Design with the Future in Mind

This week while attending SXSWedu sessions, “personalized learning” is all a buzz. As I listen to the panels and engage in conversation, I worry that the discussion lacks a clear grasp of the concrete implications for rethinking classrooms, student learning, and teaching roles. I’ve already written about my realizations that some of the current constructs for “delivering instruction” are not going to survive true personalized learning environments. Now I’m realizing that some of the tools that are being presented as forward thinking are really designed for the constructs of the classrooms of today, and not necessarily for the personalized learning environments for the future.

Here’s an example. One of the highly referenced examples of using technology includes video taping lessons and sending the clips for feedback. This might work well for a traditional classroom with a teacher lecturing at the front, but I’m not sure how it translates to the personalized learning environments that we are currently piloting.

Picture this: One teacher sits with a small group of students who need additional support in prerequisite skills related to their target objective. Teams of students in groups of four are working collaboratively to deepen their understanding of a focus concept. Some are working with manipulatives, others are writing their own word problems, others are using function tables. Individual students have laptops on their desk and are working through an online math program at their own speed. A para-educator floats to assist students when they hit a roadblock or are ready to move on.

In this personalized learning environment, what would the camera follow? How could video capture the varying learning experiences, impact on student learning, or the level of planning required to make this happen?

As an administrator, I loved doing observations and sharing feedback with teachers. I enjoyed being in the classroom, but I watched the students more than I watched the teacher. I watched for the students’ level of engagement, their actions and reactions. I observed the instructional decisions made by the teacher and the impact on student learning. During observations, I moved around in the classroom and asked the students questions, so I could hear what they are thinking. This type of in-person observation still captures the complexities of a personalized learning environment. New enhancements through video need to consider how technology can support this future classroom versus the current classroom structure.

Another example is student response systems. Most response systems are designed with the traditional classroom in mind: a teacher asks the same question to all the students at the same time. Teachers can do that with pinch cards. When reviewing new technology, I’m looking for response systems that allow for teacher-generated, differentiated questions provided at the right time for each student. Or better yet, how about a system that supports students asking the questions?

It’s a natural tendency to focus on fixing pain points with solutions that fit the current classroom backdrop. But we have an opportunity to re-envision the entire stage. It’s like Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” That’s what it takes to be great, and the same rings true for education technology. Design with the future in mind.