Classrooms as Interactive Applications

from Educators' eZine

Educational technology companies and the administrators, IT pros, and the teachers and students who use the products are used to the idea of the interactive application designed like a classroom. But what about the reverse: can a classroom be designed like an interactive application?

Interactive applications, whether Microsoft Word or Doom, succeed because people know why they use them, how they use them, and what their goals are. More than that, as the experience unfolds, the user can choose their tools (e.g., “Page Down” or a really big gun) or view different pathways (e.g., “Print Preview” or a different pathway) to reach their goal. These applications are intensely goal-driven – whether it’s to write a column or survive the monsters – the user always knows why they are there, if not always what exactly they are doing. Interactive applications are (perhaps unintentionally) near-perfect constructivist environments.

So how could this apply to a classroom? And how can you do it in a way that’s even vaguely financially and technically possible? To fully answer that would require a very long discussion, but we can certainly start to create a model.

Imagine all the students have been given – by a posting on a Web page, by some writing on the chalkboard, etc. – the goal of the class. For our purposes, let’s pick something dry – diagramming a sentence. You have the teacher in the front of the room at the chalkboard doing his standard presentation, but mainly there to answer student questions. Let’s also say there are four computers in the back of the room loaded with software that provides a gradually more complex series of assessments on diagramming a sentence. Let’s also say that there are five iPods on the side of the room with a menu of video clips of a master teacher going through the different aspects of creating a sentence diagram (I just included that because it’s a cool idea. Alternatively, you could have a couple of computers wired up to online tutors. Same concept.) For good measure, we have a table on the other side of the room with a stack of workbooks open to the chapter on sentence diagrams.

All the chairs in the room are grouped around these work areas. The bell rings and the students walk into the room. They decide where they want to sit, and then they go at it, walking to whichever work area they think appropriate to learn the material. One would assume that most students would start with the teacher presentation, then eventually some of them would peel off to use another resource – perhaps because they’re having trouble with the concept, or perhaps because they’re not. At the end of the class, students who think they are ready take assessment. If a student doesn’t think she’s ready, she continues working on the subject and takes the assessment later.

So what would that give you? You’d be chipping away at the control the teacher has over each student’s attention. On the other hand, the students would be in control of their learning, and be able to shape their experience by the paths they take. And appealing to different learning styles is built into the system.

I’ve seen, and I’m sure you’ve seen, classrooms, usually in science, that have dabbled with a somewhat similar but more teacher-led structure. I’m just taking the metaphor to the logical extreme. Why not?

Email:Craig Ullman