How technology is transforming the future school

The last few weeks or so have been full of news/instances about applications of information technology in path breaking ways, which have the potential of changing the way we live and think. These applications are news today because of the possibilities they open up for the future. It is certain that what we consider radical today will be the norm within a few years.

Reading these news snippets, I couldn’t help but view these developments through the narrow prism of my interest in education and be awestruck at the implications of their potential impact on K-12 education. These applications are significant as we are in the midst of a global debate on what a school of the 21st century will potentially look like.

In this blog, I would like to elaborate on 4 of these applications (more information and links can be found at http://www.facebook.com/Artoflearning) and their implications on teaching-learning in the future.

Online schooling: EBUS Academy, a British Columbia (Canada) Public School, provides online learning programs and courses to BC students. Founded in 1993, EBUS currently enrols 1000+ students ranging from Kindergarten to Adult.

The EBUS Academy model is based on a collaborative effort between the teachers, parents and the student.  The online learning experience is built around the student’s needs, timetables and personal goals.  What the child will learn is decided at the beginning of each year through a dialogue between the parents and the teachers and an assessment of the skills of each child, formalized in a Student Learning Plan. The model has the advantage of anytime, anywhere learning, individualized to the specific learning preferences and styles of the student.

Digital Libraries: I found this one in a design magazine for an article aptly titled A Library Designed for the Post-Print Era.  Libraries around the world, especially in developed countries have started questioning the rationale for maintaining a traditional library containing thousands of books.

Cushing Academy, a private high school in Ashburnham, UK has radically redesigned its library. In 2009, the Academy’s (Fisher-Watkins) library underwent a digital transformation and the majority of the library’s 20,000 printed books were replaced with electronic sources.  The library now delivers thousands of web-based electronic books and authoritative database content directly to students’ laptops, while also supporting offline reading with immediate access to hundreds of thousands of downloadable electronic books delivered to e-ink eReaders.

Looking at the designs of futuristic Digital Libraries, I cant help but think that in the not so distant future the role of physical libraries would probably more than just a being place for reading, as digital library resources themselves do not need a physical space.

Robot Teachers: Robot teachers invade South Korean classrooms was the headline in one CNN online October news report. In high-tech South Korea, robots serve a variety of educational purposes and the government is pressing ahead with plans to expand its robot learning, or “R-learning” program. Engkey, the name given to English language robot assistant teachers are linked to and controlled remotely by a human teacher outside the classroom (some located as far away as Australia) and whose face appears on the screen of the robot.

Geography no barrier: This one is my personal favourite. Technology has enabled specialist teachers to take classes and engage students irrespective of location and geographical distance. This is partially reflected in Robot Teachers above. Sugata Mitra, noted educational technologist in his TED talk on The child-driven education solicited the help of British grandmothers for an experiment to help improve conversational English of school children in India and other non native English speaking places. In the 2 years of the experiment, 600 hours of instruction has been given to students via the “granny cloud” using simple everyday technology like Skype.  There have also been reports of schools based in UK outsourcing Math teaching to tutors in India and Mandarin instruction through teachers based in China.

So how do I interpret these innovative developments? Evaluating from the narrow prism of the limited samples mentioned above, it seems amply clear that:

  • It is not necessary for a child to be physically present in a “class” or the “class” to be formally organized for him / her to receive a relevant and engaging education.
  • It is not necessary for a teacher to be physically present in the class or for that matter in the same city, region or country to teach / guide / facilitate students’ learning.
  • Students will learn from anyone capable / competent to teach them irrespective of geographical distance between the student and the teacher.
  • Information is omnipresent and can be provided to students wherever they may be physically located and in whatever form they desire.
  • Technology is shifting the power from the school to the student. In the future, students will select engaging and capable teachers and not schools for their learning needs. Also, children will organize their learning as per their interests and learning styles rather than schools organizing it as per a fixed curriculum.

It is just a matter of time when progressive educators will start looking at the world around them to identify innovative applications and practices that they can apply to their own contexts.  Based on their specific needs, some will aggregate in ways that will revolutionalise our view of how schooling should be organised.