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The Future of Instruction II: Technology and the Engaged Classroom

Last week, I wrote about how the future of instruction needs to rely on both non-technology and technology-based innovations. It may sound like a hedge, but trust me that I am excited about the promise technology has to offer! In work we're doing in England and the U.S., we're using interactive whiteboards to help teachers manage complex instruction using many teaching resources. Whiteboards are not particularly interesting technology in themselves; they merely make it possible for all students in a class to see anything that can be put on a computer screen.

However, if set up to do so, interactive whiteboards can help teachers orchestrate lessons. Prepared lesson resources for teachers can, for example, provide brief video segments at a point in the lesson where visualization is needed. They can present problems or exercises for students to do on their own or in cooperative groups. With currently available electronic learner response devices, they can help teachers obtain immediate, timely, formative feedback on students' understandings of the lesson, so that they can respond right away. Whiteboards or separate student-level devices can assess student understanding of summative lesson objectives, and provide instant summaries and diagnostic information. Rich, exciting, and research-proven lessons can be provided for each lesson, and teachers can be given access to additional electronic resources and tools to adapt or extend the prepared lessons to meet their particular needs.

Interactive whiteboards and other whole-class technologies can give teachers and students cues and modeling to use particular non-technology strategies. For example, a prepared lesson can note that it's now time for students to get into their teams to help one another solve a difficult problem or carry out a laboratory exercise. It can show videos to model to students what they're expected to do, or to tease or inspire them to want to learn the content. The prepared lesson on the whiteboard can provide outlines, concept diagrams, still pictures, graphs, charts, and other content to help teachers teach effective lessons.

Each element of the lesson can be carefully designed, evaluated, and improved over time. Imagine appealing, humorous puppets or actors modeling effective behaviors for cooperative learning, problem solving, laboratory work, or creative writing. Imagine state-of-the-art computer-adaptive assessments embedded in day-to-day lessons. Then imagine all of this getting progressively better and better over time, as technology innovations invariably develop. Teachers could be encouraged to submit improvements or alternatives they design to enhance given lessons. Could complex, technology-enriched cooperative lessons of this kind make kids go rabid for reading? Gaga for grammar? Ape for algebra? Coo-coo for chemistry? Passionate for poetry? Fou for francais? Of course they could.

It's daunting to imagine all the development needed to cover all subjects and all grade levels. But ask yourself whether America's best developers of educational, technology, and entertainment content, working closely with outstanding teachers, could combine available or incipient technologies to create the world's best approach to teaching fractions, or correct use of commas, or science inquiry. If they could, and who could doubt it, then the rest is just a long but entirely possible process of invention, testing, and progressive improvement.

The nation that won the space race can win the education race, too, using exactly the same R&D processes. All we have to do is set the goal, engage the right creative people, and set a process in motion that would utterly transform school where it counts-in the classroom.

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