As soon as I walked into this middle school classroom,I noticed that it was completely different from what I’d seen before. The classroom was quite big and students were working in groups, gathered around round tables or sitting on the floor next to their laptops. The elevated noise level was apparent, but no one seemed to be bothered by it. In one corner of the room,Picasso’s famous painting “Guernica”was projected on the wall. From time to time, students glanced at the painting and turned back to their laptops to write down their newly discovered observation. A few groups were engaged in heated conversation about art as a tool for political protest, while comparing it to contemporary graffiti as a tool for social expression.
I noticed that every group was engaged on different parts of a multi-disciplinary project. A few students were busy researching the Spanish Civil War–the historical event which inspired Picasso to paint the “Guernica.”Others were busy identifying the symbols in the painting and what each meant. A different group was working diligently on a “Guernica”recreation, using a professional art software called Painter and a Wacom tablet. Disagreement arose over what type of palette to use in the painting. Some said that Picasso suppressed color because he felt that it will distract from the impact of the painting, others thought that a livelier palette may better serve the cry of the victims. At the far end of the room, a group of students –dressed in costumes that fit the characters in the painting –were getting ready to rehearse and videotape a live recreation of the painting, as they witnessed in the Laguna Beach Art Pageant. The final goal was to create a website in which students will analyze Picasso’s “Guernica,”in terms of its historical background, symbolism, artistic style, political message, impact, artistic and live recreations, and an itemized comparison to contemporary graffiti.
The classroom I just described is not real but a fruit of my imagination. This is how I imagine the classroom of the future to be or how today’s classrooms could be if we were not bound by outdated traditional learning methods. The technology that can enable such a classroom scenario is available. The problem arises in translating these advanced technology tools into effective learning methods.
How can a school’s investment in technology be justified as money well spent? Educational philosophy is the primary factor in influencing the future of technology in education. Evidence compiled over the last decade shows that when technology complements a traditional teaching philosophy it has a minimal effect on learning. In traditional education, knowledge is transmitted from the teacher to the student or embedded in technology-based lessons and transmitted to the learner. In this manner,“students learn from technology what technology knows or has been taught, just as they learn from the teacher what the teacher knows”(Jonassen, p12). Giving a computer to every child and leaving everything else as is will not improve or revolutionize student learning.
Computers can make a real difference in student learning only when it “enables, empowers, and accelerates a profession’s core transactions.”(The End of Techno-Critique, p.10). A classroom where students are working as young practitioners, using computer applications as tools that facilitate problem solving, is a similar environment to the one describe above. A few years ago,I remember how impressed I was when a guest speaker who came to speak about technology to our faculty emphasized that in a successful technology program, technology is only a tool to develop better thinking skills. Whenever I learn or teach a new technology,I remember this message and always ask myself whether this technology improves on student learning and understanding.
In the real world, professionals face multiple problems every day and they utilize different tools to solve them, including technology tools. These tools are usually well designed to help professionals improve their work operations. Similar environments could be created for students, where their main focus would be on solving problems and the tools could help them better understand and solve these problems.
This reality is so different from what learning looks like in most schools. Learning is and was never geared toward problem-solving. Its goal is to transmit a body of knowledge every year, of which a very small percentage is retained. As knowledge is not tied to any context, students have difficulty identifying how these bits and pieces of information can help them when the time comes to solve any real life problem. As part of the curriculum they are exposed to, technology is added as an afterthought. It is added as another patch in the big mix of curricular items that coexist but never cross each others’ paths. Ultimately, technology is utilized for things it does not necessarily improve on, such as becoming a teacher, because no one knows what to do with it or why they need it.
If our educational architects would shift the focus from information transfer to developing students’ thinking skills, they can utilize technology tools to help achieve this goal. Suddenly, technology will get a new purpose, one that helps solve problems or improve in the execution of tasks. Technology will become an integral part of the learning process, making it difficult to live without. Students who will use technology as tools for problem solving will develop a confidence and understanding that will equip them in finding the right technology for their problem(s). Using technology in this manner will turn students into young experts who can later enter the adult professional world with confidence. Achieving such a goal is definitely money well spent.
Jonassen, D. (2003). Learning to solve problems with technology:a constructivist perspective (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River N.J.:Merrill.
Weston, M. E.,&Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techo-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change. The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment,9(6). Retrieved from http://escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1193&context=jtla