Monday, July 1, 2013

Virtual Classroom Trends for 2013/2014

Next-generation school desks

The virtual classroom is arguable the single most impactful trend in EdTech today. Despite the visibility and ubiquity of BYOD, the virtual classroom alone holds the potential for the most far reaching change in teaching, learning, and the district’s processes and approaches. Mitigating some elements of the physical focus of where learning takes place offers the chance to make some compelling advances in teaching and learning.

When it comes to looking at the impact of the virtual classroom, there are two primary aspects that need to be considered, the technology to support the virtual classroom and the use of this technology from a teaching perspective. Given the focus of this blog, we’ll focus more on the first element.

One of the biggest drawbacks to a number of the current virtual classroom implementations is that they require “special” rooms or equipment that is not found throughout the school. This makes the use of virtual classrooms somewhat limited and generally focused on larger groups. By making the technology more ubiquitous, even if it means using less capable tools like Skype, the reality is that for virtual learning to grow, it has to become a real alternative to physically proximal learning. In some respects, this is less of a technology question than it is a curriculum question and the drive to have teachers use existing common tools, rather than wait for the most technically capable solutions to be deployed. I expect we’ll see a number of broad virtual learning initiatives, especially for small or single student use like special education that use basic videoconferencing just to get the job done.

One of the missing elements in the Virtual classroom is tools designed to leverage and enhance virtual learning. This focuses on some key capabilities that I think must be enhanced. Work-sharing where teachers and students can look at work being done in real time and share input on that individual work so that 1:1 learning is more engaging. Another aspect that I think needs some improvement is what I’ll call “explorability”. Simply put, with the internet, you can pursue the personal route you’d like to take when gathering information or “exploring”. Too often the learning software is very structured and rigid for virtual classrooms, making the less much more rote. Finally, we need to up-level the amount of interactivity and engagement in the virtual classroom. For example, real time graphics that show what is happening with the rest of the class; what chapter are they reading, how many examples have they done on the work, what is their number of correct answers? All this input is often found in a traditional class by looking around.

In my opinion, these two factors are going to be the biggest trends on the technology side. I know that many vendors are still driving for the Cadillac level room based offerings that provide more capabilities, but I believe ubiquity is far more important. As to the software side, we are really in the early stages here, and many exciting new approaches will definitely come to EdTech in the next 12 months!

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