Future-Ready Education

Lidor WyssockyBlog

It seemed like the reasonable thing to do at first: introducing more technology in schools. It was also pretty cool. A dedicated classroom equipped with personal computers was a natural decision — we want our children to be ready for the future, don’t we?

Next came the iPads, or Chromebooks, or regular laptops. And along with them new initiatives promoting Ed-Tech showed up by Apple, and Google, and Microsoft. Schools don’t have plenty of resources, so they appreciate any help. And when it comes with the coolness factor, it’s even better.

Before we knew it, dozens of applications found their way into the classroom. It started with applications for classroom management designed to help teachers keep track of grades, absences, and a log of everything worthy noting about their students. Soon after that, apps invaded the educational space. Some of them designed for dedicated learning tasks, and some as a platform for communication between students and teachers and between the students themselves. The classroom went online.

Then came Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as if the “real reality” was already exhausted. Kids are sitting in the classroom experiencing the world through VR goggles and we don’t count it as screen time — how can we? It is “real” time.

A few days ago, I came across an article describing the latest advancement in the wired (or wireless) classroom. It described a face-recognition system designed to track attendance, and — are you ready for this? — students emotions during class. Imagine that! Teachers can get accurate feedback on whether their students are happy, bored, intrigued, or on the brink of loosing it completely. And the best part is they don’t even have to look their students in their eyes!

We are loosing it.

I love technology. I wasn’t born into a wired-and-always-online world, but I grew into it. A few months ago I was asked in an interview whether technology is hindering our capacity to imagine. The answer was simple: it is all about balance. Avoiding technology is not realistic. It also shouldn’t be the goal. Technology is useful, and technology is the classroom can be highly effective. It is a valid way to talk to young students in the language they know from other areas of their lives — a language they can relate to. But whenever a new tool, method, or content is being introduced in school, we must consider the bigger picture and verify we balance it.

Being ready for the future does not just mean adding more technology — it means knowing technology is only one piece of the puzzleClick To Tweet

In many cases virtual reality comes at the expense of real reality. Online communication is replacing looking each other in the eyes are having face-to-face discussion. We are favoring concrete inputs while leaving less room for abstract thinking, curiosity, and asking open-ended questions. The world is already moving fast in these directions. Instead of reinforcing these trends, schools and teachers should act as a balancing force.

Does that mean we need to throw away all technology from schools? Absolutely not! Schools should help our children be future-ready. But what does it mean to be future-ready? I believe being ready for the future does not just mean adding more technology — it means knowing technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Direct interaction, being connected with the world around us, observing the world, and practicing active imagination — these are all parts of being the humans we want to be. The future just makes it more challenging. It would be great if schools could help children find the right balance instead of directing them to the easiest path to follow.

Now, let’s get practical.

Pure Reality

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can be great tools for learning about things which are not accessible. But, there’s plenty of pure reality out there and we are at risk of loosing touch with it. So, for every hour of using tech to visit some virtual space, add to the curriculum an hour of connecting to the real world.

For every hour of using tech to visit some virtual space, add to the curriculum an hour of connecting to the real worldClick To Tweet

Gillian Judson’s work on The Walking Curriculum is a great example of how to achieve this. There are amazing things to experience, explore, and play with all around us. Whether your school is in the middle of the city or surrounded by nature, the best way to learn about the world is to experience it for real. And while this might sound trivial, we spend less time exploring the real world and more time experiencing an artificial (or at least filtered) one. And this applies to children and adults alike.

Direct Communication

There are so many indirect ways to communicate — some even designed for teachers and students. But nothing can beat a direct and unmediated communication between two or more people. So, for every activity using digital communication means, plan an activity that involves direct communication between students — an activity in which they can look each other in the eyes.

For every activity using digital communication means, plan an activity that involves direct communication between students — an activity in which they can look each other in the eyesClick To Tweet

You might think “well, kids are doing this all the time in any case”. Well, they are doing it less and less, and there is no reason in the world we should push out this basic life-skill from the education system.

Imagination First

Last but not least, in many cases, classes are way too concrete than they should be. Predicted questions, right or wrong answers, and carefully planned agenda are often overtaking classes. The result is having less room for imagination.

Make sure imagination is a first-class citizen in your curriculumClick To Tweet

Imagination was the driving force of humanity so far. Nothing new is ever created without being imagined first. And no pre-defined set of questions and answers can be the sole basis for original thoughts. So, make sure imagination is a first-class citizen in your curriculum.

Kids are curious. Asking questions and imagining are inherent to their being. All we have to do is make sure we don’t kill these skills. Make room for open-ended questions — questions you don’t necessarily know the answers for. Make room for questions which might not have answers at all. Spice up even concrete topics with imagination. Don’t be afraid to lose some control on where the class is going to. Expect the unexpected.

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I want to be optimistic. There are so many great educational initiatives out there — some involve technology and some are designed around creativity and imagination in their purest form. If we want kids to be ready for the future, we need a good mix of both. If apps, tablets, and gadgets already rule your school, make sure to balance them with Pure Reality, Real Communication, and Imagination. They cost nothing, and don’t require any resources — just an open mind, sensitivity, and love for the amazing world we live in.