Dramatically Different

Designing a new culture of learning in the classroom with technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tom Joseph

CREDIT Autodesk EducationA student in elementary school today will graduate from college and enter the “real world” in 2030, but that world will look dramatically different from the one that we live in today. Industry analysts and experts predict:

  • The world population will reach 8 billion and 60 percent will live in urban areas. This holds serious implications for effective urban planning, sustainable design and natural resource management.
  • We would have built as much urban infrastructure in the next 30 years as we did in the last 4,000 years. Such massive transportation, water, energy, and land infrastructure projects will present huge challenges that will need to be tackled by skilled civil, electrical and mechanical engineers.
  • The rise of 3D printing and robotics could change work patterns and stimulate an entirely new market of micro-manufacturers throughout the world. This calls for a new breed of innovators and creative leaders who will be the ones that succeed in this new discreet manufacturing landscape.

Advances in accessible 3D design and fabrication technology are disrupting design, engineering and entertainment professions as we know them. The rise in mobile and cloud technology has also made it possible to design anywhere, at any time.

We are equipping future generations with higher order thinking skills to design solutions for the world’s epic challenges.

However, the progress that we have seen with technology in the commercial world needs to find its way into todays classrooms.

A design-led revolution is underway and impactful design will become critically important for us as a planet. Today’s students will shape tomorrow’s industries, and revamping curriculum alone is not the panacea to prepare students with the 21st century skills that they’ll need to thrive in a new global environment by finding new creative ways to solve problems through application of new technology and methods.

John Dewey, American philosopher and advocate for education reform, once said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

What we need, is to instill a new culture of learning and teaching in schools and classrooms.

Design thinking involves a process of inquiry, ideation and implementation, with reflection in between each stage. When this kind of muscle memory is combined with the use of advanced design technology in the classroom, we are able to architect a hands-on approach to learning that engages today’s digital natives, and encourages problem-solving and collaboration skills that mirror the real world.

This will transform teachers going from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side, where students are taught to gather insights and improve upon their ideas before proceeding to the next stage.

And it’s never too early to start. By removing the barriers to software access nationwide, we have seen teachers doing amazing things with their students using our software in their classrooms.

Take the eighth graders from Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, for example. Students in technology class are using Autodesk Fusion 360 to design a prosthetic device for a member of the community who can’t use his hands to be able to communicate via a touchscreen computer.

This means they need to understand the crux of the issue, create and continually improve on iterations of their digital model, and then test their ideas by prototyping their design using a 3D printer. And because the software is cloud-based, the students can work on their projects from home. If these students are already designing usable prosthetic devices at eighth grade, just imagine what they will be able to create as they hone their software and design thinking skills down the road.

Another example we have seen in higher education comes from Harvey Mudd College’s Clinic program where a team of students were presented with an open-ended problem – how to prevent water re-contamination in developing countries like Cameroon and Uganda.

In the inquiry phase, the students realized that although people have access to clean or purified drinking water, re-contamination at the point of use is a very real issue. So they used SketchBook and Fusion 360 to create a low cost universal attachment that can be fastened to jerry cans which are commonly used to transport water from its source to people’s homes, thereby preventing the contents from becoming re-contaminated. The advantage of using a cloud-based design solution means the team can potentially connect and interact with engineers from these developing countries and collaborate on the design of the prototype, and help tackle the global issue of water re-contamination.

In conclusion, design thinking process in the classroom leads to much more than a “product outcome.” By combining this new culture of learning with the use of advanced technology in the classroom, we are equipping future generations with higher order thinking skills to design solutions for the world’s epic challenges.

Tom Joseph is Senior Director of Worldwide Education at Autodesk. Follow him on Twitter @AutodeskEDU 

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Keys to Engagement

Connectivity challenges in a technology-rich classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gina Sansivero

CREDIT FSR Gina SInteractivity, active learning, and collaboration are clearly the keys to successful student engagement. Research shows that investing in active learning pedagogy and supporting technologies can positively affect student performance. Unfortunately, some of the biggest obstacles to the use of advanced technology in the classroom are educator training, intuitive systems, properly working equipment and connections that are readily available. Having the correct connections in the appropriate classroom locations is vital to a useful and effective active learning environment.

Cabling, connection and equipment all offer their own set of challenges which facilities managers, technology managers and educators confront every day. Aside from aesthetics, cable management and connectivity can determine if the technology in a classroom is intuitive and easy to use or cumbersome and not being used at all. What are some of these challenges and what can designers, installers and technology managers do to ensure properly working equipment in safe environments?

Cabling, connection and equipment all offer their own set of challenges which facilities managers, technology managers and educators confront every day.

During room construction/ renovation there is little or no firm idea of the configuration or placement of furniture and equipment. When this occurs, it is important to find options that allow for discreet and convenient placement of cables and connectors. These options can include wall boxes and plates for power and data terminations or connections, table boxes on movable podiums to house a variety of cables and adapters for an educator to use or floor boxes placed in a variety of locations for easy access to power and audiovisual connections with flexibility to work within the furniture and equipment placement requests. Flexibility is key. However, keep in mind that ugly junction boxes and conspicuous hanging cables can be a distraction or even hazardous.

Connections evolve almost as quickly as technology. VGA or PC connections were the most common found on laptops. Now it seems that laptops, tablets, desktops and other equipment can be furnished with multiple connections including HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, etc. Purchasing and installing modular connection brackets like those in the picture allow for easy connection changes without having to frequently purchase new wall plates, boxes or cabling equipment. This works to help guarantee a future-proof classroom. Providing a number of different types of cables at the podium, lectern or desk also offers the variety of options necessary for seamless use of technology in active learning environments. For those who have specialty connection requirements, adapters are available to couple with many of the most commonly used cables.

Safety cannot be overlooked, cables should be invisible. Exposed wires and cables pose a safety concern for both students and teachers. When a classroom space is loaded with technology equipment, it is impossible not to address the management of these cables. Options include raceways, wall boxes, floor boxes and ceiling enclosures. Further, with the increased use of flat panel monitors in classrooms, hallways and public spaces, conference rooms for education, signage, and mass notification, there are also aesthetically pleasing wall based cable management and power termination enclosures that fit behind flat panel wall mounts and hide cables to prevent monitors from being pulled from the wall by the chord. These enclosures allow for easy access to cables and connectors when needed while eliminating hanging wires and messy exposed cables.

Offering the largest variety and most convenient placement of connections, wires and cables for educators helps to support their use of technology in the classroom. Audiovisual installations are time-consuming and costly, but necessary to a modern school and often to the success of students. Certainly, steps should be taken to ensure that this time and expense are not for naught. Convenient and flexible connection points will encourage the use of technology — even as it evolves.

Gina Sansivero is Director of Educational Sales at FSR, Inc (www.fsrinc.com) (www.fsr.education) in Woodland Park, NJ. FSR is a US manufacturer which offers connectivity, infrastructure, AV, and collaborative technology products worldwide. Gina is a member of InfoComm International. Contact gsansivero@fsrinc.com or find her on Twitter @GinaSans.

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Helping Students Learn by Doing

What happens to learning when students are able to interact with content.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tom Piche

CREDIT Epson America“Anyone, anyone?” echoed Ben Stein’s character to a disengaged class in the 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Thankfully, education has dramatically changed since the ’80s and the teacher is no longer the sole speaker or facilitator during lessons. A shift in learning, where students are able to interact with the content at hand, has become commonplace in many classrooms.

This type of hands-on learning can lead to lifelong success. It can motivate – and actively engage – all students, especially those who thrive by doing. It can also help kinesthetic learners strengthen their short- and long-term memories by involving movement. Plus, students are accustomed to multitasking in today’s wired world, so educators must provide engaging activities to grab students’ attention. Confucius said it best, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Another great way to engage the entire class in the learning process is working with the students to create a digital mural on the classroom wall that relates to science or social studies.

One proven way for educators to engage students is by leveraging technology. Educators can get students out of their seats and interacting with technology in many ways. For instance, an educator in an international school in Japan used an interactive projector to have students follow along with the story of Harold and the Purple Crayon and play out the role of the crayon.

Other examples include students playing a game of Spanish Hangman where they form teams and work together to figure out the word or phrase, and junior scientists testing water or soil samples on their school grounds and bringing the data back to the classroom to share what they have learned. Another great way to engage the entire class in the learning process is working with the students to create a digital mural on the classroom wall that relates to science or social studies.

It is through these types of activities that the following benefits can be obtained:

  • Greater retention of material – tactile activities help students commit the subject matter to memory.
  • Development of critical thinking – when students are tasked with inquiry-based projects they are challenged to problem solve through deeper thinking and reasoning.
  • Fostering of social-emotional skills – through group work, students learn how to deal with oneself and others in an effective manner.
  • Furthering leadership skills – working with other students allows for them to assume roles that reflect their strengths.

To further reinforce these benefits, teachers can allow students to take ownership of their learning and become teachers themselves. When students are designated as the teacher, they must rely on deeper thinking to demonstrate the understanding of content. If students can successfully teach their classmates a certain lesson or idea by utilizing engaging technology, they develop leadership skills and better comprehend the subject matter.

Educators across every content area can provide hands-on experiences. It’s important for educators who embrace technology to help other teachers understand the technologies available to them in the school and offer suggestions for incorporating hands-on learning lessons as part of their curriculum.

Tom Piche is product manager for K-12 interactive projectors with Epson America, Inc. Contact him through Twitter @EpsonEducation

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Trends | The Future of Lifelong Learning


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What Makes Them Tick

A passionate edupreneur discusses the value of a holistic view of student learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jack Macleod

CREDIT AlmaIf you are tracking trends in education, then you have probably heard the terms “whole-child approach” and “360-view of student performance.” Sounds catchy, but what the heck does it mean? Teachers are with students 180 days a year, so tracking behaviors and patterns has been happening all along, right? Well, the answer isn’t yes…or no. A holistic view of the student is more nuanced than that.

The old way of assessing students and tracking their growth was all about quick and dirty. This dropped students into seemingly arbitrary buckets. Back then, no one person could be expected to review every single piece of student data and identify emerging patterns and trends. And they most certainly couldn’t do it fast enough to shift instruction to accommodate each student.

There is huge potential for improving learning outcomes. Here’s to hoping the technology can make the grade.

The problem with that old school way of classifying students is that it doesn’t take into account that students are more than the sum of their parts (cliché, I know). There are a multitude of factors affecting student outcomes, and one isn’t most important; rather, it is the particular combination of each within a given student that informs success. And that unique mix is like each student’s DNA—unlocking it should tell us about what motivates and drives engagement and learning. And this is huge, given that researchers have found that motivation, not intelligence, is a better predictor of student success.

So if I had to define a “holistic view of a student,” I would say it is being able to articulate what makes them tick, and then leveraging that knowledge to really target instruction.

How do we get there?

The types of information we are talking about tracking here have always existed, and teachers were always able to use the data. The challenge has and always will be that teachers just don’t have the time to analyze complex information and identify emerging trends. Fortunately, technology can do most of the heavy lifting.

But much like student success factors, the technology that promises a way to automate these processes is not all created equal. Oftentimes when we think about tracking student information, we look for technology that has the ability to zoom way in on data, detecting granular changes at the microscopic level. In reality, the best information management systems will have the ability to zoom back out, and track where that data point (and the student is it attached to) is going, like sliding down the scale in Google maps. So how do you identify the right information management system? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is it intuitive? Analyzing data can be challenging. And sometimes, small mistakes have big consequences. An information management system should be easy-to-navigate, so teachers can quickly—and correctly—find and use the data they need.
  • Do all systems play nice? You can’t have a holistic view of anything if you there are missing pieces of information. If it makes sense to have one system that manages everything, great. If you prefer the patchwork approach, that’s fine, too. But if one system within the ecosystem doesn’t talk to another, then it won’t work. Period.
  • Can you extract actionable information? So you’ve identified a skills deficiency, now what? The system should point you toward next steps.

So where do we go from here? One thing the technology can’t do is determine what information to capture and analyze. Educators must identify what needs to be put in to make sure what comes out is meaningful. It’s likely that educators will need some guidance to make this happen, as complex data analysis hasn’t found its way into the curriculum of most education degree programs. I think this is a real opportunity for vendors to set themselves apart by providing training not only on the technical aspects of their systems, but also on the practical, “how to use this to improve performance” side of things.

I also predict that we will see even more companies—old and new—come to market with integrated platforms that manage student information, school information, learning management and learning resources within one system. These new “holistic student engagement” platforms will be able to analyze all factors that affect teaching and learning within a school and better help synthesize that data so we can move more toward the ultimate goal of personalized learning that is scalable and effective. There is huge potential for improving learning outcomes. Here’s to hoping the technology can make the grade.

Jack Macleod is president of Alma, a modern school management system offering a better experience for K-12 administrators, teachers, parents and students. Write to: info@getalma.com

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