Key Components for School or District Digitization

Perspective
The “digital classroom” concept has the potential to drive a thriving future economy, but are we building it correctly?
By: 
Cebron Walker, Editor-in-Chief

The conversation surrounding the ‘digital classroom’ evolves as fast as technology. If you’ve been to a Learning Counsel Digital Curriculum Discussion in the last year you’ve heard LeiLani speak on the “Jerk” happening in education. It’s not a reference to Steve Martin, no—it’s a physics theory referring to time rate of change of acceleration—in other words, as you move forward in time, change accelerates. Relax, it’ll be fine.

Just a few days ago a report passed across my monitor from Futuresource Consulting stating that spending on educational hardware, such as Chromebooks, classroom displays and mobile PCs, rose to $15 billion globally last year. It further stated that the growth has been strong over the past several years, rising $4.5 billion since 2012.

The way in which tech developments—both the hardware and the digital content—are integrated into learning environments has wide-reaching consequences. To safeguard future prosperity, the US must ensure that its curriculum helps students develop the skills that they need. If it doesn‘t, the US may well find itself lagging behind other forward-thinking, digitally-powered economies.

Here, we discuss two key themes that look set to shape and drive digital education over the coming year.

Gamification

Gamification is, fundamentally, applying game-like principles to a system in order to drive its interaction level and appeal to those using it – a high-scoring league for spelling tests being an incredibly basic example of this. However, with devices such as interactive white boards, tablets and even virtual reality becoming omnipresent in the classroom, there is currently no ceiling to how far gamification can be implemented.

The power of gamification is in its ability to provide context and repercussion to a student’s understanding and knowledge. They don’t see the data as an abstract “thing” held on a hard drive somewhere, but as a meaningful concept which can be relayed and used to enable change. Giving students such context gives them another opportunity to improve retention and comprehension rates.

However, the most apparent issue with gamification is, like with most technological advances,  its correct implementation – if the game is too abstract then the knowledge becomes secondary to the game, yet if it isn’t streamlined then the game can take up too much time, or can prove too costly in some areas of education. It’s important to remember that gamification is an addition to the classroom – good teachers are needed to drive it as a concept and ensure that it delivers results. Moreover, teachers must be equipped with the right skills to deliver such additions to the curriculum. One only needs to look to Minecraft, Edcoda, Graphite and Playful Learning among big players in the gamification charge. Estimates show the gamification field is projected to grow to over $5.5 billion across the globe in 2018, with the US ahead of the curve with innovating and developing new ideas. Undoubtedly, knowledge sharing between the US and the UK will be key to gamification’s continued success and further adoption in classrooms.

Device mesh

The device mesh refers to the rapidly expanding ways in which people access applications and information, as well as communicate with each other across the internet on both a personal and organizational level. Initially encompassing technology such as smartphones and computers, the last few years has seen a rise in wearables, tablets, sensor systems and even WiFi enabled cars.

It is predicted that the interaction – or mesh – of these devices is set to become more and more interconnected as both the amount and the ability of these devices continues to expand. This is vital, as in modern technology there is a real emphasis on instant connectivity; an ability to access information as quick as needed and wherever you request it. Currently, specific environments such as schools and places of work are at the top of the food chain for the device mesh, but increasingly people also want to access their information from home or whilst on the move.

The idea of this web of connected devices has a chance to change education and the way in which we access education resources and associated materials. A fully integrated future will have a student’s work cloud saved and accessible across all of their internet enabled devices, allowing them to learn in whichever way best works for them and at times where previously their work wouldn’t be accessible. The device mesh will demand careful management as it moves forward to being a fully realized premise, with data accessibility and security key components to be managed.

Implementation is the key

Gamification and the device mesh are just two of the current crop of technology-based trends that are being adopted in educational environments. But the technology is only half of the debate: for it to be fully successful, we also need to make sure that technology’s impact on learning is positive and measurable. It isn’t enough that people are now taking science lessons in iPads or in virtual reality – this must have a concrete impact on retention, comprehension and the transfer of this knowledge to skills in employment.

Furthermore, there is little point in being taught a subject through hi-tech wearables only to be tested on it with a two-hour written exam using a biro. In order to make sure that the technology has the necessary positive impact on students, then the curriculum and testing needs to move forward and compliment how they are being taught.

It’s clear that not all technology adoption will be instantaneous—but it will be rapid—whether we like it or not. What this indicates is the shift in classroom culture will have to be a deliberate and careful process. But as long as technology is carefully implemented, deployed and monitored in a method that enhances the expertise of skilled instructors, then the “digital classroom” is sure to give us all a bright future.

 

Special acknowledgement is due to Lynsey Jenkins of LapCabby for editorial contributions to Learning Counsel for this article. LapCabby is an IT solutions company based in Nottingham, UK, and is part of the Monarch furniture family. They make portable storage trolleys and charging solutions for laptops, tablets, e-readers, Chromebooks and netbooks.

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