Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Technology/Role
With every passing year technology gets more and more sophisticated. The abilities of computers are ever expanding and education systems in the United States, and in fact worldwide, cannot keep up. The problem is not only the advancing technology and the inability of teachers to keep up, but the way educational curriculum is setup. Currently, individual learning is the staple in the United States. Children are educated on the basis of generalized ideas and cold, hard facts divided into discrete subjects. While computers may sometimes be used to write a paper or create a presentation, children are still tested independently and success is measured by sequential grades and standardized tests.
Technological advances are beginning to make this method of education obsolete and soon a dramatic shift to a different curriculum will be needed, one that will emphasize problem solving and collaboration over independent study. In light of this revolution in learning style, students will need to set aside the methods they usually use to learn and instead undertake learning an entirely new set of skills oriented around technology. This would include such skills as efficient ways to search, sort, generate, and analyze data. In order to succeed in this transition, teachers will need to pick up some of the slack, acquiring new skills themselves and using them to teach in an entirely different fashion. Therefore, to create a future for education that will thrive with technological advancement a change of this magnitude to curriculum and teaching must not only occur but the change must connect the elements together as to not leave anyone behind.
Computers promise to create an environment that, rather than emphasizing facts and ideas, emphasizes thinking. A student will be able to apply ideas to the real world and in doing so find new meanings. Learning in this fashion can be accomplished with three methods; project based learning, collaborative problem solving, and scaffolding, all of which will be made easy by technological advancements.
In project based learning the students become the teachers. This form of learning begins by creating a problem, goal, or coming up with a topic of interest within a group. Students would then debate, collect data, analyze, design experiments/plans, and draw conclusions. Educating in this way should prove more effective than traditional methods because the students actually create their own assignment through a real life situation that interests them and therefore will motivate them to find a solution. For example, the seeds of this method have already been sewn at Virginia Polytechnic and State University’s Math Emporium. Here, entry level mathematics has been redefined. Five hundred workstations are present and are used to teach more than ten thousand students. High speed networks are in place and learning modules and online quizzes are utilized to aid students in learning mathematics. Most importantly, students can work at their own pace and be provided help by on-site teachers who assess learning and can alert appropriate faculty of specific areas of study that are giving each individual student the most difficulty.
While project based learning should make learning easier and more interesting, scaffolding goes a step beyond. Scaffolding is not a method of learning but rather an aid that provides support to individuals whom are undergoing a new learning experience such as using a new computer program or beginning a new project. Scaffolds can be both virtual and real, in other words, a teacher is a form of scaffold but so is the little paperclip man in Microsoft Office. Virtual Scaffolds are internalized in the software and are meant to question, prompt, and explain procedures that may have been to challenging for the student to handle alone.
Much like project based learning, collaborative problem solving works on the premise that application of knowledge is much more important than memorizing facts and ideas. In addition, collaborative problem solving helps students realize that complex real world issues are not solved by individuals but rather by a team working together. Technology can be used for this purpose. Several technologies are under development that will have this collaborative capability, one such technology is the computer-supported intentional learning environment (CSILE) where the computer takes a students topic of interest and creates a textual and graphical database. To create this database students have to communicate with each other sharing their knowledge and posing problems as well as solutions to those problems.
Many of the most successful teachers are using different forms of collaboration learning in their classrooms including the jigsaw puzzle concept. This includes having the students in groups learn a new idea or concept and then teach it to the rest of the group. Each child teaches his or her group what they have learned. Many cases this helps to promote self confidence in the students and lessens the racial and social barriers that children sometimes face. They are forced to listen to each other and respect what they have to say. Many times teachers will use the computer or research information for this type of learning. Students will have to find the information in numerous places often looking to technology for this purpose.
The only downside to collaborative learning is that this has not been tested at the college level. Many studies have been done to see the effects at the elementary and secondary levels and how it is working. Many college students are already using technology for the learning purpose. However when does learning turn to “goofing” off on the internet instead of studying (Collaborative learning)?
In technology and education there are two problems we face. One, as mentioned previously, is keeping up with the continued advancements of technology. The other is integrating different forms of technology to make life easier for everyone. The first difficulty is solved by simply knowing what technologies are out there and how they can aid in teaching. The future of education will employ more sophisticated forms of many present technologies and many others that are not yet in use. Among these technologies are interactive digital video, virtual reality, advanced internet, networking, and PDAs. Presently the majority of our digital media are in asynchronous forms, meaning communication is one way (not real time). A shift is beginning to create forms of communication such as the ones previously stated that will provide synchronous communication meaning network based communication on which people are able to talk to each other live. Advanced internet is a good beginning to this objective and in the future with advanced networking will become affordable for all users.
In advanced networking rather than simple asynchronous communication people will be able to speak over the computer face to face. This type of communication is an improvement over the present allowing for richer interaction, allowing one another to interpret not only words but tones, expressions, and emotions. Advanced internet is in its early stages in forms such as video conferencing which remains expensive and therefore has not become widely used. In addition, networks such as Internet2 are appearing which allow for synchronous communication with advanced network connectivity. These networks are connecting K-12 students to information and research in half of the United States’ colleges at a speed hundreds of times faster than the current public networks.
Other technologies such as virtual reality will also improve education in the future. This technology will allow students to explore virtual environments that otherwise they would never be able to explore, such as spill sites, galaxies, and DNA molecules. Using these virtual environments teachers and students will be able to conduct activities and in doing so evolve a better understanding of the world we live in. By integrating this virtual reality with “smart objects” from a design template, students can interact with their virtual environment allowing for sample collection and analysis.
The last three technological advancements, PDAs, interactive digital video, and advanced networks are really the reason many people envision the future without a concrete classroom structure, but rather a mobile, interactive, virtual environment where the student works opportunistically.
PDAs (personal digital assistants) are already a reality. In the future, however, they will become much more available to everyone because of price drops. PDAs will allow for the mobility previously mentioned, allowing students to work on projects at any location. Students will be able to communicate with each other and access computer processing functions whenever and wherever they need. Interactive digital video like PDAs will prevent the need for a physical classroom. A student will be able to watch TV, access the internet, and watch a telecourse right on their own television. Interactive digital video has already begun to be used for basic functions in hotels, allowing people to use the internet or watch a video-on-demand without leaving their rooms. The only task left to do is build the required video servers and networks needed to connect the student with the outside world.
Networks are perhaps the most important aspect of education’s digital future, allowing computers worldwide to connect with each other and share information. As time passes these networks will connect more electronic devices and will do it faster than ever before. Here in lies the problem. Exchanging information currently is limited because barriers exist between technologies which prevent communications. For example, a person uses an AOL service provider for internet but other information/voice services such as a cell phone uses an alternate service. Connection of technology at this scale will require companies to increase infrastructure capabilities and allow integration of their services with all others through networks of fiber, coaxial cables and wireless communication. In this way not only students but everyone will be able to enjoy “ubiquitous computing” communication 24 hours a day. Meaning from a person’s personal computer sending or receiving almost any form of communication is possible.
The students are not the only ones that will need to be able to master the technology, teachers will have a new role to play and it will center on understanding current technology. To be able to do this, teachers must first and foremost lose the perception that technology is just an add-on or bonus when it is used in the classroom. In their new role teachers will have to be more flexible than ever before, acting as mentors and managers rather than the tradition dispenser of knowledge. Teachers will need to attend more in-services and conventions in order to learn the technology, and they must be given the time to do so by administration. To teach the student, teachers need to share ideas and organize activities based on what they learn and based upon student interests. Organizing these activities in light of increasing technological advances and integration introduces a broader range of resources to use, and teachers need the flexibility and know-how to use them. In addition to the time required to organize detailed problem solving or project based activities, teachers will need to mentor children, opening their eyes to different ways of completing a given task and assuring students meet their goals. Lastly, teachers will no longer be teaching a specific subject but instead will be interdisciplinary. Due to the infrastructure of the new founded curriculum teachers will have to be able to apply their specialty to other fields and ideas.
There is obviously much work that needs to be done before education can be revolutionized. Curriculum, teaching role changes, and technology integration are just a few of the problems the future will face. There are cultural, economic, and social issues that will also have to be dealt with. Culturally the ease of communicating with friends of your culture may very well reduce a person’s need to go out and make new friends of other cultures. In addition, this ease in communicating virtually may reduce people’s healthy psychological need for in-person contact. Finally, with advancing technology will the economic divide between rich and poor widen or narrow? Costs of obtaining technology will decrease over time but price for the ongoing training and tools needed to use it will not. The change in education due to technology is a necessity; the difficulty in dealing with these factors is what will determine how long the transition will take.
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