Creating a Digital Ecosystem in the Classroom

21st Century Learning Requires an Integrated, Technology-Based Approach that Tames the Information and Gadget Chaos
Ji Shen

There is a fundamental shift taking place in education. The revolution in hardware has reimagined the classroom, beginning when computers entered a few decades ago, followed by document cameras, interactive whiteboards, and now mobile devices. This has created digital chaos for teachers, who are now tasked with learning to manage a wide range of technological components and then using them to achieve results. This has become even more true considering the COVID-19 crisis.

Add to that, the realization that the best teaching and learning doesn’t happen with the traditional sage-on-the-stage model, where the teacher stands in front of students and students sit and passively learn. Instead, the best classroom models are those that create a flexible learning environment where students can learn at their own pace, interact in small groups, feel more capable and comfortable giving feedback, and flex their problem-solving muscles. For educators and administrators, these models provide more time to interact with and assess each student.

Over the last several years, one of the biggest goals for schools had been to become 1:1 — one device for every student. Right now, however, the 1:1 digital classroom is still a messy array of disparate components joined together by a hodgepodge of cables and complex infrastructures that make teaching a challenge. The critical piece of ensuring a successful 1:1 program isn’t only getting devices in hand but being able to then facilitate one-on-one learning opportunities. That demands a software solution that is on par with a 1:1 initiative, unifying all those devices in a cohesive way. Few companies have attempted this, which placed the responsibility and burden on the staff and administration. They have to learn how to use, manage, and leverage these devices in a valuable way, often robbing critical instructional time. Commanding the 21st century classroom demands software that is designed especially for teachers and students, creating a comprehensive and centralized ecosystem that brings all these components together and introduces efficiency.

Another challenge is providing individualized attention. Traditionally, if a student wanted to ask a question or give feedback, or the teacher wanted to survey the class, students had to raise their hands. In a 30-pupil class, there might be kids who aren’t comfortable with such a large audience or there simply might not be enough time for everyone to participate. When a digital device is paired with a centralized software solution, that gap can be filled, allowing students to give their feedback digitally and for an instructor to glean data and make quick evaluations of the entire class. For example, following a digital quiz, the instructor can see scores immediately, identify areas where students need additional help, and possibly break the class into smaller group based on proficiency. This not only opens up the opportunity to work on a more personal scale but also is a way to gather further insight into each student.

With a new approach to classroom and device management software, learning activities also don’t have to stop in the classroom. With cloud-based learning becoming the norm, the software can enable and track independent work and facilitate interaction digitally even when students aren’t in the classroom. In this way, software that is adaptable to the model of teaching in and outside the classroom can help meet students where they’re at and develop a clear pathway to success.

The digital classroom is still in its infancy. At its core, the classroom enables critical face-to-face time with teachers and their peers. As that environment becomes more technology-driven and those technologies empower more innovative learning models, the end goal is to get students to research better, learn better, pique their curiosity, and enhance the mastery of knowledge that they can then apply to becoming productive citizens who contribute to society by solving real-world problems.

The past decade has been spent getting the best audio and video technology into the classrooms, so that students can see, hear, and ultimately learn better. But they also need to interact better, which means perfecting audio and video even more and addressing the teaching and learning process in a comprehensive and centralized way. Conventionally, that process has been linear from end to end: Teachers prepare lessons, delivery of the lessons to the classroom, assign homework, give feedback, and make assessments.

With software that harnesses the power of the technology, that process can be broken up to encourage interaction and growth. For example, a teacher could start preparing by building a lesson that can be easily tailored to many smaller groups of students as appropriate for their levels of proficiency. That content could be augmented using interactive flat screens, allowing students to make annotations directly on the device that can be saved, shared, and turned into the teacher. With comprehensive and centralized systems in place, teachers can work on the fly, adapting to the needs of the classroom and leveraging the capabilities across their digital ecosystem without spending hours preparing or wasting valuable class time making everything work together.

More improvements are on the horizon. For example, advances in artificial intelligence might automate some of the grading process, cutting down the considerable time spent on that workload and providing more time to develop new content. Another focus will be on tools that will enable individualized learning navigation, like a Google roadmap for student learning. Digital cloud-based technology with the capabilities that allow teachers to cut through the chaos and complexity of the digital classroom will usher in the next era of learning success.  


About the author

Ji Shen has been an entrepreneur and software architect in digital media technology for over 20 years. In 1996, he co-founded a technology startup called Aegisoft in Rockville, Maryland, developing a key technology for DRM for regulating the distribution of digital goods, such as music, video, and software over the internet. He created HoverCam in 2010 to create the innovative presentation systems that keep 21st century digital learning environments engaging, interactive, and simple to operate.

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