In this TribLive article, Stephanie Hacke shares Thomas Jefferson High School’s new personalized learning initiative. See how our FlexTime Manager software helps transform education.
The Likely Role of AR & VR in Modern Education
Image credit: Roundup Reads
Guest post by Patrick Foster of Ecommerce Tips
How Will AR & VR Technologies Fit Into Education?
The education system has always needed to have its finger on the pulse of the technology industry, because while the principles of pedagogy haven’t changed enormously over the years, the methods certainly have. And with today’s students facing a future that will be massively dominated by the digital world (and likelier than ever before to build careers in tech-related fields), it’s incredibly important that we prepare them using all available tools.
When it comes to AR & VR technologies, however, it isn’t always obvious how they can — or should — be used for educational purposes. They’re expensive, after all, and still far from achieving the kind of mainstream appeal that would clearly merit such expense.
Regardless of the extent to which they are useful now, however, there’s use in considering how they’re likely to be folded into educational practices sooner or later. Let’s take a look at how educators are (probably) going to be using AR & VR tech.
Allowing personalized learning experiences
In schools that have large class sizes, it can be challenging to give each student the kind of education that takes into account their personal abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Course materials are expensive and often cumbersome, and teachers simply don’t have the time to spend with students one-on-one.
What AR & VR tools easily allow is extensive personalization, and it isn’t limited by hardware. A classroom could have just one VR headset, for instance, but a separate account for each student, creating an entirely different learning environment catered to the student using it.
Throughout the entire duration of their time in schooling, their VR account could continue to develop in line with their choices and performances. Teachers could easily monitor their activity from elsewhere — imagine a class of students using distinct VR headsets with the teacher overseeing everything from a single monitor. It’s entirely possible, and (I’d say) quite likely.
Supporting advanced work and assessments
Finding unique ways to challenge students can be an issue for schools with limited ability to arrange field trips or personal tuition, and the many problems with conventional testing systems are well-established. Backed by intuitive development tools for teachers, AR & VR tech could greatly expand the range of options for both educational exercises and formal assessments.
Think about the difference between following a standard set of puzzles in a book and engaging with an AR-enhanced puzzle through a basic smartphone. The latter is not only going to be more interesting — it’s also going to be more complex. The more factors you add into the equation, the greater the challenge becomes, and you can take the puzzle in whatever direction you like.
You could even configure a work assignment to scale in difficulty and scope to respond to the student’s ability. If they start struggling, the software can step in, giving them some guidance and pointing them in the right direction. If they breeze through everything, the software can ramp up the difficulty. And when the teacher looks at the results afterwards, they can get a comprehensive breakdown of how everything went.
Providing new opportunities for students with disabilities
Bolstering accessibility is one of the greatest accomplishments of the technological revolution, and VR tech has the power to provide remarkable options for students who are simply incapable of having certain experiences. The internet provides so much for those with ambition but limited means, and someone unable to physically get out into the world can still thrive.
Just imagine what someone wheelchair-bound could do from the classroom. They could visit the seven wonders of the world in VR. They could forge entrepreneurial careers (the ecommerce world has a selection of industry-specific businesses for sale that can be run from anywhere — no store needed). They could build their own virtual world and invite others to join them.
And on the topic of shared experiences, think about how students could express themselves creatively. We all learn differently, and students who struggle to express themselves vocally (for instance) might flourish when given the chance to communicate through manipulating virtual environments. The possibilities are remarkable. It’s understandable for some to fear that the human element of education has been lost, but in this way, technology can actually play a part in bringing it back.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He’s been meaning to get an HTC Vive for some time, but keeps putting it off. Check out the blog, and follow along on Twitter @myecommercetips.
Is A Standard Curriculum Necessary?
The argument for less standardization and broader curricula in schools is not an unfamiliar one. Standardized state curriculum, standardized testing, and Common Core state standards are, with good intentions, designed to provide students with the knowledge necessary to be academically successful and to equip/adequately prepare them for a fruitful collegiate career and post-grad life. Ideally.
But these standards, the “necessary knowledge and skills,” and the concept of what it means to be successful are one-sided. Are all students really supposed to be “on the same page?” Kevin Currie-Knight, college professor and former K-12 teacher, used to be on board with the lists of standard information and “one-size-fits-all” curricula — that is, until he realized that not only is forced learning unnecessary, but unproductive.
Why Shouldn’t Individual Schools Design Their Own Curriculum?
In his article on fee.org (Foundation for Economic Education) titled “Let’s Ditch One-Size-Fits-All Schooling,” Currie-Knight raises an interesting point that just as culture and society are diverse, so should be learning. Many of the things that students as part of a collective society “need to know” are so ingrained in our culture that they would have to actively try not to learn them. The author is not arguing for schools to stop teaching essential skills such as linguistics, communication, and computers, but rather to be given the authority to decide what and how to teach within these subjects.
On the flip side of this point is the fact that much of the standardized curricula taught in schools contains information and skills that students either will not retain or need later in life. I can personally attest to having lamented this very issue while in high school myself, during a math class in which I was struggling to grasp advanced computations and formulas. The teacher, when addressing the widespread complaints about the difficulty of the material, assured us of the likelihood that we would encounter a real-life scenario when this exact knowledge would serve us well. The example she used? Standing in a grocery store aisle, comparing prices of different paper towel brands, and calculating the cost per sheet to determine whether the price per roll was appropriate. I would like to assure her today, if I could, that I have never done this, nor do I remember how to.
Curriculum Diversity for a More Well-Rounded Society
I got good grades. I tested well. I was accepted to the school of my choice, where I made Dean’s List most semesters. My field of study had nothing to do with mathematics and, in fact, I was only required to pass basic math when I got to college. I remember wishing I’d been taught other things in high school, though — actual life skills like balancing a checkbook and paying bills. I wish I’d been counseled more about the financial implications of paying for college. It would have been great to have gotten job interview and resume coaching. These are all skills I learned on my own later in life because they were necessary, not because I was forced to learn them in school (but I would’ve seen value in them if they had been).
Currie-Knight envisions a world where schools can individually design their own curricula, choose from a number of pre-determined options, or opt to forego curriculum altogether. State-mandated decisions about who should learn what, when, and why are myopic at best and are merely guesses as to what will matter or be needed in each student’s life ten years from now.
The world changes rapidly, and each student in every pocket of culture across the country is going to want and need to learn vastly different things in order to best shape their futures. Wouldn’t society as a whole benefit from a more diversely educated young workforce than one in which every individual possesses the same knowledge and has followed the same educational path?
Join the conversation! Do you think personalized learning should start from the top down, with a more open approach to school curriculum? Comment below or tag us on social media to share your opinion.
Personalized Learning is a Big Picture Concept
As we discussed in another of our blog posts called “Defining Personalized Learning,” there are many components and approaches to this very broad term. It’s not one-size-fits-all; there is no “personalized learning” policy manual that says a school or a teacher should perform in any specific way to ensure the delivery of a “personalized learning experience” to its students.
See What Education Experts Say About the Role of Tech in Personalized Learning
In this EdSurge article titled “Does Tech Support Personalized Learning — or Distract Us From What’s Really Important?” three experts in the field of education research participated in an EdSurge panel to answer this provocative question. Quotes from the panel discussion are contained in the article and there’s also a link to a an audio podcast version.
The main takeaways are as follows:
1. Personalized Learning is a broad “umbrella term” that the education community has given up trying to define. It includes various phases and approaches to differentiation and student voice and choice, many times with a technological component. However, the use of technology is not essential to the concept of personalized learning.
2. Personalized learning isn’t so much about the technology that is available, but rather the ideas that should be built around it — the who, what, when, where, and why. Without purpose, without knowing what a school or district hopes to measure and how it wants its students to feel about their learning experience — then the tech becomes an accessory that can quickly muddle an entire personalized learning initiative.
3. On the other hand, if the appropriate tool is found, it can be powerful. Much success has been had when schools districts lean on one or two core pieces of technology as opposed to bringing in every flashy edtech tool on the market. The greatest edtech triumphs occur when the consumer has a clear picture of what success looks like within the context of the target initiative, and then is able to use the data gleaned from the tool to close learning gaps in a more efficient, targeted, and personal way than before the initiative began.
4. Edtech tools are ubiquitous, some are over-promising, and there are just too many choices to really know what will work. The tool-finding becomes easier when a district assembles a core team in the early stages of their personalized learning plan, so that these core members can collaboratively rapid-test various solutions and weigh in on the impact and the pros and cons of each tool. Having just one eager and enthusiastic teacher whose mission it is to champion school edtech initiatives will likely lead to short-sighted decision making that doesn’t serve the whole population, and a crash-and-burn effect where the personalized learning initiative becomes a supernova of distraction that simply crumbles and isn’t brought back again. Personalized learning and edtech are still territories that many teachers approach with trepidation, so, for maximum buy-in and success, these plans must be designed to scale.
In short, personalized learning, to be done right, takes thoughtful planning from the earliest stages. Only once goals, a mission, and a picture of success are defined, can a cohesive team begin to evaluate tech tools to support the mission of creating a student-centered learning experience that builds bridges where bridges were needed.
What is Personalized Learning?
More than just an ed-tech buzzword, “personalized learning” refers to a set of methodologies and approaches to learning in which instruction is not one-size-fits-all, but is adapted specifically to the needs, abilities, and interests of individual learners.
Katrina Stevens, Deputy Director in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, helps us compare working definitions of personalized learning from multiple sources, provides an overview of the five key components involved in the personalized learning process, and discusses the benefits of personalized learning in her article for Medium titled, “Personalizing the Learning Experience: Insights from Future Ready Schools.”
From Around the Web: Exploring Technology’s Impact on Personalized Learning
In this EdTech Digest guest column post, titled “Getting Personal,” by Jason Wright, the evolution of personalized learning in education is explored, as well as the vital role technology plays in creating a student-centered learning environment.
What Exactly Is Personalized Learning?
Wright defines personalized learning as “a variety of learning experiences that are tailored to the distinct learning needs of individual students,” and explains that educators who practice this student-centered approach are more likely to enable students to reach their full potential thanks to increased engagement and greater retention of material.
How Does Personalized Learning Improve the Student-Teacher Experience?
Instead of focusing entirely on the technology tools available to educators who wish to exercise personalized learning techniques, Wright describes the ways in which such resources aid in student assessment metrics such as repetition and long-term memory, learning styles, on-demand learning, individual tracking, and students taking an active role in their education.
Providing links to external resources which further support his points on assessing individual student progress and students’ motivation to learn, Wright concludes his piece with a strong statement:
Personalized education results in better retention, higher performance, and improved engagement. Teachers should now look to technology to help them provide individualized learning to their students.
Want to read the full article? Click here.
Looking for Tech Tools to Support Your Personalized Learning Initiatives?
For examples of innovative technology tools that drive personalized learning, check out Eduspire’s guest post (on the Whooo’s Reading blog), titled “10 Personalized Learning Apps,” or take a look at our tools, FlexTime Manager and VoiceChoicer, unique software products which facilitate flexible scheduling and student activity voting and management.