Classroom of the Future

Going over this week’s reading in the Handbook, I was really struck by the way Pawan & Honeyford seemed to zero in on two (arguably there are more but for the sake of this post…) concepts: today’s learner as a “digital native” and the learner as “co-constructor of knowledge within the academic discourse of a classroom”. On the face of it, any forward-thinking educator would take both these ideas as a given when considering the current direction of educational theory.

However, there seems to me to be something equally obvious: the activity of using a computer to access the Internet – despite all the arguments in favor of the way the Internet connects us all and provides communication in a way unlike ever before – is at its core an isolated and solitary activity.

Look what computers and smoking did to me in the 70s.

When considered in these terms, the idea that we can use computers and still be active participants in a community of meaning-making seems flawed.

Although Pawan & Honeyford don’t come right out and say it, I don’t think they are arguing it must be one or the other. Rather, I think they indicate that computers and the Internet are a reality as is the modern take on educational theory, so how is it we can reconcile the two when they are so fundamentally at odds? In many ways, this is already an old question. After all, distance learning has been going on since 1728 according to Wikipedia (who knew?!). Slightly more recent, the University of Phoenix opened its websites to business in 1989, and was the first to offer a bachelor’s and a master’s degree that could be completely done online. However, though I don’t have any direct evidence of this myself, I can imagine that a lot of these online students felt/feel like Casazza’s Anna. Anna was the student who participated in a class using distance-learning methods, but quickly came to feel “like an outsider” because “she needed that connection” of interacting with classmates and teacher.

So, other than pointing out Pawan & Honeyford’s interesting juxtaposition, I’m kinda curious if anyone else out there thinks that the two can be truly and completely merged. Can we be “co-constructors of knowledge” in the pursuit for higher education from behind a monitor? The functions and applications that allow us to more quickly and more profoundly interact with one another, can they truly substitute for face-to-face communication? It’s always a gamble to play the game of setting a truth in stone, especially when, time and again, history has taught us that there’s no predicting the limitations of technology and progress. Although, I’m not keen on the idea, I have to think that one day it will be possible. Or, maybe it’s possible I read too much sci-fi in the downtime between semesters.

I don’t want to draw this out any longer but this is too apropos not to include. Salman Khan has also been considering this question, and his conclusion is that computers should not replace the classroom but rather replace the lectures.

Not this Khan.

Students study the video lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, is now done in the class. Surely, this is already the design of a reading class: the readings (read: lectures) are done at home and the discussion is done in class. However, when you consider math or science classes, the application of Khan’s techniques could be a game-changer.

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4 responses to “Classroom of the Future

  1. First of all, the interjectory (?) images in your post had me actually laughing out loud; well-played. :]

    As for the subject at hand, despite the fact that I greatly enjoy the advantages afforded me by using the internet for research, communication, studying, and the opportunity for online courses, I still actually prefer having direct contact with people when it comes to actual academic settings.

    There are a couple of reasons for this. First, in my mind, there’s a certain amount of delay involved in attending solely online courses—without being in a physical class location, you have to follow the directions and information given online. Any clarification has to be taken by asking by email or posts, without having direct feedback from classmates and instructors in real-time (unless there are now classes that have a great deal of instant messaging as well), and time can sometimes be a very important issue.

    Second, I wonder if there might be a certain amount of self-discipline and self-direction needed to handle purely online courses. You don’t have to show up in person, you don’t have to talk to anyone face-to-face. Without the reinforcement given by being in an academic setting, it’s hard for me to understand how one can discipline oneself to do the work properly, on time, etc.

    Perhaps it’s a generational thing. I’ve been in college for several years (as have many of us here, of course), but only in the midst of my academic career have I seen online courses begin to take a real place in (higher) education. I don’t think I’m too old-fashioned for all the new-fangled changes in the world, but this is one of the few things that truly puzzles me at times. Then again, maybe I just LIKE being in a class, feeling like I’m in a place where I’m able to learn without distractions.

    After all, sitting at home in your pajamas trying to attend an all-online course runs the risk of being distracted by too many LOLcatz or YouTube videos…

    • I’m with you, Ian, in both respects. I think there’s something really galvanizing about the in-class experience. I took two online classes, bought the books, made a half-hearted attempt at doing the first assignment, and kissed my money goodbye. You either have to be very disciplined or very into being alone to think that learning solely online is more effective than a classroom setting.
      (By the way, glad you got a laugh!)

  2. I think another potential problem with online communication is beautifully summed up by Godwin’s Law:
    “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
    The impersonal and immediate nature of the internet allows for quick interaction where responses are often posted before careful thought is applied and the dehumanizing element of these interactions facilitates increased levels of hyperbole and vitriol.

  3. Couldn’t have said it better, Mark. Although, I think the context you’re commenting on is more akin to online chatrooms, not online classrooms. However, I guess we would need to see the online classroom play itself out. People seem to be less attached when making a snarky or mean-spirited comment online than if they were face to face.

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