Imagining Possibilities in EdTech: Lesson Content Delivery

By Jack West
Creative Commons flickr Photo by Ron Sombilon

This is the second in a series of posts I am writing about what the traditional classroom could look like in the near future with already available and nearly available edtech. The first post explored lesson planning.

By one edtech standard, my high school health teacher was well ahead of his time. He had videotapes of lectures given by another health teacher that he would show to us every day. Content delivered through video is part of the flipped classroom model that is in vogue right now — 25 years later. Teachers falling asleep in the back of the classroom while students watch the video — not so much in vogue.

Flattening Access to High Quality Content
My physics students regularly ask me if I have checked out the Khan Academy. They are finding the resource on their own to support what I am teaching them in class. Salman Khan is not the only one busy making video lessons available on the Internet for free. Many teachers are doing this on YouTube and elsewhere. Some are even mimicking Khan’s style with bright colors on a faceless, black screen. Other approaches to the free online content delivery are more sophisticated. Tools such as Camtasia make it possible for teachers with no professional video production experience to put Ken Burns to shame.

There are tools already in the classroom that allow teachers to quickly compile a variety of web resources into a collection that students can then access in the sequence the teacher would like them to. Gooru is one such tool for K-12 science. The Khosla Foundation has made a significant effort to make K-12 textbooks for many subjects available for free in a variety of formats through their CK-12 flexbook program. A recent partnership between CK-12 and Wolfram Alpha (WA) adds interactive simulations in WA’s .cdf format to the first of what we hope will be several texts for grades 6-12 math and science.

The Flipped Classroom
With easy access to free content resources, teachers should be able to facilitate a more individualized experience for each of their students. Students could, for example, have exposure to all of the content traditionally presented by the teacher at the front of the room before they even make it to class. Then class can become a place for more applied practice in any field of academics.

This is the essence of the flipped classroom model. For it to be most effective and equitable, however, schools must be assured that all students have equal access to the Internet at home, and ideally all students must possess a web-enabled device that stays with them wherever they go. Recent government/industry partnerships are making low cost Internet access available to families with school-aged children for as little as ten dollars per month.

The one-to-one device tipping point is likely just around the corner. Nearly 100% of high school students possess cell phones. Moore’s law applies to the cost of smartphones as it does with all other digital devices. It will not be long before every student is web-enabled without schools having to spend a penny.

Tablet Tipping
It may be that tablets make it there first. At the time of the iBooks 2 announcement in January, Apple claimed that more than 1.5 million iPad devices had already found their way into educational settings. Many cost analysis posts have been written exploring whether a school breaks even by purchasing iPads and then buying textbooks at Apple’s negotiated rate of $14.99 from all three of the major textbook publishing houses. In sum, it is not even close. The device is still way too expensive, and is not likely to last half as long as a paper textbook with all day, every day use. When the tablet cost goes under $200, and free textbooks are approved to replace those that currently dominate the market, I suspect we will see tablets tip. If enough data accrues to show that the tablet increases student comprehension as well as engagement, the tip might happen sooner. The good news is this data is already being discovered and published by many schools and organizations.

Lecture Presentations Powered by Pre-Cogs
Not all educational settings will flip, nor should they. Even in classrooms that do flip, there will always be times when a teacher presents a concept or project with full class attention. When instructing in this fashion, teachers will soon find tools that allow them to engage students with research-based, misconception-rooted questions. Massive, intelligent databases will provide question curators with the information they need to edit the content for maximum instructional effectiveness. Interactive glass technology may soon make the current interactive whiteboards seem like chalkboards by making entire walls and student tables multi-touch sensitive. Many interactive engagement best practice strategies have already been converted into digital analog (pun intended) and live in the cloud. I will write more about these in a future post on formative assessment.

In Ed School teachers are taught that people learn best when they are at their proximal level of challenge. If a new concept or skill is too far beyond the scaffold of our current knowledge and skills, we have difficulty accessing it. On the other hand, if the pace of our learning is significantly slower than what we are capable of handling, we lose interest. A skilled teacher in a traditional classroom, filled with more than 30 students, can’t keep all of his or her students surfing their proximal challenge wave. The forthcoming advances in edtech and the one-to-one future of the classroom of tomorrow may change this. The class of 2016 might watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during 80’s spirit week and wonder why that teacher didn’t just tell the presentation wall to cascade an image montage of chronological consequences of the Hawley Smoot Tariff Act, and sync it to a big band melody by Benny Goodman.


> Read more of Jack's posts on his personal blog, chronicling edtech in high school.


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