I had a revelation the other day, when I was observing a 7th grade math class. The teacher broke up the class into small groups, and while one group went to work with her at her table, others went off to different corners of the room, to do a variety of activities in these groups. I was drawn to one group that picked up iPads and dove into a variety of math fact games on these tablets, the games focused on fractions. I said to myself: So, this is the future. This is what a classroom will increasingly look like over the next several years, with teachers using tools like the iPad to differentiate instruction.
That same week I attended an ed tech conference put on by the Saylor Foundation and heard a speaker state, in so many words, that education problems will be solved in the future with better software, rich content, and dynamic delivery mechanisms. Nothing about teachers in that sentence. It was about code, knowledge, and tools.
OK, I get why we need to think about and push towards that vision: Some education will thrive with improvements in those areas. With the right learners – motivated adults, for example – a dynamic online course, sans teacher, will work. I thought again about that 7th grade class. Yes, some students were off on their own, engaged thoroughly in digital games, getting the right answers and moving through various levels. No doubt the game was collecting data about each learner – about what they were getting correct and incorrect – and whether with this version of the game or its next iteration, those data could be used to customize the game and make the learning even more specific to the learner. OK, I see where the code/knowledge/tools vision is going – maybe where it’s already arrived, with the sort of courses and learning offered by Saylor and other like-minded places.
But in that 7th grade class the other day, I could not help but watch the teacher interact with the four students at her table and think how important she was to their learning. They were with her for a reason – perhaps they needed the extra push that she was able to provide, that they could not get from an iPad game. Perhaps they were learners that just did better with someone face-to-face. That’s why I struggle with the code/knowledge/tools future vision, one that does not depend on the skilled teacher. Yes, let’s keep pushing the boundaries with digital tools and content for teaching and learning – but let’s not forget, for some students, the importance of the teacher. I wonder how, in the K-12 world, these two sides will shake out.
I got the above image from here.