engaging web content will lead to attention-grabbing lessons that encourage students to learn, said Vincent Buscemi, vice president of client service at Mindgrub Technologies.

“Every time we Google something, we’re the student and Google is the teacher,” he said. “We’re always learning.”

Smartphones and mobile technology make it possible for students of all ages to become immersed in the learning process.

viaPlace, a framework that lets companies deliver information to users based on their location, and augmented reality, in which users can look through smartphones and receive additional location-based input (such as graphics or audio) from computers or GPS devices, are a perfect illustration.

Buscemi envisioned a “geo-located Wikipedia page” where students use smartphones to walk through a historical site–such as the Gettysburg battlefield during a lesson on the Civil War. As students move through the area, GPS coordinates register and facts about the battle itself, soldiers, and historical events pop up on smartphones to enhance students’ experiences.

“Unfortunately, education still hasn’t completely caught onto this idea,” Buscemi said, noting that retail companies have mostly executed this concept.

“It’s not about replacing educators, but helping them become better and giving them better tools,” he said. “Why not give students the ability to have information that is going to be updated and immediate?”

Instant access to information is key in K-12 and higher education, agreed Sebastian Distefano, an education solution consultant with Adobe Systems.

“College students are the first truly platform-agnostic demographic,” Distefano said. “They’re the most connected with multiple electronic devices.”

And the emergence of smartphones gives students a wide array of abilities without the need to even touch a computer, he added. Still, there is a disconnect between educators and the technology industry–adoption can take years, and there are many consumer-based trends that haven’t yet penetrated education.

“You can’t ban devices from the classroom,” Distefano said. “Technology should be more about learning than a technology initiative.”

The Schooldocs conference is a special strand of the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Conference.

Laura Ascione

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