The classroom is almost a relic of bygone eras maintained through time by the stasis imposed by political moratoriums on the school system in general and the failure of technology to develop in such a way that the landscape of information accessibility was at all altered for centuries–that is, the classroom has not changed much since the first schools opened. The most major alteration between distant years and now is the amount of children in the system and the broadening of the walks of life from which those children hail. Even the advent of computers didn’t do much to change a given classroom; schools with enough money might put a few machines in a corner of the room to be used sparingly.
Then again, it’s not as if much can change in a classroom. The main system of teacher and student will likely never alter, but the topography of this relationship may change. In fact it has: Teachers, thanks to personal electronic devices such as laptops and iPads, are increasingly taking on the role of guide that they were always meant to take. So, rather than being the word of God, teachers are much more like priests, guiding their students to the path of righteousness–or, in this case, knowledge.
Of course, there’s always things that can change on a less fundamental level in the classroom: For example, the arrangement of desks. As seen in one of the assigned videos, the introduction of iPads in one classroom resulted in a close clustering of desks in the center of the room in a long horseshoe shape, which allowed the teacher to watch all of the students and the students to easily and quickly see and connect to the ceiling projector. In my years of schooling, I never saw an arrangement like this. It just wasn’t necessary or practical. This arrangement, however, allowed all of the students to be able to look at their work on their own iPads, share that work quickly and easily, and receive the shared information. It vastly streamlined the experience and made it something in which the whole class participated, which is, again, something I never personally saw.
The students experiencing this system seemed universally enthusiastic about it, as did those who were given individual laptops. In fact, they seemed better able to recognize how they were learning than most of my peers ever did. For example, the “One Transformed Classroom” video showed one student downloading an app that taught basic physics. Multiple students in that video also commented word games they all played, and one student mentioned being able to easily look up words that were new to them. Instead of receiving flat, textureless instruction from their teacher, unable to pause a lecture and spend time researching a new concept, the students were able to seek information out for themselves, learn in a personal and interactive environment at their own speed, and at the same time have a great deal of fun. Ultimately, in knowing how to learn and by being excited about learning, they as elementary students may have learned far more valuable a lesson than my peers ever did through 14 years of education.
As for the teachers, their role indelibly changed, they seemed, too, almost universally pleased. Some had a few misgivings to begin with, such as the somewhat older woman in the One-to-One videos, which were quickly allayed as the laptops proved more than capable of interesting students in learning than she first had though. Many of the teachers were obviously eager about the new projects they were able to assign students, like creating short documentaries about different aspects of the Iditarod or taking pictures showcasing the different kinds of studio lighting. And, of course, the iPad teacher was excited that he had become more of a gateway and guide for learning rather than the instructor-by-rote. In fact, he (much like a few other teachers interviewed) was proud to say that he, too, was learning from the children. So, all in all, the relationship between teacher and student has changed and decidedly for the better, as literally every teacher who said something in any of the videos will attest.
As we have seen, personal electronics with significant Internet access do much to change how learning is done. In terms of differentiated instruction, we see, as the title of one video so perceptively identified, a vastly transformed classroom. The old model of “lecture, pause for questions, ask questions, lecture” has fallen by the wayside. In lieu of that, a new model of learning appears that can simply be described as “monitored student self-instruction, assess”. Students playing with educational apps and seeking information on their own, with their teacher there to answer any questions they may be unable to answer by themselves is far better differentiated, as students can continue to learn in a home environment using these new pathways that were opened to them in school. Furthermore, students can be directly assessed and responded to easily, quickly, and much more personally thanks to the ability to turn in assignments digitally. As a result, what has blossomed is a classroom much more able to get children to actively learn, rather than passively memorize, a vastly larger amount of knowledge.
Honestly, the use of technology in the classroom didn’t differ from my expectations of it in the slightest. As far as my actual experiences go: In 10th grade we were sometimes allowed to use laptops to do in-class research for an essay when the computer labs were booked. That is about the extent of non-lab technological inclusion, excluding the proliferation of Smart Boards, which rarely served a function much different from blackboards or televisions connected to a computer, save for the rare occasions when teachers showed us a website through it. Put simply: The limited technology we did have was underutilized and regardless fairly quickly hit the ceiling of its usefulness.
As an impeding high school English teacher, I fear that I may be unable to use technology like iPads or laptops in any meaningful way at all and will thus have to deal with students even more profoundly uninterested in my material. However, this is entirely because of the curriculum. I doubt that fiction beyond literature would be “approved” for an English class anytime soon, which is more than a shame–it’s an injustice. Books do not contain the only fiction and they do not contain the only written art. They share the ability with movies, podcasts, radio programs, video games, television shows, etc. Of course, the inclusion of technology in the classroom opens up a much broader possibility of fiction to study–the limiting factor is whether or not I can teach all of this worthwhile fiction to students who would be eager to consume and hopefully analyze it. And by “can”, I mean “acquire permission”. Because as much as technology may change a classroom, it is still governed by policy- and lawmakers, and throughout the storied history of the education system, even with the advent of the radio, then television, then personal computers, never once has an English class studied fiction that was not plain written word, despite the surfeit of incredible and worthy fiction transmitted through other media. Technology has the ability to end this drought of study, and I am ecstatic to be able to be part of the first generation of teachers able to bring much more to the table than plain text documents; the only question is: Will my (supposed) superiors see the value of multimedia? Only time, unfortunately, will tell.
(As far as whether or not I think the landscape of English class instruction will change anytime soon, I will quote a famous prophet, beloved by millions: “Outlook bleak.”)