Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “The times, they are a-changin’,” have never been more relevant as educators face new mandates for preparing students for the future. And what’s more, I think the single biggest trend for this year can be summed up in just a few letters—AR/VR—and maybe one word: makerspaces.
The very pace of our technological advancements and their adoptions by schools and districts are happening at what seems like the speed of light. And 2017 will be no exception.
Augmented/Virtual Reality in the Classroom
Right now, there seems to be a great deal of buzz around Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR). K-12 schools are beginning to see the educational value of virtual and augmented reality, and are investing in these technologies even though price points are still aimed at higher-end markets. Even more important is the value that AR/VR can bring to learning. When you want to have an internal view of something—an atom, a magnetic field, the human body, or a building—VR is really going to help you. If being in the middle of a simulation is helpful for learning the replication of active things like physics problems or climate change patterns, then VR will certainly bring it to life.
Kathy Schrock, an online adjunct professor for Wilkes University (PA) and independent educational technologist, has been supporting teachers as they utilize technology for over twenty years and is well known for her online resources for teachers. In a recent eSchool News article, Schrock said this about virtual reality:
“One trend I am passionately interested in, and I see becoming more widespread in schools in 2017, is virtual reality. Not the tethered headsets and computer-based environments, but the simple Google Cardboard-compatible headsets with a smartphone as the ‘computer.’ Bringing the global experience into the classroom with immersive images and videos can enhance lessons and is informative and engaging for students. In addition, there are apps that allow students to create their own 360° images and videos with the smartphone and many online places to host them. Students can share images from their school and community with the world! Tools are also available that allow students to add hotspots to their online images to provide links to additional information about the image for those that view it. I find this creation of 360° images enhances student skillsets in visual literacy, technology literacy, and attention to audience.”
For those of you who believe the high-end virtual reality headsets (not the cardboard types!) seem too futuristic or unrealistically expensive, there are other options for bringing two-dimensional material to life.
A recent THE Journal article focused on Adam Newman—an assistant principal in New York City who decided to launch his own K-12-focused app about two years ago. The company, Aug That!, offers an augmented reality app that gives a student or teacher the ability to scan an image with a smart device. The picture then comes to life either by becoming a 3D figure, 360-degree virtual environment, or an animated lesson. While noting that he sees the power of virtual reality, Newman also stated that the technology is not perfected yet. “Augmented reality is more cost-effective for a school district. When I look at augmented reality, it is starting to become more mainstream."
Give Your Classroom a Makerspace Makeover
Makerspaces really took root in 2016 and will continue to bloom in 2017. In combination with the reports of how to make classroom environments more inviting and usable for students, makerspaces of all types have been put in classrooms, libraries, and common areas in schools. Whether the makerspace is technology-based with a 3D printer and electronic components or a make-and-take area with all types of art supplies, having a makerspace to support curriculum activities and projects will continue to enhance student understanding and improve the overall student experience.
For 2017, I expect more conversations that lead to actions and programs that support social and emotional skills. We should focus on improving learning experiences that provide ways for students to cultivate the interpersonal, problem-solving, and team collaboration skills in high demand by today’s employers. Social and emotional skills are just as important as cognitive skills when it comes to employability. By giving students greater confidence, we are providing them with the momentum they need to achieve their education and life goals.
Keeping the Whole Class on Track
And let’s not forget that our presidential election continues to loom over the education space, with the Secretary of Education currently going through the vetting process. Kelly Bielefeld—the principal at Clearwater Intermediate and Middle School, Clearwater USD 264 in Clearwater, KS—also believes this will likely have a significant impact on the K-12 landscape for the next four years, not just the next 12 months, when it comes to charter schools, Title programs, and Common Core standards. However, in turning to 2017, Bielefeld believes whole-class learning is taking off.
In an article he wrote, he noted the following: “While whole-class learning may seem old school, the fact is that whole-class learning is a key aspect in the modern classroom. Boxlight seems to be one company that understands how to integrate whole-class technology, like their new ProColor Series of interactive flat panel displays and their MimioMobile application, which fosters student collaboration and engagement by linking all types of mobile devices in classrooms, whether owned by the students or the school district. Once equipped with the app, almost any device—including Chromebooks and Apple or Android products—can work together for effective collaborative learning as well as for formative assessment. As with any emerging technology, there is skepticism about effectiveness. Regardless, the tool used well in any classroom can increase relevance for students and give them an experience like never before. It is one to watch for in 2017.”
What are your thoughts for the next big thing in education technology? Share in the comments section below. And if you want to learn more about our NEW Android flat panel displays, click here!