What is the digital classroom?
The digital revolution isn’t upon us—it already happened. Digital technology impacts every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate to where we find information. This technology disrupts the status quo and transforms individuals and institutions, and there are right and wrong ways to respond.
This is never clearer than in the classroom. Ever since the advent of the smart phone, teachers have been debating the merits of education technology. Some believe that it can make the learning experience more exciting and engaging, and others fear that it will distract students. At the center of these arguments is a general lack of understanding of what, exactly, the digital classroom is and why it matters to today’s educators.
The Traditional Classroom Is Dead
Whether you teach at an established private school or a newly opened charter, chances are that you’re going to face similar challenges. All educators struggle to engage their students with captivating assignments. Every teacher out there wants to spend less time on classroom management and more time on student engagement, but they are unable to do so because effective classroom management is essential to student success.
According to Bobby Taylor of Jackson State University, classroom management “determines the failure or success of student achievement.” If the classroom is disorganized and students are unruly, teachers will spent more time acting like disciplinarians than dispensers of knowledge.
These universal challenges are magnified by an inconvenient truth for many educators, especially those who have been teaching for decades: The traditional classroom is dead.
This isn’t just a catchy slogan, either. Traditional education, which placed an emphasis on oral recitation, rote memorization and corporal punishment, has been replaced by alternative approaches. These alternative approaches put students first, and prioritize collaborative classroom activities and comprehension above all else.
There are a number of reasons why the traditional classroom has gone out of style. Some of this has to do with changes in culture and society. Frankly, it’s no longer acceptable in many developed nations for teachers to beat students if they misbehave or misunderstand an assignment. For the most part, the days of nuns hitting disobedient students with a ruler are over.
At the same time, education experts have come to the near unanimous conclusion that alternative approaches teach students more successfully, and that the traditional classroom is not a productive space for students to learn. It might be easier for an educator to sit in front of a group of students all day and regurgitate the same lecture, but this doesn’t guide students to grasp the information they’ll need to be successful.
According to a study published in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail. This study evaluates undergraduate performance in STEM courses, and it confirms a growing consensus amongst education experts across the board: Traditional approaches to education are ineffective.
It seems logical, then, that teachers would adopt alternative approaches to education. Out of all the alternative approaches available, the most enticing is the digital classroom.
What is the Digital Classroom, Anyway?
The digital classroom is a collaborative space where teachers, students and technology can co-exist in harmony. More sophisticated than an intranet, the digital classroom can be easily designed by LiveTiles Mosaic, a free education solution that allows any school with an Office 365 tenant to create collaborative, touch-friendly digital classrooms in the Cloud.
Mosaic, as seen in the screenshot below, enables educators to create interactive learning spaces via LiveTiles’ user-friendly drag and drop functionality, and allow teachers and students to share and store important learning materials that can be accessed anytime on any device by anyone with authorization.
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
This means, for example, that if a student is sick and must stay home from school, he or she can upload an important assignment to the digital classroom, and post a message asking students what, if any, valuable information was missed. No more make-up work, and no more copying a classmate’s illegible hand-written notes.
Teachers, as well, can upload reading or video assignments to the digital classroom, establish a central database for student grades that can be accessed in the digital classroom and even interact with other teachers to develop the most effective lesson plans for the digital classroom. No more photocopies, and no more messy file cabinets.
While the digital classroom inherently favors technology integration into the classroom, it doesn’t undermine the important role that human beings play. Technology will not replace teachers in the digital classroom, it will make their jobs easier. Digital tools will not do the work for students in the digital classroom, it will help students do their work more efficiently. In other words, the digital classroom will improve the learning process by bringing students and teachers together in unprecedented ways.
However, the digital classroom doesn’t just bring teachers and students together. It also brings developing countries into the 21st century. With widely used productivity applications such as OneNote, Sway, Word, Excel and PowerPoint and cloud-based services like OneDrive, Yammer and SharePoint, Mosaic allows students and educators around the world to work with one another more efficiently, which can potentially bridge the digital divide that has separated rich and poor, industrialized nation and third-world country for decades.
Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development puts it best when he proclaims, “Technology wasn’t developed as a development tool yet has become one of the greatest vehicles for change. Young people are natural adopters of new technologies and certainly the potential for technology and digital media to be a force for innovation, education and change is just beginning to be realized.”
More than an agent of technological or even cultural change, though, the digital classroom revolutionizes pedagogical practices and reinvents the education paradigm. By the very nature of the digital apps, the digital classroom will become a more collaborative space, as teachers and students can use Mosaic to complete interactive projects. Modern multimedia from Ted Talks to digital books will take the place of lectures and dry readings, and will help facilitate discussion and improve communication skills.
As education expert William J. McKeachie explains in his book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, “If instructors expect students to learn how to integrate, apply, and think, it seems reasonable that students should have an opportunity to practice these skills. To help students learn and think, you need to find out what is in their heads.”
The Digital Classroom is the Future
There are some teachers out there who have abandoned many aspects of traditional education. For example, teachers are increasingly seeing the benefits of hands-on collaborative activates, and often assign group projects to their students. Their intentions are noble, but the transition away from the traditional classroom isn’t complete until teachers embrace the digital classroom.
Teachers should join the digital classroom for reasons beyond the basic educational benefits. It goes without saying that alternative approaches to education that integrate technology into the classroom will significantly enhance the learning experience. More than that, the digital classroom meets today’s tech-savvy generation where they are, while at the same time, expands digital access to those who aren’t up to speed with the latest technology.
If there’s one thing upon which all educators should agree, it’s that the classroom must prepare students for a career—what some refer to as “the real world.”
Many industries are starting to adopt a digital workplace, and expect their employees to be familiar with the latest cloud-based technologies and Office 365 apps. There are statistics that show the success gap between those who have access to digital technology and possess digital literacy skills and those who don’t.
A March 2016 Council of Economic Advisers brief, to provide just one example, reports that “unemployed workers in households with Internet were 4 percentage points more likely to be employed one month in the future than those households without Internet.” In other words, access to and knowledge of digital technology lead to better labor market outcomes.
With this in mind, it is the educator’s responsibility to familiarize students with technology. This means that educators should teach students how to use technology so that it can make them more productive, and not overwhelm and distract them. In turn, teachers themselves will become more productive.
Ultimately, the digital classroom should teach students how to navigate today’s tricky technological terrain so that they become capable members of tomorrow’s digital workforce.