Because of their youth, students are at the front lines of the parallel digital experience. They were born into a world in which rapid technology, the Internet, even online profiles would play a de facto role in their lives. And whether they’re sharing pop-culture sound bytes or completing online assignments for school, students exist comfortably with an online parallel world. And educators have every opportunity to not only buy into, but reap the benefits of that phenomenon.
It’s easy for discussions of the “digital classroom” to vault immediately into abstractions and long-term implications. But some of the greatest benefits of a digital classroom are also the most basic, like organization. The traditional, materialistic schoolhouse model of paper, pencil, textbook, and blackboard is increasingly replaced by computer, mobile devices, digital texts, and social media platforms. And, as TJ Martinell and Sarah Kehoe reported this March from an actual high school, students are reaping very basic benefits: “When the time comes for a test,” says freshman Vinnie Malietufa of Kent-Meridian High School in Tahoma, Washington, “I don’t have to try and dig for my notes in my locker or bag because they’re in a folder on my computer.”
It isn’t just about what textbooks weigh, but what they contain. Alongside by-the-minute social media updates and a 24-7 news cycle, school textbooks seem distinctively static. And, as Brody reports, often inaccurately so: according to Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, “$7 billion a year is now being spent on textbooks that often are out-of-date.” Digital textbooks would nullify this issue (and save forests of paper), allowing for instant updates and amendments to textbooks.
As it develops, the digital classroom isn’t just about enhancing or streamlining the standard curriculum. Online applications and integrative technologies have immense potential to assist students with motor- or speech-restrictive conditions. Silver Kite’s TouchChat products offer an array of online software and application devices to facilitate education for people with communication issues, with easy implementation in the classroom.
Beyond a suite of apps for mobile devices, there are programs like “Point-and-Chat” that allow students to create instant messages with a customizable input screens, enabling communication and socialization among students who may not be able to read or speak.
And given the competitive marketplace for development of online programs, platforms, and software, it’s likely that digital educational tools will continue to improve and evolve at a rapid pace.
Perhaps one of the only universal major concerns in implementing a digital classroom is cost. In September of 2011, The New York Times reported the digital ambitions—and $33 million investments—of the Kyrene School District in Tempe, Arizona. (Times journalist Matt Richter went on to question efficacy of digital media versus investment costs, a question still being worked out today.) Clearly, not every school district can afford a suite of iPads or even the basic software licenses necessary to outfit even a moderately “digital” classroom.
The question then becomes one of choosing the most efficient, comprehensive technologies—a laptop and projection capabilities for the teacher; a wide screen monitor with a camera so students can Skype with other students around the world; etc. But the fact is, once digital classrooms such as CourseCracker’s Course Tracker are embraced on a large scale, both the technology and bandwidth necessary to accommodate them will rush to catch up, in part through government mandate, in part through the oldest and most incentivizing tool for advances in education: the opportunity for private companies to profit by supplying what public education demands.
Ani Bailly is an elementary school teacher, who shares her knowledge about the benefits of technology in the classroom and the overall progress of the youth education system, and is thrilled to be featured on Edudemic. Follow Ani on Google + here. CourseCracker.com