Imagining Possibilities in EdTech: Planning

By Jack West
Creative Commons photo by 4nitsirk

When I sleep, I dream that my classroom no longer exists, and my teaching job has drastically changed. I facilitate learning in a much more flat infrastructure, drawing upon community and Internet resources alike to facilitate customized, interdisciplinary learning experiences for each of my students. Then I wake up, get in my car and drive to the school where I teach, and contemplate another decade of working to innovate within the same constraints of the industrial model. 

Though there are many innovative schools experimenting with more flat models of education, the industrial model is efficient, practical, and has an incredible amount of inertia. It will remain the paradigm for our K-12 education for the near future. Given that constraint, I have attempted below to conceive of what it might look like to teach with the best of the available — or nearly available — edtech in the classroom that most children will see. This post focuses on what the planning I do before I go into class may soon look like.

Collaborative Planning
At its best, planning lessons and developing curriculum is collaborative. There are many tools available to facilitate and augment this process. Currently, I use shared Google docs for this process and have done so for the past three years. With my zipped-up, mylar-coated, hermetically sealed edtech suit on, I would love for this collaboration to exist in an asynchrous space with recording of audio and video conferencing of my colleagues. What good are my jokes if I don't get to see my friends laugh? I may also like to search similar plans from colleagues I have selected in my VPN for any insights their work could provide. But I definitely do not want all of the world's lesson plans on that same topic to show up in my customized search.

Reflection and Innovation
Each year I run into the same dilemma. To archive or not to archive? This is the modern analog of the decision a teacher makes to recycle old tests, worksheets, essay prompts, etc. or to save them in the file cabinet. You would think that it is a simple decision in the cloud world. Save everything. Memory is cheap. True; but time is not. I do not want to be distracted by old lesson elements that have not proven successful. I would like to be able to tag elements of my documents, sections of my bookmarks, and timeframes on my YouTube videos with a quick analysis and a star rating that lets me know how I valued them the last time I used them. And, I want to be able to do this across all platforms and digital resources. I would even like to be able to make digital placeholders for my real world resources, such as lab activities, so that I can evaluate them from year to year, as well.

Resource Access
Bookmarks are cool. “Labels” is a great evolution of the folder concept. The next step I want to take is iconic representation of my resources in a collection that is grouped by unit and/or standard. Gooru, the STEM collection resource, represents an excellent example of this. Touchscreen technology makes it much easier to organize icons in the full two dimensions represented by the screen. I know that some applications allow you to do this in a virtual third dimension, into the screen. Add to this the ability to organize your resources based on the time and date of their last use and you have a warped space-time continuum. Step aside, McFly!

Personalization by Differentiation
One of the more exciting promises of edtech is the ability teachers will have to increase differentiation for their students. This means engaging each student at his or her appropriate level of challenge. I want a user-friendly data analytics interface that rides co-pilot with me as I plan lessons and offers suggestions for what each of my students may find both challenging and interesting. Remember Clippy, the animated paper clip office assistant that used to blink his eyes at you as you typed in Word, circa 2000? Not that.

Anticipating Misconceptions and Common Pitfalls
With the forthcoming adoption of national standards in Math and English, and soon Science and Social Studies, the opportunity is afoot for institutions to collect, analyze, and report on known misconceptions and pitfalls students have with the material. Large data samples will mean better data, and now that edu-preneurs as well as universities are in the data analysis game, I expect that the quantity and quality of this research will increase. I am looking forward to identifying the standards I am teaching to for a given lesson, and having Clippy's progeny tell me what to anticipate.

Anachronistic Juxtaposition
Planning lessons could look significantly different than it currently does given the imminently available edtech tools that leverage evolutions in user experience, hardware, and data accessibility. Teachers, in their bomb shelter faculty lounges, sitting on 50-year-old wooden chairs while plugged-in to these very 21st century digital tools, may soon resemble the characters depicted in modern steampunk fiction.


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


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