What Will the Classroom of the Future Look Like?

global future classroom

Photo Credit: theglobalclassroomproject.wordpress.com

By Yonatan Gordon

Back in January, in our article “2013: The Year of Resolutions,” we introduced the thought that this year we will start making sense of social networks. We recently said that if Facebook is to have a successor, it will be from a company or organization that has developed the world’s most effective global classroom. But each leading social and education based startup today has a piece of the puzzle. Our challenge then is to put all these pieces together.

Take Twitter for instance. While there are still attractive social elements to it, two of the three founders (Ev Williams and Biz Stone) have now moved on. What are they doing now? Williams is spending most of his time on publishing platform Medium, and Stone on the free app Jelly. In an effort to better construct our mosaic, let’s first see what these two new ideas are all about.

Let’s start with William’s Medium:

“The Internet can do more than make publishing free and easy…Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. It’s great that you can be a one-person media outlet, but it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others. And in a world of overwhelming quantities of content, how do we direct our attention to what’s most valuable, not just what’s interesting and of-the-moment?

It’s not too late to rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimized for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compete for validation and recognition.”

Now on to Jelly:

“People are basically good—when provided a tool that helps them do good in the world, they prove it.

Jelly is a new company and product named after the jellyfish. We are inspired by this particular animal because neurologically, its brain is more ‘we’ than ‘me.’”

Tweet, Tweet

We are not trying to paint a social tapestry. To place as many pieces of the puzzle inside our global classroom of the future, and come out with something quite beautiful. We started our discussion with an empty classroom, but have now since invited Twitter, Medium and Jelly to take their seats.

As we explained in our first article about Twitter (Hatching Ideas 140 Ideas at a Time), the appeal of microblogging comes from it’s simplicity. Sometimes, just a hello said with a smiling face can cheer up someone’s day. So too, the microblogging concept reminds us that it’s about intent, not necessarily length. For instance, if a student in our classroom has a pointed question on the teacher’s lesson, a few short words can cause the teacher to reformulate their entire approach.

Both statements from Medium and Jelly share similar sentiments to this. The main difference is, Medium would call this tweeting with “quality,” whereas Jelly would simply call the “good morning” tweet a “good” tweet. In effect, both these new projects from two of Twitter’s founders are really taking the same approach as Twitter. Just as each tweet should be written while thinking about how to benefit the recipient (we explained that in Kabbalah, this would be called tweeting from the bird’s nest), so too, these two startups are likewise encouraging the same. Whereas Medium calls quality blog posts those written by talented people who want to “work together to make a difference,” Jelly calls this focusing on the “we” instead of the “me.”

Classroom Management

What then was the reason for leaving Twitter? Not that there weren’t “good” or “quality” tweets, from talented people. Instead, the problem became one of control and discovery. When everyone is allowed to post anything, how does a company direct the public to good and worthwhile content? This was the question we asked back in January, and is still very much our question today. In order to begin formulating an answer, it helps to first place this discussion back within our classroom.

We mentioned in our “What If Technology, Just…Vanished???” article the importance of classroom management. That good teachers learn how to include and engage each student in each lesson. The aspect of control then is not that we don’t want different personalities of students to enter our classroom. Instead, the people we want to turn away are those who don’t consider themselves students at all. These are the talkers, the rabble rousers, who are simply trying to get attention, disrupt the class discussion, and have their voice heard. It is these type of people that we want to keep out of both our classroom, and any contained social media platform.

While Medium is looking for quality contributors who want to work with others, Jelly is looking for people who want to do good; but these two sentiments share the same ideology. Just like teachers who want to see their students grow, they also appreciate teamwork. The “good” aspect, in this sense, is when students work with each-other and the teacher. Simply going from a self to other-centered focus (“me” to “we”) makes the interaction more worthwhile.

So we need collaboration and teamwork to make our classroom successful. Now we can welcome Facebook to take a seat.

Facebook Home and Putting People First

Actually before we invite Facebook, let’s welcome in Apple by quoting something that we mentioned in part four of our Apple Turnaround Series:

“The teacher presents a lesson, and the unabashed, sharp student picks up on a difficulty and asks his teacher a pointed question back. Not only has the student successfully challenged his or her teacher, the student has shown the lesson of their teacher to be applicable. As long as the lesson is conveyed without feedback, it remains a lesson, an idea. It’s only when the students react, are the real world implications made apparent.

One can then imagine the corollaries here with Apple. The reason products seem inspired are not in lieu of the products themselves, but because of the inspired state they foster in the end-users.”

There is no question that feedback is important for Twitter, Medium, Jelly and anyone else involved in social media. The difference here is that instead of viewing apps as a product enhancement, in our Apple series we began looking at apps as the actualization of the product itself.

It was then a natural choice for Facebook to develop a homepage of faces. What does it really mean to put people first? That if the teacher is giving the lesson, and the students are not listening or sleeping, he might as well go home. So too, if people are using Facebook, but communication between close friends is not being fostered, then people might as well deactivate their Facebook account.

The question though is not whether to choose people instead of apps as your smartphone homepage. Instead, the real question is how to being seeing a world filled with listening students, instead of millions of apps. To quote again from our series:

“How do we know if the student was listening? That they are answering questions directly related to what the teacher was saying? The sign of a successful student is that he forgets about themselves for a moment. When the student is listening to the lesson plan of their teacher, their motivation is simply to make the lesson more applicable to the general public. This student’s question is not out of self-interest, but is motivated by an attempt to make the lesson more practical.

What does it mean to discover the “next big thing”? Sometimes things are so big because they are right in front of you. But because they are right there, you can’t see it. Only by stepping back to contemplate and reflect on the situation, do you realize what’s really in front of you this whole time.

Likewise the lesson plan of the teacher is very big. It contains a great deal of information, like all the intricacies and details that go into making an iPad. But if a person is proverbially holding up the iPad up in front of their eyes, they are missing the bigger picture.

Products are here to help people. If they are to be seen as beneficial, it is up to the end-user to prove it to others (especially the media). To be a good “student” of Apple means to show the positive ways the product can be used. By doing so, they are furthering the concepts first presented during the product development stage.

Each person has one particular interest or ability that they excel in most. This is like the millions of apps currently on the market today. If a student is not able to apply the lesson of their teacher, then they are stuck on the generalities such as thinness, flatness, etc… In order to start questioning the teacher, the student needs to be able to hone in on particulars. This is like the millions of apps on the market. Each good application of an idea starts with a good question.”

Lively Classroom

We can now begin blending these concepts together to formulate our classroom of the future. First, the students need to come with good intentions, be willing to listen and contribute to the discussion, and be interested in furthering the lesson plan of the teacher (even in ways that the teacher himself did not expect).

The next stage is that the communication, or classroom chatter be lively. While there is a time to listen to the lesson being conveyed, afterwards the students should huddle to discuss the lesson, and in effect, carry the lesson further by showing its applicability to real-world experience. Within each discussion there are tracts of study. Some students may be interested in mathematics, whereas others psychology and so forth. But no matter which tract of study each student is currently on, the overall classroom environment should be the same.

Should We Throw the Classroom to the Clouds?

Recently, TED posted a video entitled “Build a School in the Cloud” where the speaker spoke about the importance of placing resources in, and mentoring from, the cloud. The primary result from his “hole in the wall” experiments, however, seems to be the benefits of minimally invasive education; not that teachers should be physically distant from the students. The challenge seems to be one of connectivity, not of physical distance. For instance, we brought the example in our “What If Technology, Just…Vanished???” article of a student who continued jotting down notes from his teacher’s class, even though the live video feed he was using to watch the class had stopped working. Such examples are not science fiction, but are currently being explored in today’s world filled with quantum entangled particles.

Putting classes online then doesn’t necessarily make the students more creative (although it can increase the size of the class). Gifted teachers know how to foster student growth and independence even when they are sitting in the front row. What then makes a classroom futuristic is natural connectivity. The ability to students to remain “quantum entangled” with their teacher no matter what their physical proximity or distance. This is something we explained in “Learning to Teach with Encrypted or Discrete Messages”.

To be continued…

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