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Building the 'Classroom of the Future'

Karl Ochsner

I am an avid adopter of technology in the classroom. I've acquired many tools for my students, often by writing grants, scrounging, begging, and forgoing stipends. But I think that for technology to truly improve classroom practice, we need to undertake some important efforts:

1) The technical infrastructure must be ready. Computers must be fast enough to support the apps that are useful—and there must be enough working machines to support our students. Wireless connections must be steady.

2) Teachers must be supported in our efforts to integrate technology. Ironically, teachers are required to provide individualized instruction to our students, but too often our own professional development is thrust upon us in a lecture format. In addition, technology coordinators block educational websites along with hardware and software purchases that teachers are trying to integrate into lessons.

3) We must design procedures and guidelines that help students make the most of technology, while confronting the realities of legal and safety concerns. I will soon take a group of students on a class trip to Washington, D.C. I hope they'll be able to use their smartphones to take pictures, record podcasts while they walk around the memorials, learn more by scanning museum exhibits' QR codes, and call their parents to share their excitement about what they've learned. But I also recognize the need for policies and procedures that limit the potential for inappropriate Skype or FaceTime conversations between 8th graders' hotel rooms.

4) The technology industry must generate products and apps that can truly support 21st-century learning. It's time to move beyond turning print textbooks into PDF files embedded with links. I want to see my students carrying unbreakable tablets that enable them to share student-created multimedia creations seamlessly, and project their work on student-created digital bulletin boards.

5) We must find ways for technology to help us streamline our work. I will always know my students by name, but couldn't facial recognition software help track their attendance so we can get down to the business of learning? And what if technology-based tools were licensed to and selected by individual teachers, rather than by districts? We are, after all, closest to these products' end users.

For this kind of "classroom of the future" to take hold, administrators, parents, teachers, and developers will need to work together on creating and integrating the tools that can boost student learning. The tools themselves will not "fix" our schools or classrooms—but, in the hands of skillful teachers, they can encourage the kind of innovation and creativity our students need to build our future.

Karl Ochsner is a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in Scottsdale, Ariz., and teaches classes on K-12 technology integration at Arizona State University.

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