Classrooms of Tomorrow

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The move away from the traditional classroom is influenced by anumber of recent developments outside the call for education reformsuch as new developments in telecommunications, increased use of theInternet, proliferation of affordable hardware and software, andgrowing acknowledgement among policy makers that proper use oftechnology has the potential to improve teaching and learning. Avariety of excellent programs are in operation, which demonstratethat technology-rich schools result in richer classroom content,higher student achievement, lower dropout rates and improved attitudeand enthusiasm for learning. However, sustained support and long-terminvestment make it difficult to point to one model as the classroomof tomorrow. Nor should we, since each model serves its local needsand individual student requirements.

How, then, do we define the "classroom of tomorrow?" Is itmeasured by the variety and availability of technological tools? Isit dependent on the learning opportunities outside the schoolenvironment? A number of issues influencing our thinking are beingaddressed. For example:

1. Another attempt at defining "technical literacy" and how itaffects education took place on October 9-10 in Baltimore, when over100 educators and engineers met to determine what is necessary forstudents to become productive citizens, consumers and employees inthe next century. After much discussion, a number of both long- andshort-term activities were initiated. These include:

• A training program for engineers will be developed to teachthem more about curricula development, educational standards,teaching methodology and how they can serve the educationalcommunity.

• A meeting of the deans of schools of engineering andschools of education is planned to open up channels of communicationso that teacher training can better prepare educators to teach andpromote technology. (www.ieee.org)

2. Recent studies on the effectiveness of computers in teachingand learning are positive. A recent 1998 Educational Testing ServiceReport ("D'es It Compute? The Relationship Between EducationalTechnology and Student Achievement in Mathematics") finds that, whenproperly used, computers can serve as important tools for improvingstudent achievement. "The study found when computers are used toteach higher order concepts and when teachers are trained and directstudents to such applications, computers are associated withsignificant gains in math achievement as well as improvements in thesocial environment of the school. But when computers are used fordrill and practice, computer use is unrelated to achievement and insome cases can be harmful." (www.ets.org/research/pic)

• A study by Rockman, an independent research consultant inSan Francisco, tracked students who had full-time access to notebookcomputers both in school and at home. Their findings point tosignificant learning and student and teacher accomplishments in skilldevelopment and critical thinking. (www.rockman.com)

• The Office of Research and Improvement ('ERI), charged withconducting long-term education research and development, has receiveda $10 million increase in funding to $63.8 million. 'ERI's RegionalEducation laboratories received a $5 million increase over its FY1998 funding level to $61 million. The 10 labs help states, districtsand schools implement education reforms through applied research,development of materials and training, and technical assistance.

3. Ongoing staff development is recognized as an integral part ofsystemic approach to reform. States are assuming their responsibilityin either pre-service or in-service training for teachers. Forexample:

• The Rhode Island Foundation is investing $5 million totrain teachers at every school in the state, building on a core of180 lead teachers who received more than 60 hours of training andfollow-up assistance through Project Smart, funded by the NationalScience Foundation.

• Pennsylvania Link-to-Learn Initiative includes a CD-ROMdesigned to help teachers integrate technology into theclassroom.

• A new role is being defined in school districts: that ofeducational technologist. Responsibilities include networkingsupport, integration of technology across the curriculum, and theestablishment of media centers and laboratories.

4. Information on demand is delivered to the school, the campus,the home, and the workplace.

• West Virginia's 10-year, $70 million school technologyprogram is funded primarily by proceeds from its state lottery. Inpartnership with Bell Atlantic, West Virginia has wired its 840schools in a statewide network.

• The State of Washington's K-20 EducationTelecommun-ications network will link four-year colleges anduniversities, community and technical colleges, public schooldistricts, libraries and other community services. The plan is tocomplete the entire system by June 1999. The network will enable allentities to use the Internet, satellite-delivered distance learningprograms and videoconferencing.

5. The education marketplace has taken on a new importance. Moniesare more available. Competition has increased dramatically as isevident at computer conferences. Vendors find the need to educatetheir customers in addition to selling their product. Educators lookto vendors for information, for long-term commitment and for alasting partnership.

Conclusion

So what do we predict to be the "classroom of tomorrow?" We knowschools can be everywhere, no longer to be restricted by walls andbuildings. However, the classroom of tomorrow shall probably still bein one place with a variety of learning experiences available tostudents, using technology as a tool where possible in astudent-oriented environment. Improvements in technology, betterunderstanding of how students learn and availability of data to makemeaningful decisions are some of the factors that shall help usbetter educate the student of tomorrow.

I wish to take this opportunity to inform our readers that JeffCarmona, Managing Editor of T.H.E. Journal has left to pursue hisinterests in private industry. We wish him well. Please welcome LilyKnowles, who has joined our staff. We all look forward to workingwith her.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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